Indigenous Women Rise Against Jerry Brown’s Climate Half-Measures

Ahead of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, organizers prepare to advocate more radical solutions.

Isabel Bloom

Indigenous organizers protest climate change in San Francisco in 2013. Some of the same organizations are returning for this week's climate actions. (Daniela Kantorova/Flickr)

This Sat­ur­day, cli­mate orga­niz­ers from around the world are com­ing togeth­er to embark on a week of rad­i­cal action in San Francisco.

“Nobody inside the summit wants to talk about leaving fossil fuels in the ground or reducing our energy consumption."

Sol­i­dar­i­ty to Solu­tions Week (Sol2Sol) is orga­nized by the It Takes Roots Alliance in direct response to Cal­i­for­nia Gov. Jer­ry Brown’s mar­ket-based approach to the cli­mate cri­sis. Brown is the dri­ving force behind the closed-door Glob­al Cli­mate Action Sum­mit being held in San Fran­cis­co Sep­tem­ber 12 – 14.

Nobody inside the sum­mit wants to talk about leav­ing fos­sil fuels in the ground or reduc­ing our ener­gy con­sump­tion,” says Kan­di Mos­sett, the Native ener­gy and cli­mate cam­paign orga­niz­er for the Indige­nous Envi­ron­men­tal Net­work, a mem­ber group of the It Takes Roots Alliance. It’s how can we con­tin­ue to make mon­ey while basi­cal­ly paci­fy­ing groups [by say­ing] that we’re work­ing on the cli­mate cri­sis’ — and that’s through emis­sions trad­ing schemes.”

The goal of Sol2Sol is to expose what they see as false solu­tions offered by sup­posed cli­mate lead­ers such as Brown and to bring togeth­er a com­mu­ni­ty of rad­i­cal orga­niz­ers to brain­storm ways to com­bat cli­mate change and leave fos­sil fuels in the ground.

We have to be at the table,” says Mos­sett. Lead­ers are going to be mak­ing deci­sions that com­plete­ly impact our future and impact us now, but we’re not allowed in.” Very few orga­niz­ers from the alliance have been giv­en access to the sum­mit, she says.

For Mos­sett, the cli­mate cri­sis is deeply per­son­al and direct­ly con­nect­ed to her iden­ti­ty as an indige­nous woman. She spent her child­hood on the Fort Berthold Reser­va­tion in North Dako­ta, where she grew up think­ing it was nor­mal for every­one you know to have can­cer. Her home was sur­round­ed by nine coal pow­ered plants as well as ura­ni­um mining.

Deci­sions being made behind closed doors at Brown’s sum­mit will have seri­ous stakes for indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties through­out the coun­try, says Isabel­la Zizi, 24. Zizi works with Idle No More SF Bay, a grass­roots orga­ni­za­tion formed out of an indige­nous grand­moth­ers’ prayer group in Cana­da that has estab­lished a net­work of chap­ters through­out Cal­i­for­nia. Idle No More SF Bay is a mem­ber group of the It Takes Roots Alliance.

Since child­hood, Zizi has been all-too-aware of the reck­less­ness and envi­ron­men­tal racism of the fos­sil fuel indus­try. Grow­ing up in Rich­mond, Calif., she lived in the shad­ow of the Chevron refin­ery there, which report­ed 304 acci­dents between 1989 and 1995 alone. In 2012 the refin­ery expe­ri­enced an explo­sion that sent 15,000 mem­bers of the sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ties to the hos­pi­tal. The explo­sion dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly endan­gered indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties such as Zizi’s as well as oth­er com­mu­ni­ties of color.

Despite its rep­u­ta­tion as a dis­tinct­ly pro­gres­sive and green state, Cal­i­for­nia has a his­to­ry of politi­cians that Sol2Sol orga­niz­ers call cli­mate prof­i­teers.” Through­out his decades in office, Jer­ry Brown has been a key con­trib­u­tor to this lega­cy. Although he has worked with the U.S. Cli­mate Action Cen­ter and held a promi­nent role in inter­na­tion­al cli­mate nego­ti­a­tions, Brown has con­tin­u­ous­ly sup­port­ed the fos­sil fuel indus­try and antag­o­nized cli­mate activists.

Brown, who has tak­en mil­lions in dona­tions from fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies, sup­ports mar­ket-based solu­tions to the cli­mate cri­sis such as a cap and trade sys­tem. Under such a mod­el, over­all emis­sions are lim­it­ed and com­pa­nies trade emis­sions cred­its, essen­tial­ly cre­at­ing a car­bon econ­o­my. Crit­ics say that cap and trade is a false solu­tion, as the cap on emis­sions is too high, and fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies are giv­en plen­ty of loopholes.

Brown also sup­ports frack­ing, a method of nat­ur­al gas extrac­tion, despite its threat to drink­ing water and asso­ci­at­ed green­house gas emissions.

Sol2Sol orga­niz­ers are infu­ri­at­ed by Brown’s refusal to con­sid­er their demands for more rad­i­cal action to com­bat cli­mate change. The Indige­nous Envi­ron­men­tal Net­work, for exam­ple, envi­sions work­ers in pol­lut­ing indus­tries and front­line com­mu­ni­ties work­ing toge­hter to facil­i­tate an imme­di­ate just tran­si­tion” away from fos­sil fuels.

Sol2Sol will kick off with a People’s Cli­mate March mod­eled off of the largest cli­mate march in his­to­ry in New York City in 2014. This march will be the largest ever West Coast cli­mate march. As it will take place in the Ohlone Ter­ri­to­ry, it has a clear pur­pose of uplift­ing the voic­es of the Ohlone peo­ple, who were enslaved or forced out dur­ing the set­tle­ment of San Fran­cis­co. A prayer cer­e­mo­ny will also be held the fol­low­ing day at the West Berke­ley Shell­mound, a sacred Ohlone site.

Through­out the rest of the week, sev­er­al oth­er actions are planned, such as a protest out­side of the sum­mit itself, where par­tic­i­pants may be risk­ing arrest. Each of these actions will be pre­ced­ed by train­ings to ensure that par­tic­i­pants will know how to stay safe.

Sol2Sol orga­niz­ers will also lead dozens of edu­ca­tion­al and com­mu­ni­ty build­ing events such as prayer cer­e­monies, tours to local sus­tain­able farms and a sum­mit of their own where atten­dees can par­tic­i­pate in work­shops and ple­nary sessions.

Stand­ing up to cli­mate prof­i­teers in such a dif­fi­cult polit­i­cal cli­mate isn’t easy, says Zizi. But she con­tin­ues this risky work so that when oth­er young peo­ple ask what did you do in this time of dis­tress” she can say she tried her best. It’s time for all of us to rise togeth­er. I’m excit­ed to see thou­sands of peo­ple have the same mes­sage and have the same heart.”

Isabel Bloom is a sum­mer 2018 In These Times edi­to­r­i­al intern.
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