What’s Next? Advancing the Climate Movement in a Post Election, Post Sandy World Must Include Climate Justice

Listen in to any climate action group meeting around the country and you will probably hear some version of the same questions being discussed right now: How can we keep the urgency of climate change at the fore?  And what do we need to do to further build a grassroots movement for urgent and ambitious action on climate? And most important, where are there opportunities for common projects or connected work? 

On November 15, the Climate Reality Check Coalition (description at the end of blog) held the latest in a series of national conference calls to help strengthen community organizing on climate.  These calls serve to make space for voices from the many and varied constituencies within the climate movement.  I like listening in to these conference calls because the participants usually are not folks from Washington, DC, think tanks, but activists from organizations close to their base.

On the most recent call were voices from NC Warn, the NAACP Climate Initiative, the Black Mesa Water Coalition, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Food and Water Watch, and 350.org. These varied organizations strongly believe in building a movement locally.  Yet at the same time they see that their own grassroots organizing can be more powerful when informed and encouraged by actions being taken by other groups also working on climate justice in other parts of the country. Their respective websites give one a feel for what is important to their constituencies and the ways they talk about climate concerns in the context of social justice. You might want to check out the respective websites for ideas, inspiration, and photos of the people that participate in the calls. (Respective websites appear at end).

I highlighted points made during the call in bold green:

On the ground struggles are critical.  Jihon Gearon from the Black Mesa Water Coalition in Flagstaff, AZ, emphasized that every community battling fossil fuels is important because each one exemplifies what transitions can look like. The Navaho nation is party to many settlements regarding extraction of natural resources.  Between now and 2019 many of those settlements are expiring;  some groups want to keep the settlements for another 30 years, but others believe in making a transition to sustainable practices.

For example, the Black Mesa Water Coalition has the goal of holding the Peabody Coal Company accountable for the damage done to Black Mesa’s water, environment, and community health; to permanently close the coalmines on Black Mesa; and to replace the coal-fired generating stations fed by the Black Mesa mines with renewable energy.  The national environmental organizations are sometimes surprised by the changes achieved by the local and regional groups.  The progress underscores the need for building more organizing capacity at the local levels.  (Photo below of Black Mesa Water Coalition workers)

Image

 Speak to what people want, not what seems politically feasible.  Mark Slossberg from Food and Water Watch stressed the importance of organizing at the community level with a clear message about impacts, which creates a tie between the community’s issue and broader climate issues.  Unique issues concerning water, air, traffic, and health can be tied to climate issues.  For example, the anti-fracking movement focuses on the impact on community water supplies.  In NY, the coalition against fracking is comprised of hundreds of organizations that have succeeded in delaying fracking by electing and holding account local officials.  In Longmont, Colorado, a ballot initiative to ban hydraulic fracturing was won by people talking about what they care about; the citizen effort spent around $20,000, compared to a $507,000 industry-backed campaign to defeat the measure.

Focus on local struggles and place-based organizing.  Jacqui Patterson, the Director of the NAACP Climate Justice Initiative, reminded climate action organizers to avoid issue “silos”. For example, the end coal campaigns cannot be at the expense of different communities facing impacts from fracking.  She advocated for community-owned utilities, carbon neutral communities, and local self reliance and resilience.

                                                         Image

                            Jacqui Patterson, Director of NAACP Climate Justice Initiative

Climate justice has to be part of any solution to the climate crisis. Pete McDowell of NC Warn said core values give climate activists a positive identity of doing their duty and mission; activists should take pride in mission.  He urged that climate activists adapt their language to what gives meaning to people’s lives.  “We have to de-brand our approach; there’s too much organizational chauvinism.” He viewed climate activism as broader than traditional environmental groups and climate action campaigns need to allow collaborating groups to have their own identity.

Recast the climate question as a moral question.  This is another important way to challenge fossil fuel, according to Mae Boeve.  350.org is partnering with Energy Action, a coalition of 50 youth-led environmental and social justice groups working together to build the youth clean energy and climate movement. Thirty groups are working on divestment from fossil fuel corporations across the country.

