Conflicting Worldviews at the Global Climate Action Summit

Progressive Christian Social Action

Conflicting Worldviews at the Global Climate Action Summit

I’ve been back from San Francisco for a week now, and I’m still processing all that I learned and experienced at the Soil Not Oil Conference, faith-based workshops on climate change at Grace Cathedral, affinity group and spokes council meetings, and three demonstrations focused on the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS), a global gathering hosted by California governor Jerry Brown.  Many consider California, under Brown’s leadership, to be leading the way toward a renewable-energy future, especially when contrasted with the Trump Administration’s intransigence on climate change.

The conference itself celebrated Brown’s leadership and California’s progressive climate policies, reflected in the state’s “Global Warming Solutions Act” (AB 32). Big Green environmental organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council help develop and promote California’s “market-based policies that reduce energy use and cut pollution.” Just days before the conference, the California legislature passed a bill setting California on the path toward a 100 percent carbon-free electricity grid by 2045 (this could include non-renewable nuclear power).  Brown also signed an executive order “committing California to total, economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2045.” However, this does not mean that California would cease to emit greenhouse gases, but that connection with a global carbon market and the trading of permits to pollute (“cap and trade”) would, in theory, neutralize California’s emissions. (Cap and trade is the centerpiece of AB 32.) Still, it sounds pretty good, right?  At least California is attempting to lead the way in responding to climate change.

Yet there were major protests, both inside and outside the GCAS.  When former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg was interrupted by protesters shouting, “the air is not for sale,” Bloomberg ridiculed them, saying, “Only in America could you have environmentalists protesting an environmental conference.”  What’s going on? Evidently there are widely divergent views on what constitutes a positive response to climate change.

People who were inside and outside the conference all agreed on the fact that climate change is real.  Their disagreement was and continues to be how to respond.  I have previously written about opposing worldviews related to climate change:

“There are two opposing worldviews at work in these conflicts over [climate change and] the use of traditionally shared forests, lands, waters, and other common resources. One is based on the dominant economic and development model, which promotes exports and turns the gifts of the earth into for-profit commodities to be incorporated into the global marketplace. The other is based on the worldview of Indigenous peoples who have lived sustainably on the earth for centuries, and who honor all the interrelated parts of creation as essential.” (From Love in a Time of Climate Change.)

I was not on the inside at the official conference.  Instead, I had the opportunity to listen, learn from, and stand in solidarity with a broad coalition of groups led by Indigenous and other frontline communities that have been disproportionately impacted by climate change, the extraction and processing of oil and gas, and climate policies such as cap and trade.  Their perspectives strongly diverge from those that dominated the official conference. Activists from these communities point out that during Brown’s eight-year tenure as governor, he approved over 20,000 new oil and gas wells, 77 percent of which were in low-income communities and communities of color.  California is a major oil producer, extracting approximately 200 million barrels of oil per year, most of it among the dirtiest crude in the world. Permits for new oil and gas (including fracking) wells are still being approved, creating infrastructure that will perpetuate oil and gas production for decades.  (See Brown’s Last Chance.) No wonder impacted communities are protesting!

