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The Climate Movement Needs to Stop ‘Winning’

Cross posted from Huffington Post — Guest post by Maya Lemon from Nacogdoches, Texas

As a child my favorite chore was hand-pumping water from the thirty-foot well on our family homestead. The pump was shiny black and the water ice-cold. Then my father was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer linked to chemicals used in oil and gas production. It’s been nine years since I drank that water.

I am from an impacted community in East Texas, home to oil and gas industry, on the southern route of the Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline. My involvement in the climate movement is motivated by the reality my community faces.

Nacogdoches, Texas lies along the southern path of KXL and cannot escape tar sands. From Cushing, Oklahoma down to Beaumont, Texas pipe is buried in the ground and scheduled to go online by the end of the year. We are waiting for the shoe to drop, for tar sands oil to flow through the pipe, for the bend of welded metal to respond to the heat and corrosion of bitumen. We are waiting for an event over which we have little control, despite its potentially disastrous impact on our lives.

Within this experience lies the insight I have to offer the climate movement. My experience is limited by the fact I am a young, white woman from an unconditionally supportive family. Incomplete as it is, however, my perspective is the best thing I can offer. And so, I ask that the climate movement stops talking about “winning.”

maya meme

My community will not “win” on climate and this idea delegitimizes the extraction industry impacts we already face. I have lived alongside the reality of petroleum extraction my whole life. A pipeline runs down our driveway. I have been woken in the middle of the night by fracking fumes that burned my eyes and nose and made me feel sick. The construction of KXL south near my home has ignited new concerns about the health and safety of my family and community. In communities like mine impacts run deep and come from all sides.

I will never “win” on climate. Tanks containing benzene on my family’s property display plastic signs warning against cancer and requiring the use of a respirator. There are three active gas well sites within a two-minute walk from my front door. Scanning the land I am from it is impossible to imagine a scenario where I have not been exposed to the same chemicals that may have caused or contributed to my father’s cancer.

Last fall the direct action campaign Tar Sands Blockade (TSB) brought national attention to my community. Folks in TSB put their lives and livelihoods on the line to stop construction and raise awareness. I am glad they came to stand with my community but this also marked a loss. National climate groups celebrated Obama’s decision to delay the northern segment of KXL, intentionally overlooking that this supposed “win” was paired with an endorsement to fast track the southern arm of KXL, connecting a preexisting tar sands pipeline that ended in Oklahoma to refining communities and shipping ports in Texas. There was no delay for us–pipe was being put in the ground. In search of a “win,” the people of KXL south were written off as a loss.

Like cancer taking over the body, the oil and gas industry is too entangled in the organs of my community for a simple “win-lose” dichotomy. The industry employs us, pays for community festivals, and improves our roads. They also contaminate our water, deny us access to our land, and take away our sense of agency. Extraction industries have impacted our land, bodies, and minds in ways that can’t be erased or won.

Checking a thesaurus suggests further complications of a “winning” framework. Synonyms to “win” include “come in first” and “conquer.” In communities with an intersecting history of oppression “winning” doesn’t seem to be the most appropriate message. Utilizing ideas of “coming in first” and “conquering” among individuals living a legacy of racism, classism, and colonialism seems intrinsically problematic. Environmental Justice leaders ask instead that we “lift up” impacted communities. Will our movement be one that “conquers” or “lifts up?” Continue reading ‘The Climate Movement Needs to Stop ‘Winning’’

Energy East Open House – SansTransCanada and SaveCanada steal the show.

Crossposted from vanwaardenphoto.com

This evening TransCanada held their one and only open house in the vast city of Montreal. The open house was situated in the middle of nowhere in the east industrial area and almost everyone visiting got lost. Surprisingly, for a massive infrastructure project there were few ‘regular’ citizens to be seen. In fact there were more blue shirts in the room all night than ‘regular’ citizens.

But that statement doesn’t tell the whole story. It was clear that the majority of those blue shirts and regular citizens were actually concerned citizens. Save-Canada.com  has been attending these events, dressed in almost exactly the same fatigue as the TransCanada representatives and handing out more information about how this pipeline will impact Canadians and the world.  It seems that the TransCanada people don’t know what to do with them. Throughout the evening Save Canada, and SansTransCanada, their Quebec counterpart, engaged with citizens and even played a little game of ‘pin the spill on the pipeline’.

