All people have the right to a clean and healthy environment in which our communities can live, work, learn, play, and thrive.
As CEOs profit from pollution and the escalating climate crisis – both of which disproportionately affect Black, Latino, Native, Asian, and working-class communities – our survival lies in community-rooted solutions that shift us towards harmony with the earth and with each other. Big polluters and CEOs who want to extract, exploit, and grow at any cost have already poisoned our air and water, intensified extreme weather events, and led to higher prices for basic necessities like food, housing, water, and energy – and some of California’s biggest polluters are located in the Bay Area. This situation cannot last; our planet can no longer sustain it and our people will no longer tolerate it.
That’s why working-class communities of color living alongside big polluters in Oakland and Contra Costa County are leading a just transition away from an economy that extracts life from our people and planet to a regenerative economy where life flourishes. We can’t wait for Washington; we need to take our own Green New Deal approach right here in California and the Bay Area. A Green New Deal means taking bold, inclusive steps to divest from a fossil fuel economy that is destroying our health and environment. It means phasing out oil and gas production. It means saying no to multibillion-dollar bailouts for investor-owned utilities and skyrocketing electric bills for the rest of us. In addition to ending bad things, a Green New Deal means building new ways to power our neighborhoods that ensure safety; bring good, green jobs; and stabilize the climate. Most importantly, we must put decision-making power back in the hands of working people and local communities – and take power away from corporations that put profits over safety.
Orange denotes Bay Rising member organizations. Green denotes partner organizations. Click on the circles to visit each organization’s website.
Community Choice Aggregators are an alternative to the old corporate utility monopolies like PG&E. Corporate utility monopolies like PG&E rely on electricity from dirty and carbon-intensive sources that cause climate change and exist to benefit their shareholders. From 2017-2021 alone, PG&E set off 31 wildfires, killing 113 Californians, and burning nearly 1.5 million acres. In contrast, Community Choice empowers cities and counties to pool electricity customers to form a local power agency which is accountable to regular people. Communities can then provide clean power to their local customers by buying renewable energy on the open market or by creating local clean energy jobs. Going forward, we should:
Continue to strengthen the community engagement and local clean energy purchasing of Community Choice Aggregators: Community Choice energy programs have sprung up in at least 17 counties across California, including every Bay Area county. We want to build enough distributed energy resources that Californians will no longer be dependent on PG&E’s volatile and expensive transmission system. As Sylvia Chi of Bay Rising member organization Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), alongside Jessica Guadalupe Tovar of the Local Clean Energy Alliance, wrote in Newsweek: “The contours of what a 21st-century energy system should look like are clear—we need a web of decentralized, distributed energy systems that generate, store and distribute clean renewable power locally and regionally. Workers and communities need to own and make meaningful decisions about our energy systems, not big corporations like PG&E. And we need to start building the 21st-century grid in working-class communities of color that have been unfairly burdened by this dirty energy system… We’re already shaping the building blocks of the energy future we need.”
Expand existing initiatives at the state level: California should expand the California Public Utility Commission’s community shared solar projects and the Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing program, which invests $1 billion to bring solar power to working-class renters. Californians want this: Within weeks of the SOMAH program launch, wait lists were already full.
The Local Clean Energy Alliance (with the involvement of Bay Rising member Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN)) built East Bay Community Energy, whose revenues go back into local Green New Deal projects for energy efficiency, local clean energy generation, shared solar cooperatives, and microgrids.
Another key way to address the climate crisis is through building decarbonization – decreasing the ratio of carbon dioxide (CO2) or all greenhouse gas emissions related to primary energy production – and electrification – replacing direct fossil fuels use with electricity – in partnership between residents and local government. When we institutionalize deep community engagement, building decarbonization can be used as a transformative process to move towards equity, climate resilience, and economic inclusion at the same time. Building decarbonization can only be successful if the barriers to accessing and using building electrification technologies are removed.
SF Department of the Environment: Draft Recommendations regarding the priority functions of the Climate Equity Hub, the hub’s organizational/governance structure, and an initial implementation plan.
Create climate resilience hubs
In the short-term, PG&E and local and state government should expand funding for the clean renewable backup power that our communities need to survive their power shutoffs. We can turn our local libraries, recreation centers and designated public evacuation sites into hubs for climate resilience with solar-powered microgrids and storage. When PG&E decides to cut power to millions, climate resilience hubs can be a space for people to power their medical devices, access heat, breathe clean air, and refrigerate breastmilk and medicine. These climate resilience hubs can also serve as sites for community energy generation that help bring energy costs down for entire neighborhoods, not just individual households, and transition us to the safe, stable energy system we need.
Bay Rising member Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) has been supporting communities in Oakland and Richmond who have already developed plans to turn municipal buildings, apartments, schools, churches and community centers into climate resilience hubs. Bay Rising member People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Justice (PODER) has also partnered with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) on the Hummingbird Farm project, which stewards public land to meet the needs of PODER families and community members and strives towards a future rooted in environmental and climate justice on the original lands of the Ohlone Peoples. Hummingbird Farm is also a resilience space based on its use, especially in pandemic times, as a place to gather outdoors, grow food and plant medicine together, and build community/social infrastructure. The master plan includes additional gathering areas and a solar powered kitchen where folks can prepare meals together.
Working-class communities of color face many of the heaviest burdens of environmental racism when corporate activity pollutes the places where we live and work. A policy approach to protect health and safety should include prevention measures to slow and stop harmful practices like fossil fuel extraction and use, as well as remediation strategies to mitigate the harm that decades of irresponsible corporate behavior have wrought on the land and water ecosystems that make the Bay habitable.
Photo credits, top to bottom: Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), Communities for a Better Environment, People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Justice (PODER) / Hummingbird Farm Master Plan, People Organizing to Demand Environmental and Economic Justice (PODER) / Hummingbird Farm Master Plan.