Intersecting Causes in Environmental Justice

Image Source: Josh Hild, Pexels

By: Lorenzo Nericcio, SD350 Communications Volunteer

Those interested in environmental causes, like ecological protection or climate change mitigation, often consider issues of racial or economic justice as separate causes: While we work to protect the environment, others labor against systemic oppression. Though it has never been entirely true that they are separate, it is even less so now, and recent events have highlighted how inescapably intertwined these two issues have become. 

The concept of intersectionality allows us to understand the connections between environmental issues and those of racial justice. Each of us lives at the intersection of multiple identities: racial, economic, gender, ecological, and so on. Each of these identities becomes, in an oppressive system, a way by which a person might in some cases experience injustice, or in others, privilege. 

Systems of oppression built around one form of identity often spill over into others. For example, people of color more often bear the burden of environmental degradation, as explained by this 350.org article on the intersectional effects of climate change. This realization—that Black and Brown people are often first on the front lines of rising seas and temperatures—forces those in the environmental community to confront the fact that focusing solely on the environmental effects of climate change is not enough; one must also understand its intersectional social effects. 

Environmentalists of color have renewed their arguments for an intersectional approach in the wake of protests responding to the police murders of George Flloyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others. In the pages of the New York Times, Black environmentalists called on the environmental community to address these issues more prominently in their advocacy. And many environmental institutions have listened, committing to fight for racial justice alongside the environmental causes they champion.

While this may be a new concept for some in the environmental community—and especially for those most privileged—it’s important to note that for people of color, fighting for their right to a safe, clean, and ecologically sound place to live has long been part of the fight for justice. Our contemporary conceptions of environmental justice owe their development to Black leaders, a history discussed in this article, also from 350.org

For those new to the environmental justice movement who wish to become more effective advocates and activists, it is important to start by learning. As a White person or other person of privilege, you should focus on becoming an ally: someone who is not the direct subject of oppression but who stands with and supports those who are oppressed. The first step is listening to the needs and views of those who directly experience oppression, as described recently by a guide in Vox. By listening, understanding, and acting strategically, environmental activists can learn to become effective allies, and stand in solidarity with those fighting for racial and environmental justice. 

If you’re interested, please take the time to read the articles linked within this piece. Additional readings are linked below:

The 5 Big Moves to Sustainable Transportation

Image Source: Photo of Traffic with Smog from the EPA.

By: Bee Mittermiller, SD350 Transportation Committee Leader

The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) is working on a 2021 regional transportation plan they have nicknamed “The Five Big Moves.” We must speak up to make sure this plan prioritizes transit over highways.

Although these 40-year plans are updated every four years, what we know of the next plan indicates a marked departure from SANDAG’s highway-centric past plans and could shift our transportation system for years to come. To understand how important this current planning phase at SANDAG is, it helps to know the composition and recent history of the organization.

SANDAG has a large staff led by the Executive Director, Hasan Ikhrata, but ultimately its decisions are determined by a Board of Directors—members representing all 18 local cities’ city councils and the County’s Board of Supervisors. They are appointed by each city council and the supervisors. So the decisions they make reflect local politics. 

Tens of billions of dollars of public tax dollars are spent in the San Diego area for public transportation, which includes the automobile system, the public transit system, and the bicycle system.

Gary Gallegos was the Executive Director before Mr. Ikhrata was hired. However, in August of 2017 he resigned from the position in disgrace. What led to this was the failure of Measure A on the 2016 ballot, which would have increased the sales tax by a half cent for additional revenue for SANDAG. An independent investigation concluded that SANDAG had intentionally misled the public about internal calculations that raised significant doubts that the levy would actually deliver its promised $18 billion over 40 years, and also showed that the existing “transnet” sales tax was failing to meet estimated revenues, creating significant shortfalls in the budget.

Meanwhile, tension had grown between those in urban centers who wanted to focus almost exclusively on new mass-transit projects and those in suburban communities who wanted to focus on highways and auto-centric planning. Politicians and environmental groups—including the Cleveland National Forest Foundation, the Sierra Club, and then Attorney General, Kamala Harris—were especially disgruntled with SANDAG’s plan under Gary Gallegos’ leadership. In 2011, these groups sued SANDAG, but were ultimately overruled by the Calofornia Supreme Court.

