Happy MLK Day from Green For All Founder and Chairman Van Jones

Listen to Van's message of encouragement this MLK Day as we continue our fight to create a green economy Dr. King would be proud of! 

 

 


Huffington Post: Leap Forward: Why We Need to Think Bigger on Climate Resilience

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Written by Jeremy Hays, Chief Strategist for State and Local Initiatives of Green For All

In 1995, a severe heat wave struck Chicago, killing more than 700 people. The disaster hit some neighborhoods much harder than others. For the most part, its devastation closely traced the city’s economic and ethnic segregation. More people died in places like Englewood, a South Side neighborhood with a history of poverty and crime, and a largely African-American population; yet some neighborhoods with this same demographic fared remarkably well. Just adjacent to Englewood, the Auburn Gresham community — also poor and black — weathered the disaster far better than many of the city’s wealthy white communities.

The difference? Auburn Gresham’s strong social ties kept residents alive. As Eric Klinenberg explains in his excellent New Yorker piece, residents survived in large part because they knew each other. During the heat wave, neighbors checked on neighbors. They knocked on doors. They knew who was alone, who was elderly, who was most at risk.

As we grapple with how to best prepare for climate change, there’s a valuable lesson in Chicago’s heat wave. We’ve been hearing more and more about community resilience — from the President’s creation of a task force on the issue, to his executive order directing agencies to help prepare Americans for the effects of climate change. These measures couldn’t be more important. We badly need investments in infrastructure and in emergency response systems that will mitigate damage from coming disasters. But these measures alone don’t get us where we need to be.

So far, the conversation on climate resilience has been too narrow. It often overlooks some of the key components that have proven to make the difference in how a community survives a heat wave, a flood, a fire, or a hurricane.

Reliable infrastructure and good disaster response plans are crucial. But truly resilient communities — the ones that weather storms, economic downturn, and disasters best — also embody many of the following four key components:

1. Have Strong Social Capital
The neighborhood ties that helped Auburn Gresham survive Chicago’s heat wave are so important that, as Klinenberg noted, they equal the impact of having an air conditioner in every home. That effect is too big to ignore. Resilience strategies need to recognize that social ties are a survival mechanism — and support activities that build them.

2. Can Use Existing Assets to Cope with Calamity
During Hurricane Sandy, members of Green City Force, a service corps that prepares low-income youth for sustainable careers, played a new and crucial role in helping residents of Brooklyn’s Red Hook area survive. Corps members gathered and distributed food to elderly residents who otherwise would have been cut off from help. It worked because the members of Green City Force knew the neighborhood well, they were already organized, and their members had an ethic of service and stewardship toward their community that propelled them to action. Smart resilience strategies will invest in the kind of organizations that are already embedded and connected with local residents — from community groups and non-profits to churches.

3. Are More Self-Sufficient
If communities develop local sources of food, they’re safer when droughts or disasters drive up food prices. If they have their own power — like solar panels on a school — they aren’t as vulnerable in the face of blackouts. If they’re familiar with their neighbors and have established gathering spaces, they can still communicate when cell phone networks get clogged. If they have prosperous local businesses, they’re better prepared to ride out storms in the global economy.

4. Have a Voice in the Decisions That Affect Them
If a community has a history of engaging with government or working together to secure resources — if neighbors have successfully petitioned the city to fix potholes or install gutters — they’ll not only be more prepared before a storm hits, they’ll be in a better position to get the resources they need after the storm. The most effective resilience strategies will support local leadership.

Climate resilience plans that focus just on disaster preparation, but ignore these components, do a disservice to us all. And it’s not just about mitigating the damage from storms — it’s also about creating the kind of long-term stability that strengthens our nation as a whole. We need to think bigger and be bolder so that our community resilience strategies reflect our nation’s core values and capabilities.

Think Bigger, Be Bolder
When our leaders talk about helping Americans survive disasters, they haven’t been thinking big enough. Surviving is a baseline. American communities have always endeavored to survive and thrive, despite the challenges or setbacks.

When our leaders talk about “bouncing back” they haven’t been thinking big enough. Bouncing back is a dubious goal for folks living on the edge. If you’re struggling to feed your kids or pay the rent before a storm strikes, it’s not enough to return to business as usual. Vulnerable Americans need to find a way to gain ground — not just go back to the margins. After all, the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina began to unfold long before the storm hit — the seeds of disaster were planted decades earlier, when the area’s poor communities were abandoned.

Our climate response plans have to think bigger about the problems — and the opportunities. Our best community resilience strategies will:

Recognize that disasters hit low-income communities and people of color first and worst.

When it comes to storms and severe weather, those with the fewest resources have a harder time preparing, escaping and recovering. Nationally, African-Americans, who are more likely to live in coastal areas, are at greater risk for displacement from flooding and sea level rise. They’re also more vulnerable to heat-related deaths, which are expected to increase by 90 percent. Meanwhile, climbing food costs, crime and illness from climate change are all expected to hit people of color and the poor hardest. Climate resilience strategies — and investments — must address this gap.