 How to use the first 100 days of Obama’s next term.  Ted Glick, from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network felt the climate action agenda must essentially focus on Obama. The first 100 days can be an occasion to bring national attention to the urgency of ending consumption of all fossil fuels, not just coal.  Gas and all other fuels that release green house gases (GHG’s) block the transition to renewables. Ted advocated for actions around No to Keystone XL Pipeline, and urged organizations to call for a National Climate Summit.  He is in favor of a carbon tax.

We can continue to push for a lot more.  Mae Boeve of 350.org urged that groups push for answers from the President. The Keystone XL pipeline is an immediate target nationally. She posed a few questions for groups.  What can we learn from other groups?  What new tools can bring people into the movement?  How can we build scale?  What can we learn from the Obama campaign itself?

 Questions and comments from listeners: 

 Lies in advertisements by natural gas companies go virtually unanswered.  Can groups take them on?  Can we spend money to do counter ads?

 Action alerts are ineffective.  Better than e-mailing elected officials who don’t pay much attention, show up in great numbers in district offices to force them into action.  Apply heat.

 How to deal with weak Congress proposals on controlling climate change? One listener suggested that we build power by organizing around where Congress people get elected.  We have to work at all levels and tie politicians to those funding them. Another suggested putting together local climate action teams that highlight how to reduce the demand for energy.

 What about U.S. international negotiations?  From a policy aspect, who is appointed to the U.N. is important, but until we take dramatic action as a nation to cut emissions, we won’t be effective on the international scene.  Other grassroots efforts in other countries can give examples for people, since mainstream media doesn’t give attention.

How to prevent moving from coal to downside of investing in massive gas infrastructure? Public education is needed.

Alert people to the methane releases in the Arctic.  Is it on the radar?

To hear the entire conference call, go to the recording at http://bit.ly/Udjyic.

Further Information on Conference Call Participating Organizations at:

 Climate Reality Check Coalition http://climaterealitycheck.org/   The coalition is a diverse alliance of organizations united by a deep appreciation for all interdependent life on the Earth, including the entire human family. “Together, the public, private, and nonprofit sectors can and must develop practical and transformative solutions — solutions that heal old wounds, and that move our nation and world closer to achieving social, economic and environmental justice.”

NC Warn (Waste Awareness Reduction Network) http://www.ncwarn.org/   The organization is part of the Black, Brown, and Green Alliance of Durham, NC. In partnership with allies, including Greenpeace, AARP-NC, the NC Housing Coalition and the NC Justice Center, NC WARN is working to change Duke Energy Progress’ business model of building unneeded, expensive power plants and repeatedly raising electricity rates.  Duke Energy Progress is now the largest electricity corporation in the United States. Shifting them away from fossil fuels could be the global game-changer humanity needs to avert runaway climate catastrophe.

NAACP Climate Justice Initiative http://www.naacp.org/programs/entry/climate-justice  The NAACP Climate Justice Initiative advances an advocacy agenda which promotes policies on issues such as clean energy, transportation equity, food justice, equity in urban/rural development, economic empowerment/green economy, health justice, education justice, disaster planning, housing justice, etc with desired outcomes and processes framed by four Rs: 1) Real Reductions in the emissions that are driving climate change and harming our communities; 2) Reparations through resource provision for mitigation and adaptation that is controlled by our communities; 3) Representation at state, local, national, and global levels in decision making around policies, programs and practices; 4) Rights Based Responses that ensure that human and civil rights are upheld through the transition.

Black Mesa Water Coalition http://www.blackmesawatercoalition.org/  Black Mesa Water Coalition is dedicated to preserving and protecting Mother Earth and the integrity of Indigenous Peoples’ cultures, with the vision of building sustainable and healthy communities. BMWC strives to empower young people while building sustainable communities.

 350.org http://www.350.org/ 350.org is building a global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis. Its online campaigns, grassroots organizing, and mass public actions are led from the bottom up by thousands of volunteer organizers in over 188 countries.

 Food and Water Watch http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org  Food and Water Watch helps people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping the global commons — our shared resources — under public control.

 Chesapeake Climate Action Network http://www.chesapeakeclimate.org/  CCAN’s mission is to build and mobilize a powerful grassroots movement in the unique region that surrounds our nation’s capital to call for state, national and international policies that will put us on a path to climate stability.