From my perspective it looks like TransCanada has a long uphill battle ahead. There are a lot of concerned citizens, few actual jobs and they are building an export pipeline. If you are looking for some more information here is one source and click here for more visuals

Boston 500: Challenge to Save Energy

Tomorrow, June 1, is a big day in Boston. In the midst of a heat advisory with temperatures expected in the 90s, a broad coalition of 40 community organizations and businesses are joining Mayor Menino in the Boston 500: Challenge to Save Energy, a citywide day of action to save energy, save money, and save the planet. Volunteers and organizers at more than 25 events in 12 Boston neighborhoods will aim to sign up 500 Boston residents for no-cost Renew Boston home energy assessments and weatherization.

The first Boston 500 event kicked off at 8am this morning at the administrative offices of the Boston Public Schools. The staff charged with supporting our youngest Bostonians were introduced to energy conservation strategies and became the first Renew Boston sign ups of the Challenge.

Sean Attri engages a Boston Public School staff  member about Renew Boston in the first Boston 500 event.

Sean Attri talks to a Boston Public School staffer at the first Boston 500 event.

At 9am tomorrow the Challenge begins with farmers, growers, and neighborhood organizations in Adams Park, who will celebrate the grand opening of the summer’s first Roslindale Farmers Market. GreeningRozzie will be giving out free trees with energy assessment signups and Boston Building Resources will display energy saving and green products for the home.

At 10:30 Boston’s Chief of Energy and Environment, Brian Swett will kick off a press conference outside the Jamaica Plain home of Laura Sylvan. Swett will announce exciting new energy efficiency incentives for Boston duplexes and triple deckers. Sylvan, the owner of a triple-decker, is hosting an “Energy Open House” from 10-12pm to invite neighbors to kick the tires on her new  Total Climate Control heating and cooling system and insulation installed by Renew Boston provider Next Step Living. Her’s is one of four “Energy Open House” events hosted by past Renew Boston customers on the day.

Continue reading ‘Boston 500: Challenge to Save Energy’

At Greenpeace Action Camp, a vision of the movement we want

Hi All,

Here’s a crosspost of a blog by Dave Pomerantz at Greenpeace on last week’s Action Camp. I hope to see increasing discussion of a more collective movement!

John

Title: At Greenpeace Action Camp, a vision of the movement we want

Activists and trainers from Greenpeace's Coastal Canyons Action Camp

For a long time, corporations and governments have used the tried and true tactic of divide and conquer: they’ve tried to convince us that the immigrant rights struggle is different from the worker rights struggle, which is different from the climate justice struggle, to name just a few of the efforts to make the world a more sustainable place.

Of course, those divisions are false and self-serving: all of those struggles are linked by both cause and effect. The corporations, institutions and systems that caused environmental destruction by prioritizing the wealth of the few over the health of the many are the exact same ones that have trampled the rights of workers, immigrants, and the poor. And environmental crises like climate change promise to hit immigrant and poor communities the hardest.

Last week, Greenpeace hosted an Action Camp in Southern California for 160 activists where we focused intently on pushing back against those false divisions.

Continue reading ‘At Greenpeace Action Camp, a vision of the movement we want’

Doha Climate Talks: First Farce, then Tragedy

The lead-up to COP18 which started in Doha, Qatar this week, would have been farcical, if not for the tragic reminder from Hurricane Sandy that climate change is deadly, and is already upon us.

But for a moment, let’s appreciate the ironies:

Rio+20, “The Future We Want,” summit in June of this year was declared a failure on almost all counts. The tepid commitments, all voluntary, sound exactly like the future fossil fuel industries want. But in Doha, under the mandate of the UNFCCC, parties will agree on issues like finance, carbon markets, and REDD+.

Protester in Rio, June 2012.

Sounds reasonable? Think twice- COP18 is in Qatar, an OPEC nation with some of the highest emissions per capita that has been barely involved in climate negotiations. International campaigners Avaaz posted, “having one of the OPEC leaders in charge of climate talks is like asking Dracula to look after a blood bank.”

At least we can turn to our “climate leaders,” like the EU. Turns out the debt crisis has our European friends a little distracted from their climate commitments. Spain, Germany, Italy, the U.K. and France have all cut aid to renewables.

Well there are some “easy” issues to resolve in Doha, like fund transfers from wealthy countries to developing countries for mitigation and adaptation, right? But the farce continues- just in time for the conference to start, an international report finds that most wealthy countries are falling embarrassingly short of their commitments thus far for fund transfers. So much for the easy stuff.

