Barrio Sustainability Offers Hope in the Face of Arizona’s Climate Change Challenges

Written by Luis Perales, Green For All Fellow

Disponible en español. Available in Spanish.  

Tierra Y Libertad Organization planting trees with fifth graders at a Tucson, AZ school.

After witnessing from afar the people power associated with the Forward on Climate Change Rally held on Sunday, February 17, 2013, I’m reminded of the tremendous work at hand in the state of Arizona in general and the Tucson Metropolitan Area in particular.  As a long time organizer with the grassroots organization, Tierra Y Libertad, who has worked on issues and campaigns related to culturally appropriate public health services, immigrant rights, educational equity, and barrio sustainability, I recognize the need to bring together individuals and organizers from across sectors to create a new brand of positive social change. 

Nowhere more than in the state of Arizona is this more needed.  Our state’s climate reality is dire.  Currently 38 percent of the state is facing severe drought, and records of extreme heat continue to be broken summer after summer.  The combination of these high temperatures, low precipitation, and dry brush and forest, makes our state a potential giant wildfire waiting to happen.  With respect to our lack of rainfall, projections for our groundwater reserves have been estimated to decrease between 20 to 40 percent by 2050.

This environmental reality, in combination with a state legislature that refuses to take serious action on climate change creates a very severe and dangerous situation for Arizonans.  In fact, during this past legislative session, Arizona State Senator Judy Burges introduced SB1213.  This senate bill combines an assault on education with an assault on our environment.  The bill claims it “encourages pupils to explore scientific questions, learn about scientific evidence, develop critical thinking skills and respond appropriately and respectfully to differences of opinion about controversial issues,” including “biological evolution” and “global warming.”  But the bill’s author has gone on record saying that the legislation was introduced in order to attack the teaching of global warming and climate change.  Below is a direct quote from Judy Burges.

“It actually says in the textbooks that if you don’t believe in global [climate] change that you’re very misinformed.  There should be an opportunity for teachers to step up to the plate and give their opinion, if they have scientific proof, that it isn’t happening, that it’s a natural phenomena, without retribution.”

Now I know that the current situation described in our state does not sound very encouraging, but all is not lost.  Our state and those most impacted by climate change and these educational assaults have begun to organize for a reality that is very different than the one proposed by our state’s elected officials.  At the grassroots level, organizing efforts have taken many forms and focused on many issues.  My particular interest and investment of time and energy has been in the areas of environmental sustainability and neighborhood-based community organizing.  The model of grassroots environmental organizing that Tierra Y Libertad has come to embody is known as Barrio Sustainability.

This model is based on the principles of popular education and spatial justice.  It pushes for positive social changes rooted in the creation of place that in turn creates conditions to promote social justice seeking.  In combination with these foundational principles, Tierra Y Libertad works to build power at the grassroots level, developing leadership among local neighborhood residents as well as with incarcerated and previously incarcerated young people.  It is our belief that only a grassroots power-building approach such as this will facilitate a new paradigm shift grand enough to turn the tide.

With this said, please allow me to be clear regarding our focus and direction.  Tierra Y Libertad strives and is active in the process of creating the required new institutions that will support a just, equitable and sustainable future.  We seek collaboration across sectors to address the system that threatens our community’s well-being and feeds our problems.  We are committed to changing the rules and to focusing on the good work that provides us drive and direction.  And finally, we ground ourselves in the need to build resilience and to seek the restoration and preservation of all elements needed to create safe, healthy, and sustainable communities, for all.

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