Put these communities in the driver’s seat.

No one knows how to weather storms better than folks who’ve already been pushed to the edge. Neighborhoods like Auburn Gresham have endured decades of divestment and blight. The same communities hit hardest by extreme weather have survived years of toxic pollution, redlining and abandonment. In an under-resourced area, it’s not uncommon to borrow a cup of sugar from next door, or lean on a neighbor to watch your kid. The history of social ties that have kept these neighborhoods alive through decades of hardship have already laid a strong foundation for climate resilience. Good resilience plans will be developed in partnership with vulnerable communities. Strong outreach and civic engagement will uncover ways to build upon the social entrepreneurship that’s already buzzing within these areas — to unleash the “hustle” that has helped residents survive and thrive for decades.

Think bigger. Stay focused on leaping forward, not just bouncing back.

Resilience investments should leave local economies stronger, more inclusive, and healthier than before. We have no choice now, but to fight climate change and get Americans ready for the disasters to come. But if we’re smart about it, we can address economic inequality at the same time. Investing in clean energy, efficient infrastructure, and climate-readiness can create jobs and business opportunities in the communities that need them most. The kind of jobs that help fight carbon pollution, like manufacturing solar panels, tend to pay more (13 percent higher than the median wage) while requiring less formal education.

That’s a recipe for escaping poverty. In the long run, the economic stability these jobs create will do more than just about anything to fortify communities on the front lines.

A “leap forward” strategy won’t just help the most vulnerable among us — it will help everyone. The extreme devastation we see when disasters strike poor, under-resourced communities is more expensive to clean up. It drags down our economy, and it exacerbates suffering among families who are already struggling. It’s in everyone’s interest to prevent damage on that scale.

America’s leadership will be tested more and more in the years to come — not just by climate change, but by an increasingly globalized economy. Our nation’s number one resource is its people. We simply can’t afford to have so many members of our team sidelined by hardship — or overlooked by shortsighted planning processes. We need to craft resilience strategies that unleash the genius within our communities.

By thinking bigger about resilience — by creating prosperity in partnership with communities, and by clearing the way for the hardest-hit among us to build a healthier, safer, more equitable future — we position ourselves to do more than just bounce back from hard times. We set ourselves up to leap forward, together as a nation, into the future of our own choosing.

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The Hill: Attacks on EPA are attacks on health, safety

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Written by Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green For All

For me, clean air isn’t an abstract concept. I grew up in a polluted town and struggled with childhood asthma. I know what it means to be forced to breathe dirty air.

That’s why it’s so important to me that the Environmental Protection Agency is able to do its job and protect Americans from air pollution—including carbon from power plants.

Coal-fired power plants pump out toxic pollution, with serious health consequences: An estimated 12,000 emergency room visits for asthma, 20,000 heart attacks, and 13,000 premature deaths are linked to America’s dirty, outdated coal plants. They don’t just cost lives, they cost dollars: our country loses nearly $100 billion a year to these preventable health problems…

Read original post here.

 


BET: Commentary: How Young People Are Rallying for Climate Action and Justice

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Written by Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green For All

HBCU students gathered at Powershift 2013 to talk solutions to climate change.

It’s been said that the movement of this generation is the fight against climate change. And there is no better evidence of that than Powershift—an energetic gathering of more than 6,000 students and activists from around the country with a vision of a healthier planet and a clean energy economy.

This year, students and activists of color played a huge role. More than 100 HBCU students went to Pittsburgh for the event, and added their voices to the chorus calling for solutions to climate change. They were joined by activists from around the country—including a number of Green For All Fellows—who are working in local communities to promote sustainability, prosperity, and resilience.

It wasn’t just powerful. It was also fun. A panel titled, “Green is the New Everything” addressed the power of music and arts to engage people in movements for social change. Among those sharing ideas about how musicians and artists can drive positive solutions were Green For All Fellows Tem BlessedAshEl Eldridge, andIetef Vita. They joined Markese Bryant, founder of Fight For Light, an organization that leverages the creative power of student leaders to address sustainability issues on their campuses and in surrounding communities.

But it doesn’t stop there. Throughout the decades, much of the successful gains we’ve made toward creating a better world have been driven by faith. At a panel on EcoTheology, Green For All Fellow Ambrose Carroll joined others in discussing how religion and spirituality can contribute to a successful climate movement, and promote good stewardship of the earth.

We also heard from on-the-ground heroes who work block by block to build stronger communities and a better world. Keynote speaker Luis Perales, a Green For All Fellow, spoke about his innovative work in Tucson to help cultivate local community leaders for a more sustainable and just planet.

Meanwhile, at a panel on Green Economy Careers, Green For All Fellows Tanya FieldsNatasha Soto, andElizabeth Reynoso spoke about the problem of high unemployment among recent college grads, and how young people can make the most of opportunities in clean energy and other sustainable industries.

