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.
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.