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Author: chico

The facts shared at last night’s IATP event, “Climate Equity: Ensuring a Just Response to Climate Change,” were at many points staggering—at others, supremely encouraging. Dr. Cecilia Martinez and Fellow-in-Residence Shalini Gupta, from IATP’s Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy (CEED) hosted an event to discuss the inequity that exists within our highly inefficient energy infrastructure. As Dr. Matinez pointed out, our current energy system is often built on the backs of whole sets of populations, while those consuming the energy, and creating energy policy, see little consequence.

Both internationally and within the U.S., the inequity between those that produce carbon and those that pay for its impacts, is real and widening. Dr. Cecilia Martinez credits this gap, among other things, to a highly inefficient infrastructure built on outdated, short-sighted and sometimes discriminatory ideals. She cited Robert Moses, the twentieth century urban planning giant responsible for much of New York City’s current suburb-oriented design. Moses’s tendency to favor highways over public transit did more than influence urban planners around the country—it separated communities from the inner city (often low-income) from those who could afford cars and to live in the suburbs. This energy-intensive transportation system still exists today and as Dr. Martinez pointed out: if modern policies are to succeed and ensure justice, they will need both physical goals (reducing carbon emissions, etc.) as well as social and political goals (improving a broken community infrastructure and ensuing equal access to energy).

Shalini Gupta addressed the international issues surrounding climate change, including past and present proposals for cutting emissions. Who has rights to the atmosphere? Currently, in the U.S., we produce about 20 tons per capita annually of carbon emissions. India, on the other hand, a mere 2 tons per capita, annually. Gupta said, if the world was truly to be equal, carbon emissions would need to reduce to 3.3 tons per capita globally—quite a far off goal when you consider the currently proposed goals; the most aggressive of which comes from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which proposes reducing carbon emissions by 40 percent from the 1990 levels. Such a reduction would still only put the U.S. at around (conservatively) 11 tons of carbon emissions per capital annually.

Among the daunting figures and historical injustices discussed at last night’s event, a thread of “Where do we go from here?” connected the problems with solutions. Efforts like Sustainable Energy Utilities (detailed in this article coauthored by Dr. Martinez) and the determination to push for diversified, small-scale energy solutions, can and will serve to not only reduce our dependence on a commodified, highly inefficient energy infrastructure, but will provide equity for those who have long been denied equal access to energy and energy independence. As Dr. Martinez put it last night, energy must be viewed not as a commodity, but as a commons.

Learn more about SEUs on CEED’s SEU Web page. The concept for an SEU was developed by theCenter for Energy and Environmental Policy (CEEP).

Andrew Ranallo

The non-binding Copenhagen Accord effectively failed to respond to the threat of climate change at the international level. Nationally, U.S. legislators are in limbo—some arguing for cap and trade, others for cap and dividend, and still others insisting that climate change simply doesn’t exist. These stalemates—combined with the historical injustices that have left developing nations (internationally) and people of color and the indigenous (nationally) bearing the brunt of imbalanced policy decisions—beg the question: What can we do here and now to combat climate change and ensure that our communities have a place at the table?

Community members, artists and activists met at the All Nations Indian Church in Minneapolis for the “Communities of Color and Indigenous Peoples Climate Justice Debriefing” hosted by IATP’s Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy (CEED) on Monday night. CEED Senior Policy Fellow Dr. Cecilia Martinez and CEED Director Shalini Gupta shared their experiences at the Copenhagen climate talks—one, not uniquely, full of long lines and being denied entry—and discussed the importance of working at the local level and utilizing indigenous knowledge in addressing climate justice issues.

Dr. Rose Brewer, a member of CEED’s advisory board, summarized her experience in Pittsburgh at the most recent G-20 summit where demonstrators, organizers and activists worked hard to be heard. Among many other things, they hosted a People’s Tribunal, putting the G-20 to trial for the impacts of their policies around the world with testimony from community members and policy experts. And, of course, there was a verdict. As she asked last night—can you guess what it was?

So, what can indigenous communities and communities of color do, on the ground level, to battle injustice and address climate change? Moderator LeMoine LaPoint (also a member of CEED’s advisory board) talked about the power of indigenous knowledge—the fact that people have known about climate change for a while, even if the scientific community has only recently caught on. He then asked the group for emerging solutions they envision for their communities and organizations. Some common themes included sharing information among groups and linking organizations in order to create a stronger voice; becoming united under a holistic approach to changing consumption and production patterns; and using arts, ceremony and ritual to control the story, rather than internalizing the current system that unfairly impacts minorities, the indigenous and the impoverished.

The issue of green capitalism came up as well: one participant compared it to installing solar panels on the Titanic while making sure it doesn’t change course—i.e., the same companies advocating for “green business” have a heavy interest in making sure the power structure stays the same. This issue of framing struck a chord with many in the room: Is the system broken, or working as it’s supposed to in maintaining the status quo? Is climate justice an environmental issue or one of an economic and power structure that needs to change?