Also mentioned during the call:

Energy Action Coalition http://www.energyactioncoalition.org/  Energy Action Coalition is a coalition of 50 youth-led environmental and social justice groups. Working with hundreds of campus and youth groups, dozens of youth networks, and hundreds of thousands of young people, Energy Action Coalition and its partners have united a burgeoning movement behind winning local victories and coordinating on state, regional, and national levels in the United States and Canada.

END

 

On the Front Lines of Tar Sands Resistance

 

Image

 

Photo Caption: Dozens of protesters opposed to the Keystone XL oil pipeline held a rally on Nov.5, 2012 at the Washington, D.C., office of a firm lobbying on behalf of TransCanada, the company behind the pipeline. Four protesters were arrested after staging a sit-in and refusing to leave. 

One of the first decisions for the elected President in new term will be dealing with the Keystone XL pipeline project.  Recently I listened to a conference call interview* with 3 activists from Alberta, Nebraska, and Texas about current strategies in the bigger picture of long-term opposition to tar sands pipeline proposals in different parts of the U.S. and Canada.  Those interviewed are leaders on the front lines of resistance: Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network’s Canadian Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign (www.ienearth.org), Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska (www.boldnebraska.org), and Ethan Nuss of the Texas Tar Sands Blockade (@KXLBlockade). 

 All three activists echoed the sentiment that groups throughout North America can learn from each other’s experiences in resisting expansion of tar sands mining and transport.  All urged that the groups keep communicating with each other and support each other’s work.

 I’ve arranged my notes from the call in the form of questions.

 What’s happening with the southern KXL blockade in Texas?  Ethan Nuss said the human blockade continues. For over a month protesters have blockaded pipeline construction in E.Texas by sitting in trees.  They have no intentions of coming down until the pipeline is stopped.   The protesters are using a variety of direct actions to stop construction.  Each action has the opportunity to tell a story and bring to light the abuses on local communities.   He explained that Texas and Oklahoma landowners have united in civil disobedience (CD) to stop TransCanada’s KXL pipeline.  They didn’t come to this lightly and would much rather use legal tactics, but people feel they have no options left, after 4 years of petitions, lobbies, and political organizing.  Multi-national corporate bullies have not respected them. Land was taken by fraudulent means, with lies from company representatives. The CD participants were met with alarming responses, such as torture tactics which violated their right to assembly.  Local public police were hired by TransCanada to refuse access of food and water.  Fifty people went past the police line to deliver food and supplies.  More than twenty were arrested;  about 100 people attended a support rally.  The press is giving coverage. 

 What is the Texas KXL Blockade Strategy?  Ethan sees the blockade action in the proud American tradition of CD.  All major movements have arrived at point where existing legal lines do not permit change.  Extra-legal actions and CD are necessary.  They want to open legal space for the landowners to question how the company in Texas is operating and behaving across the country as well. They see their work in Texas being pertinent to other areas where pipeline resistance is underway.

 What’s happening with the Northern Gateway project in Canada?  Clayton Thomas-Muller answered that the status of the Northern Gateway pipeline is all a shell game.  The politics are grounded in the knowledge of infrastructure intervention.  One approach is mass direct action (3000 signed on for direct action to Defend the Coast in British Columbia in October).  The outcome looks good—businesses, unions and the government Council are all standing in opposition.  TransCanada says it is more economic to use Gateway and bring down the price of gas (false!).  Gateway faces many years of legal challenges (e.g., the lack of consultation with indigenous communities, treaty infringements).  Another issue is a potential takeover of areas of tar sands by a Chinese firm’s free trade bilateral agreement between Canada and China, and the right of China to contest land-locking their mineral rights.

 What is happening with Trailbreaker line 9, the pipeline proposed for reversal of flow to allow tar sands crude to be transported to Portland, Maine?    A number of native groups in Ontario and Quebec have been fighting the erosion of requirements for a full environmental impact assessment.