Although some people inside the GCAS spoke in favor of a “just transition,” many of the “solutions” discussed  were high-tech, corporate-friendly, market-based policies that put a price not only on carbon pollution, but also on the forests and other ecosystems that could be incorporated into a global carbon trading scheme.  Outside, demonstrators, most of whom live in impacted communities of color (including Indigenous communities), joined with allies to demand “racial and economic justice, an end to fossil fuel production, and a just transition to 100% renewable energy that supports workers and communities.” People whose neighborhoods are near oil and gas operations, including fracking, don’t want their communities to continue being treated as sacrifice zones for the fossil fuel industry. At the same time, Indigenous communities don’t want their traditional lands monetized and set aside to provide carbon credits that will enable oil and gas companies to continue polluting their brothers and sisters in vulnerable communities in the United States. Together, supported by allies from a variety of environmental and climate justice organizations, they demand real and immediate solutions to the climate crisis, such as phasing out the extraction of oil and gas (“keep it in the ground”), creating buffer zones to protect schools and neighborhoods, restoring forests and other ecosystems (which sequester carbon), transforming our carbon-intensive global food system to support widespread agro-ecological ways of farming (drawing on local and traditional knowledge) and ending the injustices that cause hunger, and protecting the land rights of Indigenous and other traditional communities that have stewarded the land for generations.  Go to the Indigenous Environmental Network to find out more, to download a booklet on “Carbon Pricing,” and to read the “Open Letter from the Indigenous Peoples of the World,” delivered in person to the Governor’s Climate and Forests Task Force on Monday, September 10, after a powerful demonstration calling on the Task Force to “let them in.”

Pope Francis, in Laudito Si, said that “it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed. For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and value.” The pope adds that while Indigenous peoples around the world are being pressured to leave their homelands, “When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best.” (page 91)

I was happy to participate in direct actions that amplified the voices of the people who are being harmed by climate change, exposure to toxins related to fossil fuel extraction, and false solutions to the climate crisis.  Again, from Love in a Time of Climate Change:

“Today, many people in the climate justice movement are looking to Indigenous communities as leaders in struggles to protect the land, air, and water and as mentors in the search for creation-honoring worldviews with power to motivate action for systemic change. Most people in the industrialized world, however, are steeped in a worldview based on the dominant economic and development model. But as impacts of the earth’s changing weather patterns become ever more frequent and extreme, people may start questioning the conventional wisdom. Will technological innovation solve the problem of climate change? Will free-market capitalism and economic growth finally bring about the common good? Even for people who accept the reality of global warming, our worldview informs our response…

“Indigenous worldviews provide something important that is missing in the mainstream climate debate. New understandings that we are gaining from science uphold ancient Indigenous wisdom about the inherent value and intricate interrelatedness of all parts of creation. Our challenge is to learn from and incorporate this wisdom, which is based in a deep understanding of creation. All things really are connected.”

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Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.  

Watch “Climate Capitalism is Killing Our Communities” on the September 14 edition of Democracy Now! The show includes a debate about cap and trade that demonstrates the opposing viewpoints described here.

If you have Facebook, you can see video from the livestream on opening day, September 13, of the GCAS demonstrations in San Francisco. The sound starts out rough but gets better. At exactly one hour in there is a good interview with Bill McKibben about the purpose and effect of these demonstrations, and more. Note that this is not primarily older white environmentalists wishing that young people and people of color would “join us”. These impacted communities are leading the way… and we are acting in solidarity. Also, If you go into the video at 2:29, you’ll hear a young man from Kern County speaking very articulately about the impacts of drilling in his community. Then you’ll see our affinity group, “We’re Not Dead Yet,” in action with others from the Thousand Grandmothers, until about 2:35. 

If you have Facebook, you can also see me here with my affinity group, blocking the intersection to create space for the indigenous and other frontline communities who were leading this demonstration, calling on Jerry Brown to protect communities rather than corporations by stopping the issuing of oil and gas permits, creating setbacks to protect indigenous and other impacted communities from oil and gas drilling, and keeping the oil and gas in the ground rather than using the market “cap and trade” mechanism to keep carbon pollution going. They claim that “green capitalism” is a new form of colonialism that gives CO2 polluters the right to pollute.  Our goal was to follow their lead and amplify their voices. 

 

 

In Sacramento With the Poor People’s Campaign

Progressive Christian Social Action

In Sacramento With the Poor People’s Campaign

For the past several weeks, I have been going to Sacramento on Mondays to join in the Poor People’s Campaign demonstrations at the California State Capitol. Similar demonstrations are taking place across the country at over thirty state capitols and in Washington, D.C. The campaign’s website summarizes its goal and purpose: “The Poor People’s Campaign:  A National Call for Moral Revival is uniting tens of thousands of people across the country to challenge the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality.” By uniting these interrelated issues, this campaign is helping to create the diverse and broad coalition that we will need to transform the system that underlies them all.