Okay, at least they off-set their emissions! 25k metric tons of carbon was “eliminated” in the CDM carbon market to off-set 10,000 participants traveling to Doha. Yet this comes amidst mounting evidence that the carbon markets are broken, with the value of credits in the CDM plunging 93% in two years, and the EU system failing to reduce emissions. (I’ll spare the gory details of CDM’s social injustice.)

Yet, somehow in the fracas, carbon speculators are optimistic for Doha. Unlike the negotiators, they’ve figured out they can still make a handsome profit even if emissions don’t drop. In the rush to appease and appeal to business interests, negotiators have bought into a “Green Economy” narrative, where climate solutions are reduced to financial and technological fixes. REDD+, CDM, and other carbon offsets allow industrialized countries to avoid shifting their economies off fossil fuels, and speculators in new carbon markets reap the rewards.

The Doha skyline.

The choice of some climate justice groups to skip the trip to Doha is looking better and better.

So is the COP system broken? Can we expect anything out of Doha? With Sandy barely behind us, and more storms on the horizon, a meaningful U.N. process may feel like our last hope. However most major decisions are mapped out in preparatory meetings, such as those in Bonn and Bangkok this year.  While the presence of critical voices is important, so far the COPs have proven to leave out indigenous peoples, youth, and others most impacted by climate change.  We can’t count on negotiators to broker our future with fossil fuel corporations.

The recent position paper from Focus on the Global South offers a critique and an alternative: “The capitalist system is seeking to get out of this economic crisis through a process of reconfiguration that implies a new process of exploitation of humans and nature… …To confront the interests and power of corporations, our struggle must have as starting point the daily life of the people affected by climate change and not the UNFCCC negotiations.”

Around the world, more and more people are connecting the dots and challenging the root causes of climate change and false solutions. From the Tar Sands Blockade in Texas, to First Nations in British Columbia, to indigenous communities impacted by REDD+ in Mexico, people are taking a stand for their communities and ecology. As Hurricane Sandy showed, if we aren’t already, we all may soon be on the frontlines of climate change.

As Focus on the Global South writes, “A ‘one size fits all’ model like neoliberalism or centralized bureaucratic socialism is not the answer. Instead, diversity should be expected and encouraged, as it is in nature.” Real solutions come from the grassroots.

Gonzaga Students Call for a Coal-Free Spokane

Cross-posted from the Coal Export Action

Across the Northwest, people are waking up to the threat of coal export projects in their communities.  Recently, students from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington took action, organizing a march against coal exports a few days before a forum on how coal exports and increased coal train traffic would negatively impact Spokane.

On Sunday, April 15th, Gonzaga students marched from the University campus to a busy street intersection, where their signs reading “Honk for Clean Air” garnered attention from drivers parked at the street intersection.  Says Gonzaga student Adriana Stagnaro, “As we walked we remembered our intentions of supporting the community with an action to raise awareness about issues surrounding coal exports.  We smiled and waved to cars as we made our way into town.”

At the intersection, students talked with passersby waiting at crosswalks, and explained what an increase in coal train traffic would mean for Spokane.  This city sits on at the intersection of two existing rail lines coal trains could use to get from eastern Montana and Wyoming to the West Coast, putting the community at the front lines of the fight against coal exports.  Of course, with every additional coal train to hit the tracks comes an increase in coal dust, diesel emissions, and climate-changing carbon pollution.

A few days after the march, coal-free activists held a forum at Gonzaga University, featuring speakers  Bart Mihailovich of Spokane Riverkeeper, Gonzaga professor Hugh Lefcort, and local farmer Walter Kloefkorn.  According to Stagnaro, the panel “really exposed the complex nature of environmental-human issues surrounding coal exports.”

Like communities throughout the five-state region of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, Spokane residents may have a long road ahead of them when it comes to protecting their public commons from the threat of coal exports.  But this community with a history of leadership on social issues is already getting organized, and students at Gonzaga are setting an example.

No doubt this won’t be the last we hear from Spokane residents.  With communities across the Northwest rallying to stop coal exports, King Coal’s CEOs don’t know what they’re up against!

Stop the Coal Trains, Bring Climate Justice to Eugene

This post was submitted to It’s Getting Hot in Here by Emma Newman, of the Climate Justice League at University of Oregon.

