Climate Justice Forum: Organizing Urgency

Updated: December 22, 2016
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The PSC's Environmental Justice Committee sponsored a lively and highly informative forum on Climate Change on Wednesday evening, November 30, in the Union Hall. The theme was "Organizing Urgency: What the PSC and CUNY can and should do".

Three panelists looked at the crisis through two different lenses: scientific evidence and community organizing for climate justice.

Geology Professor Stephen Pekar of Queens College summarized the scientific case for the reality of climate change and the role of human activity in generating and exacerbating the problem. He noted that none of the factors that in the past caused climate change can explain the acceleration of global warming that we are now witnessing. Overwhelming scientific evidence points to human activity, namely by the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. Professor Pikar proposed action: establishing a carbon tax; stopping fossil fuel extraction and subsidies; investing heavily in sustainable energy sources, especially solar, among others. CUNY can contribute by "greening" every department, program, and class by including scientific and socio-political and economic analysis, and by working with students and community organizations. The PSC can use its position in the Labor movement to promote understanding and action.

Left to right: Elizabeth Yampierre (speaking), Leslie Cagan, Spephen Pekar

Leslie Cagan, a renowned organizer of mass collective actions, including the 2014 People's Climate March that mobilized hundreds of thousands and in which the PSC had a strong contingent, promoted the organizing mantra of “think globally, act locally.” Cagan stressed the work needed in NYC and NYS to solarize all public buildings and to organize at the intersection of environmental, economic and racial justice. We face powerful forces, she argued, organized as "permanent government" of banks, insurance companies, and real estate developers and managers. She is spearheading plan in NYC to mobilize thousands of people for a March on Washington in late April (probably April 29 - mark your calendar).

Elizabeth Yeampierre, Executive Director of UPROSE, a community environmental organization in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, gave a powerful presentation on new approaches to resistance and transformation in the environmental justice movement. People of color and all poor people are on the frontline of this crisis and struggle, and must be worked with as an autonomous force with their own voice, insights and strategies. UPROSE has been especially effective in engaging community youth, seeing them as, not "at risk", but "at potential". She expressed impatience with some environmental groups, which she characterized as patriarchal and condescending toward communities of color. The best way, she argued, for professors and all "progressives" to work with community environmental organizations is through respectful listening and complementarity, not by assuming their own primacy.

All the speakers stressed the importance of active solidarity with the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline by the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

There was active engagement by the audience, with questions, comments, discussion and commitment to work for climate justice.

Next steps: There is a full agenda of work to be done at CUNY, in coalition with other groups in NYC and in preparation for the April mobilization in Washington DC. Join the work of the PSC EJ Committee in action at the community, city, state, and national levels, all in the context of the international dimensions.

How? The EJ Committee meets next on Mon., Dec. 12, 6-8 pm at the Union Hall follow up on the ideas of the forum, and learn more specifically what CUNY is doing and planning. A second meeting is scheduled for Jan. 9, same time, same location, to plan for the April mobilization.