When Hasan Ikhrata became the new Executive Director in December, 2018, he inherited the plan being developed under Gallegos that was based on revenue projections that proved to be overly optimistic. That plan was unaffordable and unable to meet the State requirements for greenhouse gas emission reduction.

An extension was granted to allow SANDAG time to start the planning process all over again. The Board of Directors has been approving the plan, now called “The Five Big Moves,” at each vote along the way, but as the deadline approaches, some of the members are pushing for more highway projects that they claim were “promised” and necessary for safety. If they do add more highway lanes, greenhouse gas emissions will increase, and thereby jeopardize the ability of the plan to meet or exceed the State targets for cleaner air.

By law, the public has the right to give input during the planning process. Our voices are needed to let the members of the Board of Directors know that we support “The Five Big Moves” as the best way to solve our transportation problems and the urgent problems of climate change.

SanDiego350 has the unique opportunity to meet with SANDAG’s Executive Director, Hasan Ikhrata, to discuss the most pressing issues in regional transportation and climate change. Join us virtually on Wednesday July 22nd at 7:00 pm by registering here.

Flex Your Power: Help SD350 Push for Climate Smart Legislation

The SanDiego350 community gathers at a previous training event. The most recent Legislative Training was held virtually due to current circumstances.

By: Jill O’Keeffe, SD350 Legislative Intern

SanDiego350 is working hard this summer on state legislation. We kicked off the effort to organize meetings with our legislators this past Sunday, June 28, at the Legislative Training where SD350 members met virtually to learn how to combat climate change with legislation and which bills are currently priorities. 

The SD350 community, members from several 350 groups around the state, and individuals from affiliated organizations gathered for the event. Attendees heard presentations on the bills that SD350 is advocating for this year, how bills become law in California, and advocacy best practices. 

Nine bills were highlighted within the presentation. Among the 2020 California climate bills are AB-345SB-54, and AB-1080. AB 345 would require a 2,500 foot buffer between new oil drilling sites and homes/schools/businesses. Even now, with oil demand down, the governor is approving new drilling sites in California. We need to protect working families from the toxic environment created by oil drills. California Climate bills AB 54 and AB 1080 are both two-year bills that would move California toward eliminating 75% of single-use plastics by the year 2030. The mandated recycling proposed by these bills would reduce greenhouse gases in both production of materials and degradation of said materials if put in landfills or littered rather than recycled.

The presentation included two social justice bills: Senate bills AB-1460 and AB-3121. These bills target racial equity by advocating for an ethnic studies requirement at all California State Universities and by creating a task force to develop a plan for reparations for African Americans, respectively. AB 1460 and AB 3121 will improve exposure to cultural and social justice history and begin to address the disparities of a shameful history. Racial and economic justice are indisputable and essential to climate justice. We, as advocates for climate justice, must strive for a world where people of color have a safe and healthy future on this planet.

SD350 will be urging legislators to think big and invest in systemic changes that will allow us to reduce carbon pollution and prioritize frontline communities and workers. There needs to be a change in our economy that focuses on justice, both racial and environmental, while expanding the scope of cleaner energy. Elected officials need to be reminded that even during this uncertain time, many people are still dedicated to bettering the future for this country. By joining these legislative trainings the SD350 community will help press legislators to invest now in a more sustainable future.

The training was a resounding success with many motivated community activists. The legislative training slide deck can be found here

What you can do: 

  • Contact local state legislators and ask them to support the important bills above. Call Senator Atkins (619-645-3133) and Ben Hueso (619-409-7690)and tell them to support AB 345, which protects residents near oil and gas extraction sites.
  • Contact Amanda at Amanda@sandiego350.org to learn how to get involved with advocating for these bills—via meetings, calling our legislators, attending trainings, and more!

SD350 Builds Power with Community Budget Alliance

By: Joe Wainio, member of SD350’s Coalition Team.