As coal plants in the United States continue to close, local organizations around the country appear to have struck a blow to the industry. But in reality, as coal consumption decreases in our country, global demand continues to rise. A result of this shift in demand can be found in recent proposals to ship Powder River Basin coal from Montana and Wyoming through several Northwest ports. One of these proposals would bring coal right through the city of Eugene, to the Port of Coos Bay.

Eugene has been given a unique opportunity to combat coal by rallying against this proposal. Not only are coal mining and combustion dirty; its transportation presents significant health hazards as well. The coal passing right through downtown Eugene, slowing traffic for up to eight minutes would be transported in open bed coal trains.

More than 100 tons of coal dust per train will blow off between Montana and Coos Bay. The dust contains heavy metals such as lead and mercury and causes lung diseases, as well as pollution from the diesel that fuels the trains. Regionally, the health impacts of coal follow the transportation and watershed routes.

This is a major issue we face as a community, region, and nation and it represents a textbook environmental justice problem. Environmental justice (EJ) is a social movement that includes mainly people of marginalized communities and focuses on the environment directly around people in society who carry many environmental burdens in their everyday lives, including living and working conditions. EJ strives to bring communities autonomy through their fight for civil and human rights. The coal trains will be passing directly through the Whiteaker neighborhood, a historically working class part of the city.

Emma Newman, a Co-Director of the Cascade Climate Network, went on an environmental justice tour in West Eugene last week and saw the neighborhoods that would be hardest hit. “One neighborhood,” Emma said, “was literally surrounded by a train yard on one side and train tracks on the other. They are already suffering from a toxic plume in their well water and the last thing that they need is coal dust drifting over their park and onto their vegetable gardens.” Continue reading ‘Stop the Coal Trains, Bring Climate Justice to Eugene’

BREAKING: Student Activists Hang Banner at MSU

Today Michigan State students took action to push their school to go 100% renewable. Here’s what my friend David Pinsky had to say about their situation last week:

The Michigan State University (MSU) T.B. Simon coal plant is the largest on-campus coal plant in the country.

The MSU coal plant burns 200,000 tons of coal every year, and is one contributor to the 31 annual deaths in the Lansing area due to coal-fired power plants.

Since 2009, hundreds of MSU students have been waking up and saying “today I am going to shut down our campus coal plant!” For nearly three years, two student groups, MSU Greenpeace and MSU Beyond Coal, have been working tirelessly to pressure their administration to shut down the coal plant and transition to 100% clean energy.

Following relentless grassroots organizing from students, the administration finally responded – with an unambitious energy transition plan that calls for 40% clean energy by 2030. The plan also contains false solutions such as burning biomass and natural gas. Greenpeace and Sierra Club energy experts have concerns about the methodology used to create the plan. The ultimate goal of the plan is 100% clean energy. However, with a current timeline that extends to 2030, meeting not even half of the 100% goal, MSU students are calling on the MSU Board of Trustees to reject the current energy transition plan.

On April 13th, the MSU Board of Trustees has the power to reject this unambitious plan and demonstrate leadership on clean energy…. ” Read the rest of Davids blog on Quitcoal.org

This is part of a week of action and students around the country are taking action in solidarity, you can too.

You can tweet about this using the hashtag #quitcoalmsu

NW Communities Act to Halt Coal Exports, Call for More Action

Across the Northwest people are taking action to prevent coal export projects from derailing our clean energy future.  This is a movement that began in port towns.  Now it is spreading as, inspired by communities like Longview and Bellingham, towns and cities across the region take action to halt coal exports.

This weekend saw one of the most far-reaching bursts of coal-related activism the region has witnessed, as residents of three states participated in a weekend of action to stop coal exports, and called for further action.  In places like Olympia, Washington; Missoula, Montana; and Eugene and Portland, Oregon, Northwest residents visited elected officials, staged banner-drops from local landmarks, and rallied their communities to reclaim our future from fossil fuel giants.

In Portland on Sunday, members of the Cascade Climate Network and Portland Rising Tide scaled a billboard for a banner drop, while forty people gathered below spelled out “No Coal Exports” and “Export CEOs.”

“Big coal knowingly poisons our land, water and communities for the sake of their bottom line,” said Chelsea Thaw of the
Cascade Climate Network.  “Coal is the biggest contributor to global climate change, and as we teeter on the threshold of climate chaos we must reject all coal infrastructure.”

