Manuel Esteva is a San Franciso resident and mother of three; a child care worker, and a member of the community organization POWER. She joined POWER three years ago after hearing a presentation at her church. She was interviewed in the studio of Radio RP&E.
Clarke: Tell us why you are interested in climate change. Why does POWER connect transit and climate?
Esteva: (Tr.) The connection really started [with] the campaign for young people to be able to travel around the city without having to pay.
We started realizing that not only would this benefit youth, but we could also [help] the environment.
A lot more natural disasters are affecting people in cities, like the one that just hit New York. And this is caused by global warming. What cities like ours can do is take these small steps that, over time, can have a large impact on the climate.
San Francisco is a small city that can have a national and global impact. It’s a city that sees itself as a green city, always trying to make strides in terms of community health. We can serve as an example to other cities when we create policies that eliminate dependence on cars.
We know that cars create 20-percent of the pollution in the city. When public transit is made accessible, people use it more. So we can achieve big things when we create [these] policies.
After months of silence on the presidential campaign—preceded by years of denial by big industry—climate change was forced back into the national political conversation last October by Hurricane Sandy, which swept across the northeastern U.S. A New York Times opinion piece entitled, “Is This the End?” ran with a photo of the Statue of Liberty underwater; and a front page story in the San Francisco Chronicle noted that “water levels in San Francisco Bay could rise 16 inches or more by 2050, inundating shoreline habitat and infrastructure.”
Meanwhile, 14,000 public-housing tenants in New York were left for weeks without electricity or running water in the wake of Sandy.
After President Obama’s reelection, California Senator Barbara Boxer predicted that several of her colleagues would be quick to introduce climate legislation in the new Congress—a move that had been considered political suicide since the Waxman-Markey bill was killed by a Republican Senate in 2009.
But will legislation considered politically realistic be enough to address the scale and urgency of the climate crisis? And will it address the equity crisis? Imara Jones wrote in Colorlines, “Sandy smashed into the world’s wealthiest city but hit its poorest neighborhoods the hardest.”
We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For
Activistas from the New Majority
At the Empowering Women of Color conference in March this year, I was moved to hear Grace Lee Boggs, in an open dialogue with Angela Davis, say that we must re-imagine everything; change how we think, what we do, to re-invent our society and institutions in order for revolution to happen. And as I listened to female MC and rapper Rocky Rivera give short glimpses into the revolutionary lives of three iconic women activists—Gabriela Silang, Dolores Huerta, and Angela Davis—in the 16 bars of “Heart,” I wondered who would be our next movement builders.
The climate justice portal of RP&E, the national journal for social and environmental justice, aims to provide information and analysis that will strengthen our efforts to win real solutions to the climate crisis—alternatives that will lead to social equity as well as equilibrium between humans and the natural world. If current proposals for market-based strategies such as market driven carbon trading take hold, poor countries and poor communities will continue to bear the heaviest burden of pollution.
When the implementation of California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, AB32, came to a grinding halt due to San Francisco Superior Court’s March 17, 2011 ruling that it violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), it came as a shock to industry and environmentalists alike. It would not be surprising if leading-edge environmental legislation like AB32 were to draw fire from climate-change deniers and oil interests. Indeed, the most recent attempt to derail the law, last year’s Proposition 23, was pushed by two out-of-state oil companies. Voters, mobilized in large part by grassroots climate justice groups, roundly defeated that attempt.
But the lawsuit against California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) regulatory framework for AB32 was undertaken by the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment (CRPE) and Communities for a Better Environment (CBE)—two groups that advocate on behalf of “frontline and fence-line environmental justice communities.” They represent low-income people and people of color who live, work and play in the shadow of refineries in Wilmington and Richmond, in the agribusiness fields of the Central Valley, near the waste dumps of Kettleman City, and in other California communities plagued by industrial pollution.
More surprising still, CARB’s regulations are raising hackles among another unlikely constituency: indigenous peasant farmers in the remote jungle of southeastern Mexico.
