Category: Climate change

Why Supporting the Fight Against Racist Police Killings Could Mean a New Chapter in Environmentalism

black lives matter milwaukee protest

By Katie Valentine,ThinkProgress

The Sierra Club has had its share of environmental successes over the years. It prevented the damming of the Grand Canyon in the 1960s. It ran successful efforts to expand Sequoia National Park in 1926 and create the Redwoods National Park in 1968. And it has helped persuade multiple college campuses to divest from fossil fuels and phase out coal-fired power plants on campus.

But until recently, there’s one thing the Sierra Club — and, some say, the broader environmental movement — hasn’t done well. It hasn’t shown support for other social movements, hasn’t added its voice to other calls for change. That’s something Michael Brune, president of the Sierra Club, wants to change.

“Whenever we see things that threaten our democracy, whether it’s the influx of corporate money into our political system or the erosion of voting rights, or things like [police violence] that are a violation of human rights, we feel it’s our job to speak up,” he said. “And we’re happy to do so.”

And, for Brune, the recent police killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York and Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio have touched a nerve. During the first week of December, the Sierra Club posted multiple statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has grown out of the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and the high-profile police killings that have taken place in the last few months.

“Whether it’s the planet itself or the people who inhabit it, we hold the ideals of respect and reverence in the highest regard,” the organization wrote on its Facebook page on December 4. “For these reasons, we stand in solidarity with the organizations who are protesting and demanding justice in the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and every other victim of injustice.”

The choice to have the Sierra Club show support for the movement was simple for Brune, as he explained in blog posts following the Facebook-issued statements. All people, regardless of race, deserve a clean and healthy planet, he wrote. They also deserve to be able to live their lives without being fearful of the police, and without being subjected to discrimination.

These two issues, Brune wrote, “are not separate. Indeed, we believe that working toward a just, equitable, and transparent society is not only morally necessary but also exactly what we need to confront the unprecedented environmental challenges we face.”

Opal Tometi, Executive Director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration and one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter Movement, agrees. She said in a statement to ThinkProgress that environmental issues are “inextricably linked to a racial justice agenda,” and that she’d like to see more people of color — especially those who are already leaders in the environmental justice movement — rise up to leadership roles in the larger, national organizations — organizations that, as a whole, have been found to skew white.

“Black communities in the U.S. and around the globe are impacted the worst and should be central in shaping and leading the national environmental justice movement,” Tometi said.

Brune isn’t the only one in the environmental movement who thinks so. The Sierra Club was among multiple environmental groups to put out statements of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in recent months: the National Resources Defense Council, for one, published a blog post this month stating the group’s support for the movement, and Greenpeace did the same in August.

In November, Friends of the Earth International put out a statement of support for the protests that erupted in Ferguson after unarmed teen Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer, saying that the shooting was “an affront to Friends of the Earth International’s vision of a society of interdependent people living in harmony.” The group’s U.S.-based arm put out another statement in December, after the police officer who used a chokehold to kill unarmed Eric Garner wasn’t indicted.

These types of statements are a sign of progress for the environmental movement, said Van Jones, environmental and civil rights advocate and founder of Green for All and Rebuild the Dream. Jones said environmental groups need to continue to engage with relevant social causes if they want to grow and evolve, and also if they want to gain supporters from the non-white community, a demographic which, polls have found, is often supportive of efforts to protect the environment.

A Yale poll from 2010 found that black Americans, Hispanics and people of other races are “often the strongest supporters of climate and energy policies and were also more likely to support these policies even if they incurred greater cost.” A 2012 poll found that 71 percent of Asian Americans would call themselves an environmentalist, compared to the national average of about 41 percent. And, according to a 2013 poll, 86 percent of black Americans support the President taking “significant steps” on climate change, compared to 76 percent of Hispanics and 60 percent of whites.

“It’s only natural that, if people who make up a large part of your growing base are under fire — literally — that you should express some sympathy and some concern,” Jones said. And, he said, now that these statements have been made, environmental groups should be sure to make their members aware of any legislation that might come out of the Black Lives Matter movement.

May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, said she hopes environmental groups’ statements of support for the Black Lives Matter movement is a sign of a new era in environmentalism.

There have been other signs in recent years that major environmental groups are starting to branch out: the Sierra Club came out in favor of immigration reform in 2013, an issue that had sparked internal arguments in the group in past years. It was joined by 350.org and Greenpeace. And Friends of The Earth has been fairly outspoken in the past about issues that fall outside of the traditional bounds of an environmental organization. The group’s D.C. office marched in support of healthcare reform in 2010, and President Erich Pica said they’ve also supported the marriage equality movement.

