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)

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 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.

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                            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.

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