Two days earlier, Eugene and Olympia took action.  In Olympia, Washington students met with elected officials and urged them to deny coal export terminal permits.  In Oregon, the group No Coal Eugene dropped a banner reading “Stop the Coal Train” from a multi-story parking lot.  Eugene is one of many cities that could soon see dirty, polluting coal trains running through town on their way to new export sites, if coal companies get their way.

On Sunday in Missoula, the student-run Blue Skies Campaign and Occupy Missoula held a March Against Coal Exports after Rocky Mountain Power Shift.  The group stopped by the offices of members of Congress who have sided with the coal industry.  They also visited Wells Fargo, one of the top 20 funders of coal, to hold a die-in and turn ATMs into truth machines.  The march ended with a banner drop above Orange Street, which dips below tracks owned by Montana Rail Link used to transport coal, and with a call for an even larger mass mobilization this summer.

Continue reading ‘NW Communities Act to Halt Coal Exports, Call for More Action’

How the People Got Their Groove Back: What a Bunch of Farmers Can Teach a Bunch of Occupiers About How to Keep on Going

[Written by Ash Sanders. Originally published as a zine, which you can download and print (6 double-sided sheets folded into a 24 half-page booklet). Online version cross-posted from peacefuluprising.org]

Not so long ago, Americans witnessed the beginning of a mass democratic uprising. Thousands of average people, disgusted by greedy elites and corporate control of government, launched a movement that spread to almost every state in the nation. They did it to reject debt. They did it to fight foreclosures. They did it to topple a world where the 1 percent determined life for the other 99. And they did all of it against incredible odds, with a self-respect that stymied critics.

The year? 1877. The people? Dirt-poor farmers who would come to be known as Populists.

Now it’s 2011, and the People are stirring again. It’s been over two months since a few hundred dreamers pitched their tents in Zuccotti Park and stayed.

These people weren’t Populists, but they had the same complaints. They couldn’t make rent. They had no future. They lived in a nation with one price for the rich and another for the poor. And they knew that whatever anyone said that they didn’t have real democracy.

Okay, and so what? What do a bunch of century-dead farmers have to do with the Occupy movement? Well, quite a lot, actually.

You see, the Populists came within an inch of changing the entire corporate-capitalist system. They wanted a totally new world, and they had a plan to get it. But as you may have noticed, they didn’t. And now here we are, one hundred years later, occupying parks where fields once stood. We’re at a crucial phase in our movement, standing just now with the great Everything around us—everything to win or everything to lose. It’s our choice. And that’s good, because the choices we make next will echo, not just for scholars and bored kids in history class, but in the lives we do or don’t get to have. The good news is this: the Populists traveled in wagons and left us their wheels. We don’t have to reinvent them. We’re going in a new direction, but I have a feeling they can help us get there.

Occupy has done a lot of things right, and even more things beautifully. But strategy has not been our forte. That was okay at first, even good. We didn’t have one demand, because we wanted it all. So we let our anger grow, and our imagination with it. We were not partisan or monogamous to one creed. That ranging anger got 35,000 people on the Brooklyn Bridge after the Wall Street eviction, and hell if I’m not saying hallelujah. But winter is settling now, and cops are on the march. Each week we face new eviction orders, and wonder how to occupy limbo.

It’s time for a plan, then, some idea for going forward. This plan should in no way replace the rhizomatic-glorious, joyful-rip-roarious verve of the movement so far. It can occur in tandem. But we need a blueprint for the future, because strategy is the road resistance walks to freedom.

In that spirit, I sat down a few years ago and devoted myself to studying social movements of the past. I wanted to see what I could learn from them—where they went wrong, where they went right. I didn’t trust this exercise to random musings. No, like a good Type A kid, I made butcher paper lists of past movement features and mapped them onto current ones. I asked: What is the revolt of the guard for the climate movement? What’s the modern anti-corporate equivalent of the Boston Tea Party?

As I read, I learned a lot about the phases movements go through as they form, what common features they share, and what often breaks them apart.

I could name these phases myself, but it’s already been done. And no one has named them better than historian Lawrence Goodwyn, a thinking human if there ever was one and the author of The Populist Moment.

Goodwyn said that successful movements go through four stages:

Continue reading ‘How the People Got Their Groove Back: What a Bunch of Farmers Can Teach a Bunch of Occupiers About How to Keep on Going’


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