SanDiego350 has been a member of the Community Budget Alliance (CBA) for four years. CBA is a coalition of local organizations advocating for the interests of immigrants, low-income workers and communities of color. It mainly becomes active during the period when the mayor and city council consider the annual city budget (March-June), lobbying for more funding for its member organizations’ priorities.

Participating in multiracial, cross class coalitions such as CBA is a strategic way to build the power we need to challenge the 1%. Without a fundamental realignment of political forces in our country, away from those who put profits before people, we won’t be able to create a more just society, including taking action to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

Currently, levels of economic inequality are near historic highs. Americans in the top 0.1% of income earners capture over 196 times the income of the bottom 90%. Racial disparities exacerbate the unfairness even further.

Our country was built on and still reflects the legacy of white supremacy. In 2016, median wealth of white families was about 10 times that of Black families and 8 times that of Latino families.

COVID-19 has demonstrated health and employment disparities, as well.  Black people are dying at rates almost 3 times those of whites. A study by SANDAG showed that unemployment in Logan Heights had reached 37.5% in early May, while in Rancho Bernardo it was “only” 20%.

Political inequality follows as a logical consequence of this economic inequality. According to research by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, “the preferences of the average American [on federal government policy] appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon policy.” Meanwhile, big corporate lobbyists have no problem getting their agenda enacted.

By engaging in the fight for equality with our allies, we build relationships and trust and expand the progressive movement for change. Fighting side by side with the Community Budget Alliance, and in other cross-class and multiracial coalitions, is the only way to build a movement strong enough to challenge the status quo.

Climate Justice Calls for Racial Justice, End to White Supremacy

By Kimberly Kishon, Masada Disenhouse and Susan Duerksen

Black people in the U.S. are subject to violence and unjust death regularly – including at the hands of police who are supposed to protect all of us. We, the people of this country, have allowed institutionalized racism to go unchecked for centuries. 

It shows up in every aspect of peoples’ lives, devastatingly in safety, health, environmental and economic inequities. The coronavirus pandemic starkly highlights how rules apply differently based on a person’s skin color – who gets sickest, who can afford healthcare, who has no choice but to work in an unsafe environment. The communities hit hardest by environmental and climate impacts are primarily communities of color — and those least responsible for creating the problem. “People of color are more likely than white people to live alongside power plants, oil refineries and landfills.” (from the LA Times’ Sammy Roth:  Why communities fighting for fair policing also demand environmental justice).

This is a critical moment in history — and it can be a national turning point for racial justice. SanDiego350 leaders believe we, as advocates for climate justice, must stand for  dismantling institutional racism and white supremacy. We strive for a world where people of color have a safe and healthy future on this planet. 

In the words of leaders at 350.org, Rell Brown and Natalia Cardona, “There is no just recovery for climate without addressing the systemic extraction, harm and violence towards Black communities. Building a movement rooted in the needs of those most oppressed is the only way we can achieve liberation for all.”

What is SanDiego350 doing to support racial justice?

It is not enough to be passively non-racist. We must all take action to oppose racism, not just in our personal lives but wherever it exists systemically in the society we create together. We can’t just talk about racism, we have to stamp it out.

In the coming weeks, you will hear about how SD350 plans to more intentionally center racial justice in our work and take important internal steps to ensure our organization is more inclusive and diverse. As a primarily white, middle class volunteer led organization, we know we have significant growing to do.

We look forward to building on our policy work in partnership with people of color (POC)-led community organizations that advocates for equity in climate action planning, transportation, and state legislation; our youth engagement work; supporting partners on non-climate justice issues.

SanDiego350 Commits To:

  1. Share racial justice action steps from black-led organizations with our membership
  2. Focus our climate policy work always on stopping, reversing, and preventing climate  harm to communities of color
  3. Do internal work to uplift diverse voices, improve our practices, and train our membership on dismantling white supremacy
  4. Follow the leadership of POC-led partners 

Below are some specific actions we urge you to take. 

Above all, keep in mind that this is a particularly traumatic time for black Americans. This is not the time for white people to lead, nor is it the time to ask black people for advice or forgiveness. Make space for black people to grieve. Be sensitive, active and present in your responses. Step back, listen, learn and support. 

