In a big step for the growing environmental justice movement, nearly a thousand residents of Boyle Heights, the heart of LA’s Mexican-American community, and Hunters Point, the African-American center of San Francisco, hundreds of residents flocked to displays of affordable zero-emission cars last week to an event sponsored by Environment California’s "Charge Ahead" campaign. There were only three white organizers among multitudes of people of color listening to State Senator Pro Tem Kevin de Leon extolling affordable clean energy vehicles, including models with directional voices in Spanish, It is de Leon who has taken up the cause of environmental justice more than anyone in Sacramento. His legislation mandates the expansion of the “Charge Ahead" program to communities of color. The events in the LA barrio and SF ghetto were unprecedented.
It is not likely that the solar revolution will advance very far by Elon Musk marketing all-electric Tesla’s at $100,000 apiece. Nor is it likely that the white student movement or counter-culture will gain power in a state where the majority is composed of racial minorities. The past two years have seen bruising ethnic competition over resources in the capitol. Big Oil has invested in a “moderate” caucus of Latino Democrats whose goal is to block any reductions whatsoever in polluting emissions or fracking. The irony is that these “mod Dems” dominate the Central Valley where immigrants always have been exploited economically, marginalized politically and bear the heaviest health burden from pollution. The poor are being fracked.
Now consider this. The greatest fissure in global politics is between the affluent white North and the suffering and devastated victims of floods, fires, blazing temperatures, deforestation and war from the Global South. Writ large, the global crisis between rich and poor is the background to environmental and economic injustice in California. At the December United Nations climate summit this December, the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, who bear the greatest burdens of the crisis, will be demanding a Global Green Fund to pay for environmental mitigation and economic development. The price tag is a paltry few billion dollars at this point, compared to the $90 billion cost estimates for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan plus the budgets of our surveillance agencies.
What is needed is a Green Global New Deal funded from public and private sources to begin saving the earth. There is not a single Republican vote for these sums, and Democrats are suffering from austerity issues. A massive humanitarian movement, nothing less, is needed to intervene from Congressional Districts to the steps of the United Nations. The mass movement will gain momentum, unfortunately, from repetitive climate disasters that require billions for infrastructure alone. Sì, se puede, it can be done because there is no alternative. That’s why producing affordable zero-emission cars is important in Hunters Point, Boyle Heights and the barefoot Third World bloc representing a majority of the world’s nation states.
De Leon has legislated a remarkable shift in environmental and budgetary priorities, Call it the California Model. Current law now requires that environmental funding go both to reduction of carbon emissions and co-equal benefits for disadvantaged communities. During the four years beginning in 2014 the state will invest $120 billion on such a climate justice program from sources including the much-debated cap-and-trade program which brings in at least two or three billion annually along with revenue from tax reforms funded by Tom Steyer, the billionaire San Francisco investor who has made climate justice his passion.
The California Model is being carried by the Brown administration by a series of state-and-regional pacts known as the Under Two MOU, meaning the goal of achieving a more stable climate under 2 degrees Celsius, the tipping point according to the scientific community. Almost alone, the governor is pursuing energy diplomacy with formal agreements with eleven US states, and a growing list of major countries from China to Brazil to Germany. Call it the emerging Green Bloc. By Brown’s conservative numbers, the Green Bloc represents 100 million people and a GDP of $4.5 trillion. Those numbers are low because they only represent eleven states and regions, which have signed onto the formal pact. By my estimate we are talking about 166 million people in states pursuing low-to no-carbon policies in American states with 262 Electoral College votes! Tea Party beware.
Of course there are contradictions in California policies, like the stalemate over fracking, which is like an excerpt from an Upton Sinclair novel a century ago. That dispute may take the last three years of the Brown era to resolve, and it appears that governor is willing to spend the time.
We are entering the pre-post Brown era along with the pre-post Obama era, intensifying the urgency of electing a governor, president, and officials with the best ability to navigate the critical transitions ahead.