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We, community-based organizations and movements across the U.S. who are working for a Just Transition out of the climate crisis, stand in solidarity with the communities hit by Superstorm Sandy. We mourn for the lives lost in Haiti, Cuba, Canada, New York, New Jersey and all areas impacted by the storm. And we are inspired by the many expressions of solidarity as people work to care for one another under extremely challenging conditions.*
While millions were impacted, we know that people of color and low-income communities bear the brunt of extreme weather events as they often reside in unprotected areas stripped of wetlands and other protective natural barriers, and/or are contaminated by storm surges through toxic industry sites. In Haiti, when Hurricane Sandy hit, hundreds of thousands had only the shelter of makeshift tents since the January 2010 earthquake destroyed existing housing.
As we learn the full extent of damage from this huge storm, we are struck by the need for our communities and movements to prepare for rapidly changing conditions.
From Haiti, Ricot Jean-Pierre, Haitian Platform to Advocate Alternative Development (PAPDA) tells us, “the damage from hurricane demonstrated how the environment in Haiti has been destroyed by neoliberal policies that disproportionally affect the poorest of the poor. Now, it is only through SOLIDARITY with one another and engagement with all sectors–popular movements, women’s movements, peasant movements, youth movements–that we will transform our environment, protect life, and preserve our right to sovereignty in the places where we live.”
There will be many more shocks—acute moments of disruption such as extreme weather events—and slides—incremental disruptions such as sea level rise that play out over longer timeframes in devastating ways, if we are not prepared. The question is, how can we prepare to harness these shocks and slides to win the shifts we need in favor of people and the planet?
For decades, scientists have been warning those in governance about the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions and about the potential impacts from climate change on different regions. But the politicians have been both silent and stuck.
In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, James Hansen at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York blamed climate change for excessive drought, based on six decades of measurements, not computer models: “Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change.”
“Communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis have never been silent about the solutions that will save our planet and our soul as a society,” says Cecil Corbin-Mark of WE ACT for Environmental Justice in West Harlem. “We have advocated for bus rapid transit, affordable safe housing and resilient communities, green jobs through public investment, and policies that cut and eliminate carbon.”
Yet the failure to take climate change seriously has hampered our ability to effectively respond to these predictable shocks.
Says Helena Wong of CAAAV, “Today, we showed that the power of community can hold us together even through the toughest of times and it was done with lots of love, laughter, and hard work. Today, it was clear that even if City leaders do not acknowledge the work that we have done, we know we reached the people who needed it.”
An October 2012 comprehensive survey found that some states and cities around the country are beginning to draw up plans, but they’re nowhere near sufficient. “Most adaptation actions to date appear to be incremental changes,” the survey says, “not the transformational changes that may be needed in certain cases to adapt to significant changes in climate.”
While elites have been silent or stuck, grassroots forces in New York and New Jersey have been loud and clear on the path for real solutions:
* WeACT in West Harlem has been fighting for bus-rapid transit for public sector jobs, healthy communities, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
* Right to the City and Grassroots Global Justice Alliance groups like CAAAV, Picture the Homeless, Make the Road, and many more work to end displacement and economic inequity—both of which are integrally connected to climate change.
* The New York City Environmental Justice Alliance‘s Waterfront Justice Project – NYC’s first citywide community resiliency campaign – has continued working to protect NYC communities from the compounded burden of toxic inundation when storm surges like Hurricane Sandy hit.
* Ironbound Community Corporation, a member of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives and the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance has been crafting ‘Zero Waste” solutions that create recycling and composting jobs while drastically reducing climate and toxic pollution from landfills and incinerators.
* There are countless efforts to reclaim vacant lots for community gardens and to increase access to healthy food as part of a regional food system.
* The Indigenous Environmental Network has been working with Indigenous communities throughout Canada and the U.S. who are vehemently fighting to protect their lands and communities from fossil fuels development, like the tar sands mines and the Keystone XL, Kinder Morgan and Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines.
* Small farmer groups in Haiti have organized to reclaim the right to grow food for the people rather than for global food trade.
The efforts of these grassroots and indigenous groups are charting a path to new economies defined by public transit, zero waste, community housing, food sovereignty, wetlands restoration, clean community-owned power, and local self-governance. These efforts foster community resilience – critical to weathering the shocks and slides ahead.
The key to surviving these events and rebuilding thereafter relies on the creation and implementation of community-led solutions that value the lives of people and the health of the environment. This means transitioning out of an economy that makes some populations and communities vulnerable at the expense of others and toward an economy that works for people and the planet.
The days, weeks, and months ahead will be full of decision-making about how to invest precious resources in the reconstruction of communities. The voices of those working for root cause solutions must be heard! Community-led solutions will break the silence and move us toward a just transition.
* The organizations circulating this statement are working together to develop a Just Transition Campaign to create public sector jobs for zero waste, food sovereignty, local clean energy, public transit, and healthy communities. We welcome other organizational sign-ons by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Just Transition Campaign Organizations:
- Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE), Boston, MA
- The Alliance for Greater New York (ALIGN), NY, NY
- Alliance for Appalachia
- Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), California
- Black Mesa Water Coalition (BMWC), Black Mesa, Arizona
- Communites for a Better Environment (CBE), California
- Center for Earth, Energy, and Democracy (CEED), Minneapolis, MN
- Community to Community, Bellingham, WA
- Environmental Justice Climate Change Initiative (EJCC), Washington DC
- Energy Justice Network (EJN), Philadelphia, PA
- East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC), Detroit, MI
- Global Alliance of Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA)
- Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJ)
- Global Justice Ecology Project (GJEP), Burlington, VT
- Grassroots Intl, Boston, MA
- Indigenous Educational Design, Golden Valley, MN
- Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN)
- Institute for Policy Studies Sustainable Energy & Economy Network (IPS-SEEN), Washington DC
- Just Transition Alliance (JTA)
- Jobs with Justice
- Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC), London, KY
- Labor Community Strategy Center (LCSC), Los Angeles, CA
- Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS)
- Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), Chicago, IL
- Movement Generation (MG), Oakland, CA
- Movement Strategy Center (MSC), Oakland, CA
- NYC Environmental Justice Alliance (NY-EJA), NY, NY
- People Organized to Demand Environmental and Economic Rights (PODER), San Francisco, CA
- People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER), San Francisco, CA
- Rising Tide North America
- Right to the City Alliance
- Ruckus Society
- Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), Albequerque, NM
- Southwest Workers Union (SWU), San Antonio, TX
- UPROSE, NY, NY
- US Food Sovereignty Alliance
- Vermont Worker Center, Vermont