We Can Divest From Fossil Fuels and Invest Into Communities and a Clean Energy Economy

by Rashad Barber

Last week it was painful to see the eviction of hundreds of water protectors at Standing Rock, by local police and the US Army Corps. Over 700 water protectors are facing criminal charges, and 5 facing federal charges. And yet, the fight is far from over.

As a member of  Got Green, a South Seattle-based climate justice organization, I am committed to community organizing to ensure that low-income people of colors receive the benefits of the new green economy that we are all striving to bring to reality. This is why I went to Standing Rock last November, first and foremost as an act solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of this land.  I traveled with Seattle Black Book Club, an organizing group for Black folks in struggle for self-determination and liberation from the oppressive systems afflicting our communities.  We brought donations, and human bodies ready to support the needs of the camps.  There were many things I took away from the trip, not least of the things were valuable relations with water protectors from around the country.  I also took away some really important perspectives on the importance and role of spiritual work for our movement. A central objective in the fight for liberation is to regain and preserve our humanity, which is as much an internal struggle as it is external.

Having grown up near a coal power plant and having a mother and two of my younger sisters who

contracted asthma, I understand very intimately the harmful effects of dirty energy. The Water Protectors defended their ancestral lands against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), not just for themselves and their families, but for the 10 million people who rely on the river for water and for future generations of people. We too have to defend our communities from pipelines, fracking for natural gas, and other fossil fuel expansion. Meanwhile, announcements about the Trans Mountain pipeline will soon begin construction through British Columbia and Washington state, being called “the Standing Rock of the North”.

Climate Justice requires us to move away from the economic system that is harming people. This is not something that can be done with investments still tied to the dirty energy or fossil fuels.  That’s why we advocated for the City of Seattle to drop their contract with Wells Fargo which managed $3 billion worth of depository services for the city. That’s why the City of Seattle must remove their pensions from any bank that is funding DAPL. Seattle’s investment in fossil fuels is irresponsible when there are sources of renewable energy that we should be harnessing in a shift towards a healthier relationship with our ecosystems and environment. Plus, that money is tainted with oil and blood.

We live in dark days with Trump in office and his supporters feeling emboldened to be racist, patriarchal, and violent. Attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency, executive orders that target immigrants and Muslim community, increase of surveillance, racial profiling, and enforcement.  So many people I care about have anxiety, yet we do not stand idle. People are embracing action and the transition towards a healthy economy and environment we all deserve.

Here in Washington, climate bill HB1646 builds on the framework from the Alliance for Clean Jobs and Energy, to make polluters pay into a fund for clean energy (including energy reduced through transit and transit-oriented affordable housing), clean water, and healthy forests to reduce carbon pollution, and create jobs across the state. Got Green and our partners in Front and Centered are advocating for it to target 35% of the investments to communities most burdened by pollution, climate threats, and social and economic barriers to usher a just transition for fossil fuel workers and marginalized communities.

There are also joint efforts to fully fund the Model Toxics Control Act, a historical voter-approved law that ensures toxic pollution clean-up in the most marginalized communities and supports local communities in addressing environmental racism. Places like South Park and Handford can get the resources needed to determine how their communities interact with the toxic pollution clean up happening in their neighborhood.

Many of us coming from marginalized communities know too well the impacts of this toxic energy on our homes, our health and our quality of life. But here we are with an opportunity to move our economy into a different direction. To align our values of good environmental stewards with social equity by divesting from fossil fuels and investing in communities. It’s not only the economically responsible this to do, it is also the environmentally and the socially responsible thing to do. Following the leadership from indigenous communities in the Salish Sea and Standing Rock, we can do this. We must do this.  

Coming up on March 3rd, Southside Commons (3518 S Edmunds ST) “Ride for Resistance – Red Warrior Society West Coast Tour.” The Red Warrior Society will be sharing stories of indigenous resistance, as well as connecting the dots on the fight against the black snake, extreme extraction, corporations, and colonial violence in both indigenous territories as well as indigenous bodies. Featuring the voices of front-line warriors from over twelve different nations. Including the founder of MaMA (Mothers Against Meth). 

More information about HB1646, the Model Toxics Control Act, and other climate policies in Washington see: http://www.frontandcentered.org

Rashad Barber is a community member and climate and racial justice organizer. He is a member of the Young Leaders steering committee at Got Green, and a member of the Seattle Black Book Club. http://www.gotgreenseattle.org

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