 How are First Nation tribes involved with resistance?  Clayton explained that many tribes are affected by the various pipeline proposals and developments. The Indigenous Environmental Network organizes for grassroots intervention against the pipeline and works on baseline education for communities in front-line extraction areas.  The campaign targets the Northern Gateway and Trailbreaker, as well as the McKenzie Valley Gas project (to supply gas for Tar Sands extraction).  IEN sends an anti- KXL campaigner to tribal councils and gets resolutions opposing the pipeline across their lands.  They have convened gatherings;  one led to the Mother Earth Accord (MEA), a political declaration opposing the KXL with particular concerns by indigenous people (treaty rights violations, health and safety, publicly-owned infrastructure such as water utilities supplying Lakota nation and non-indigenous communities, the Ogallala aquifer).  MEA is significant because it has over 60 pages of endorsements, including political parties, NGO’s, tribal groups.  The MEA occasioned the only direct exchange with Obama.  During the White House Tribal Summit, Rosebud Sioux successfully handed the MEA directly to President at private dinner.  Their corporate campaign targets include banks, e.g., Royal Bank of Scotland, etc. 

 What about tribal actions in the U.S.?  In the Dakotas, a lot of groups both indigenous and non-indigenous are meeting in upcoming months to identify next steps forward on the northern leg of KXL and approval points.  Strategies involve evoking sovereignty over sacred sites, direct legal intervention, CD, and working with “cowboy-Indian alliances” that have developed over the years.  In addition to pipeline concerns, the impact from refinery operations and how they impact people have not been that visible up to now.  Racialized communities of color exist amidst the big industrial refining operations.  A lot of environmental racism exists in the Gulf coast around the refineries.  Those voices need to be heard too, from Houston to Port Arthur, Texas.

 What can we do to support your work?  Clayton urged using social media to follow campaigns on twitter and facebook.  He suggested sending opinion pieces to conventional media to highlight IENearth work:  http://www.IENearth.org.

 What’s happening in Nebraska with KXL?  Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska reported on lessons learned from organizing.  The advocacy group started to have a voice to work on environmental issues with a progressive perspective in 2010.  Soon thereafter the Keystone XL issue came up.  They decided to first organize and establish a legal structure, with people farmers and ranchers in communities where the pipeline will cross.  The lesson learned from the first Keystone battle was to build an organization to take on the company. This time around Bold Nebraska is organizing landowners to tell TransCanada to talk to their legal team.  New Energy Voters.Org emerged to give people a way to elect representatives that would have new energy future policy as well as Keystone concerns. 

 What can individuals do?  One of the conference call listeners said “Our town in Connecticut purchases TransCanada electricity through a hydro project in Quebec.”  Jane Kleeb urged citizens to ask each town/city government which company supplies electricity, and how much it is paying for energy from TransCanada.  Ask a national group to find alternative sources of energy.  Speak directly to city council to ask if aware of TC’s practices and what are alternative sources of energy that people can do.  TC is not a good neighbor.

 –Submitted by Susan Redlich, Volunteer with 350MA

*The Climate Reality Check Network sponsored the call. It was recorded and facilitated by Public Citizen’s Energy Program  (www.citizen.org)   Blog: www.energyvox.org

 

 

 

 

High School Students Explain Significance of Climate Change

On Saturday Oct. 27th, this young woman spoke to the threat and magnitude of climate change before a crowd at the week long Vigil to End Climate Silence in Boston’s Government Center. It would be three days before several elected officials would choose to follow suit, responding the the shocking destruction of Hurricane Sandy. On this election day, voters are still wondering where many candidates stand on this issue.

Recording by Susan R.

Update: Don’t miss this amazing essay, posted today on Climate Progress, from 16 year old climate activist and now Sandy survivor, Maya Faison.

“I am 16 years old and I am currently in my home in Laurelton, Queens.  It is day six with no heat, no power and no gas in my mom’s car to escape.
Trees are down all over my neighborhood and at night it is pitch dark, with only the moon as light. I feel paralyzed with cold.

…Our nation is in danger and my future is in danger.
This is the future I want: a country that is better prepared for climate and environmental disasters, and is working proactively to mitigate global warming. Just like we have fire drills in school, we need to have evacuation plans and disaster preparedness kits.  We must rely less on oil and more on alternative energy, and reduce carbon emissions by any means necessary. We need more preservation of natural resources and less consumption. We cannot continue to provide subsidies to oil and gas companies that are wreaking havoc on our earth.  Science matters, and we must educate the next generation on the realities of climate change so we are all working to promote a better, more sustainable future.”

