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ARTICLES ON ENVIRONMENTAL AND CLIMATE JUSTICE

Growing Local Food into Quality Green Jobs in Agriculture

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"I couldn’t stand; my eyes were watering and my throat hurt from the gas. I would run outside the field to get some air. The boss made me go back, to keep working without a mask. Now I can’t breathe well, and my vision is blurry, cloudy.” Jorge Fernandez pauses to gasp for breath, a result of chronic on-the-job exposure to pesticides. Fernandez is a Salinas, California farmworker who spent 11 years applying fumigants without access to protective equipment. “The inspectors are friends with the bosses. They say, ‘So what if this Mexican dies, there are more.’ They just find other workers.”[1]

Industrial agriculture is notorious for low wages, workplace health hazards, racial discrimination, and dependence on the legal vulnerability of undocumented immigrant labor. This is especially true in California, where twenty-first century agriculture was built on wringing short-term utility from workers, soil, and petrochemicals to minimize costs and maximize profits.

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Debunking False Solutions

Graphic: Detail from an ADM Brochure on Ethanol


Earlier this year, U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman visited agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland’s Decatur, Illinois, headquarters to tout its part in President Bush’s Biofuels Initiative. The secretary posed for photos with then Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Chair G. Allen Andreas and announced that the Department of Energy would offer up to $160 million for the construction of three bio-refineries to expand U.S. ethanol production.

"Partnerships with industries like these will lead to new innovation and discovery that will usher in an era of reduced dependence on foreign sources of oil, while strengthening our economy at home,” Secretary Bodman said from ADM’s trade floor. Given the absence of conditions imposed by the Department of Energy, the three bio-refineries could well be partially coal-powered. ADM already operates coal-fired plants at its company base in Decatur, Illinois, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and is currently adding another coal-powered facility at its Clinton, Iowa ethanol plant and planning another coal fired plant in the town of Columbus, Nebraska.

 

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The Greening Economy

In municipalities across the country, an unusual phenomenon is gaining momentum. It is the merger of two ideas traditionally believed to be opposites of each other—economic development and environmental protection—to create  strategies for “green economic development,” or “sustainable development.” The creation of a “sustainable economy” is an attempt to find effective solutions to our country’s dependency on fossil fuels, while simultaneously boosting local economies through job creation. Now investors and policy-makers everywhere are pleasantly surprised to discover that green economic development promotes both, environmental protection and production performance.

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About this issue

Climate change threatens all forms of life on planet Earth, but when it comes to human life, it is the poor communities that will be hit first, and hardest. Human-caused climate change is now accepted as a reality, even by the mainstream media. But the effects of climate change on our communities are still covered only intermittently; and ideas about how we can organize for positive change are almost never covered at all.

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Contaminated Contracting in Post-Katrina New Orleans

How is it possible that soil samples from St. Bernard Parish in New Orleans have been found to reveal a serious health threat by countless environmental groups, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to insist that the area is safe, despite massive spills of oil and toxic chemicals?

“The first step in solving any problem is admitting that you have one, but the government is pretending there’s no problem,” says Anne Rolfes, executive director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB), a non-profit that measures air and soil quality for residents near Exxon Mobil’s Chalmette power plant. After Katrina, LABB empowered residents to measure the contamination stemming from the toxic stew of chemicals and oil saturating the parish from 44 spills and Murphy Oil’s Meraux refinery.

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Equity and the Environment: Rebuilding Green - Rebuilding Black

New Orleans Devastation1 ©2005 Scott Braley

B. Jesse Clarke:  New Orleans stands as an all-too-powerful example of what the future may hold if we fail to advance progressive alternatives to the ongoing planned disaster of current models of economic development. In looking at global economic situations, it is clear that we need to promote green economic development as a significant part of the solution, both for climate change and rebuilding, in the wake of disasters. But how can this solution be integrated with historic equity challenges faced by low-income people in communities of color in the distribution of public and private resources?

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