The Truth of the Matter

Originally Published in the San Diego Free Press on 11/24/16

by Mark Hughes

One of humorist Will Rogers’ signature lines was: “Well, all I know is what I read in the papers.” In subtext, he’s saying he trusted what he read, so it seems reasonable to believe that in those days newspapers lived and died by getting the story right. What a simpler time; if Will was reading papers and the Internet and watching TV today, depending on the sources he chose, some to much of what he learned would be either misleading or just plain false. The information portal guardians have been overrun by hordes bearing rocket-propelled innuendo, guided missile conspiracy theories, and bandoleers bristling with self-serving lies. But that was only the first wall to fall. In this country, those hordes are no longer raging outside governmental gates; soon they will be the government itself.

Welcome to the newest incarnation of the world. The rules, as they always do, have once again changed, and the eternal response is demanded: what do we do about it? How do we live now?

Let’s start with a review of the situation. Truth, in both the social setting and as science’s burnished product, took a hard beating in this election cycle. But perhaps that was an almost foregone conclusion, obvious once recent history is examined from a certain angle.

[Read more…]

SD350 Took Climate Action to Sacramento in 2016

We know climate change is a serious threat, as do 81% of Californians, according to a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California. Thanks to the dedication and commitment of SD350 volunteers, we took climate action to Sacramento this summer.

As members of the SanDiego350 Public Policy Team, we work to educate our members and the public, lobby officials and create a healthier climate future. In addition to advocating for improved climate laws at the local level, we also review state legislative bills related to climate change and advocate for their passage or defeat. This year we focused on eight priority bills. We educated ourselves and members of SanDiego350, posting our positions on social media, making making calls to legislators, and lobbying key San Diego Assemblymembers to urge them to vote for our priority bills. We are happy to report that 50% of the priority bills we supported were passed by the legislature and have been signed into law by the governor, including SB 32, a two-year bill we also supported in 2015, which cements California’s place at the forefront of climate action by codifying the state’s ambitious emission reduction targets into law.

The SanDiego350 Public Policy Team decided early in the year to focus on identifying and prioritizing state bills that would reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and to train SanDiego350 members on advocating for legislation with elected officials. Members of our team identified relevant bills, prioritized the eight we felt were most important, and tracked the progress of these bills over the course of the legislative session.

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Legislative training

We sent letters on behalf of SanDiego350 in support of legislation to shut down Aliso Canyon, to include an Environmental Justice element in General Plans, and to prevent coal from being shipped overland to the Oakland Terminal. We worked in concert with our allies in the Bay Area and in San Diego to increase visibility of these bills and encourage their passage in the legislature (for example, we authorized 350 Bay Area to speak for us at committee hearings in the legislature in Sacramento). [Read more…]

The Dakota Access Pipeline: a Tale of Two Characters

Originally published in the San Diego Free Press, October 27th, 2016

By Chris Barroso

As a member of San Diego’s 350.org, I’d followed the story of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) for some time, telepathically urging the protesters on. And then one day, my friend Paul Sasso called me. “Hey, let’s go up and join the protesters. We’ll take my Tesla.” Yeah, I replied. I could do that; the next week wasn’t too busy, or the week after that. When are you thinking? I asked. “I’ll pick you up in a couple hours,” he said.  Whoa, I thought for a moment; but I hurriedly packed, and soon we were off to the North Country.

On the way we talked about this 30 inch diameter pipeline, the rivers (Big Sioux, Missouri, and Mississippi) and the tribal lands it would cross. Eminent Domain, one of us said, shaking our head. Did it translate in Native American languages to “broken treaty”?

Another topic of discussion: major spills are common for oil and gas pipelines—a question of when, not if. As Bill McKibben explained in a New Yorker editorial, the pipeline was originally supposed to cross the Missouri River near Bismarck but those plans changed over concerns that an oil spill at that location would have wrecked the state capital’s drinking water. So the pipeline was shifted to a crossing half a mile from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s treaty lands. Nice. Just how angry were these protesters going to be? It seemed only reasonable that some of that anger might flare in my light-complexioned direction. I took a deep breath as I watched the prairie fly by.

Dakota-Access-Pipeline-Camp

Oceti Sakowin (main camp) (photo by Paul Sasso)

We arrived on September 9th, the Friday after Labor Day, and rolled into the main camp, called Oceti Sakowin, (Och-et-ee shak-oh-win), meaning Seven Council Fires. As we strolled around the camp and met all kinds of people from all over the country, and all happy to chat, the little knots of anxiety in my stomach uncoiled. A fellow there from Florida with his family not only lent us a tarp but helped Paul and I set it up with the tent we borrowed. Everyone was warm, friendly, and thanked us for our visit. They want as many people as possible to come and help carry the message of protecting the water; not just for those of us alive now but for our children and grandchildren too. That’s why they called themselves protectors, not protesters. Fitting, I thought. Accurate.

[Read more…]

From Coal to Climate: the Evolution of an Activist

Originally published in the San Diego Free Press, September 22nd, 2016

So, here is a question: what’s about as likely as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly jointly admitting that pretty much everything they’ve ever said was wrong?

climate activist

Before I knew what coal looked like. And smelled. And tasted.

