Ezra Small writes from WeAct’s Advancing Climate Justice Conference:
I was astonished on February 1, when I read in The Week that a new Pew Research Center poll found that out of 20 issues Americans say should be their elected leaders’ top concern, global warming ranks last.
I just returned home from a two day conference in New York City, called “Advancing Climate Justice” sponsored by WE ACT. Throughout the two days I repeatedly heard the alarming figures from elected officials, human health experts, social science professors, and community organizers, that if we don’t take drastic actions on global warming over the next 5 years, humans, especially the low income, communities of color, and indigenous people of the US and the world will disproportionately and unfairly be faced with massive humanitarian, health, and environmental crises.
The poll found that among the other issues that ranked higher than climate change were the economy, terrorism, energy, and immigration. The irony of this is that these apparently more stressing issues are either directly related to global warming, or will be strongly exacerbated by global warming! Americans clearly need to more aware about the following items brought up at the conference.
In the Appalachians, over 3.5 million pounds of explosives are used daily to blow up what used to be 450 mountains, and over 1,000 miles of rivers have been filled in due to the destructive process of mountain top removal for coal, which accounts for nearly half of our nation’s electricity generation. These poor, rural communities have the highest rates of cancer in the country. In Chicago, black and Latino neighborhoods that are situated under smoke stacks, under highways, and near barges that carry in coal ash, have some of the highest rates of childhood asthma in the country. All the while, burning coal accounts for more global warming pollution than burning oil and gas combined, and we see “King Coal,” the largest coal companies barrage us everyday with “Clean Coal” commercials and billboards. Clean coal is a dirty lie!
I heard a presentation from a NASA scientist about how the United States is and will begin to see higher temperatures, more frequent and intense rain fall, more intense droughts, and mounting impacts on water and food availability, human health, more lack of human mobility, and higher sea levels. Who will be impacted? It’s the low income, people of color, in dense populations in our American cities, and primarily in countries in the southern Hemisphere who lack the resiliency resources, the transportation, the access to knowledge and information, proper health care, and are ultimately more vulnerable than anyone else. The towns of Brownsville, Texas and its sister city of Matomoros on the US/Mexican border has had recent outbreaks of a tropical disease called Dengue Fever now spreading faster with global warming. However the Mexican town Matamoros has 5 times more cases than Brownsville. If you think immigration is a problem now, just wait until billions of people have to migrate to where there is more water or less disease.
You think we are in an economic crisis now? If carbon emissions in the developing world don’t peak in the next 5 years and we don’t bring the global atmospheric concentrations back down to 350 parts per million of CO2, our chance of stabilizing ice melt, encroaching desserts, and disastrous storms, could become an impossibility. Because we did not act over the last 25 or 30 years, this global emergency mobilization to mitigate and adapt to climate change is now upon us. Mitigation and adaptation measures are going to cost trillions of dollars. Who can afford that? It is our responsibility and obligation to the rest of the world to pay for this because not only do we do the polluting but we also have the distributed income and capacity to go “green” more than India and China or any other nation in the world.
At the conference I spent two afternoons of workshops with the young people who were attending the conference. We were brought together by members of the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative (EJCC) and asked to discuss where and how the Youth Movement can lead the way in the greater environmental justice movement. This was the highlight of the two days among all of the dreary stories and reports of the state of our communities and our world, this classroom was filled with the young leaders who have the energy that we need right now. A group of about 20 college students, campus organizers, and young professionals discussed what we can do to make the planet and our local communities look like what we want them to look like. I wonder if these people were polled by the Pew Research Center.
There are amazing leaders in every city and town and reservation in our country doing the work to organize their communities around these issues, and you can be one of those people too. The last weekend in February, Power Shift ’09 will bring together over 10,000 young people for a weekend of training and the biggest youth lobbying day in history. Go to http://www.powershift09.org for more info. On March 2nd, there will be a mass civil disobedience action at a coal plant inside Washington DC. Go to http://www.capitolclimateaction.com for more info.
Ezra Small is the Project Organizer for the Climate Crisis Coalition.