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.
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.”
Between speakers, musical groups fired up the crowd, made up of people from all over California. Singer and actress Antonique Smith gave a stirring performance of the Beatles song “Here comes the sun”. The sound system was solar-powered. Following the presentations, the crowd chanted and sang their way for about a mile through the streets of downtown LA. The most popular chant went “Hey, hey, ho, ho, fossil fuels have got to go”. The marchers called on our elected leaders, and in particular Governor Jerry Brown, to take the steps needed to keep fossil fuels in the ground. The march ended at the SoCalGas building where the crowd demanded “shut it all down”, referring to the now notorious, leaky Aliso Canyon gas storage facility.
About 75 San Diegans participated in the march and rally with the help of SanDiego350. Many of them, including me, travelled on a bus chartered by SanDiego350. At the event, we were delighted to see Bill McKibben sporting a SanDiego350 tee-shirt. I took time on the bus to interview some of the rally-goers about their thoughts on climate change and the rally. They include young adults, scientists, grandparents, first time and veteran activists, and represent a cross-section of the climate movement.
Steve Alper, 62, is a clinical social worker and the father of two grown children. In 1989, Steve began working as a climate activist after reading “The End of Nature”, written by Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org. Alper stated, “This is one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. Reading it changed my life.” An avid backpacker, he stated that the possibility of the disappearance of wilderness areas due to climate change “broke my heart.”
Alper believes that one sign the climate movement is gaining ground is the increasing numbers of passive resistance events, such as the kayakers in Newcastle, Australia. He feels these sorts of dramatic events are what are now necessary to get the public to act. Mr. Alper was impressed by the high school students from Boyle Heights, Los Angeles who spoke passionately at the rally about their experiences. He believes that it is imperative for the climate movement that young people take on leadership roles.
Itai Siegel is a 26-year old farmer. Raised in Kibbutz Gezer, Israel, Siegel now lives in Encinitas.
Siegel states that most members of the agricultural community understand climate change very well as it affects their daily work. However, he worries about the lack of action on all fronts to address climate change.
Mr. Siegel has been encouraged lately by more discussions occurring among friends, family and coworkers on climate issues as well as more expressions of the need for action by political leaders.
23-year old graduate student Molly Clemens lives in Mission Valley. Ms. Clemens is enrolled in the Joint Doctoral Program in Ecology (JDPE) run by San Diego State University and the University of California, Davis.
A new member of SanDiego350, Clemens was very struck by the inclusiveness of the rally, such as having all of the speeches spoken in both Spanish and English. She was also impressed that Bill McKibben, who lives on the East Coast, attended the LA rally.
Ms. Clemens learned about climate change in high school. As part of her current studies, she will spend three months in the Arctic Circle this summer as a part of a scientific team to measure new methane emissions caused by the thawing tundra.
While Ms. Clemens is concerned for the Earth’s future, she believes that increased public awareness and the large number of scientists working on the problems of global warming will help the situation.
Rose Marie Toland of Carlsbad is a 71 year old retired special education teacher and artist. Ms. Toland, a mother of 2 and a grandmother of 6, has been involved with the Pachamama Alliance for over five years and recently joined SanDiego350. Pachamama Alliance is a global organization working with indigenous peoples working toward increased sustainability, with a particular focus on preserving the Amazonian rainforest.
Toland found the rally speakers inspiring, particularly the young woman who began her activism career at age 9.
Toland’s major apprehension lately is threats we face to an available supply of clean water. She has made many efforts personally to conserve and is appalled by the “callous” way she says individuals and organization sometimes misuse this vital resource. Ms. Toland wants to stop fracking and is especially alarmed by the millions of gallons of fresh water wasted by this process.
On a more positive note, Ms. Toland has observed many adults in their twenties and thirties who are working publicly to stop climate change, as well as behind the scenes, to find more sustainable ways of living.
Beverly Harju, 74, is a former professor of clinical psychology at East Carolina University. Harju, a mother, stepmother, and grandmother, joined SanDiego350 two and a half years ago after participating in the 2014 People’s Climate March in San Diego.