Get Connected

Subscribe to receive updates & action alerts from San Diego’s local chapters:

Take Action

  • Sign pandemic-related petitions by Black Lives Matter.
  • Sign the petition in support of San Diegans for Justice’s campaign for a ballot initiative to establish a community-led independent Commission on Police Practices.
  • Call on your local elected representatives to divest from white supremacy, which includes divestment from industrial multinational use of fossil fuels and investment in community- based sustainable energy solutions. 

Donate 

Learn

  • Flatten The Curve Of Inequality – a 5-part weekly web series hosted by the San Diego ACLU, where local advocates will share the work they’ve been doing to support families and communities during this crisis. Starts June 4th!
  • For white folks, watch this 22-minute lecture: Deconstructing White Privilege with Dr. Robin Di Angelo
  • Follow black writers and activists including Rachel Cargle, Brittany Packnett, Layla Saad 
  • The Movement for Black Lives calls on us to learn about the arguments for defunding the police and re-envisioning public safety, which is not a new idea. We must challenge ingrained ideas about safety. Useful info/resources

More resources from 350.org

You can find more opportunities to support nationally and in Minnesota here.

SD350 Builds Power with Community Budget Alliance

By: Joe Wainio, member of SD350’s Coalition Team.

SanDiego350 has been a member of the Community Budget Alliance (CBA) for four years. CBA is a coalition of local organizations advocating for the interests of immigrants, low-income workers and communities of color. It mainly becomes active during the period when the mayor and city council consider the annual city budget (March-June), lobbying for more funding for its member organizations’ priorities.

Participating in multiracial, cross class coalitions such as CBA is a strategic way to build the power we need to challenge the 1%. Without a fundamental realignment of political forces in our country, away from those who put profits before people, we won’t be able to create a more just society, including taking action to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

Currently, levels of economic inequality are near historic highs. Americans in the top 0.1% of income earners capture over 196 times the income of the bottom 90%. Racial disparities exacerbate the unfairness even further.

Our country was built on and still reflects the legacy of white supremacy. In 2016, median wealth of white families was about 10 times that of Black families and 8 times that of Latino families.

COVID-19 has demonstrated health and employment disparities, as well.  Black people are dying at rates almost 3 times those of whites. A study by SANDAG showed that unemployment in Logan Heights had reached 37.5% in early May, while in Rancho Bernardo it was “only” 20%.

Political inequality follows as a logical consequence of this economic inequality. According to research by Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, “the preferences of the average American [on federal government policy] appear to have only a miniscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon policy.” Meanwhile, big corporate lobbyists have no problem getting their agenda enacted.

By engaging in the fight for equality with our allies, we build relationships and trust and expand the progressive movement for change. Fighting side by side with the Community Budget Alliance, and in other cross-class and multiracial coalitions, is the only way to build a movement strong enough to challenge the status quo.

