What does justice have to do with carbon emissions?
Language is so pivotal to understanding each other because we all come into the environmental work from different places, it also means that we have different lexicon of what doing 'environmental' work is.
One way of understanding it is through higher education, or perhaps just engaging with environmental organizations, carbon is at the center of understanding what is going on with climate change.
Carbon, however, is not something that was necessarily a focus of attention or a problem before globalization, capitalism, or neoliberalism. In the book Carbon Democracy, Timothy Mitchell draws a timeline of how exactly the economies of today became so dependent on oil through carbon. How carbon fueled military states to have the control of 'technological zones' to limit the development and consumption of this raw resources in countries abroad. Democracy, as the book argues, was utilized as a tool to take control of these zones.
The period of structural adjustments, as well as the 'shocks' that Naomi Klein refers to in her books, are still ever-present in the developing world. For example, in the book the Open Veins of Latin America, one can learn about how the United States continues to utilize these forces to extract from Latin American countries beyond carbon. Carbon is beyond just an element in the periodic table, it is intertwined with a democratic agenda, that sought to 'liberate' people in countries with resources.
Another way of understanding environmental work is by uncovering the ancestral knowledge of natives people around the world. How a community takes care of their elders, how they moar their loses, how engaged they are with each other when eating food. Culture, food, community, language are all means of how people manage their relationship with the environment. Having been gifted the opportunity to be in spaces with these communities, I would argue that the wisdom and knowledge that these communities have will never be matched by any higher educational institution.
How then does one find clarity in the systems at play that caused so much carbon in our atmosphere? How do you talk about carbon with people who perhaps will never have an opportunity to obtain formal education to understand the western science behind climate change? Why is it important that justice is part of the dialogue taking place in countless meeting rooms that aspire to develop a carbon-free future? Why is it challenging for organizations seeking to develop this future to engage with native communities and communities that are at the front-line of climate change?
Let me be clear, there is no simple answer. Practitioners and organizational change agents, in their best effort, seek to build relationships with the communities. Build capacity in organizations, trust, so that these communities can send their leaders to a meeting and have a seat at the table. A step in the right direction.
Yet, I would point out the differences between the changes that are needed in order to take real climate action. The differences between a transactional change and a transformational change. While small wins should be celebrated, does the celebration cast a shadown on those at the front-line and put a spotlight on the solutions, to bring certainty, consistency, and predictability to the business as usual agenda. Transactional changes seek to problem solve now and does not allow time for reflection, self-learning, self-healing.
"Justice is what love looks like in public" - Cornel West.
Beyond a seat at the table
A transformation change, of course, involves the evolution of a person or institution. In a transactional change, the doctor meets you, checks you out, and gives you a prescription. In a transformational change, the doctor takes time to reflect and asks who is the patient?
A transformational change builds relationships between leaders, it builds common language. A transformational change has taken place when organizations stop bring community leaders to the table, instead they built trust, a relationship, and bring the meetings to the community to crafts plans to work in collaboration.
What is the value of a transition into a decentralized energy system if we continue to exploit copper and lithium mines? What is the value of recycling plastics if we continue to put demand for raw resources from our behavior? What is the value of building dense, public transportation accesible cities if people are displaced to areas further away (and end up consuming more gas)? What is the value of tackling climate change if not everyone is involved? What does the world look like when those at the front-line of climate change define progress?
I invite you to step into a space of discomfort, a space of growth. I invite you to dig deep within yourself and find the courage to sit on these questions, to not answer them but rather reflect. There are complex, wicket problems all across this globe -- chaos. I invite you to find calmness in the chaos, because ultimately this is what those who are at the front-line have done. Let your reflection and empathy guide you to establish bonds, relationships that edge you closer to the front-line. This looks different for everyone, for some it may mean investing money and giving up priveledges, for others it may mean seeking support to elevate your voice. Environmental justice because at the end of the day we are only as strong as our weakest link.
Taking in consideration the racist history of the City of Portland, specifically examples of displacement of the black community from Northeast Portland, I knew before starting the Public Trash Program expansion that public investments can and often cause displacement.
While the Public Trash Cans were to be a small public investment into the community compared to larger infrastructure, it is nonetheless a public investment, and I was committed to making sure that the project included community ownership, input, and benefits. This is what ultimately led me to having an artist inspired garbage can, that is part of the Jade community, and it is owned by the Jade community.