Pica said the Black Lives Matter movement was another reminder that the group that it can’t achieve its mission — to defend the environment and champion a healthy and just world — if it doesn’t address the “deeper, systemic” issues in American society.

“As an environmental group, we can focus too much on the healthy world piece,” Pica said. “On the justice piece — the ‘just’ piece — it’s hard for Friends of the Earth to accomplish that mission if there are blatant injustices that are occurring out there, where Americans — African Americans, black Americans — don’t have the basic rights to a justice system, where they fear that an encounter with a police officer could be their last.”

For the groups that issued statements of support for the movement, the decision to do so was fairly easy. But not everyone is happy about these statements — or, at least, not everyone on the Sierra Club’s Facebook page. Some wondered why a group whose main goal was the protection of the earth and the advancement of renewable energy sources bothered to put out a statement of support for a cause that, at first glance, had little to do with the environment.

One commenter called the Sierra Club’s statement “out of line,” and said he was disappointed that the environmental organization would choose to associate itself with “controversial criminal justice cases.”

Brune said he understood why some people were confused about the group’s statement — police violence, after all, isn’t an issue that’s typically discussed in the same conversation as carbon regulations and sage grouse protection. He can see why some might be concerned about the implications of the Sierra Club putting out statements of support for other issues: that it could water down the environmental movement or make the public confused about the movement’s goals.

But ultimately, Brune doesn’t agree with those concerns. He didn’t think twice about making the statements of support, and he wants to do more to address social issues in the future. He and his family have joined in some of the marches against police violence, and he said that Sierra Club organizers are “working in solidarity,” with Black Lives Matter organizers.

“I’m proud of the way in which we’re acting and engaging. For us, it’s not just about a post on Facebook or a blog entry or a series of supportive statements — we’re determined to engage on these issues over the long-haul,” he said. Externally, we’re always thinking about ways to both strengthen the environmental progress that we’re making and address some of the underlying obstacles towards that progress.”

Courtesy of Think Progress, December 16, 2014 (thinkprogressnow.org)

Civicorps and City of Oakland Work Together to Train Youth as Truck Drivers

Recycling and organics truck driver Wulliam Montolla

Recycling and organics truck driver Wulliam Montolla

By Ken Epstein

Oakland may become the only place in the nation where job opportunities for young people are written into a city’s franchise agreement to pick up the trash.

As part of the Oakland City Council’s recent 10-year contract with Waste Management, Civicorps – which provides high school diplomas and job training for young adults – is negotiating agreements that will allow its participants to work in jobs picking up green waste and enter relatively high paid positions as truck drivers.

Though the deals are not yet finalized, Alan Lessik, executive director of Civicorps, is optimistic that young people in the program will soon be driving trucks to pick up organic waste at commercial establishments throughout the city, to be delivered to East Bay Municipal Utility District’s green digesters at the Army Base in West Oakland where bacteria will turn the garbage into electricity.

Currently trainees can earn their Class B drivers license through the recycling program. Under the new agreement, these trainees they will become Teamster Local 70 Apprentice drivers, which will allow them to become union truck drivers and earn substantial raises in pay.

“We don’t have numbers yet, but their wages will almost double when they move from the pre-apprenticeship to the Teamster apprenticeship program,” said Lessik.

Although Civicorps provides young people with work experience, education is at the heart of the program.

For the first four months in Civicorps, students go to school 30 hours a week, full time. After that, they go to a job site for 30 hours a week and attend school for eight hours a week.

Civicorps is the only accredited high school and job training program for youth 18-26 years old in the East Bay. As a charter school in Oakland for the last 10 years, the school offers students a real high school diploma, not a G.E.D.

Civicorps Graduates Nykimbe Broussard, Harris Cox, and Michael Wilder.

Civicorps Graduates Nykimbe Broussard, Harris Cox, and Michael Wilder.

About 75 percent of the program’s students graduate, a higher rate than Oakland public high schools. Over 75 percent of Civicorps graduates go onto college or jobs, an impressive achievement for a program whose students had previously dropped out of high school.

In school, students study English, math, science and social studies. They explore career and college and can act in Shakespeare plays.

“What we know is everyone can learn, no matter what their past history has been,” said Lessik. But in order to be successful in their studies, he says, young people may need support to overcome serious obstacles, such as homelessness, before they can focus on schoolwork.

Civicorps works with about 130 students at time. About 90 percent are from Oakland, the rest from other parts of Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Thirty percent have been involved in the criminal justice system; 28 percent are from foster care.

Ninety-eight percent are students of color.

“All of our students are poor – the school system has failed all of our kids in the past,” said Lessik.

As the young people progress through the program, they begin “traditional conservation corps work,” which provides them with basic skills training.