Interview with SD350 Member of the Month: Maria Rivera

Maria Rivera is a volunteer leader with SD350 and a member of the JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion) training effort.
SD350: How did you get involved with SD350 and when was that?
Maria Rivera: I joined the actions of 350.org activists during college and then found SanDiego350 when looking for a local chapter of the organization. My first action was volunteering for the People’s Climate March in 2014, where I saw over 1,000 San Diegans march to call for climate justice. We all seek a connection to the world around us. As a kid, I learned the importance of our connection to nature by living in places like Mexico City. It’s the right thing to do, to ensure equitable access to the bounty of nature. I’m lucky to be surrounded by family and friends who agree, I do the work for them.
SD350: What are three words that your friends would use to describe you?
MR: Sincere, good-humored and laid-back.
SD350: What drives your activism? 
MR: Experiencing scarcity. And knowing that nature will provide if we can act with a generosity of spirit.
SD350: How does SD350 stay focused on justice within policy work?MR: SD350 volunteers understand that reducing GHG emissions and improving renewable energy technologies is not enough to resolve climate change impacts. SD350 offers a service by researching policy changes that affect working folks and advocating for the interests of those who want a resilient governance prepared for current and future ecological changes. SD350 advocates for ambitious policies that match the level of the problems related to climate change especially for those who lack representative platforms.
SD350: How is justice related to this for you?
MR: A healthy environment is a human right. But it’s not enough to see this on paper. I think most people want equitable access to nature’s resources, but that won’t happen unless we account for the disparities that exist within and between our neighborhoods. During the ongoing pandemic, we’re experiencing what happens when the environment impacts our livelihoods; some households can overcome better than others. Justice means recognizing that consumption rates and economic structures can change and must change to ensure our human rights for a habitable planet.
SD350: What action were you involved with that made you the most excited?
MR: I got the chance to meet the other 350 organizations around California. The State is wonderfully diverse and each county has a personality, the 350 groups were no different. I was encouraged and overjoyed to meet other people around Cali who are part of a community of activists. I also met Rebecca and Caro and we all became members of the San Diego 350 JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion) training group. To be honest, I get to hang out with friends and do exciting work in every SD350 action that I get to do.
SD350: What else would you like people to know about you?
MR: Meditating on and taking action for our beautiful Earth fills me with joy. I’m a first-generation immigrant and I have two nephews in the armed forces. At one point, most of my extended family lived in Barrio Logan but I have lived in North Park most of my life (think, before the breweries). After college, I did fieldwork around coasts in Mexico and research in Mexico City. I’m positive that anyone, no matter what position they have in life, can help and be helped by treasuring earth and its resources.

Reflections on the Intersection of Climate Change, Justice, and Equity

By: Toshi Ishihara, SD350 board member and member of the Transportation Committee.

Climate Change is real, and we know that the world needs to come together to reduce and eventually eliminate greenhouse gas emissions to prevent the worst impacts of Climate Change. The challenge from shifting from our fossil fuel-based economy to one powered by renewable energy is a huge challenge in our political environment both domestically and globally. Unfortunately, the above was my entire limited understanding of the climate change problem when I started volunteering with SD350 in the fall of 2018. The  equation was simply “GHG Emissions = Climate Change”.

But, then things changed. About a year ago, upon a request from SD350, I started working with the San Diego Transportation Equity Working Group. SDTEWG is a coalition composed of the Environmental Health Coalition, City Heights Community Development Corporation, Mid-City Community Advocacy Network, the Center on Policy Initiatives, and San Diego 350. Each of these organizations, except SD350, are deeply rooted in environmental justice communities, communities of color, and other communities of concern. The coalition works to influence local governments and public agencies to provide convenient, affordable, and equitable solutions to their communities’ needs of transportation while addressing climate injustice. 

Since “Justice” and “Equity” were not commonly used words at the companies I worked for except as in “pay equity”, my learning curve as a new member of the SDTEWG planning group was extremely steep. However, as I learned little by little the environmental injustices that those communities had been struggling with for generations, it became clear to me that as a climate change advocate I needed to study and work on the intersection of climate change, justice, and equity and also to look at the climate change actions and solutions from a different perspective. Climate solutions that only reduce GHG emissions are no longer acceptable to me today.

Pushing for 100% renewable energy, emission-free transportation systems, and fightingthe fossil industry are good goals that will uproot the major cause of climate change and help the renewables industry flourish. 

But, what then? A superficial transfer of wealth from the fossil fuel industry to the renewable energy industry (especially given how many fossil fuel companies are accruing financial interests in the renewable sector) won’t change systemic economic inequity or environmental justice. 

It would be naive to think that renewable energy companies, once they gain dominant political influence and financial power, won’tl continue to exploit communities of concern as the fossil fuel industry has for decades. 

While some environmental organizations have accepted this tradeoff as a necessary evil to bring atmospheric CO2 levels down to 350ppm, I am proud that SanDiego350 has stood with environmental justice groups to demand solutions that prioritize frontline communities and equity. 

I very much enjoy working with the SDTEWG folks, and I regard them as my teachers on the intersection of climate change, justice, and equity. They may not think they are teaching me, but I am definitely learning some very important life lessons.

How we’re responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

Coming to grips with the devastating impacts of the pandemic has been hard for all of us. With the situation changing every day, none of us know what this will mean for our health, our loved ones, our jobs, our schooling, and our savings — let alone the nation, the economy at large, our democracy, and our planet. 