~ Nuevaspora

Vigil to End Climate Silence ~ Finale

I will not go down under the ground, 
Cause somebody tells me that deaths comin’ round

I have read all their statements and I’ve not said a word
But now Lawd God let my poor voice be heard
Let me die in my footsteps 
Before I go down under the ground

Let me Die in My Footsteps
~Bob Dylan

I would like to sum up the end of the Vigil to End Climate Silence. In the end the silence was broken but it had little to do with the vigil and more to do with the images of destruction all along the east coast. These images mirrored the warnings of the prominent climate scientists and those familiar with their work. Until recently, much of this had been dismissed as alarmist and it was even the fodder of jokes.

However, as the storm barreled towards the east coast the levity stopped and all along the eastern seaboard people bunkered down. By the time it hit land, having maintained much of it’s massive reach, there was little anyone could do but watch, helpless, as electricity went out all along the eastern seaboard and portions of the most populous city in the country were submerged in sea water. The storm has thus far been reported to have killed over 180 people (with at least 113 killed in the US), and has left many others displaced, in some cases indefinitely.

It is important to note that in the midst of the historic failure of our national leaders to minimize the likelihood of such events by effectively curbing green house gas emissions, and despite their present failure to address the situation head on, many citizens have been vigilant.

Vigil to End Climate Silence ~ Wednesday, Oct. 24th, 2012

For nearly the entire week prior, a steady stream of volunteers had been maintaining a Vigil to End Climate Silence in Boston’s Government Center. Over 200 volunteers took on shifts, calling attention to the failure of our national leaders to address the changing climate and take necessary measures for keeping us safe. The vigil was organized by 350MA and other local groups. Volunteers from all over the area came out, and they included several organizers from Occupy Boston. It is important to mention that though the vigil was nominally called off this Monday in the wake of Sandy, it continued none the less.

Two of the volunteers insisted on staying and one, Sage Radachowsky, insisted on staying through the entire night. He was sheltered only by a self made “occupod” tied to a flag pole. (The occupod is a carbon neutral, mobile shelter attached to a bike, designed by Radachowsky and Brian Brown). Another Occupy organizer offered to stay out with him protected by just a rain coat, but was discouraged by Radachowsky from sitting out in the storm without any shelter at all. On one side of the occupod a giant sign read “Denial is Not an Energy Policy”, on the other side was a sign that read, “What’s the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on”.

Vigil to End Climate Silence, as storm approached on Monday Oct. 29th 2012

“I read Thoreau and Peter Gelderloos, and listened to the radio through the night.  Finally, around 9pm, the storm broke and all became silent. There was a quiet peace for half an hour, before all the whirring blowers and fans of the city came back on. I walked to the wharf and looked at the sea” explained Radachowsky.

“I stayed out because I wanted our statement to be fierce, and to make a stand that would be noticed by many people. I didn’t want to throw in the towel just because a hurricane was on the way. The worst that would have happened, most likely, is that the trike shelter would have gotten smashed to bits and my camera and phone gotten wet.  I would have ducked for cover, if that had happened. As it went, I spent many tense hours wondering when the bug gust would come and blow it apart, but the vehicle was resilient, and it bent instead of breaking! Like a birch tree, the walls bent over sideways and then sprung right back up. This made me happy, because I love the quality of resilience, and I think that our energy systems need to have that quality, so to find it in something i built made me happy.”

Despite the battering of the storm, the vigil persisted and was able to meet its target goal, continuing nonstop in Boston’s Government Center from Tuesday Oct. 23 to Tuesday Oct. 30th.

While national leaders continue to refrain from discussing a truly comprehensive energy policy, one that takes our safety into account, ordinary citizens are entering the public discussion and demanding that we end our support of fossil fuels and reduce our emissions now. These are people who are willing to risk their own comfort and safety to protect others. That too is a force to be reckoned with.

~ Nuevaspora