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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.
The post-Sandy activity on the ground has already exposed the incompetence of governments to respond effectively – particularly to needs in working class communities – and, in its place, grassroots , community-based efforts are springing up to provide basic needs and resources to communities in true acts of resilience.
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.
Here are a few key facts about the factors that created this Superstorm Sandy:
— 2012 broke all records for melting of Arctic sea ice
— Sea levels in the Northeast U.S. are rising 3-4 times faster than the global average; they are already 9-10” higher than in 1900.
— Higher sea levels mean far greater flooding impacts in low-lying urban areas.
You can see how a combination of rising sea levels, tides, and storms could affect different parts of the United States with this helpful GIS mapping tool from Climate Central.
— Melting Arctic ice also creates negative pressure in the jet stream, forcing large cold air fronts to move south
— Temperatures in the Northeast are 5 degrees warmer than usual. Warmer air holds more moisture which means more rainfall.
— Warmer ocean temperatures add more energy to storms.
* 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), Buffalo, NY
Grassroots Intl, Boston, MA
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
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
Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), Albequerque, NM
Southwest Workers Union (SWU), San Antonio, TX
UPROSE, NY, NY
US Food Sovereignty Alliance
Vermont Worker Center, Vermont
Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS)
Additional Sign Ons:
Indigenous Educational Design, Golden Valley, MN
Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ)
Peaceful Uprising, Utah
Childhood Lead Action Project, Rhode Island
War Resisters League
Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island
Mujeres Unidas y Activas, San Francisco Bay Area, CA
International Development Exchange (IDEX)
The Zenteotl Project, Minneapolis, MN
Local Clean Energy Alliance, San Francisco Bay Area, CA
SUPPORT CAAAV’S RELIEF EFFORTS:
With the help of over 100 volunteers, CAAAV is distributing supplies directly to residents of high rise buildings who are still without power, checking on elderly residents, and helping people reconnect. Please send donations directly to them or other grassroots providing direct support: http://www.nycharities.org/donate/c_donate.asp?CharityCode=1838&amount=&designategift2=
— On the relationship between sea level rise (a slide) and intense storms (shocks): http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/wp/2012/10/29/yes-hurricane-sandy-is-a-good-reason-to-worry-about-climate-change/
— Democracy Now has had a bunch of good coverage and useful interviews: http://www.democracynow.org
— On adaptation and preparation: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/ezra-klein/wp/2012/10/31/why-the-united-states-is-so-unprepared-for-climate-disasters/
— Oct 2012 Survey of Local, State, Tribal Climate Preparedness: http://www.springerlink.com/content/k3v613601198471l/fulltext.html?MUD=MP
— On climate in the election debates: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/oct/31/sandy-climate-change-us-election?CMP=email
— Summary of Storm details: http://www.wunderground.com/blog/JeffMasters