Ms. Harju went to Finland on a Fulbright Scholarship and was concerned after learning how much more that country was already doing to be sensitive to the climate. By 2000, Finland had already banned plastic bags. “We’re getting behind on what needs to be done, “ she said. “Everyone needs to get involved.”
Harju is pleased to see greater numbers of participants at each new event.
Michael-Leonard Creditor, 70, is a retired photographer and voiceover professional, currently residing in Claremont. A native of Brooklyn, New York, Creditor states that he has been an activist for many causes for most of his life.
Mr. Creditor became interested in ecological issues as a 12 year old boy, when he read a science fiction novel focusing on the preservation of a fictional planet. He joined the Green Party in 1982 because of these concerns. Creditor learned about SanDiego350 through his work with the Green Party.
Creditor cites the immediate need to switch to renewable sources of energy as his area of greatest concern regarding climate change. Creditor expressed satisfaction with the climate movement’s recent shift to a more aggressive “no more fossil fuels” stance versus a more gradual transition away from these energy sources. In his opinion, citizens will struggle to adapt if this line is not drawn more clearly.
While concerned about the Earth’s future, Creditor continues to do everything he can to be a responsible citizen, by using solar in his home and conserving in every way he can identify.
Creditor was pleasantly surprised this spring by the unanimous passage of the Paris Climate Accord and finds the resulting agreement more far-reaching than he expected. He believes that there is now a critical mass of persons worldwide recognizing the enormous challenges humans are facing with a threatened environment.
Rancho Bernardo resident Willette Lowe is glad she attended the rally and march. The 42 year old holistic health practitioner, who lives with her 17 year old son, stated that the speaker who really touched her was the one who spoke of her personal experience with the Porter Ranch gas leak which began last fall. “I can’t even imagine how horrible it would be to go through something like that,” she stated.
Ms. Lowe lived in the Bay Area and in Phoenix before coming to the San Diego area.
She has always been concerned about pollution, but became more alarmed about the environment after moving to this area. A lifelong hiker and nature lover, she says that some of the negative effects of climate change “just seemed more apparent” to her in this region.
Lowe worries about the deleterious effects of climate issues, like this area’s 30-year drought, are having on the food supply. She is “so disappointed” that a country as seemingly scientifically advanced as the United States has not done more to assure that all residents have access to clean water, air, and food.
A recent member of SanDiego350, Lowe believes there are now reasons to feel more hopeful. She was encouraged by the San Diego City Council’s adoption last year of a comprehensive climate action plan. She was particularly impressed by the passion and unanimity of all who attended in support of the plan, as well as the expressed commitment of the council members and city staff.
Debbie Westcott, 59, is a retired elementary school teacher and a native Californian. A resident of Oceanside, Westcott has always loved the outdoors, especially hiking when she was younger. She feels compelled to work to take care of the Earth as part of her practice as a Buddhist.
Westcott has been an activist for a number of years and is concerned about losing habitats like endangered desert areas. While recently encouraged by hearing a 2016 Ted Talk from former Vice-President Al Gore, Ms. Westcott worries that public apathy will prevent the needed steps we must all take to reverse climate change.
Bruce Graves, 60, of El Cajon has been a climate activist for over 10 years. Graves, a husband, father of two, and recent grandfather, was brought to the movement by his profession as an electrician in the construction business. Mr. Graves is a member of the influential Local #569 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, a union well-known for their active political support for the development of solar, wind and renewable energy sources.
These days, Graves finds himself more and more concerned about the future of water resources. “There’s a serious lack of water where we need it,” says Graves. “It’s a huge concern.” Graves bemoans our history of “selfishly trashing the planet with little concern for the future.” He states, “We need to begin immediately operating in a more sustainable manner.”
Mr. Graves recognizes that many find the science behind climate change and possible solutions overwhelming. His advice? For people who don’t know enough to voice their opinions on climate change, “at least, get out of the way” when others are trying to solve these difficult issues.
Graves has recently been encouraged by innovation in science and technology. He points to recent advances in the development of electrical vehicles that have resulted in a significant reduction of the cost of vehicle batteries, as well as creative ways to re-use those batteries when they no longer have sufficient power to run a vehicle.