By Wade Crowfoot
Environmental and Climate Justice
ARTICLES ON ENVIRONMENTAL AND CLIMATE JUSTICE
The green jobs conversation most often centers on industrialized sectors that require millions of dollars in capital—from high-tech clean energy to biodiesel. However, the world’s basic natural resources—land, water, and farming—are the essential building blocks for combating climate change and can provide immediate avenues to build an equitable green economy. Sustainable agriculture, urban food production, and environmentally sound distribution systems provide opportunity for economic revitalization through true local ownership. Urban planning and policy in the United States should embrace locally-owned sustainable food enterprises as essential to all economic development efforts.
Mandela MarketPlace is a leader in development, application, and assessment of food systems. The organization evolved over the last eight years, first as a project of the Environmental Justice Institute and Tides Center, and then as a nonprofit in 2006 with a mission to strengthen community health, integrity, and identity by providing economic opportunity and empowerment for inner-city Oakland residents and businesses, and local family farms. “We support our community by providing healthy, locally grown produce and educating them about organic and pesticide free food,” says Yuro Chavez, West Oakland Youth Standing Empowered (WYSE) team member and Mandela Food Cooperative worker-owner.
By Ellen Choy and Ana Orozco
As oil reserves dwindle across the planet, the oil industry is seeking to exploit energy-intensive, dirtier, ‘bottom-of-the-barrel’ crude oil, such as can be found in the Alberta Tar Sands of Canada and the Orinoco Belt in Venezuela. Rather than shifting to renewable energy and conservation, the industry is pushing to “retrofit” 33 existing refineries, construct five new ones, and build thousands of miles of new pipeline in the United States. The Chevron refinery in Richmond, California is one of the battlegrounds in this global struggle.
The impending crisis of global climate change represents a moral failure on our part to be stewards of the Earth and harbingers of justice.
Climate change impacts and poverty are intricately connected. Studies indicate that people in poverty around the world will be the least able to deal with the effects of climate change. Increased drought, flooding, and disease will only exasperate the already dire conditions of those living in poverty.
By 2080, 1.8 billion people could be living in a water-scarce environment. Up to 330 million people could be displaced by flooding and 220-400 million people could be exposed to malaria. By 2020, crop yields will likely decline by 50 percent in Africa, further exacerbating an already dire situation. With increased drought, rising temperatures, and more erratic rainfall, the UN Development Program predicts up to 600 million more people will face malnutrition.
In Ethiopia and Kenya, two of the world’s most drought-prone countries, children age five and under are 36-50 percent more likely to be malnourished if they were born during a drought. In Ethiopia, an additional two million children were malnourished in 2005.
In the wake of endless corporate media reports on whether or not climate change is real and how many polar ice caps are melting, a 48-page classified report created by Homeland Security was released last year at a special house subcommittee hearing chaired by Representative Anna Eschu on the "security impact of global climate change."
This briefing confirmed what many of us poor people already suspected: climate change is likely to result in the ratcheting up of a police state to “control” us, the crowded masses, as we riot for food, water, and land.
It’s no mystery, what will happen to our poor in a future crisis. Look at what’s already happened to low-income communities in the past. From Haiti to New Orleans—in extreme cold, we have frozen to death; in extreme heat and drought, we’ve died of thirst, hunger, and exposure—with no more crops, livestock, or land.
“White Flight” to the suburbs and redlining housing policies have shaped the way our communities are today. Until these issues of racism and discrimination are brought front and center, real solutions and equity will not be forthcoming. For decades, driving and development patterns favoring suburbanites have polluted poor communities and destroyed the environment
While SB375 seems to make sense in theory, its implementation may fall short on long term equity due to unfunded mandates and unspoken racism. Getting the public to buy into the idea of living in compact urban developments rather than sprawling suburban subdivisions miles away from urban problems will not be an easy sell.
Suburban communities have reaped the benefits born from the economic and environmental exploitation of poor communities. They still don’t see how conserving the environment and driving less will benefit them economically.
The health and economic well-being of people living in polluted urban communities has been ignored for decades at the local, state, and federal levels. Cities like Pleasanton have long refused to comply with existing state requirements to zone for affordable housing.
Climate change has provided the perfect “disaster capitalism” storm: an excuse for expanding corporate ownership and control over the commons. The offset provisions embodied in the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) are symptomatic of a much larger, insidious trend that, in essence, “commodifies” all of life and thus seriously threatens every living being. In addition to the impacts of warming itself, low-income people and communities of color will also shoulder the burden of false solutions if the climate legislation currently in the United States Congress becomes climate policy.
The scale of this trend is little appreciated. Most of us envision renewable energy supports going to wind turbines and solar installations, but in fact the bulk of the research and development funding is being directed toward finding biomass/ plant-based substitutes for virtually everything that is now achieved with fossil fuels.
Jessica Sanchez first learned that her tap water was toxic from a flier sent to her home in East Orosi, Tulare County by the local water provider. The tap water, she learned, violates the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) health standards for nitrates, which cause cancer and blue baby syndrome.
Surrounded by orange, peach, nectarine, and grape fields, East Orosi (population 500) has an irrigation canal that runs down its main street. Synthetic fertilizers applied to neighboring farms have seeped into its drinking water.
“[The water board] said they would control it, but they put a chemical in the water [that] made it worse. And we still have nitrates,” says Sanchez, and adds: “A lot of us are low-income [but] we buy bottled water... When we run out, we have to be asking our neighbors for rides. Sometimes people even take their gallons and walk a mile to the next town.”
Jessica and her family are not alone. Tens of thousands of San Joaquin Valley residents lack clean, affordable drinking water, and climate change threatens to exacerbate the crisis.
The entire history of agriculture—humanity’s grandest enterprise—occurred during the last 10,000 years; a mere blink of an eye in geological terms. As hunter-gatherers, we were dependent upon each other in a system that demanded social equity for survival. But by producing surplus food, agriculture opened the door to division of labor and the possibility of socially stratified societies in which farmers lost control of what they produced. As farming shifted from subsistence to commodity production in large parts of the world, gargantuan agribusiness corporations came to dominate a global system in which those who produce the food and work the hardest profit the least.
Humans developed farming in an exceptionally wet, warm, and stable period in Earth’s climate history. All of our current knowledge of seed saving, plant selection, sowing, planting, growing, and harvesting has relied on predictable seasons and weather patterns. How do we cope in an age of climate change? By the end of this century, climate scientists warn, average temperatures could rise by 4° Celsius (9° Farenheit)––a forecast that likely underestimates the impacts of dangerous feedback loops that are not included in most climate models. Weather patterns are predicted to become increasingly volatile with droughts, floods, and temperature extremes within seasons.