By Doug Porter
Everybody is in favor of saving the environment these days. Or so they say.
The modern-day litmus test for whether an individual or company is serious about the environment comes down to whether or not they acknowledge climate change to be a man-made phenomenon.
This evolution of public consciousness didn’t come easy. It was built on the work of environmental activists and organizations. Throw a metaphorical rock in San Diego and chances are it will land at the feet of an organization working on some aspect of saving the planet. Today we’ll look back at the actions of the environmental movement locally, nationally, and internationally over the past year.
Origins of a Movement
A million people gathered in New York in 1970 to celebrate the first Earth Day. Another 19 million people around the United States participated in local festivities.
I was among the several thousand participants in an Earth Day celebration held in San Diego’s Balboa Park. It was mostly a counter-cultural event, an off-shoot of the Love-Ins staged every Sunday. Bands played, speakers spoke and dope got smoked.
I vaguely remember being pissed off at the prevailing attitude, holding that saving Mother Earth was just a matter of mystically changing attitudes. (Smoke dope, get high, all the pigs are gonna die)
But, then again, that was the problem I always had with hippies…
Fast forward to the present… and, although the specifics have changed, the belief that change will “just happen” still represents the biggest contradiction within the environmental movement.
San Diego’s modern-day (27th annual) Earth Fair features a list of sponsors including egregious enemies of the environment undoubtedly hoping participation will somehow ameliorate their day-to-day practices.
We’re supposed to feel good about WalMart for donating a few bucks to support “the cause.” We’re supposed to feel good about gathering tens of thousands of people for “the cause.” We’re supposed to believe that somewhere in the mess of humanity trampling the park there are attitudes changing.
A Reactionary Rear Guard
Unfortunately, the United States stands alone among the nations of the world in having a significant rear-guard political movement denying both the data and the causes of the changes in our planetary ecosystem. Attitudes needed to change decades ago.
One of the first actions of the US Senate in 2015 was passage of a resolution declaring that, although climate change is real, it’s not the fault of humans. Senator Ted Cruz, one of the leading Republican candidates for president, went on National Public Radio and declared there had been no recent significant global warming.
For the last 18 years, the satellite data – we have satellites that monitor the atmosphere. The satellites that actually measure the temperature showed no significant warming whatsoever. [Wrong! FYI.]
What we’re up against today is a well-funded, media-savvy opposition dedicated to preserving the short term economic growth of companies guilty of the most horrible crimes imaginable against the planet and all the species who inhabit it.
ExxonMobil knew the damage they were doing as far back as 1981. They’ve spent millions of dollars to preserve the mindset enabling increased consumption of carbon-based energy. When the documentation of this crass manipulation was exposed earlier this year the company doubled down, funding a website denying the findings and threatening funding for Columbia University, where some of the research was done.
Modern Day Agreements
There were significant steps acknowledging the global climate crises in 2015. In Paris, 190+ nations agreed to set a goal of limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (°C) compared to pre-industrial levels.
In San Diego, the City Council passed a legally binding climate action plan, potentially cutting local greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2035.
Although both deals have real limitations and in no way actually solve the global situation, there is, at least, a road map for how if could (or should) be done. Neither of these agreements would have been possible without the decades of activism on the part of dedicated individuals and organizations.
The path forward faces real challenges at every step of the way. Republican congresscritters are working hard on a way to sabotage any US commitments to the global pact. The legally binding part of San Diego’s plan is left up to entities outside local government.
In short, the ball remains where it’s been since the start of the environmental movement, in the court of activism, voter engagement and perceived popular sentiment.
Looking Back at 2015
In researching this piece, I was awed by the number and variety of local organizations contributing towards making this a better world to live in. So let me apologize in advance for short-changing or omitting anybody’s efforts… So much good work.. so little time…
SanDiego350 (a group inspired by 350.org) organized a rally in downtown San Diego on January 13th calling on the President to reject plans for the Keystone XL Pipeline. This was just one of many held during the year. In November, President Obama announced his intention to block the permits needed for the Keystone XL pipeline.
The battle over the Keystone XL pipeline was symbolic: big oil vs. environmental activists. Ultimately this was about politics. the politics of the future. And, for now, it appears cleaner energy advocates have had their way.
The Ocean Beach People’s Organic Market, along with took a big role in organizing public demonstrations throughout the year, as part of the national Climate Mobilization starting with the March 15th Climate March and Rally.
The Climate Mobilization, San Diego County Democratic Party, San Diego & Imperial Counties Labor Council, Sierra Club San Diego, Greenpeace San Diego, SanDiego350.org, Women Occupy – San Diego, Blue Dot Refill, Environmental Health Coalition, Citizens Climate Lobby, Ocean Beach Green Center, La Jolla Democratic Club, Peace Resource Center of San Diego and many more also organized for and participated in events throughout the year.
