By Angela Deegan
SanDiego350.org (SD350) is a local, all-volunteer, citizens’ group set up in 2011 with the goal of combatting climate change. It is one of 142 local groups in 61 countries that are part of 350.org’s global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis.
It evolved from a Balboa Park rally demanding a clean energy future, in support of 350.org’s international day of action. The organizers of that September 2011 rally found they had such good synergy it made sense to continue to work together on climate change.
Co-founder Simon Mayeski, an activist, organizer and native San Diegan living in Tierrasanta “saw the smarts, the dedication and the excitement” of those who organized that rally and found he just had to put himself in with them.
The group tackles climate change on a number of fronts. Organized loosely into teams, one of the most active teams is their Public Policy Team that works to strengthen local Climate Action Plans and the SANDAG Regional Plan and also builds relationships with local elected officials. It coordinates members to speak out at city council meetings when climate-related topics are on the table and recently had many of its members contribute a climate perspective at SANDAG workshops on the Regional Plan.
Along with members of many other groups, SD350 members spoke out against the Quail Brush Power Plant at last September’s San Diego City Council Rezoning hearing. The vote went 8-0 against the re-zoning which, if allowed, would have made it easier for the plant to get eventual approval. (The plant was subsequently quashed by the CPUC, at least for the short term.)
Wondering about the significance of the “350” in the group’s name? That number is the parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere that many climate scientists say is the safe upper limit for the ratio of this gas to all gasses in Earth’s atmosphere. Since the beginning of human civilization up until about 200 years ago, the atmosphere contained about 275 ppm of CO2.
In May this year, the ppm of CO2 reached 400 and the level is still rising. If there is failure to significantly cut emissions soon, Earth’s temperature increase will blow past 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit), a tipping point beyond which climate scientists and political leaders around the world agree that we could be facing dire consequences – more drought, wildfires, flooding, disease and mass human migrations leading to political instability.
Though SD350 primarily has a local focus, it also supports campaigns out of 350.org, such as the “Stop the Keystone XL pipeline”, the “End Fossil Fuel Subsidies” and the “Divest from fossil fuels” campaigns.
Inspired by how effectively divestment was used in the 1980’s to combat apartheid in South Africa, 350.org launched a campaign last November to get schools, cities, states and religious institutions to divest from fossil fuels. Now SD350 has its own Divestment Team working to get pension funds CALSTRS and CALPERS to divest. These funds have over $3 billion and 5$ billion, respectively, invested in the fossil fuel industry.
SD350’s Divestment Team is headed up by Gary Waayers, an adjunct Biology Professor living in Julian who, as a teacher, saw the dichotomy of his professional life. “In the classroom it is all about making it possible for my students to be better equipped for the future, while my shared retirement system, CalSTRS, invests billions into fossil fuels, the very use of which will work against a bright future for my students,” he explains. He said getting active in the SD350.org’s Divestment Team gave him a way to address this dichotomy.
The group has organized protests against the Keystone XL pipeline on three occasions to date – in February in E Mission Bay, in April on Coronado and, most recently, this summer at Comic Con. The goal is to keep pressure on President Obama to ensure he rejects the pipeline that would transport tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.
The rejection of the pipeline would make it much less likely that the oil would be extracted. That’s important to groups concerned about climate change because the processing of tar sands oil (from extraction through combustion) is 20% more energy intensive, and therefore much costlier in terms of emissions, than the conventional crude oil typically used in the U.S. Also, they see the building of this huge pipeline infrastructure as anathema to the goal of transitioning to renewable energy, because it serves instead to perpetuate dependence on fossil fuels.
The group does a lot of outreach to raise awareness about climate change in the community. It runs booths at fairs and festivals around the County, including the Sustain La Mesa festival, Encinitas Environment Day and Earth Fair. It will soon be positioned to give presentations on climate change to faith groups and student groups.
It coined the term “climate chat” for certain of its outreach events which follow the format of a short presentation on a climate-related topic followed informal discussion (“chat”) on the topic. SD350 has held two such climate chats to date – the second of which was on the relationship between food and climate.
Member Bruce Graves, an electrician living in El Cajon, feels that with all the “organized disinformation about climate change”, being in SD350 is a way to learn the facts and science as it really is and share that information with others.” Another group member active in the group’s community outreach, co-founder and UCSD graduate student, Janina Moretti, says she’s frustrated that the U.S. has been so slow to respond to climate change, “when there are many known technological and policy solutions and when the consequences of inaction are so dire.” Working with SD350 has helped her “channel that frustration into meaningful action.”
Just as there’s a tipping point on climate change, SD350 feels there’s also a tipping point for citizen engagement on climate change, beyond which elected representatives will be driven to make the needed policy changes. With SD350’s dynamism, creativity and plain old hard work, it certainly is doing its all to ensure we reach the tipping point on citizen engagement in time to avoid the tipping point on climate change.
About the author: Angela has been a member of SD350 since 2011. She lives and works in La Mesa. Photo by Alex Turner