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Black History Month

For Black History Month, Learn About the Memphis Sanitation Strike

Black History MonthBlack History Month is almost over, but Black history is rife with stories that can enrich our lives and teach us more about our communities throughout the year. A case in point: The Memphis Sanitation Strike.

The strike, which began just seven weeks before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in Memphis on April 4, 1968, was the second attempt by the sanitation workers to strike for fair wages and safe working conditions, and was sparked by the tragic deaths of two garbage collectors, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, who were crushed by a malfunctioning truck.

On 11 February, more than 700 men attended a union meeting and unanimously decided to strike. Within a week, the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People passed a resolution supporting the strike. The strike might have ended on 22 February, when the City Council, pressured by a sit-in of sanitation workers and their supporters, voted to recognize the union and recommended a wage increase. Memphis mayor Loeb rejected the City Council vote, however, insisting that only he had the authority to recognize the union and refused to do so.

The night before his assassination in April 1968, Martin Luther King told a group of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee: “We’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through” (King, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” 217). King believed the struggle in Memphis exposed the need for economic equality and social justice that he hoped his Poor People’s Campaign would highlight nationally.

On 8 April, four days after Dr. King was killed on the balcony at the Lorraine motel, an estimated 42,000 people led by Coretta Scott King, SCLC, and union leaders silently marched through Memphis in honor of King, demanding that Loeb give in to the union’s requests. In front of City Hall, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) pledged to support the workers until “we have justice” (Honey, 480). Negotiators finally reached a deal on 16 April, allowing the City Council to recognize the union and guaranteeing a better wage. Although the deal brought the strike to an end, several months later the union had to threaten another strike to press the city to follow through with its commitment.

You can read more about the Memphis Sanitation Strike on the King Institute of Stanford University website here. Special thanks to Betsy Pichizaca, Here Comes Solar’s social media intern, for bringing this piece of environmental justice history to our attention via the HCS Instagram page, which we encourage you to follow for more excellent content like this!

Texas Winter Storm Blackout

Climate Chaos in Action: Millions Lose Power in Winter Storm Uri

Texas Winter Storm BlackoutAt least 21 people have died across the southern United States as a result of the devastating Winter Storm Uri, and millions more are without power and heat as the snowfall and freezing rain continue. Many of them are low-income, nonwhite families who continue to bear the brunt of compounding crises.

In Texas, where the power outages have been particularly severe, Black and Hispanic families are more than twice as likely as white households to live under the poverty line, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Many are living without sufficient insulation to protect themselves from the cold, and others are living without shelter entirely. And amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has disproportionately hurt Black, Indigenous and Latino communities, traditional emergency responses are failing.

“Whether it’s flooding from severe weather events like hurricanes or it’s something like this severe cold, the history of our response to disasters is that these communities are hit first and have to suffer the longest,” Robert Bullard, a professor at Texas Southern University, told the New York Times.

States like Texas with milder winters were caught off guard by the chill, which led to a massive spike in energy demand and a huge drop in available electricity as the infrastructure around natural gas, coal, nuclear, and wind energy froze up. Tuesday was the coldest day in North Texas in 72 years, with the Dallas-Fort Worth area reaching a record low temperature of minus 2 degrees Fahrenheit this week.

The cold weather has triggered a wave of blackouts across Texas, leaving millions of residents shivering in the dark. In some places, Texans have been without power for days.

With average temperatures rising around the world due to greenhouse gas emissions, there is more heat in the global climate system. That’s already having some predictable impacts, like an increase in the frequency and intensity of heat waves.

But it may be having some counterintuitive effects as well, especially during colder seasons. How climate change will reshape winters is, as scientists like to say, an area of active research.

There are a couple of competing ideas for how more warming will change the likelihood of extreme cold periods, like the frigid weather currently gripping much of the US. One group of researchers says that warming will make such events less likely, while another says that warming in the Arctic will increase the chances of frigid polar air spilling further south, leading to more periods of extreme cold in the near term.

But as Texas shows, failing to prepare for winter weather extremes can be devastating, so it’s critical to find out what scenarios could be in store and how often they’ll occur.

You can read more about Winter Storm Uri’s disproportionate effects on low income communities and people of color on TheHill.com here, and more about the connection between extreme winter weather and climate chaos on Vox.com here.

Environmental justice graphic

Carbon Offsetting for Environmental Justice

Environmental justice graphicIn the U.S. and globally, marginalized communities are often the first to bear the brunt of both climate change and air pollution. Corporate decarbonization strategies must address this fact by making equity a core part of their work toward climate solutions.

Reams of data validate the fact that air pollution and poor air quality—from power plants and other sources—are disproportionately borne by people and communities of colorBlack Americans in particular. This massive environmental injustice has been recently amplified and brought to the fore by the COVID-19 crisis: African Americans and other people of color are getting sick and dying from COVID-19 at much higher rates than white Americans. Air pollution and pollution-driven respiratory illness are a key part of the cause for this and many other health disparities.

Carbon offsets generated through afforestation or avoided tropical deforestation, for example, often do more for a company’s image than for climate mitigation. Some have proven actually harmful to the environments, lives, and livelihoods of host communities. Similarly, unbundled Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) can confer corporate green credentials without actually reducing GHG emissions or building new projects.