Answer: that a guy with my background would end up as an active member of 350.org.

I grew up in Kansas, famous for Dorothy, sunflowers, and voting against your best interest (as in What’s the Matter With…). I remember my father vehemently wishing he could vote against Ted Kennedy. My mother railing against the Equal Rights Amendment, saying she liked having men open doors for her. Umm, I guess that such chivalry was banned in the bill’s text somewhere. Both of them mourning angrily that the country was ruined, now that Carter had been elected.

Not to spare myself, I also remember a Charles Kuralt interview in which he wondered what conservatism ever brought us. I turned to Dad and said—without a trace of irony—the money for everyone else to live on. I was maybe eighteen at the time, swimming with the rest of the fish in the Republican Kansas water. Unnecessary to point out?

An engineering degree landed me a job going around the country starting up coal-fired utility scale power plants. Doing that, I liked to reflect on the fact that I worked with some of the biggest “engines” in the world. I thought seriously about building my own small power plant, natural gas fired, and selling power to the grid. What fun it would be, I thought, but then found that the economics of small scale were a bit less than profitable. Regardless, it seemed to me that those of us in the industry were like priests of old, tending the sacred fires around which their civilizations turned.

[Read more…]

San Diego Unified Calls on Pension Funds to Divest from Fossil Fuels

Originally published in the San Diego Free Press, August 25th 2016

The San Diego Unified School District’s (SDUSD) Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution on July 26th calling on the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (STRS) and the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS) to divest their investment portfolios of stocks in fossil fuel companies. Recognizing the threat of global warming, the resolution also supports last year’s state legislation, SB 185, which requires PERS and STRS to divest from coal stocks. Most of SDUSD’s employees belong to these huge retirement systems.

San Diego Unified School Board Members and Superintendent Cindy Marten at the July 26 meeting.

San Diego Unified School Board Members and Superintendent Cindy Marten at the July 26 meeting.

SanDiego350 and other proponents believe that San Diego Unified is the first school district in California to pass such a resolution, joining the California Federation of Teachers, the Unified Teachers of Los Angeles, and other organizations who have publicly called on CalPERS and CalSTRS to divest from fossil fuel companies. San Diego Unified serves more than 130,000 students in pre-school through grade 12, has over 13,000 employees (including nearly 6,000 teachers), and is the second largest school district in California.

The resolution is a sign of growing momentum for fossil fuel divestment locally – only a couple of months ago the UC San Diego Academic Senate passed a similar resolution urging the UC Regents to divest the University of California’s investment portfolio of stocks in fossil fuel companies. The resolution recognizes the threat of global warming and UCSD’s pioneering contribution to climate science. It also acknowledges the risk to the UC endowment and pension funds from the prospect of falling fossil fuel stocks. The UC system also made the decision to divest from coal and tar sands in 2015, and earlier this July, CalSTRS voted unanimously to move $2.5 billion in assets to a low-carbon index fund.

The move isn’t only about transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy to reduce carbon emissions – A report last year showed that PERS and STRS had lost $840M from coal stocks during the 2014-15 fiscal year, and $5.1B in fossil fuel stocks overall.
[Read more…]

San Diegans Voice Concerns to State Officials About Air Quality, Environmental Justice, and Climate Change

Originally published in the San Diego Free Press, July 28th, 2016

What do you get when you bring together 120 environmental activists and residents from environmental justice communities in a room with a dozen state regulators? If you’re lucky, dozens of ideas for incentivizing renewable energy, improving public transit, and protecting neighborhoods from toxic industrial fumes.

This is exactly what happened on July 14th when the California Air Resources Board (CARB) sponsored a workshop on climate change at the beautiful new Cesar Chavez campus in Barrio Logan. Local residents, whose voices are rarely heard by policy makers in Sacramento, came out in force to speak out about air pollution from local industry, the need for better transit options, and the impacts of climate change on communities already impacted by poor air quality. [Read more…]

North County Coastal Cities’ Progress On Clean Energy Initiatives

Originally published in the San Diego Free Press, June 23rd 2016

During the past year, the San Diego North County Coastal cities have taken steps forward in implementing their Climate Action Plans (CAP) and studying Community Choice Energy (CCE) initiatives, which will enhance their ability to significantly increase their use of Clean Energy in the future.

Three of the cities – Encinitas, Carlsbad, and Del Mar – have formally approved their Climate ActionPlans. The Encinitas Climate Action Plan was approved in March 2011. It was not tied to a General Plan and therefore had purely voluntary measures. This month however, the Encinitas City Council voted to draft a new, enforceable Climate Action Plan as mitigation for the housing element of their General Plan and to allocate $100,000 towards its development.

Encinitas June 15th 2016 City Council Meeting

Encinitas June 15th 2016 City Council Meeting (Photo courtesy of Climate Action Campaign)

The Carlsbad Plan was approved in October 2015. Del Mar’s recently-approved Climate Plan included the goal of achieving 100% renewable energy by 2035, thereby following the example put forward by the City of San Diego CAP last year. Solana Beach has recently formed a Climate Action Commission to develop their Climate Action Plan, and Oceanside has also recently started to develop their Climate Plan as well. Having these Climate Action Plan documents approved and in process is a good indication that the five North County cities will all have strong climate action goals to significantly reduce their carbon footprint.