The Grand Opening of the Jade District garbage cans was a success. Although I was unable to get any of the Portland City Council out to the event, 15 people joined me to do a clean up of the Division and 82nd avenue strip, and another 20 or so joined us for some storytelling, food, and words by community members. From my perspective, it was a great event and people were excited about the garbage cans, something that is quite hard to do. Todd Struble, manager of Jade District, described the project as 'public investments done right'.
I would like to thank all of the members Jade District and Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon for opening up their doors to me, allowing me to listen, learn and support their efforts as well as be part of their struggles. I would like to particularly thank Todd Struble, Maiyee Yuan, Duncan Hwang, and the artist Hampton Rodriguez.
Now we begin the testing process of the cans and their designs, continue to seek feedback from the community, and continue to support the community. I am hopeful that the garbage cans at the Jade District are not only a means to keep the streets clean, but serve as a symbol for the youth in the area to think of the waste management field as a potential profession to be part off, or at least bring more awareness to how waste is connected to climate change and environmental justice.
My message to the Jade District community, the community I am part of, is that I too feel your struggles from affordable housing, to lack of green spaces, to providing support to small businesses, to transportation justice. And I too feel like building resilient communities that will fight back against climate change and displacement. Stay tuned for more work as we continue to expand the Public Trash Program and the Jade District Night Market (September 19 and 26).
It is now official, the expansion of the Public Trash Program will begin at the Jade District, located at 82nd avenue and SE Division Street in the City of Portland, known as ‘the Jade’ by the community. The Jade is one of the most diverse city centers, in 2016 the business district conducted a series of focus groups in 5 different languages to capture the vision the community had for the future of the district. As a result of the engagement, the district was renamed ‘Jade District’.
The Jade District Vision Plan outlines the outlook of the community for the future, it’s needs, barriers and opportunities. The plan specifically calls out attention to the Division strip as an area that can benefit from public place garbage collection, “Due to garbage, certain areas near the pedestrian bridge need attention. Community members would like this area cleaned up and the pedestrian bridge become a gateway to the district” (Page 21).
There criteria to select the first district to receive this new service is what ultimately led me to start off with the Jade. The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability wanted to make sure that the first district to receive the program, the pilot district, was going to be successful. We were also interested on making sure to prioritize those neighborhoods that have been underserved by city services, and areas of high traffic.82nd Avenue and Division Street are two of the busiest streets, it is home to a diverse range of resident, and the Jade community had voiced that they wanted a Public Trash Program.
Historically, the way business is conducted by government was not collaborative, many districts in the city do not have a good standing relationship with the government because they failed to listen and take in feedback. I knew that going into this project I was going to be doing things differently, and that my experience as a consultant and community member was going to help me navigate a new way of doing public investments.
Upon selection of the Jade, I reached out to some of the community members and I was invited to attend the Jade District Steering Committee meeting. By the time I attended the meeting, many national events had taken place and the community was clearly shaken up by racism and all the other forms of hate. When I arrived at the meeting I did not have an agenda, I only spoke twice at the two hour meetings, once to introduce myself and another time to answer a personal question. I was there to listen and learn, period.
Gradually, by meeting community members where they needed me to, investing time to get to know them, their hobbies, their work, and their struggles I was eventually able to talk to them about their ideas for the program. By the time I had brought forward the program to the committee, I had invested a significant amount of time to listen to the community and learn more of what they wanted to do.
Like I had mentioned, things were going to be done differently. One element of the project which I believe was an opportunity to do things differently, is making sure that the program and the actual infrastructure was owned by the community. While the direct community was not involved in the specifics of the garbage can, having learned from the community about the range of artists that work with them, it struck me that some of that art could be displayed on the can.
I hired an artist that was selected by the community, provided him the Jade District Vision Plan, and told him that I wanted him to create something that can be displayed around the streets. Hampton Rodriguez, the artist, did a remarkable job at providing a piece of art that represented the diverse range of residents from the Jade.
I engaged residents on the locations for the garbage cans, granted that they do not have the same awareness as haulers do of the barriers inhibiting a safe collection of garbage, I none-the-less asked for their feedback of the location, placement, and deployment of the infrastructure.