A lawsuit brought by environmental justice groups has put AB 32 on hold. The plaintiffs are from communities located near agricultural and industrial operations and say that “trading” carbon credits will generate more pollution near their homes. The court’s March 17 decision will require California Air Resources Board (CARB) to go back and look at alternatives to the cap-and-trade plan, analyzing options, such as directly regulating polluters. While there has been quite a bit of coverage on the impacts of the “trade” portion of the program on communities located near greenhouse gas emitters, few seem to have been aware that the program also has implications for communities that live near the “offset” locations that aim to reduce these emissions. —STC
California timber firms could emerge as big winners in the state’s fight against global warming, earning millions of dollars through the sale of carbon credits under the set of rules approved by the Air Resources Board on December 16, 2010.
I started this issue as a skeptic of climate change. I didn’t doubt its reality, the human contribution to it, or the threat it represents to the ecological health of the planet but I doubted that this crisis created an organizing moment that could benefit low-income people and communities of color. When Race, Poverty and the Environment covered this topic in 2006, [Clarke] efforts within the United States to organize in response to climate change were scattered and largely led by white environmentalists. We had to turn to a Canadian author to find a succinct description of a framework for green economics. [Milani]
Since then the global crisis has become more apparent and we have seen the development of a much broader engagement in climate justice organizing. Judging from the wide-ranging responses we received to our call for submissions, a movement is emerging.
On an Eco-bus tour of Detroit during the 2010 U.S. Social Forum, 17-year-old Janice Nyamakye strives to capture everything with her video camera: the tour guide’s comments, the city sights, as well as the ‘sites’—a dirty incinerator, salt mining operations, and power plants—all located in low-income communities of color. The tour informs Nyamakye’s own work in environmental remediation back home in Worcester, Massachusetts where she has been involved with Toxic Soil Busters (TSB) for the past four years.
As an organization, TSB effects improvements in the lives and environments of urban youth by employing them to first test local soil for lead levels, then remediate and redesign affected environments as needed. “We are a youth-led cooperative business,” says Nyamakye proudly. “The youth do everything.” As a videographer, she uses media to connect different EJ communities and amplify the message of youth working for environmental justice. From California to Massachusetts, groups like TSB, Grind for the Green (G4G), and Third Eye Unlimited are using new outreach methods to successfully reach a new generation of information-seeking cyberkids. And increasingly, youth interested in acting for environmental change are finding outlets through national organizations like It’s Getting Hot In Here (itsgettinghotinhere.org) and SustainUs: US Youth for Sustainable Development (sustainus.org).
The roots of the environmental justice movement lie in an archetypical struggle between low-income communities of color and industrial polluters—refineries, incinerators, landfills, and dirty ports, to name a few. In the last few years, leaders of this movement have worked ardently to infuse an environmental politic into racial and economic justice campaigns and to underscore local control of common resources and community-based solutions to social and ecological ills.
Now the fruits of this labor are becoming evident. What was seen as isolated pockets of noxious industrial impacts are now being viewed as symptoms of larger phenomena that create other social inequities. People are connecting the impacts of toxic industry to other injustices, such as forced migration and poverty jobs, and coming together to address these multiple crises.
On a hot July afternoon in Detroit last summer, over 300 movement organizers from across the United States gathered to plot a course for ecological justice as part of the U.S. Social Forum. “We come from environmental justice communities who have been on the frontlines of the effects of polluting industries like waste incineration. But [we] also come from economic justice struggles... and immigrant [communities that] understand the connection between land and life,” said Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan, strategy initiatives director for Movement Generation based in Oakland, California.
Raheem Payton used to think nothing of littering streets until he discovered his community garden. Now he is angry that he and his friends ever did such a thing. “I’m an advocate for putting your trash in the right place now,” he says, “and I try to keep my friends on the straight path, too.” Payton discovered his calling earlier than other youths through a program called Literacy for Environmental Justice (LEJ) in the Bayview district of San Francisco. Founded in 1998 by a coalition of youth, educators, and community leaders, LEJ addresses the ecological and health concerns of Bayview-Hunters Point and surrounding communities of southeast San Francisco.
The project that Payton participates in operates a native plants nursery
at a former dumpsite near Candlestick Park. The garden is the primary
supplier of plant stock to two major restoration projects in San
Francisco—Candlestick Point State Recreation Area and Heron’s Head Park.
Payton works three hours a day in the garden transplanting starter plants into larger pots to be taken to one of the restorations sites. Already, the 18-year-old is hooked on gardening.