Many of the efforts to support and review the Climate Action Plans and to promote Community Choice Energy [Read more…]

Social Media and Climate Change Activism

Social media seems to be everywhere these days with over a billion people on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and other social media platforms. In fact, it’s hard to overstate the power of social media in our society.

For the issue of climate change to be front and center in the lives of everyday Americans and people around the world, we can leverage the benefits of social media in connecting like-minded people and creating a larger awareness of the climate change crisis. Anyone even mildly interested in social media can learn how to better use it as a tool to spread the word about climate change. Here are some ways social media can increase awareness of climate change and maybe even spur people to become involved in climate change activism at some level:

  • Change how people view climate change by posting images, facts, statistics and hyperlinks to relevant articles and by featuring in your posts people who are taking positive steps to address it.
  • Create engagement with friends/followers and shares/likes – people want to be engaged and feel connected. That’s why social media is so popular.
  • Build a support network around this issue – create a web of people to spread the word to their friends and followers and follow this issue that they care about, thus building bigger networks of change-makers.
  • Extend the reach of your posts to people beyond your usual circle by including relevant hashtags and tags.
  • Possibility of post going viral – viral posts have upwards of thousands or even millions of views, shares, and likes. With that kind of visibility and exposure, more people will start to contemplate your climate change message who might not otherwise even be aware of climate change.

[Read more…]

San Diegans in LA Action to Break Free from Fossil Fuels

Originally published in the San Diego Free Press, May 26th 2016

Over a two week period earlier this month, a wave of
Break Free from Fossil Fuels mass mobilizations was held around the globe. The first action saw hundreds of people peacefully shut down the UK’s largest open cast coal mine in Wales. In the Philippines, 10,000 marched demanding the cancellation of a proposed 600-Megawatt coal power plant. In Australia, 2,000 people shut down the world’s largest coal port for a day, with kayakers blocking the harbor entrance while others blocked a critical rail crossing. In Anacortes, Washington, over the course of three days, thousands converged by land and water at the site of two oil refineries. They marched, led by indigenous leaders, and held an overnight sit-in on the train tracks that led to over 50 arrests.  

These were but a few of the many Break Free actions in the campaign which was organized by 350.org with support and participation from a wide range of international, national and local organizations including the Center for Biological Diversity, National Nurses United and the United Church of Christ.

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San Diegans with Bill McKibben – sporting his SD350 tee-shirt – at the end of the march

Closer to home, Los Angeles was the venue for a Break Free from Fossil Fuels action for people from all over California. Los Angeles is the biggest urban center for oil production in the nation and the Porter Ranch neighborhood was recently the site of the largest methane leak in U.S. history from SoCalGas’  Aliso Canyon gas storage facility.

The LA event started with a rally at City Hall which included high-profile speakers Bill McKibben (co-founder of 350.org) and businessman, philanthropist and environmentalist Tom Steyer, plus speakers from many local groups, including Save Porter Ranch and STAND LA – a group dedicated to ending neighborhood oil drilling in LA. McKibben reminded us of our “brothers and sisters around the world who right now are standing with you.”  He talked about the worsening climate crisis – recent loss of coral reefs in the Pacific and the heatwave in Southeast Asia. He said it’s important we turn up the heat and demand real leadership from Mayor Garcetti and Governor Brown, saying we don’t need them to do a “pretty good job”, we “need them really out in front treating it [climate change] like the crisis that it is.” [Read more…]

San Diegans’ Letters to the Editor About Break Free from Fossil Fuels Campaign

Dear Editor,

Many San Diegans participated in last weekend’s Break Free From Fossil Fuels rally where thousands marched in solidarity to demand oil, coal, and gas be kept in the ground and move to 100 percent renewable energy sources. I admonish the Union Tribune for not covering this event because it was not deemed “local” or newsworthy.  The protesters are part of a worldwide event in which demonstrators converge in different cities to break free from the “chains” of fossil fuels.  Los Angeles, home to the biggest center for urban oil production, practices dangerous oil extraction in some neighborhoods with disregard to the health and safety of the people and for the environment.  Los Angeles elected officials should commit to a Climate Action Plan similar to the steps of San Diego’s CAP, which aims to reduce the greenhouse gas effect and work to create a fair, equitable and sustainable future.

Connie Castro

Mira Mesa

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***Published in the Union Tribune May 18th 2016***

Dear Sir/Madam,

I participated in the Break Free from Fossil Fuels rally in Los Angeles yesterday.  I was one of almost a hundred San Diegans participating. This was part of a global wave of actions in the US, UK, Philippines, Germany, Nigeria etc, calling for us to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels to put the brakes on climate change.  It’s really important we get action on addressing climate change, which is threatening humanity on so many fronts and already creating climate refugees – including from island nations and low-lying parts of the U.S.. [Read more…]