Fast forward 11 months of hard work, the new Jade District garbage cans will be unveiled in June 3rd, 2017. Stay tuned for more updates, and future work with other districts.
It has been a little over half a year since joining the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS), I continue to get adjusted, and continue to learn every day. The City of Portland is the largest city in the state of Oregon, as of 2010 roughly 600,000 people live in the city. Portland is internationally recognized for leading in sustainability and addressing climate change, its climate action plan was recognized as best in the world in 2016.
Last year, the Portland City Council approved a hauler tonnage fee that would generate funds for the expansion of the Public Trash Program. The program collects garbage in high use public places, but it is only present in some areas of the city, some neighborhoods have the resources to fund their own.
Yet, there are a number of business areas where the program can really benefit communities, specifically areas where there is a high concentration of vulnerable communities/people of color. East Portland, more commonly known as the area past 82nd avenue, is where the majority of communities of color live in the City of Portland.
Beginning April 2017, the value of redeemable items will increase from 5 cents to 10 cents. Aluminum cans and glass bottles are considered ‘redeemable items’ in Oregon, individuals collect the items to supplement their income, and often the main source of income. Access to redeemable items in a trashcan is an important consideration, we must allow individuals that want to recycle to be able to do just that, and it is also revenue for low-income populations.
However, the individuals recycling cans are not the only ones having to worry about the ergonomic conditions of their workplace, truck drivers are faced with challenges also. The style of each can design bring benefits and barriers that are often overlooked, such as the physical risk one must take to empty out a 65-gallon container, often resulting in a cost to the city to cover accidents or injuries. This is another consideration for the expansion of the program.
Literature tells us that projects are most successful when community engagement, participation, and supervision are successful. In order for the expansion of the program to be successful, it will have to have the community own it, since after all the streets belong to the people. This is why another consideration for the expansion of the program will be attributes that allow the community to take ownership, and customize it to their interest and needs.
Last, but certainly not least, BPS is not the only provider of garbage public service. Examples of neighborhood associations, the regional transit system, the Bureau of Parks and Recreation, or a private business taking the initiative to sponsor their own garbage programs are found around the city. Overlapping with such services is also another factor to consider.
I look forward to updating everyone on what the next steps look like, but certainly, it is not as simple as placing cans on the ground, for those streets belong to the residents. There are many elements to balance, from social, environmental, and economic aspects. Until then, feel free to check out the cans we are testing out they can be found at the food carts in the downtown area.
This is part two of the three year divestPSU journey, the last part coming soon.
Climate change is a human created catastrophe, and it is impacting many different communities around the world. The consensus in the scientific community is that the phenomenon is largely due to an increase of greenhouse emissions. The emissions are made up of different gases, known as the greenhouse gases, with carbon being the one most commonly studied.
Up until the industrial revolution, ecosystems around the world were able to cope with the large number of carbon emissions. Ecosystems have different mechanisms to trap carbon either as part of their systems or as part of the body of organisms, both in land and ocean. The abundance of carbon in the atmosphere has dramatically increased since the industrial revolution, the exploitation of natural resources like wood, coal, or oil has ultimately release the carbon back into the atmosphere.
The sun sends powerful sunrays, which is key to having life on earth, since they allow photosynthesis to take place. Greenhouse gases keep the sunrays (heat) from leaving our atmosphere, which is a good thing because it keeps temperatures warm for cells to function, however today there is just too many greenhouse gases. This is ultimately creating the increase of global temperatures.
As of 2016, the carbon concentrations in the atmosphere have surpassed 400 parts per million, a measure of abundance of gases in the atmosphere. Scientists believe that the carbon concentrations should be at 350 parts per million, in order for earth to keep sustaining life.
350.org is an environmental organization which seeks to bring carbon concentration back down to 350 parts per million, hence the name 350.org (350). Several international campaigns for environmental regulation of carbon emissions were launched by 350, some which focused on legislation changes at different levels of government, while other campaigns focused on getting university endowments to divest from fossil fuels.
As I had previously mentioned, my involvement with the environmental sector was mostly limited to the California Students Sustainability Coalition (CSSC), a student group that worked for a more sustainable California. After moving to Portland, OR, it was through CSSC that I came to hear about the national convening on fossil fuel divestment taking place for university students in San Francisco, CA.