Some of us have been hit hard already. SD350 members and their families have lost jobs. Some have gotten sick with COVID-19 or have loved ones who have it or have even passed away due to the virus. Some of us have underlying conditions that make it dangerous to leave home. Some of us are suddenly juggling homeschooling and working from home. 

Most of us have never lived through a time like this. We are all struggling with the emotions, the stress, and the anxiety of this situation. In some ways, as climate activists, we’re more mentally equipped to deal with a worldwide crisis than many of our fellow Americans. 

The pandemic is laying bare the sorry state our nation has been in. The classism, racism, and corporatism that led to the largest wealth inequalities in our lifetimes are now putting our most vulnerable people at risk. It’s no coincidence that the people who are able to shelter at home and work from home have more money and health care than those who are risking their lives working for minimum wage in grocery stores and other service industries.

SanDiego350’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has primarily been in three areas: 

1. Bringing our events online. Prior to the virus, we had already held quite a few of our regular meetings remotely to maximize participation while minimizing our carbon footprint. Transitioning the earth day “Virtual Climate Uprising” was challenging – working remotely with a coalition of more than a dozen organizations, figuring out production for live streaming on multiple platforms, doing only online promotion. In other ways, it’s been easier. We’ve had youth participating in our programs from across the country. People have been more available and it’s easier to participate if you don’t need to leave home. We’re working on making our events as accessible, interactive, and engaging as possible. 

2. Checking in on our members. We’ve made hundreds of phone calls through our volunteer structures to check in our volunteer leaders, team members, and active volunteers and donors. Many volunteers have stepped up to offer help to our members who need help shopping or coping. It’s wonderful to see the care and compassion our members have for each other. Everyone has appreciated the concern and camaraderie and the space to take care of themselves and their loved ones – and it’s brought us closer and made us more resilient. 

3. Reevaluating our priorities. We’ve met with our board to discuss organizational level priorities, and we’ve been holding meetings with our different volunteer teams to check in and see how the pandemic has affected their plans, what challenges have come up, and what new opportunities exist. Some projects we’ve put so much into just won’t go anywhere in this new world. The state legislature has been closed down. Schools are not meeting regularly. But new projects have emerged that are relevant and crucial, for example, organizing a virtual Youth 4 Climate Summer Camp, supporting telecommuting, and advocating to make sure we move forward with a just recovery – instead of going back to the old “normal” when the economy reopens.

It’s Time For a Better Deal

By: Amanda Ruetten, Public Policy Organizer

San Diegans pay higher utility prices than most Californians. The high prices and San Diego’s dangerous air pollution rates are especially hard on vulnerable low-income communities, where family budgets are tight and asthma rates are growing. The utility company rakes in profits while we provide the public land necessary for its business. That’s the way it’s been for 100 years. This year, for the first time in 50 years, we finally have a chance to change our city’s outdated, one-sided deal with San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E). 

SDG&E’s 50-year franchise agreement with the City of San Diego to distribute gas and electricity on the City’s public right of way expires in January 2021. The City is required by its Charter to select the next energy franchisee through a “free and open competition”.  

SanDiego350 and its allies are campaigning for a better deal. We are in a climate crisis and the City of San Diego has one of the most progressive Climate Action Plans in the nation, with a goal of getting to 100% clean electricity by 2035.  To ensure we meet that goal, the City must award the next franchise agreement to a company that supports our clean energy goals. There must be guarantees that the utility — unlike the existing situation — will not undermine these goals by lobbying against clean energy programs at the state level, or imposing higher fees for solar home owners and low income community members. A shorter term and required penalties for violating any agreement provisions would provide increased accountability, and the franchise fees should be paid for by corporate shareholders rather than the customers.  

The franchise agreement is determined in an open bidding process and then it must be adopted by a two-thirds majority vote of the city council. That vote is expected later this year. There is an opportunity for us to have a voice in what happens. 

Join us to learn more about this campaign and how you can get involved. We’ll have an in-depth workshop on Sunday, June 7th. Or email me.