Last Monday’s action at the California State Capitol with the Poor People’s Campaign was about human health (including a call for health care for all) and the health of the environment (including air, land, water, climate justice). It included strong leadership from Indigenous brothers and sisters, some from Standing Rock. They covered the statue in the capitol rotunda (of Queen Isabella giving Columbus the world) with a parachute that said, “All Nations, One Fight.” After the police took the parachute, thirteen people surrounded the statue and were finally arrested and taken to Sacramento County Jail. There was lots of singing, a strong spirit of unity and people power, and great diversity. Next Monday the focus will be on economic justice.  I will be there.

During this forty-day kick-off, hundreds have already been arrested for nonviolent direct action, including in Sacramento.  These “moral witnesses” have been willing to put their bodies on the line to call attention to the violence and injustice of today’s Domination System, the interlocking network of political, economic, military, police, and ideological institutional “Powers” that rule the world today.   This coming Monday it will be my turn.  Some of my grandchildren will be with me.  I want them to know in their bones that their grandmother loved them enough to take whatever (nonviolent) action that might be necessary to bring about systemic change and to secure their future.

I have been preaching, speaking, writing, organizing, and taking action for peace, justice, and environmental sanity for years.  I have been arrested many times.  I practice prayer and other spiritual disciplines to stay physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually fit so that I will be ready and “awake” when the time comes for me to act.  I seek the Spirit’s guidance in discerning not just what needs to be done but what I am called to do.  I especially look for those instances where there is an outbreak of Spirit, those times when there is an uprising of people power, those historical moments “when the impossible becomes possible.”  Now is such a time.

 

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Standing Rock Trial Update: Court Solidarity Success

Progressive Christian Social Action

Arrested at Standing Rock on Nov. 11, 2016

Standing Rock Trial Update:  Court Solidarity Success

One year ago today, I was arrested at Standing Rock Reservation with three local friends–Janie Kesselman, Shirley Osgood, and Christy Hanson–and over twenty-five other people at a Water Protectors’ action.  We were taken to several different North Dakota jails, then released on bail.  We all went back to our homes, dispersed around the country, and awaited our trials.  Mine was scheduled for December 8, 2017.

Most of us pleaded “not guilty” to the misdemeanor charge of “obstructing a government function.” We hired our own lawyers or were assigned public defenders, who worked closely with the Water Protectors Legal Collective, the group that had given us legal training and paid our bail.  The Freshet Collective also gave us support.  They looked us up and put us in touch so that we could communicate with each other directly.

We refused to consider any offers from the prosecution that did not include us all, and held fast to our right to a jury trial.  By doing so, we were engaging in “court solidarity,” a tried and true legal tactic for practitioners of active nonviolence.  The purpose is to take the struggle for justice to the courts and to act in solidarity with each other to protect the most vulnerable among us from being targeted with disproportionate fines or jail time.  In this case, Indigenous people would have been the most likely to be targeted, but court solidarity also gives a degree of protection to anyone who might be targeted on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, class, age, gender identity, sexual preference, disability, etc.

Finally, just a few weeks ago, as we were beginning to make travel arrangements to return to North Dakota for our trials, we were offered a settlement that looked pretty good.  Many of us who were arrested together consulted together online, and when we were all agreed, we accepted the offer.  It’s called a “pre-trial diversion,” which means that we don’t have to travel back to North Dakota, plead guilty, or pay fines.  We do have to pay the standard court fees of $350, but that mostly means forfeiting the bail that was already paid.  And we each have to donate $100 to a North Dakota Charity.  I sent my donation to the Great Plains Food Bank in Fargo, North Dakota.