Fossil Fuel Divestment National Conference
The event was a perfect opportunity for my cohort of student leaders at Portland State University (PSU), for we had voted to launch a campaign on fossil fuel divestment on our campus. The trip to San Francisco brought success, as my colleagues Cindy, Linda and I were able to establish relationships with other students that attended the national gathering on fossil fuel divestment.
At the conference, we also came to find out about another group, the Divestment Student Network (DSN). DSN is a student led national organization in the United States, they utilize grassroots strategies to pressure administration to take action on climate change by divesting from fossil fuels, they later on ended up leading regional networks as seen below.
After checking out what the rest of the students were doing around the U.S., we came to realize that this campaign may take several years. We knew students were going to graduate, so therefore we had to figure out a way to get younger students involved to accomplish our goal. We also identified the importance of sharing resources, and collaborating with campaigns near our school.
Once we were back in Portland, we conducted research on the PSU Foundation, the manager of the PSU endowment. We found out that the endowment is roughly $50 million, and that JP Morgan, a corporate fossil fuel international investor, manages the endowment.
Once we found out that JP Morgan was manager of the PSU endowment, we decided to host a kick-off event to let the campus know what is going on, and recruit new members to our coalition. During Earth Week, Danielle Forest and I officially kick-off the campaign with a presentation at the Smith Student Union. At the same time our cohort members dropped a banner on the middle of the PSU campus, it highlighted the lack of congruency PSU investments had with it’s ‘leader in sustainability’ reputation.
----I would like to acknowledge the hard work from my cohort members who allowed me to champion the divestment efforts. A big thank you to Amanda Johansonn, Katherine Knecht, Megan Dickison, Jeniffer Petrie, Larissa Butler, Will Wright, Lindsey Hartung, Fabiana Pedroso de Araujo, Linda Hoppes, Cindy Joy Staller and Emily Martin.
DSN staff I had met in San Francisco invited me to take part of a weeklong training for organizers in Chicago, IL. Their goal was to build regional networks to share resources, collaborate, and ultimately get educational endowments from fossil fuels. The weeklong training proved to be one of the most important weeks of my life, for it allowed me to gain clarity on my personal goals moving forward, which included taking action on climate change--now.
SSLC members were offered a summer internship opportunity to prepare to the next phases of the campaign. The subgroups of the team focused on research of the PSU Foundation, as well as outreach strategies for the student body, alumni, faculty, and administration. Even though I was not able to obtain the internship opportunity, I continued to spend countless hours on divestment efforts, for I knew climate action had to be taken.
During the summer of 2014 I got to learn a range of strategies, and create relationships that would prove pivotal to the development of the campaign. Summer also meant that the Association of Students at Portland State University (ASPSU) – PSU student government – had a new administration. Linda Hoppes, my SSLC cohort colleague was part of the administration leaving, and she had helped create a position within ASPSU that would focus on sustainability (Sustainability Affairs Director). Elyse Cogburn, an environmental studies senior at the time, filled the position with the new administration.
Once classes began in the fall of 2014, Elyse joined the divestment of fossil fuels coalition. We identified that there was a need to educate students of what is going on, and give them a chance to ask more questions about divestment, fossil fuels, and where we should be investing the PSU money.
In order to fill this need, we hosted an informational panel event with representatives Bryan Brumley, a certified financial planner; Dr. Randy Bluffstone, PSU professor of Economics; Dr. Linda George, PSU professor of Atmospheric Chemistry; Anthony Bencivengo, Fossil Free of Reed College organizer; Linda Hoppes; and Zach Allen, organizer for 350PDX (local branch of 350.org). The event was a success, it was clear that the divestment movement at PSU was attracting attention.
Later on the fall term, world renounced Winona Laduke visited PSU, she had led divestment of the South African Apartheid during her college years at Harvard University. In her keynote speech, Winona gave full support to the efforts to get PSU money out of fossil fuels.
Interested students quickly joined the SSLC meetings, for they saw an opportunity to fight against climate change, and make a difference as students. Due to the increased interest, Divest PSU formed, and the need to be an independent group in order continue the SSLC efforts on divestment of fossil fuels.
While the new SSLC cohort supported divestment efforts, Divest PSU started to meet independently, and started to amplify the methods of strategies to divest. The rest of 2014-15 year was filled with media campaigns, informational events, and a passed resolution in support of divestment at the student government.
