Look beyond tech in the lead up to SF climate summit

When the world streams into California for Jerry Brown’s climate summit in September, they’ll focus on the things that the state considers it has done right: the electric cars, the massive solar installations in the desert, the big shiny batteries that hold some of the keys to the planet’s energy future.

But there’s another story to be told about California, a reminder that the world is always a more complicated place once you look behind the p.r. photos. Reporters and environmentalists should plan on coming out a few days before the September 12 summit; if they do they’ll have a better understanding of the real challenges and opportunities.

September 8, for instance, will feature a massive march in San Francisco, part of a worldwide Rise for Climate action protest. It won’t be a celebration—it will be a demand for faster and fairer action, action that reaches every kind of person.

Think about the neighborhoods community organizations like PODER serves, places like the Mission and Excelsior districts. These are filled with Latinx immigrants, many of whom have left their homes because of the droughts, the floods, the sheer impossible heat now spreading across the world. And now these neighborhoods are increasingly the epicenters of gentrification and displacement. Their main connections with the booming cleantech economy are the ever-higher rents, and the stench of the diesel buses driving programmers out to their Silicon Valley jobs. They need urban farms and greenspaces, they need affordable housing centered on transit lines. They need the city to finally divest from fossil fuels and instead invest in a municipal bank that helps these modest dreams become reality.

Poor people in other parts of California have it at least as bad. Jerry Brown has so far refused to stop granting new permits for oil and gas wells in the state—a sold-out stance completely at odds with his reputation as a green hero. In California that means lots of people live or go to school right next to derricks and frack sites—not rich people, of course, but people who have no choice. 92 percent of the people living near oil and gas wells are people of color.

They’re in south-central LA and rural Kern County, near the refineries of Richmond or the oil ports in Long Beach.

That’s why eight hundred groups have come together to ask Brown to address this short-sightedness: to stop issuing new permits and to start the controlled phase-out of fossil fuels. His summit will be all about energy demand; it needs to be about supply as well, and he needs to show the courage to stand up to the fossil fuel industry that has too long ruled this state.

If you want to see what a real future looks like, everyone is also invited to the Solidarity to Solutions (Sol2Sol) Week and summit, a day before Brown’s gathering. On September 9 we’ll be in locations around the city, highlighting the kind of place-based Just Transition solutions that have been forged out of necessity on the front lines of the climate crisis. These communities must be included in the planning and fight for climate solutions and economic development that is just for all. On September 11, the summit will foster serious discussion between community leaders, officials and global climate activists but it will also be festive, because these regenerative solutions are the kind that make communities better, more livable.

The kind of solutions that we should have adopted years ago, just because people deserve a better life; the kind of solutions we now desperately need in a world where wildfire has become a daily fact of overheated life.

The fight for a working future needs to involve us all. Tech innovators have their place, but none of their inventions matter if they can’t be shared widely, and with the people most affected. Important people will be streaming into San Francisco for Brown’s climate summit—but important people live in San Francisco already. People who need to be listened to.

Antonio Díaz is the Organizational Director of PODER (People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights) in San Francisco, CA.

Bill McKibben is an author, environmentalist, and activist. In 1988 he wrote The End of Nature, the first book for a common audience about global warming. He is a co-founder and Senior Advisor at 350.org, an international climate campaign that works in 188 countries around the world.

Antonio Diaz and Bill McKibben
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Antonio Diaz and Bill McKibben

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