In the end, the group seemed to agree that keys to success were communication, building alliances and reaching a critical mass to take control of resources and energy consumption in their community, currently controlled by corporations and private interests. Energy sharing, cooperative solutions and developing sustainable systems through local food and energy production were all cited as potential projects. Furthermore, the idea of establishing a meeting place where organizers and community members could come together and discuss ongoing work gained traction around the room.

Was last night’s meeting the start of something big for Minneapolis? It’s very possible. What’s certain, however, is that community building can happen now, while international summits and legislative filibusters are still floundering.

 

Andrew Ranallo

Syttende Mai (May 17) is Constitution Day in Norway. In Milan, Minnesota, out on the western prairie, hundreds of Norway’s distant sons and daughters gather on Syttende Mai to celebrate their Scandinavian heritage, language, food, music and customs. IATP joined the celebration this year in a parade that wound its way through the village and down Main Street. Our contribution to the festivities included an angel, a devil and one sinner towing the IATP banner in support of community-based energy conservation and the Milan Sustainable Energy Utility project.

Before lining up for the parade we went to the Kviteseid Smorgaas Tea in the Little Norwegian Church basement. We were welcomed by Anne and Chuck Kanten, the presiding Milan Citizens of the Year. Our own little IATP devil, Emily Barker, identified the wonderful food served in the smorgasbord, including two kinds of lefse, flatbreads, krumkaaka, spritz, Norwegian meatballs, blod klub, Gjettost with cloudberry jam, rommegrot and coffee. And then even more coffee.

Chuck Kanten provided an update on the sugar beet crop, with almost all the beets in the ground. The next week or so, when the first cotyledons appear, the sugar crop is vulnerable. Chuck explained that if a frost occurs, the young leaves fly up into the air like helicopters and the field will need to be replanted.

We took a quick side trip to Watson, Minnesota, just down the road from Milan to visit a small, but very intensive community vegetable garden owned by Aziz Ansari. Mr. Ansari and his wife ran into trouble with the town council over the garden and recently settled a law suit with the garden staying where it is and Aziz receiving $50,000 in compensation.

Mud Boots Crew marching bandBack in Milan, the IATP Energy Conservation Angel and High-Priced Energy Devil joined Electric Bill and Phantom Load Phil and lined up in the parade behind the Mud Boots Band, a group of Community Supported Agriculture farmers and farmworkers who played an incredible collection of instruments, including the bass drum, saxophone, accordion, garbage can covers and a trumpet, to name a few. Behind the IATP contingent was a 1967 lime green Mustang convertible with three women playing a variety of popular tunes on their car horn. Erik Thompson, the town banker showered our path with candy insuring applause as we passed by.

Hundreds of people lined the street and were sitting in their front yards watching the fun as we handed out leaflets inviting them to attend a series of trainings on creating a community controlled revolving loan fund to pay for conservation and renewable energy projects using the best possible resources and technology available. The dates for the four workshops are Wednesdays from 6:30–8:30 p.m. on July 21, August 25, September 22 and October 13 at the school. IATP’s Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy has been leading the project and working with the Greater Milan Initiative to raise startup money and get the word out.

Not every Syttende Mai day has an Energy Conservation Angel, but in Milan you can always count on celebrating May 17 with a community that treasures its traditions and is committed to keep their village strong and hopeful.

View all the photos from our visit to Milan for Syttende Mai here.

Dale Wiehoff

The small town of Milan, Minnesota is trying an innovative approach to reduce it’s energy burden. At the Midwest Rural Assembly today, Cheryl Landgren of the Greater Milan Initiative and IATP’s Shalini Gupta told participants about setting up the first rural sustainable energy utility (SEU) to help reduce the town’s energy costs while supporting larger community goals of job creation and population retention.

Homes and buildings in rural communities like Milan often use a lot of energy and are a high cost for rural residents. Winter heating bills are particularly tough on low-income residents. The Greater Milan Initiative is now setting up an SEU: a model developed by the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Delaware. SEUs create long-term community infrastructure around reducing energy usage and costs and promoting energy production where it is used.

The Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy at IATP is continuing work with the Greater Milan Initiative to get this new SEU off the ground. Look for more details soon.

Ben Lilliston

When Obama visited India earlier this week, saying India “has already emerged” as a power in Asia and globally, his compliments were loaded.

On Wednesday night at IATP, Leo Saldanha and Bhargavi Rao from the Environment Support Group (ESG) in Bangalore, described India’s current tug of war between its traditional commons-based framework (collectively owned resources and landscapes) and the privatization that accompanies foreign direct investment (FDI) and globalization.