We also had to agree to six months of unsupervised probation, with the only stipulation being that we avoid any other criminal charges.  This part of the agreement concerned some of us, who feel it is important to maintain our flexibility, because you never know when strong and courageous nonviolent direct action might be necessary.  But according to my lawyer, it is unlikely that arrests in another state for nonviolent action would be reported to Burleigh County, North Dakota.  Regardless, he said, “You could probably go back to North Dakota and rob a bank and they’d still not renew this case,” because the courts are so ready to be done with the backlog of these cases.  After the six months, our cases will be closed and we won’t have a conviction on our records.

This was a court solidarity success.  But now we all must stand in solidarity with anyone else who faces charges related to Standing Rock.  The authorities can’t deal with all these cases, but they would like to make an example of someone.  Judge Merrick, who was scheduled to be my trial judge, threw a 27-year old man and a 64-year old woman in jail a couple of weeks ago. They weren’t even given time to get their affairs in order, but were remanded to jail immediately.  See more about these cases here.

Meanwhile, Chase Iron Eyes, a Lakota who grew up on the Standing Rock Reservation, is being charged with inciting a riot, and he faces five years in jail, despite the fact that Standing Rock was a strictly peaceful and prayerful encampment.  See a short film about his case and sign the petition to drop his charges here.

Meanwhile, a federal judge has ruled that the Dakota Access Pipeline was constructed illegally and is pumping oil illegally.  The fight is not over yet.

Thanks to all who gave so generously to my three local friends and I to help us raise money for our legal fees.  Because we don’t have to go back to North Dakota for trials, we have extra money left over, which we will split between the Water Protectors Legal Collective and the Freshet Collective.  If you donate to these organizations, you support other people facing trials for charges related to Standing Rock as well.

As I wrote in Love in a Time of Climate Change:

“Regardless of the outcome of the struggle, Standing Rock has become a symbol of Indigenous resistance to the degradation of creation for the sake of profit. It is also a model that will be replicated as people seek to protect the rights of Native people and the gifts of creation in this critical time. Standing Rock represents the much larger struggle of bringing peace, justice, and healing to the earth. It demonstrates that when people come together in peace and in prayer, there is hope that creation may be protected and justice may prevail against the principalities and powers of this and any age.”

See Sharon’s previous blog posts about Standing Rock and resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.

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Standing Rock Victory and Trial Updates

Progressive Christian Action Blog

Standing Rock Victory and Trial Updates

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People who have supported the Standing Rock Sioux in their struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline are celebrating a victory, as we hear the news that a federal judge ruled on June 14 that the Army Corps of Engineers must review the permits that allowed the pipeline to go through.  President Donald Trump had signed executive orders speeding up the approval process of both the DAPL and the Keystone XL pipelines, but this ruling is yet another example of Trump Administration policies that do not stand up under scrutiny by the courts.  Fortunately, there are still judges who rule based on laws to protect people’s rights and the commons, laws that were often put in place through the democratic process fueled by people power.

Trials against water protectors and allies who stood with them are proceeding.  Many have been dismissed.  Standing Rock Chairman David Archambault II and Council member Dana Yellow Fat were acquitted by a jury.  The trials of those of us who travelled to Standing Rock from Nevada County have been postponed until November or December.  My trial is now scheduled for December 8.  Our lawyers are still working with the  Water Protectors Legal Collective, the organization that bailed me out after spending four days in Burleigh County Jail.

I join my prayers with the Standing Rock Tribe and with people around the world in joy at this partial victory and in hope that justice will prevail.  In words from my new book, Love in a Time of Climate Change,:  “Regardless of the outcome of this struggle, Standing Rock has become a symbol of Indigenous resistance to the degradation of creation for the sake of profit. It is also a model that will be replicated as people seek to protect the rights of Native peoples and the gifts of creation in this critical time. Standing Rock represents the much larger struggle of bringing peace, justice, and healing to the earth. It demonstrates that when people come together in peace and in prayer, there is hope that creation may be protected and justice may prevail against the principalities and powers of this and any age.”