SSLC collaborated with Divest PSU to host a regional conference to train student leaders in the Pacific Northwest to start their campus campaigns, part of DSN’s seven regional trainings around the U.S. Divest PSU also organized Divest Week, a weeklong series of events at PSU advocating for divestment.
Students across the U.S. were all taking initiative and escalating their campaigns, for we felt climate action must take place immediately. We strategically organized Divest Week, because it was during that week that PSU would host the annual Sustainability Celebration, an event to celebrate the work PSU does on sustainability.
Divest PSU found such celebration to be ironic, the PSU Foundation had not replied to our request to discuss the investment practices, which meant that the celebration was a perfect opportunity to shine a spotlight and be heard.
Our members stormed in after PSU President Wim Wiewel’s speech at the Sustainability Celebration, dressed in all black, staging an oil spill, 30 members demanded that PSU sold fossil fuel investments. The event was covered by newspaper Portland Tribune later that month.
I would like to give a should out to the countless other student volunteers who joined us throughout the year. I can’t recall the number of volunteers who came to help cut orange squares, make banners, or go protest at Portland City Hall to get the cities money out of fossil fuels.
Our non-violent action was a success. President Wiewel put the students in touch with the PSU Foundation staff, so we started to meet with them over the summer. After a few meetings, it became even more apparent that this process was going to take longer.
By the time spring term had ended, the PSU Foundation was considering a range of options, and decided to research alternatives to divestment. President Wiewel told the foundation that taking no action was not an option.
Summer meant that a new cabinet of student leaders was elected to represent the student body of PSU, so I saw an opportunity to take over as Sustainability Director at ASPSU, after all the new ASPSU administration had set out to continue divestment efforts (beyond fossil fuels) for the upcoming academic year. I was appointed as new ASPSU Sustainability Affairs Director, under the new administration.
The new administration wanted to move forward on goals of divestment of fossil fuels, private prisons, and companies benefiting from Israel occupation. With the change of the year, Divest PSU had different students move on, so ASPSU provided capacity, space, support, and time to keep on pushing.
This is part one of the three year divest PSU journey, look out for the second part soon.
Portland State University
The City of Portland is known internationally for its consciousness on the environment and it’s stewardship. The city is home to a number of universities, one of which works closely with the city to advance climate action goals, Portland State University (PSU).
PSU is located in downtown Portland, and is home to roughly 25,000 students, ranging from recent high school graduates to parents going for a second degree. In 2013, I started to attend PSU in hopes of finding a career in the environmental field.
Until that point, my experience with environmental field was limited to a community college environmental club, and an internship at the California Sustainability Student Coalition (CSSC). I recall this picture being taken at the CSSC conference in the UC Berkeley campus, a few months before heading north to Portland.
Upon moving to Portland, I was exposed to a range of organizations and opportunities to learn more about the environmental field. At PSU, my first weeks living on campus brought the opportunity to be part of a student group, Eco-reps. The student group makes behavioral changes to the life-styles of campus residents to promote a more sustainable, material conscious, energy efficient campus.
Student Sustainability Leadership Council
PSU’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions (ISS) – the hub for sustainability at PSU – has three main bodies, one of which was the Students Leadership Center (now Student Sustainability Center). Led by Heather Spalding, SLC was and still is home to many student led activities taking place around sustainability at PSU such as Eco-reps.
Another group that convened that was part of SLC, the Student Sustainability Leadership Council (SSLC), was made up of sustainability multidisciplinary leaders from across the PSU campus. SSLC cohorts would participate in personal development activities, as well as leading effort on an annual project. Previous SSLC cohorts created the Flea market, a quarterly event where local artist could sell their reused items.
My engagement with the Eco-reps ultimately yielded an opportunity to be part of SSLC, as they were recruiting members for the 2013-14 cohort. I knew nothing more really, I was just thrilled to be more engaged in the environmental field.
The leadership models that SSLC introduced to me through their different personal development activities, and opportunities to form collaborative models. They provided the space to really finally be heard, and I would specifically give credit to the fact that most of the leaders gathering in the space were women.
Weeks went by, and I got a chance to get to know the rest of the members. Once winter term had arrived, SSLC would be looking to pick their annual project. Ideas were being pitched for the next project, from reusable to-go box containers to engaging students in more environmental education. The idea of creating a campaign for divestment of fossil fuels was originally introduced by Linda Hoppes, and I was very happy she did, because I personally wanted to get more involved with divestment. Many students at CSSC had already started campaigns on their campuses.