In the U.S. today, as highlighted by Shalini Gupta with IATP’s Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy, imagining a model without privatization may be near impossible for many. India’s current struggle is more comparable to late-1800’s North America—in the midst of the industrial revolution, at war with indigenous tribes, and spurred onward by increasing demand for natural resources and promised riches of industrial development.

The push for globalization in India brings with it a fundamental shift in the environment and traditional way of life. According to Saldanha, jobs are indeed created, but not jobs for the farmers, fishers and indigenous tribes. In fact, the land, waters and forests that provide their livelihoods are being appropriated to private interests and natural resources are being extracted at alarming rates.

Global demand—and India’s own push for an increased GDP—dictates that profits be maximized. The traditional commons-based framework and environmental laws, then, are barriers that must be removed. It began, Saldanha said, in the 60s tourist boom: coastal beaches once used for fishing filled up with four-star hotels.

Now, according to Bhargavi Rao, roads are being widened, public parks are being gated and grazing lands are being turned into garbage dumps for corporations. And to make room for these drastic changes to the environment, development advocates are pushing to dilute India’s environmental laws.

In 1986, two years after the tragic Bhopal gas leak, the Indian parliament enacted the Environment Protection Act. It allows companies and individuals to be held criminally (not just civilly) liable for violations of environmental standards. Now, an RFP from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is pushing for a move from the current standards to one limited to civil liability in the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests—a move that would essentially pull the legislation’s teeth while protecting foreign investors.

Saldanha and Bhargavi described the underreported thousands of Indian farmer suicides throughout the past decade attributed to this globalization. “The state moved from being a custodian of public land to an appropriating force,” Saldanha said.

What are Leo, Bhargavi and ESG doing to fight back? A combination of protest with litigation and lobbying forms the foundation of ESGs work, but as Bhargavi said, “Protest is backbone of grassroots struggle.” One example included forming a human chain around a lake that was nearly sold off to business interests. Another, coalition-based, action included writing a death certificate for the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

The latest effort centers on trying to stop Asia’s largest steel maker, POSCO, from being allowed to build plants on forest and coastal lands. Clearance for this project—funded, in part by Warren Buffett, and India’s largest-ever foreign direct investment—has been granted but, as one NGO alleges, may have been obtained illegally. For now, the project’s progress has been stalled, but not defeated.

Obama’s visit earlier this week was more than a goodwill visit, multinational business interests globally and in the U.S. stand to make millions. “Maximizing profits for a few while leaving millions behind,” is how Saldanha describes the ongoing changes. And, perhaps Obama’s description of India as “already emerged” was a bit premature. If emerging means destroying the environment, displacing the indigenous and taking livelihoods away from poor farmers, surely prosperity lies on another path.

Andrew Ranallo

(Editor note: Liza (Guerra) O’Reilly is attending the Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change in Anchorage, Alaska, on behalf of IATP’s Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy. Liza is blogging this week from the Summit.)

IndigenousYesterday, Indigenous people from the four directions gathered on day three of the Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change (IPGSCC) and continued to explore thematic sessions of health and food security, Indigenous knowledge and decision-making, environmental stewardship, and energy generation on the precipice of climatic collapse. Each thematic session provided the necessary space and meaningful opportunity for participants to help set our top three priorities and/or critical messages through a Declaration anticipated to be announced at the conclusion of the IPGSCC.

One of the top three critical messages reaffirmed in the energy generation thematic session honored our ancestors for their wisdom passed down from time immemorial when they first felt the sun, tasted the sweet water, breathed the fresh air and pushed their hands into the folds of the earth. This very timeless wisdom recognizes our capacity to lead “developed” Nation/states, corporations, and other failed institutions and models out of the dark, wiping the soot out of their infirmed and capitalistic eyes to look at the Indigenous-based model of micro-energy, developed and controlled by the people.

Our ancestral model revolves around community, not upon it. It is controlled by community, not privatized by it. It is locally developed and constructed by the community, not exploited by it. And it transforms large-scale, centralized energy systems from their collective destructive power to community collective power, as we relearn how to “sustain ourselves within ourselves.” This is a “clean” energy paradigm that rejects false solutions propagated under nuclear power, large-scale dam projects and biofuels.

Our ancestral energy model is a teaching moment to our little brothers to look upon our Indigenous communities/nations as we: (1) autonomously assess our energy needs; (2) determine our energy mechanisms and impacts; (3) develop our localized model that best preserves and advances sustenance in our relationship with mother earth; and (4) construct and sustain our localized energy model, bringing true “green jobs” into our communities.

In this way, when we generate the energy necessary to live well, we can still hear the flute’s penetrating and vibrant sound move with the wind, singing our stories of sustenance. Little brothers, we want you to live well too; we will help wipe the soot from your eyes.

Liza (Guerra) O’Reilly

Ben Lilliston