See more of Sharon’s blog posts related to Standing Rock, including posts about her arrest and upcoming trial. 

Read the full excerpt, Indigenous Resistance and Standing Rock here, from Love in a Time of Climate Change.

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Another Dam is Not a Solution to Climate Change

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An area of the Bear River that would be submerged by the Centennial Dam.

The excessive rainfall that we have experienced recently is something that we can expect with climate change.  As average global temperatures rise, weather patterns are thrown off balance. We can’t know whether a particular extreme weather event is caused by such warming, but we do know that it makes such events statistically more likely. In recent years, there have been thousands of record-breaking weather disruptions all over the world.  As air warms, more water evaporates, drying out the land and causing drought, as it has here in California.  Clouds carry this additional moisture, making storms more likely. This results in the excessive rainfall, super storms, typhoons, hurricanes, and floods that are creating disasters on every continent.

Recent storms have stressed the Oroville Dam to a point where 200,000 people had to be evacuated.  I grew up in Oroville while the dam was being built.  My family and I lived just a few blocks from the Feather River.  As kids we spent most of our summer days there. The dam flooded habitat of plant and animal species.  The fish ladder and hatchery were built to counteract its toll on salmon and steelhead.  The dam also flooded our upstream swimming sites and areas where local teenagers used to find arrowheads, that is, the ancient homelands of the Maidu people of the region.  My Maidu step-brother Lee, whose mother was born on at the Moorehouse Rancheria near Oroville, still lives there.  When the dam failed, his grown kids and grandkids evacuated and joined him at his house above the dam.

Nevada County responded to flood evacuees with great generosity.  Now that people are returning to their homes and the immediate danger has been alleviated, we can hope that the damage will be repaired and people will be safe.

Now our community is facing another dam-related challenge: the proposal to build the Centennial Dam near Colfax and create another reservoir on the Bear River. This project is being billed as a response to ongoing climate change. We can expect many more such proposed solutions as the planet continues to warm.

Recently my husband and I spent time with our daughter and several grandchildren at a nearby campground on the banks of the Bear River, in an area that will be submerged if the project goes forward. Concerned people opposing the dam displayed maps and charts showing the areas that would be taken by eminent domain, destroyed, and submerged: 125 existing homes, trees and native plants, downstream waterways, ecosystems and various species that thrive here. Members of the local Indigenous community told the children stories and demonstrated traditional uses of particular stones found on the river bank, then invited everyone into a circle for a ritual of protection for all the beings who inhabit this place, and for our descendants who will come after.

Whether or not to build this dam is a climate justice issue. From one perspective, another reservoir makes sense, since precipitation is less dependable and the snowpack no longer ensures a continuous supply of water. But there would be great social and environmental costs, including the loss of people’s homes, destruction of Native cultural sites, loss of habitat for many plant and animal species, damage downstream to fish and other wildlife, and the forfeiture of people’s ability to enjoy this unique part of the natural world. Furthermore, logging the trees, bulldozing the plants, scraping the soil, building the dam, and flooding the region would release stored carbon into the atmosphere and eliminate the carbon sequestration function that the living trees, plants, and soil provide. There are alternatives that would avoid these social and environmental costs, including recharging groundwater that has been depleted by over-pumping. This dam is an example of a so-called solution that exacerbates the problem of climate change.

This proposal to respond to climate change by building a dam, along with the controversy it is generating, is an example of difficult policy decisions that will face us for the foreseeable future. It is also an example of a regional struggle to prevent ecosystem destruction, block further carbon pollution, and link the rights of Indigenous people with the rights of the earth. For people who live nearby, go to the SYRCL website at yubariver.org/ to find out more and send your comments.  This struggle may yet become another example of people around the world doing what we can to preserve the integrity of the places we call home.