One of the most innovative conceptual approaches to carbon offsetting, however—an approach with environmental and climate justice at the very core of its concept—comes Nashville-based startup Clearloop, which generates carbon offsets by using corporate decarbonization investments to build new, clean-energy infrastructure in the dirtiest parts of the U.S. grid.

Clearloop is based in the heart of the U.S. Southeast, a fossil-fuel-heavy region that ranks as the sixth-largest global carbon emitter and lacks adequate renewable energy mandates. The company’s approach to climate and renewables innovation differs from legacy strategies because it’s anchored to the concept of emissionality.

Coined by the nonprofit WattTime, emissionality quantifies the precise amount of GHG emissions avoided through the addition of a unit of clean energy generation capacity. An emissionality approach to carbon offsetting is therefore an important improvement on “additionality”: It gives companies the ability to drive the addition of renewable capacity in dirtier parts of the U.S. electric grid—the ability to clean up those parts of the U.S. grid that are most reliant on coal and other fossil-fueled electricity generation.

With respect to energy justice, driving renewable capacity additions to dirty regions of the U.S. grid also promises to increase access to cleaner and more affordable energy for populations and communities who have had few avenues for such access to date.

You can read more about this on the Fast Company website here.

Climate Change Blog Photo

How Climate Change May Be Affecting Human Health

Climate Change Blog PhotoRelatively few Americans associate climate change with possible harms to their health, and most have given little thought to this possibility. Studies in the United States and Britain have shown that “people have a strong tendency to see climate change as less threatening to their health and to their family’s health than to other people’s health,” according to Julia Hathaway and Edward W. Maibach at the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University.

Two recently published reports tell a different story. One, by two public health experts, called for the creation within the National Institutes of Health of a “National Institute of Climate Change and Health” to better inform the medical community, public officials and ordinary citizens about ways to stanch looming threats to human health from further increases in global warming. The second was a full-page article in The New York Times on Nov. 29 with the headline “Wildfire Smoke in California Is Poisoning Children.” It described lung damage along with lifelong threats to the health of youngsters forced to breathe smoke-laden air from wildfires that began raging in August and fouled the air throughout the fall.

Children are not the only ones endangered. Anyone with asthma can experience life-threatening attacks when pollution levels soar. The risks of heart disease and stroke rise. And a recent study in JAMA Neurology of more than 18,000 Americans with cognitive impairment found a strong link between high levels of air pollution and an increased risk of developing dementia.

“While anyone’s health can be harmed by climate change, some people are at greatly increased risk, including young children, pregnant women, older adults, people with chronic illnesses and disabilities, outdoor workers, and people with fewer resources,” Drs. Hathaway and Maibach wrote in Current Environmental Health Reports.

You can read more about this on the NY Times website here.

Flooding Flowers

New Funding Strategy Could Provide Up to $10 Billion to Prevent Climate Disasters

Flooding FlowersIn the past year FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has taken a leading role in fighting Covid-19 — and the agency’s plan is to count that Covid spending toward the formula used to redirect money to climate projects. Doing so would allow the Biden administration to quickly and drastically increase climate-resilience funding without action by Congress, generating a windfall that could increase funding more than sixfold.

Michael M. Grimm, FEMA’s acting deputy associate administrator for disaster mitigation, said the agency’s initial estimates suggested that as much as $3.7 billion could be available for the program, called Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities, or BRIC. By comparison, that program so far has just $500 million to award in grants.

More of that $3.7 billion “may be forthcoming,” Mr. Grimm said in a statement.

But the amount of new money could potentially climb to as much as $10 billion, according to some estimates, if FEMA also decided to count Covid dollars toward a similar fund, the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, designed to help communities rebuild after a disaster. Mr. Grimm said the decision to provide that funding has not yet been made.

The proposal wouldn’t necessarily reduce the money available to address Covid, according to people familiar with the plan. Rather, it would give FEMA the ability to draw additional resilience money from the government’s dedicated disaster fund, which Congress routinely replenishes once the fund is drawn down.

You can read more about this on the NY Times website here.

Con Ed Campaign

Con Edison Highlights Solar One Partnership in New Campaign

Con Ed CampaignCon Edison is Solar One’s neighbor to the south, and they have been one of our most generous and consistent supporters over the years. But this month and in January, they are highlighting us as a Strategic Partner, and we couldn’t be more grateful.

The utility has a long tradition of contributing to and maintaining the social, cultural, and economic vitality of their service areas. Here’s what they have to say about it on their website:

“To do this, we’ve committed ourselves to providing financial or in-kind support to organizations whose activities advance strong, vibrant, and stable communities. We choose these groups carefully who focus on Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) education, environment, civics, community, and arts and culture, looking to their ability to use education, training, and special programs and events to enrich the quality of life of all New Yorkers.”

In addition to robustly supporting out Green Design Lab K-12 Education program, and being a lead sponsor for our much-missed Oktoberfest fundraising dinner, Con Ed is also a major supporter of our Green Workforce Training Program, as highlighted in the ads you may have seen recently in publications such as amNY, the NY Daily News, the NY Times and El Diario, and on Con Ed’s social media platforms. The campaign is being run in both English and Spanish.

There’s also a fundraising component to the campaign, which we’ll be announcing after the New Year. You can learn more about Con Edison’s work in the community as a Clean Energy Leader by visiting conEd.com/partnerships/. And once again, a big heartfelt Thank You to Con Edison for their continuous and robust support of Solar One!

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