Civicorps has contracts with EBMUD, the cities of Berkeley and Oakland, as well as the East Bay Regional Parks District. The youth do fire prevention, build trails, clean out streams, pick up litter and learn to handle small tools.

“Our aim is to integrate our kids into the community in a positive way,” said Lessik. “They’re doing environmental and social good in the community and are seeing themselves as part of the community.”

In Civicorps’ recycling program, young people can earn their regular drivers’ license and a Class B License that enable them to drive garbage trucks and other large vehicles.

“Through our program, they can get experience,” Lessik said. “We keep them for two years, because you have to show you have two years of violation-free, drug-free work experience to be eligible for fairly well-paying jobs as drivers.”

Civicorps, located at 102 Myrtle St. near the West Oakland BART station, has year-round enrollment for its school, job training and recycling truck driving program. For more information, call (510) 992-7800 or go to www.cvcorps.org.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 16, 2014, (postnewsgroup.com)

 

 

Plan to Divert Garbage from Landfill to Produce Green Energy Awaits Waste Management OK

EBMUD green digesters at Oakland Army Base in West Oakland

EBMUD green digesters at Oakland Army Base in West Oakland

By Ken Epstein

Oakland’s renegotiated trash deal may mean better rates and services for the city’s residents. But the agreement does not settle whether Oakland’s food waste will end up in a landfill or be diverted to East Bay Municipal District’s green digester that turns the garbage into electricity energy.

Under the now defunct plan the city had with California Waste Solutions (CWS), green waste from commercial establishments, such as restaurants, hospitals and cafeterias, would go to the EBMUD plant at the Oakland Army Base. CWS and EBMUD had a signed memorandum of understanding.

William "Bill" Patterson

William “Bill” Patterson

However, the terms of the city’s contract with Waste Management only require the company to negotiate with EBMUD.

“We are at a much earlier stage with Waste Management (than CWS),” said Abby Figueroa, EBMUD spokesperson. If the parties reach a deal, “We would end up being a subcontractor with Waste Management,” she said.

“This contract (would) enable us to put more resources into the plant, turning discarded food scraps and other digestible organic materials into renewable energy,” said William “Bill” Patterson, member of the EBMUD Board of Directors, speaking at a recent City Council meeting.

The idea behind EBMUD’s green digester is quite simple and utilizes technology that has been around for years. Carbon-rich food waste is blended and dumped into one of EBMUD’s 12 tanks to be decomposed by bacteria.

“The (2-million gallon) tanks are kept at about 100 degrees for 2-3 weeks (where the) bacteria chomp away and release byproducts, most of which is methane gas,” said Fugueroa.

The gas is captured and fed into EBMUD turbines or engines to create electricity. Most of what goes into the digesters at present are solids from wastewater, she said.

The digesters were built in the 1980s when the East Bay was still a center of the food processing industry. Most of that capacity is unused at present.

In 2001, EBMUD started collecting food waste to utilize its excess capacity in the digesters. This includes wastes from wineries, dairies, food processors, grease from restaurants and commercial food scraps, said Figueroa.

On average, every day about 10 tons of food waste is delivered to the plant.

In 2012, EBMUD became the first wastewater utility in the country to produce enough energy from biodegradable waste to power its plant and sell extra energy back to the grid, said Figueroa.

This cuts fossil fuel use, greenhouse gas emissions and saves about $3 million each year in electricity bills, she said. Last year, EBMUD produced 6 megawatts of power. Currently, the excess power that is generated is sold to the Port of Oakland.

If EBMUD contracts with Waste Management to take Oakland’s commercial food waste, the utility estimates it will receive 70-100 tons of food waste per day.

“We estimate this will produce 1 megawatt of power, or enough to power 1,200 homes,” she said. “ The alternative is to send all this food waste to landfills, where methane will be produced naturally but not captured for energy production.”

Figueroa said that EBMUD responds immediately to concerns of West Oakland community members about odors that intermittently come from the utility’s plant,

She emphasized that the utility takes these concerns seriously and has spent millions of dollars for the latest technology and uses chemicals to reduce odors. In addition, she said, the odors that cause the concerns come mostly from the wastewater treatment plant, not the digesters.

“We’ll continue our commitment of being a good neighbor in the West Oakland community. We are using the state-of-the-art odor control technology,” said Patterson, EBMUD board member.

EBMUD daily treats about 63 million gallons of wastewater from nine East Bay cities, including Alameda, Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, Emeryville, Kensington, Oakland, Piedmont and part of Richmond.

The utility has been treating the East Bay’s wastewater since 1951.

Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 10, 2014 (postnewsgroup.com)