Once we had casted our votes, the SSLC cohort was to start a campaign, our goal, get the PSU Foundation to divest their $55mil endowment from fossil fuels. We quickly came to realize that we had to do research, and planning, and really understand what divestment means.
Divestment is a strategy used by students in the U.S. during the South African Apartheid, they pressured their foundations to sell their investments on South African products, which ultimately created enough pressure for the regime to fall. Once the regime had collapsed, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, after which he went to visit students at UC Berkeley to give them thank you for their divestment efforts.
I personally started doing all I could to prepare, divestment gave me the power to have an impact even though I was just a student. I got word that environmental active artist Moon Hooch would be coming to do a show to PSU, so I attended their music show. After the show I approached them to snap a shot with them as a symbol of their support (below).
My previous connections at CSSC in California invited me to a national conference on fossil fuel divestment that was to take place in San Francisco. I thought that the event would be a good opportunity to have my cohort members attend, in the hopes that we could learn what other university students were doing, and learn successes as well as failures. Cindy Joy and Linda Hoppes, my SSLC cohort team-mates, joined me to attend a national student gathering.
The campaign would soon begin.
During my final year at Portland State University(PSU), I came to find out about a conference happening in Seattle. While completing my undergraduate degree at PSU, I had attended a range of environment/sustainability conferences around the US. However, I always came across the barrier, my peers were not like me.
When I got an email with an invitation from Mobilize Green, I decided to give them my information. Little did I know what was ahead of me. I was contacted a few days later, a phone call where a lady asked about my interest in equity, racial justice, and environmental justice.
I was shocked to have these questions directed to me, so I spoke out to the lady on the phone, I started to question their real intensions. Historically underrepresented communities have a hard time getting investments - I agreed to attend.
A few months later, I was in Seattle being welcomed by the Michael Shiosaki, the first gentlemen of the city. He was joined by an array of professionals of color from the Forest Service, University of Washington, and the Attorney’s office. They meant business. What was first an empty auditorium, was quickly filled with students of color from across the west coast.
As I looked around the auditorium, I felt so privileged to be able to sit next to so many inspiring individuals. I was most excited to hear the great ideas a group of black ladies had to engage their campus, brilliant ideas, the men in the room were mostly quiet. Being part of such a diverse audience was so new to me, meeting other individuals like me brought clarity to my pathway moving forward. I career in the environmental field is possible.
I would like to share three of my memorable moments of the conference. First, was coming to learn about the recent studies on life expectancy between south and north of the city. Seattle Times released an article on it, environmental justice was never presented so clear to me, black and white.
Second, was a lunch session at City Hall. Upon arrival, we were joined by a range of City of Seattle employees, from various bureaus and offices. They took the time to meet us face-to-face, discuss our goals, and really dive deep into the challenges of getting into the environmental field. Many of the students walked away feeling hopeful, empowered, and determined to continue their journey.
Lastly, I participated on an activity that I picked because it was the most hands on, rather then another presentation. The session, “What is your red ball?”, guided participants through a process of making a cardboard box. The box was then decorated with a range of supplies, colors, cutouts, of things that one loves. In the middle of the box, one was to place the things they always seek. The idea was to be able to have an object that described what you always looked for in life (the red ball you chase). I encourage you to find out more about it here.
If you are student of color, that will soon enter into the workforce, I advice you to attend the conference. The next one is taking place in Oakland, CA, on March 2017.
“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme” Mark Twain.
Following the same approach as students during the South African Apartheid, the Divestment of Fossil Fuels movement has now shifted nearly 5 Trillion dollars away from the Carbon Underground 200. Having previously been involved and still currently an advocate for, the divestment of fossil fuels movement, I know that divestment is an important piece of the puzzle. Yet, a larger conversation about where we invest next, and what we do with the current infrastructure is just as important. Divestment by itself won’t be enough to get rid of climate injustice.
Injustice - which takes a form of all shapes and sizes - is where I start the conversation of private prisons for this post. The United States is the country with the highest number of incarcerated individuals. The US is home to 5% of the world population, but 25% of those incarcerated. The prison industrial complex marginalizes black, latinos, and people of color in ways that are black-and-white clear. If we are serious about addressing climate change, we need people - all people- working sustainable jobs ASAP.