“I want to major in landscape architecture [and] design gardens to
encourage cities to be healthier and better looking,” he says. Community organizer for Green Action, Marie Harrison says, “These
children are gaining knowledge that is quite valuable. If there ever was
a disaster these children would know exactly how to sustain
What will it mean to our oil-steeped economy when we run out of cheap oil? Will it mean the ruined warlike world of Mad Max or the peaceful post-industrial tribalism of Ursula LeGuin? Is there a model for a modern urban post cheap oil society? How, for example, will schools and hospitals provide nutritious meals when there is not enough fuel to haul produce to urban markets. The answer is urban cooperative farming.
Utopian though it may sound, the idea is actually Cuban. Cubans are actively using urban gardening—an after-work hobby—to help them shed an oil-dependent plantation economy and create long-term sustainability.
Building a Post–Plantation Cuba
The small island nation of Cuba has been exploited in the world economy since Christopher Columbus stopped by in 1492, beginning a process of extermination for the native populations and sowing the seeds of a plantation economy based on slave labor. For most of the last 500 years, Cubans have grown sugar, coffee, and tobacco for foreign markets: first Spain, then the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
Former autoworker Rich Feldman began working in Detroit’s auto plants in 1970 with a belief that labor unions were the driving force of revolution in the U.S. Like other young activists at the time, he joined the factories to organize workers after having been involved in the radical student movement of the 1960s. Today, globalization has decimated the autoworkers. (Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that in this decade alone, the number of autoworkers in Michigan has decreased from 320,000 to 109,000.)
At the old abandoned Packard plant just outside downtown Detroit, Feldman reflects: “It’s the end of the economic American dream, which was also very destructive. On one level we have to grieve, but we also have to welcome it. Now we can move on to create another kind of American dream that is based on quality of life versus a standard of living.”
Out of necessity, the people of Detroit are shaping alternatives to the urban wreckage left by the collapse of the auto industry. And new possibilities are emerging across the city: Eastside residents have transformed their neighborhood into an outdoor public art exhibit with waste materials collected from vacant lots. Just a short drive away, a group has purchased storefronts, planted fruit trees along a few city blocks, and renamed the area “Hope District.” Elsewhere, another group has reclaimed two acres of unused and underutilized land in the city to grow produce that feeds community members. In short, the movement in Detroit is putting forth a model for creating solutions rooted in frontline communities and place-based relationships.
On the final day of the 2010 United States Social Forum scores of local activists and several hundred of their allies from across the country held a series of rallies targeted at the city’s municipal waste incinerator. The Social Forum had chosen Detroit because the city represents all the vast failures of corporate industrialism and immense possibilities for renewal. The closure of the incinerator four months later, temporary though it may be, showed the prescience of the Forum in its choice of target.
Given the wide range of themes discussed at the forum—from immigration to gender to militarism to media justice—and the broad set of issues facing Detroit—from evictions to utility shutoffs to unemployment rates of up to 50 percent—the focus on the waste incinerator for the forum’s closing action was significant.
As the marchers made their way through the nearly vacant neighborhoods of this once thriving metropolis, one chant evoked a complex web of memories. To locals, “Detroit shall burn no more!” brought to mind the 1967 race riots that resulted in thousands of buildings being burned, as well as the inner city arson incidents of the eighties, when property owners would burn down their unmarketable homes for insurance under cover of Devil’s Night (the night before Halloween). This time around, however, the metaphor served to connote the burning of waste and rising global temperatures.
Imagine waking up on December 1, 1999, and learning about the World Trade Organization (WTO) for the first time by watching it fall apart. The catalyst? An internationalist “inside-outside” strategy that leveraged people power on the outside to provide political space inside for the Global South and civil society organizations. (A note on the WTO.)
The potential for such a political moment is once again upon us, exactly 10 years after the collapse of the WTO in Seattle, Wash. This time, it’s the 15th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which will meet in Copenhagen, Denmark on December 7, 2009, for 12 days to forge a climate policy that will succeed the initial commitments set by the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. The goal is to substantially reduce atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gasses while addressing the consequences of climate disruption already underway. Global warming has already disproportionately impacted the small island states, coastal peoples, indigenous peoples, and the poor throughout the world, particularly in Africa.