In May, the newly formed labor caucus of San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council called for transit-first strategy for the region, putting pressure on the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) to put off freeway expansion until more public transportation projects are completed.
From City Beat:
News of the resolution was welcomed by Monique Lopez, a policy advocate specializing in transit justice for the Environmental Health Coalition. But, rather than hailing the resolution as a sign of powerful reinforcements to come, she carefully observed the groups’ overlapping agendas.
“Labor supporting a transit-first approach to regional transportation planning shows that such an approach provides great economic benefit to the region,” she said. “But, it also shows their dedication to their members who need a reliable, effective and affordable transit network.”
Beyond forming alliances, pushing a green agenda does have broader appeal for union officials. The idea that investment in public transit is a direct subsidy to the working class has been a key tenet of labor’s environmental platform.
Labor and Environmental groups jointly participated in demonstrations at the offices of Congressman Scott Peters and elsewhere throughout the year, recognizing the impact that fast track approval of the Trans Pacific Pact (TPP) could have on environmental regulations.
… it’s hard to find any other significant legislation supported by TPP’s business and Republican advocates that’s been beneficial for any of the constituencies opposing it. These are the folks who give comfort to (if not support) climate change deniers. These are the folks who opposed health care reform. And in the case of the Chambers of Commerce, these are the organizations actively funding measures depriving people of the right to collectively bargain with their employers.
So we’re supposed to believe that they’ve actually decided to care about anything else than corporate greed? Go ask the farm workers picking berries in Baja California how these deals have helped them.
Environmental groups were a big part of the coalition demonstrating outside the Grand Hyatt Hotel in San Diego as the American Legislative Council (ALEC) held their 2015 convention.
A steadily mounting campaign of public exposure, fueled in large part by the investigative prowess of the Center for Media and Democracy, along with the activism of Color of Change and Common Cause, has led more than 90 of the corporate members who fund ALEC to withdraw their support.
I have no doubt we’ll see a pronouncement from ALEC or its defenders this week prattling on about the “coordinated intimidation campaign against its members.” and how these demonstrations are somehow going to “eliminate discourse.”
Sorry, ALEC. This week is about the real victims–whether it’s people who can’t vote due to the “discourse” creating restrictions on casting ballots or the child in the barrio whose asthma is caused by preventable pollution.
The American Legislative Exchange Council represents a tangible target for people across wide swathes of our nation to demand economic and political justice. I hope readers will feel motivated to support some or all of the actions this week while ALEC is in town.
In early august, the Courage Campaign, Californians Against Fracking and Rootskeeper led protests against the environmental damage caused by fracking in 15 cities around California. Local activists mobilized by SD350 gathered in Ocean Beach reacting to the release of findings of the California Council on Science and Technology’s Scientific Assessment of Hydraulic Fracturing in California.
The study said there is a possibility for contamination of groundwater due to the use of hazardous chemicals in fracking. It also cited the potential for health problems, habitat disruption, and oil spills, and air pollution.
In September, the global People Climate March happened, kicked off in San Diego with a speech by Councilmember Todd Gloria, who talked about the importance of a Climate Action Plan for the city.
Court Allen covered the event for the San Diego Free Press:
The AFL-CIO? The IBEW? In attendance. Apparently, they favor clean energy, because it’s the right thing to do, and there are jobs in it too! Clean jobs. Sustainable jobs. Meaningful jobs.
As would be expected the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Women Occupy, and PETA members were all present. Good to see you all, and thanks for staying the course all these years.
Also in attendance were representatives from the Catholic Church, The Interfaith Center for Worker Justice, the Islamic Center of San Diego, and a Buddhist monk– you name it, they were there. And not preaching their brand of worship, but rather a truly consistent and cooperative message regarding the responsible stewardship of our world.
Incidentally, Todd gave a truly inspiring speech. A feet stamping call to action. Nice work, man. Below is a video of Nicole Capretz’s intro and Todd Gloria’s speech:
Drawing inspiration from Pope Francis’s encyclical, the San Diego Coalition to Preserve our Common Home (SDCPCH) held an interfaith forum on climate justice at St. Paul’s Cathedral on September 24th.