Finally, Shamar Bibbins, Green For All’s Director of National Partnerships, moderated a panel titled “From Your House to the White House.” The panel included speakers from NAACP, The Sierra Club, and a former senior policy adviser in the Obama administration, who focused on the Climate Action Plan that President Obama rolled out earlier this year—and what we can do to ensure that the plan addresses the needs of folks who are on the front lines.

This is important, because as our leaders take steps to combat climate change, we need to make sure they also address the unique vulnerabilities of communities of color and low-income Americans.

We know that when it comes to disasters, low-income communities and people of color are hit first and worst. Just look at what happened with Katrina—when a big storm strikes, folks with the fewest resources have a harder time preparing, escaping, and recovering. Meanwhile, communities of color tend to be located closer to power plants and other polluting facilities, putting them at higher risk for asthma and other preventable disease.

We need our leaders to address this disproportionate vulnerability—and they won’t do it unless we ask them to. Powershift is an unparalleled opportunity to do just that.

Visit Powershift for more information about how to get involved.

Read original post here.


Daily Kos: The Hunger Games: Let’s Stop Shaming the Poor and Start Solving the Problem

flagman.pngWritten by Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, CEO of Green For All

Last year, after having a baby, I moved back to the town where I grew up—a poor, polluted part of the Bay Area. One of the most striking things about coming home has been the experience of living in a place where access to wholesome food and healthy lifestyle choices is severely limited. That would be bad enough on its own. But now, to add insult to injury, our leaders in Washington, D.C. are kicking low-income folks while they’re down.

When the House voted to slash food stamp benefits (now known as SNAP) by $40 billion last month, there was no mistaking their tone: Americans who are hungry should be ashamed.

Last year, after having a baby, I moved back to the town where I grew up—a poor, polluted part of the Bay Area. One of the most striking things about coming home has been the experience of living in a place where access to wholesome food and healthy lifestyle choices is severely limited. That would be bad enough on its own. But now, to add insult to injury, our leaders in Washington, D.C. are kicking low-income folks while they’re down.

When the House voted to slash food stamp benefits (now known as SNAP) by $40 billion last month, there was no mistaking their tone: Americans who are hungry should be ashamed.

There has been an alarming increase in the number of Americans who rely on food stamps—it jumped from 26 million in 2007 to 48 million today. That should be a red flag—not that people are taking advantage of the system, as conservatives seem to think—but that something’s very wrong with our economy. After all, most of those receiving food stamps are children and the elderly. And it’s not like they’re feasting—the average benefit in 2012 worked out to $4.45 a day.

The assault on food stamps would be appalling enough on its own. But the truth is, it’s just the latest in a series of escalating attacks on the most vulnerable among us. From the crusade against the Affordable Healthcare Act and Medicare to efforts to shrink Social Security, what we’re seeing in Congress these days looks a lot like a war on the poor.

Even their attacks on solutions to climate change and pollution hit low-income folks hard. With crops under increasing threat from drought and disasters, we’re already seeing a spike in food prices. And the more economically stressed our communities are, the more trouble they have preparing, surviving, and recovering from severe weather and storms. Just look at what happened with Katrina.

We’re supposed to have recovered from the Great Recession, but when I look around my hometown, I don’t see things getting easier. For most of us, they’re not. It’s really just the wealthiest who have reaped the benefits of recovery—the top one percent took home more than half our country’s entire income last year. As they’ve ridden the wave of bailouts back to the top, they haven’t turned their backs on the poor; they’ve turned their cannons on them. As though they could defend the ground they’ve gained by humiliating those who have the least.

A recent Washington Post-Miller Center Poll shows a disturbing spike in economic insecurity among Americans. Two-thirds of those polled say they worry about covering their family’s basic living expenses—compared with less than half of respondents four decade ago. More than six out of ten are worried about losing their jobs—a greater number than were worried in 1975, at the tail end of a harsh recession.

At a time like this, when so many people are struggling to get by, you’d think our leaders in Congress would be doing everything possible to help. Instead, they’re attempting to lay shame on those in need—proposing mandatory drug testing for food stamp recipients and accusing them of laziness—despite the fact that most of those who benefit are children.  It’s not just mean spirited. It’s shortsighted. And it doesn’t reflect the values that most of us share.

Most of the people I know wouldn’t hesitate to help a neighbor in need. I’m deeply inspired by the local leaders I see working to fight hunger and bring healthy food to their communities. People like Green For All Fellow Hakim Cunningham, who helps build urban gardens to expand access to fresh fruits and vegetables for low-income Bostonians. Or Dana Frasz, whose Oakland organization, Food Shift, works to reduce food waste and bring healthy meals to hungry residents. Or Diana Teran, who, after recognizing the need for healthy food options in her hometown of Tucson, started her own vegan food company, La Tuana Tortillas—and is now creating jobs for others.

Thousands of Americans are working in their communities every day to solve the problems of hunger and lack of access to healthy food. These folks are heroes, and our leaders in Congress should take a cue from them.

Instead of attacking the most vulnerable among us, we need to band together to find lasting solutions to hunger and poverty. And we can start by bringing back full food stamp benefits for the people who desperately need them.

Read original post here. 




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