When I organized the divestment of fossil fuels campaign at Portland State, I attended a conference which convened foundation staff, financial experts, and higher education administration to discuss sustainable investments. The audience had different reactions to prison divestment, they questioned if divestment is the route to address the prison profiting or rather legislation work.
Just like divestment of fossil fuels has achieved some victories, we are still emitting considerable amounts of greenhouses gasses, future wins in prison divestment will only be the beginning.
The City of Portland may become the first major city in the US to divest from private prisons. Currently, the city holds millions of stock in companies like Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, HSBC, and the Bank of NY Mellon. These banks are major funders for private prison companies GEO and Corrections Corporation of America, two companies which hold a great majority of the prison centers around the U.S.
City Hall order for a committee to convene to research divestment of private prisons, having previously divested from fossil fuels. The recommendation by the committee, add the prison profiteers to the Do-Not-Buy-List, was open to public testimony on November 30th, 2016. I attended the hearing at Portland City Hall, and let the council know my full support to the recommendation.
Acknowledging that Portland is not my home town. I think that it would be in Portlands interest to be investing in its future, and given that a great portion of the Portland population is youth of color, that means divestment of private prisons. For a future that - I hope - takes place outside of bars, rather than within.
Stay tuned as City Council will vote on a decision on December 15, 2016. Update, the vote has been post-poned until new Mayor Administration takes over.
Let me first say that I come from a culture where cooking, from the preparation to the clean up, is an art that represents where you are from.
The past week I was reading the book Deep Economy by Bill McKibben, where he lists some cases in which burning cheap energy (fossil fuels) ultimately created divisions between ourselves. For example (he argued), the invention of the combustion engine stopped the need to talk to our neighbors, who would otherwise help you pick food up from the farms. My example, more recently, the invention of the smartphones inhibit us from talking to people that are sitting right next to us. Bill is a famous writer, author, and most famously known for establishing 350.org.
The book also dives into the small, resillient, economies that are built when investments stay in the communities. I buy an apple from the farm down the street, then the money stay in the local economy. And that is just one example. For me, this means building strong coalitions in the region, and collaborating for a more sustainable-just Pacific Northwest. If we are serious about phasing out fossil fuels, then we should understand that fossil fuels ultimately created a lack of community. It is a positive feedback loop, like climate change, which we must reverse.
As I neared end of the book, I attended the Climate Solutions annual fundraiser dinner, an event to network with some of the climate leaders in the Pacific Northwest. To build strong coalitions, you need to know the players - all of them. I got to meet some new faces from foundations, some consultants, and also reconnect with folks I had previously worked with. The whole room knew that recent national events were going to make it interesting years for the environmental field, it was the unspoken truth.
Keynote speaker, Majora Carter spread some knowledge on the crowd, and I think she sent a clear and loud message. She highlighted her work in New York City, specifically all the investment that went into green infrastructure in south Bronx. I encourage you to watch the TED video below. I hope to visit the big apple one day.
When I was at the Climate Solutions dinner I felt like I was not part of the environmental movement, but that was something I knew I was going to feel if I attended. What I came to see differently, however, is that the rest of the environmental movement lives in a different reality. I don't necessarily agree with the points of view of everyone whom attended, but that is ok.
We are all different, we all need to come together, bring down barriers and innovate sustainable solutions. We need to do this, by setting the table together and cooking together. When I say we all need to come together, I am refering to the complete process, begining to end. Focusing solely on sustainable solutions, like solar power or wind energy, is like bringing already prepared food to the table. Saying that you got to start to recycle, is like setting down a reusable fork, in the assumption that the rest of us use a fork to eat. Suggesting to take meats out of our diet, is like erasing recipes passed down from elders. With out community, we cannot set the table, we cannot cook the meal.
In the words of Majora "Support investments with a triple-bottom-line return. Help me democratize sustainability by bringing everyone to the table, and insisting that comprehensive planning can be addressed everywhere."
What was most important about the Climate Solutions dinner is that whichever way an individual came into the room - their story, industry or lived experience - we all agreed that more work needs to take place.