From Jim Miller’s SDFP column announcing the event:
We’re presenting this forum in the face of increasing opposition to climate action on the part of those linked to fossil fuel interests. As Joe Romm recently pointed out in Climate Progress, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell and his allies now “apparently believe the role of the ‘exceptional’ and ‘indispensable’ nation is to actively work to undermine the world’s best chance to save billions of people — including generations of Americans — from needless misery…”
…while some of our leaders in Washington are engaging in a form of suicidal politics by campaigning against climate action at home and abroad at the same time many Democratic legislators in California have balked at taking climate action in the face of pressure from big oil, we feel it is necessary to mark the Pope’s visit to America by calling for a morally-centered politics that challenges us to fundamentally rethink our values.
On December 12th, on the heels of the Paris agreement, San Diegans came together from all over the county for a Balboa Park rally calling for bold climate solutions. (See the “Old Hippie’s” pleas for no more rallies in the park at the OB Rag)
Here’s a snip of SDFP coverage:
Six hundred people marched through Balboa Park on Saturday, ending with a rally at the Bea Evenson fountain on the East end of the Prado.
They were there to make the statement the COP21 deal is just a start, that further activism is needed, both locally and internationally.
On the Tuesday following the protest, San Diego received national media notice as the City Council approved the Climate Action Plan.
From the Union Tribune:
The plan’s ultimate goal is to cut yearly greenhouse-gas emissions in half by 2035. To help attain that benchmark, the city became the largest in the country to call for obtaining electricity entirely from renewable energy within the same time frame.
The climate plan also requires persuading large numbers of commuters to get out of their cars. It envisions that within two decades, half of all residents living within half a mile of major transit stops will use public transportation, walk or bike to work — up from about one in 10 now.
The linchpin of this blueprint is that it’s legally binding — a distinction that was hotly debated for years behind closed doors.
If the city can’t meet its lofty objectives, which includes a long list of intermediate milestones along the way, environmental nonprofits, public interest attorneys and even the state attorney general could file lawsuits to force expedited compliance, including spending more money. Some of those groups made such intentions publicly known during the City Council’s meeting Tuesday, when the panel voted unanimously to approve the plan.
Wrapping Up 2015
There is much more work being done in San Diego by groups like Surfrider, Wildcoast, Zero Waste. Circulate SD, BikeSD, the League of Conservation Voters, and the Cleveland National Forest Foundation’s Transit San Diego project.
(Please! If I left your group out, send me an email & I’ll add it to this list. That’s the beauty of the internet)
I never got around to addressing the over-arching local issue, which is the lack of a comprehensive regional plan (Both the County’s and SANDAG’s plans have been or will be rightfully rejected by the courts.)
I loved this snippet from Jana Clark at the Transit San Diego blog describing the challenges we face as a region:
Truth is that in San Diego we live in the equivalent of occupied territory in which public agencies are steeped in complacency or corruption and where politicians are owned by the special interests dominated by the development industry. It is those very same interests that control the resources that are needed by the sprawl growth industry to spread their tentacles over the land: The energy, the roads, the water, the land and most importantly the propaganda media machine that in a real community should be regarded as public resources to be conserved and distributed in accordance with the public good are instead treated as commodities to be bought and sold in the market place. In San Diego we have the politics of a marketplace not a community. The land of happy talk and sprawl.
Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate, debunks the idea that all we have to do is to cooperate with the extractive industries and urge them to get greener. We do not have to go to extremes, but can phase in renewable sources of energy gradually. The gradualist approach is the essence of green capitalism. This will not work Klein says:
[The] bottom line is … our economic system and our planetary system are now at war. Or, more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life. What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.
Tomorrow: Working Folks Speak Up
The Starting Line Over the Holidays
It’s getting to that time of year where newsworthy events start to thin out due to the holidays, so I’ll be changing things up over the next two weeks.
It’s my intent to write some essays reflecting back on the Year That Was, noting accomplishments good and bad that have come across my screen. Unless something really big breaks, there will be no columns December 24th, 25th and 31st, along with January 1st.
The Friday Progressive Calendar of Events usually found in this space will resume on January 8th.
This “dark and curmudgeonly journalistic savior” wishes you and your families all the best for all the holidays.
On This Day: 1877 – The “American Bicycling Journal” went on sale for the first time. 1919 – Amid a widespread strike for union recognition by 395,000 steelworkers, approximately 250 alleged “anarchists,” “communists,” and “labor agitators” were deported to Russia, marking the beginning of the so-called “Red Scare” 1961 – James Davis became the first US soldier to die in Vietnam. At that point US involvement was still limited to the provision of military advisers.
Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe to “The Starting Line” and get an email every time a new article in this series is posted!
I read the Daily Fishwrap(s) so you don’t have to… Catch “the Starting Line” Monday thru Friday right here at San Diego Free Press (dot) org. Send your hate mail and ideas to DougPorter@SanDiegoFreePress.Org Check us out on Facebook and Twitter.