Contact: San Antonio – Diana Lopez (Southwest Workers Union), email@example.com 210-535-7060
Oregon – Joel Iboa (Oregon Just Transition Alliance), firstname.lastname@example.org, (541) 357-7664
National – Olivia Burlingame (Climate Justice Alliance), email@example.com 301-613-4767
In the midst of a raging global pandemic, a slew of winter storms exacerbated by extreme cold painfully highlights the need to truly acknowledge water, power, housing and access to medical care as basic human rights. The lack of community control and governance of our infrastructure has created one of the most extractive systems in our society and the result, in this case over the past week, is millions of people without power, without access to water or safe drinking water, without food, and exposed to the elements and possibly COVID-19, as many crowd into warmer spaces.
After 40+ states were hit from Texas to Oregon by an extreme weather event, Climate Justice Alliance members and their communities continue reeling from COVID-19, job loss, and evictions, among other challenges. Far too many people have died and hundreds more have been hospitalized, as Indigenous, Black, Latinx, Asian and other frontline communities once again remain the hardest hit.
“Our neighbors are burning furniture to stay warm amidst widespread power outages in this arctic weather event, fueled by the climate crisis. The Texas power grid relies on dirty energy and has failed the people,” says Diana Lopez, Executive Director of Southwest Workers Union.
“We need to prioritize a Just Recovery and Transition to a modern, regenerative, and renewable energy system, one that is clean and safe for us all, that prioritizes community needs and equity rather than profiting off climate chaos. Our communities are ready to lead that shift.”
The blackouts and water cut-offs are a result of extreme privatization and deregulation of our energy system, extreme weather events supercharged by climate change, environmental racism, and the dominance of fossil fuel companies within politics and government. We need to hold the perpetrators accountable not look to them for more of the same.
Lies about renewable energy run by right wing activists and fossil fuel fanatics are distracting us from the real perpetrators: the fossil fuel industry, privatization, and big corporations who have no reservations about dodging regulations and sacrificing our communities. We need to make an accurate assessment of what went wrong and who is responsible, hold them accountable, and ensure systemic changes to prevent this from happening again. Local San Antonio communities are calling for an audit of CPS Energy’s response as a starting point.
Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities most impacted need to be centered in the Just Recovery to shift from dirty energy – natural gas, oil, coal, and nuclear being the culprits in Texas – to clean, renewable energy sources.
“Living in the belly of the beast, our Houston communities have documented the disproportionate impacts suffered from the pollution of local refineries and seen firsthand how the profits of fossil fuel industries are placed over the needs of the people. The privatization of the Texas energy grid and the disaster we are facing now is an extension of and further evidence of that environmental racism. We must hold them accountable, support a Just Recovery for our communities most impacted, and ensure a Just Transition to clean, renewable energy sources for all.” Juan Parras, Executive Director of t.e.j.a.s.
Solutions like the THRIVE agenda, Build Back Fossil Free, and A People’s Orientation to a Regenerative Economy spell out a path toward Just Recovery, a Just Transition to local, living economies, and job creation. We know that community-governed and local renewable energy systems and projects are better able to meet demands and stay resilient in the face of increasing climate disasters. Officials, especially at the local and state levels, must:
- Prioritize and center Black, Brown, Indigenous, Asian and Pacific Islander, and other frontline communities in decisions on energy supply and distribution.
- Eliminate gas, water, and electric cutoffs as policy for nonpayment for those in crisis due to impacts from the pandemic and in times of climate disasters, and permanently for those at or below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines.
- Create and invest in decentralized, regenerative energy micro-grids for emergencies that can be counted on to provide critical needs during times of disaster.
- Make the grid a Public Utility by creating mechanisms for local governance of energy systems integrated into a public grid, without privatization.
- Build out resiliency within grid models through modernization and efficiency through community-governed microgrids; research new technology to modernize the grid to prioritize decentralized renewables and support resilient systems that include storage, conservation, and efficiency.
- Ensure energy systems prioritize low-income communities for decreased energy bills and deep energy efficiency retrofits as well as green building standards that minimize energy use and support passive housing designs.
- Recognize energy as a public good by publicly taking over investor-owned utilities that fail to commit to transition from fossil fuels, fail to address the climate crisis adequately, or seek bailouts and enact rate-hikes. Give workers and communities oversight of public takeovers, and call for liquidation of assets that can be utilized to invest in renewable energy.
- Extend an eviction moratorium through these multiple crises of pandemic and climate disaster, and focus on the rehousing of houseless and vulnerable populations.
- Implement fair housing recovery that fixes discriminatory inequities in disaster housing assistance and long-term housing recovery. Codify enforceable federal standards, rules, and procedures for prioritizing low-income homeowners, renters, and unhoused people in the allocation of housing aid and recovery resources, with a particular focus on long-term housing recovery programs.
“Here in Oregon, the extreme weather events knocked out more than 330,000 homes’ power for several days. This means freezing cold households, skyrocketing utility bills, kids who can’t attend online school and parents who can’t travel to their jobs. Given that we’re almost a year into the global pandemic, this is unacceptable. Oregonians, Texans, and all of us deserve a reliable, resilient energy system.” Joel Iboa, Executive Director of Oregon Just Transition Alliance.
Moreover, investments need to be made directly to the grassroots and community-run initiatives, not to market-based solutions, big greens, or silver-bullet techno-fixes.
We call on philanthropy to:
- Invest in grassroots organizations and mutual aid networks directly (like these in Texas), prioritizing those led by and supporting Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities.
- Hold billionaires and corporate energy companies accountable and prevent bailouts using taxpayer dollars.
- Create local funds to support weatherizing homes, fixing residential water pipes, and updating home electrical systems to support extreme weather.
- Establish local ongoing emergency short term and immediate funding vehicles for workers who have suffered loss of wages due to transportation issues, closures, as well as for other unanticipated costs in times of disaster and crises.
- Support just and equitable recovery funding by increasing funding and resources to support community-driven recovery and mid- to long-term rebuilding and implementation projects with improvements that further equitable mechanisms for adaptation, recovery, and rebuilding.
- Invite grassroots leaders to engage in a long-term evaluative process to integrate an equity lens into institutional grantmaking practices.
- Use tools like the People’s Solutions Lens to better understand where you are investing – not all “solutions” are inherently equitable or just.
As frontline communities work to rebuild and repair, we don’t need billionaires, white-led big greens, and philanthropic institutions swooping in to “save” our communities by funneling hundreds of millions into outdated, ineffective, top-down strategies that erase the frontlines, waste money, and don’t address the root causes of the climate crisis. In order to break this ineffective, status-quo, self-serving, extractive “charitable” cycle and ensure systemic change led by those most impacted, we must invest in and follow the lead of grassroots, frontline communities.