It’s been a relatively quiet hurricane season in the Atlantic so far this year, but Mother Nature walloped Puerto Rico with a Category 1 hurricane that caused island-wide blackouts on Sunday. As in 2017, organizations are working to send solar equipment and technical expertise (and Solar One is participating in those efforts; see details below), there are things that individuals can do to help.
The four red and white smokestacks that loom over the western edge of Queens are a familiar sight to New Yorkers, but a plan to convert the Ravenswood Generating station to 100% renewables could mean that their days of spewing smoke are coming to an end.
Ravenswood currently supplies about 20% of NYC’s electricity by burning natural gas and oil, running four large generator, the largest of which is nicknamed Big Allis. As Solar One got to see on a field trip there many years ago, the amount of fuel required to keep the turbines spinning at Ravenswood is awe-inspriing…and terrifying. It also contributes to some of the worst air quality in town; child asthma rates in the three NYCHA housing developments that surround the plant are significantly higher than in the rest of Queens.
Its emissions are also at odds with New York’s ambitious climate goals, which is why the current owner, Rise, Light and Power, is working on a plan to convert to zero-emissions, 100% renewable generation.
At the end of June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal Environmental Protection Agency did not have the authority to mandate emissions from power plants in West Virginia v. EPA. This decision has been widely seen as a blow to the country’s ability to meet its climate goals, which would also give other countries an excuse not to meet their own.
But now some states are responding by introducing climate amendments to their constitutions, enshrining the right to a clean and healthy environment in their own Bills of Rights.
As we come to the end of another Black History Month in the US and Canada, it’s a great time to reflect on the enormous contributions that people of African descent have made in the realm of agriculture and farming. Since the colonial period, when so many Africans were forcibly brought to the Americas to provide slave labor, Black people have influenced and created innovative and highly successful farming techniques and practices, and introduced new foods- despite controlling less than 2% of the farmland in this country to this day.
While concepts such as sustainable agriculture and community farming may seem like recent developments, they are rooted in ancient land practices that Black and Indigenous farmers have been perfecting for centuries, and in many cases, we have BIPOC activists to thank for keeping those traditions alive and relevant in the present day.
This photo, taken by Dorothea Lange for the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, shows a man and his son watering their mules on their family farm, owned by the man’s father. While some of the Black farmers Lange photographed in this series shot in North Carolina were tenant farmers and sharecroppers, others owned their own farms and worked their own land.
Here are some of the innovations that we can thank Black farmers and activists for introducing to our agriculture system:
February is Black History Month in the US and Canada, and one historical fact that was brought to our attention by FABNYC and the Village Preservation Society is that the very first community of free Black people in North America was established in lower Manhattan beginning in 1643, more than 200 years before the Emancipation Proclamation outlawed slavery in all US states.
To see exactly where the settlement was, you can check out the Village Preservation Society’s Civil Rights & Justice Map here. Based on the research of historian Christopher Moore, the settlement was made up of individual landholdings bequeathed to former slaves of the Dutch West India Company, as a “reward” for years of loyal servitude. Of course, this was not a purely altruistic act; the settlements conveniently served as a buffer zone between the colonial invaders and the indigenous groups they displaced. Sound familiar?
Even though the English subsequently outlawed the settlements when they took over from the Dutch in 1664, demoting the settlers from free persons to “legal aliens” who were not permitted to be landowners, some biographical information about the free Black settlers is still available, as well as the exact boundaries, sizes and locations of their individual properties.
The environmental movement, much like the feminist movement, has a tendency to whitewash the contributions of people of color and Black people in particular. The words “climate activist” probably brings up names like Richard Attenborough, Greta Thunberg and Bill McKibben for a lot of folks, yet the contributions of Black activists working on climate and environmental justice issues can’t be emphasized enough. So here is a list of five Black leaders we can all learn from and admire:
The first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, the late Dr. Wangari Maathai was a Kenyan social, environmental and political activist. After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degress in the US, she returned to Kenya and was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a Doctor of Philosophy degree, from the University of Nairobi.
She founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, overseeing the planting of 51 million trees and training more than 30,000 women in forestry, food processing and bee-keeping and more to support their families while protecting the natural; resources of their communities.