Last month I was at a panel session for the Institute for Sustainable Solutions launch of the Students Fellow Program, a student at the event asked a question regarding whether his work at a Head Start program (a program that helps young prepare for 1st grade) was related to sustainability, I didn’t get to answer his question but I wrote this.
The City of Portland, Oregon, is a unique area of the United States. The census in 2010 found it to be over 70% white in population. The Coalition of Communities of Color, a group advocating for the wealth, interests, and needs of people of color living in Oregon recently released a report on the status of the communities. It outlined that today nearly one in every two kids in Multnomah County, home to the City of Portland, is a person of color. Tides are quickly changing in the city, and consequently the same is taking place with college students.
The City of Portland and Portland State University (PSU) have such a symbiotic relationship, that it is vital to understand the city before you dive into PSU. My experience at PSU, given the context provided above, was in many ways alienating and in others home-like. When meeting with students, a concern that often seems to be brought up is the alignment of their current work with their interest towards sustainability. This is why I am going to narrowed down 3 tips for all students who are considering or attend PSU, and coming out on top.
1.Figure out who you are, and your role
Given that you and I share the mutual interest in sustainability or the environmental field, then you got a role to play, no matter your ethnicity, race, or orientation. Familiarize yourself with your roots, and learn about others. At some point, you will identify how you and your family have been privileged, and at some point, you are going to identify when you were oppressed.
It is important that you come to realize where you stand so that you know how to direct the time, work and resources to addressing the injustices we live in now… climate change, gang violence, lack of food or shelter.
If you self-identify to be part of a dominant group, then step back and listen. If you self-identify to be part of a group who has been/is oppressed or marginalized, it is your turn to step in and share your ideas. Yes, those ideas are important, and no you don’t need a college degree to participate.
2.Step out of your ‘comfort zone’
Your comfort zone, for those science nerds, is your day-to-day habitat and niche. It is where you spend most of your time, who you know best, what hobbies you take part of, the behavior you have. In order to get out of this zone, you need S.M.A.R.T. goals to quantify your progress in expanding it into the ‘risk zone’ or where you don’t feel comfort.
We are in need of green jobs, yes there are alternatives to oil, gas & coal, but no they are not perfect technologies. We need innovation to create sustainable solutions. Those are most likely to come from an environmental workforce, a diverse one. Literature tells us that diverse teams perform the best, in order to overcome the barriers ahead of us, we need to perform at a prime form. This means we diversify our environmental workforce, and ultimately follow and support the new ideas that are brought in by diverse communities.
For a student that may be part of one or many dominant groups come to understand that there is a difference between being racist, and not preparing for exclusive outcomes. Equity should be one of the first things you familiarize yourself with. The environmental field has historically, and still is most dominantly white. To put it simply, we must equitably build wealth. If you belong to a minority group, such as a person of color, I encourage you to be persistent. I remember feeling like my experience as an immigrant was not valuable, but you matter and will have a say on your future. Every one other kid in the city is a person of color, we are the future. This means you engage, learn, and lead.
Once you got somewhat of a handle on who you are, where your ‘risk zone’ is, the next logical step for me is for you to collaborate. There are plenty of opportunities in the City of Portland to engage in the environmental field, and chances are they can find a way to include you in some work. Volunteer, intern, build your network and take initiative to propose funding for a position.
This gets back to my previous point; those who have not been included in the conversation must be included. Literature tells us that a resilient project is one with good community structure. In order to get there, we need to collaborate, take initiative to find out how others work, their leadership styles. Knowing how your teammate's work allows you to have better communication, and ultimately better performance.
If you belong to a dominant group, don’t seek to start a complete own idea. When working with people of color, for example, seek the user experience rather than the design experience you wish them to take. Analyze the barriers that don’t allow people of color to participate in your programs, and allocate time, work, and resources into meeting them at their table.
To end - I will answer the question that the student posed at the launch event, he asked if his work with kids at a Head Star program is something aligned with his sustainability aspirations.
My answer to you - yes they are connected!
My own brother participated in the Head Start program and is now attending college. Had he not had that extra assistance, perhaps he wouldn’t know about recycle, compost, or other ‘sustainable solutions’. Knowing about sustainability is a privilege. Allocating time, work, and resources to help people learn about it …in my mind… is a great collaboration strategy. More power to you, and more power to any other person out there who is taking down barriers, because that is just as important as creating sustainable solutions.