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PUBLIC MOVEMENTS FOR CLIMATE ACTION

For some, the government isn't doing enough about climate change. They are taking it into their own hands to mobilize on climate action.

By Ava Garcia

Columba Sainz used to take her two daughters to the playground every day. The visits would stretch to two hours at a time, as the kids ran around and enjoyed being outside in their neighborhood in Tempe, Arizona.

 

But when the family moved to central Phoenix, those two-hour playground visits shrank to barely 15 minutes. Located in the heart of Arizona's largest city, the area had worse air quality than Tempe. The children started to feel the effects. One night, Sainz's daughter woke up struggling to breathe. After that scare, she and her husband made a decision: The kids couldn't go outside anymore.

 

Sainz isn't content with that decision. She is now a field consultant for the Arizona chapter of Mom's Clean Air Force, a group advocating for action against air pollution and climate change. She's one of many people across the state who are mobilizing to push their elected officials to take action to improve the environment.

 

Fifty-seven percent of Arizonans think local officials should do more to address global warming. When people feel that their elected officials aren't doing enough, it opens up an opportunity for citizens to raise their voices in the hopes their officials hear them.

A more political approach

For some citizens, voting isn't enough. Some have gone on to join activist organizations and learned how to lobby for environmental action.

 

That's what Tucsonan Ed Beshore did when he joined the Tucson chapter of the Citizen's Climate Lobby in summer 2017. The retired astronomer wanted to do something about climate change and joined the CCL because of its focused approach on climate action.

 

"Part of the reason I retired was because I wanted to work on climate change issues," said Beshore, who is now a co-leader of the Tucson CCL chapter. "It's an existential threat.... You can take a look at pretty much any one of the other environmental issues...I don't think any of them rise to the level of urgency that climate change does, because it affects every living human being on the planet and every biosystem on the planet."

 

The CCL concentrates much of its action on lobbying for the federal Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. The act, now introduced in the U.S.? House of Representatives as H.R. 763, places a fee on fossil fuels and then allocates the money from that fee to the public.

 

Beshore said he appreciates the organization's focus on its federal goal. He's twice gone to Washington to meet with members of Congress, and he frequently talks to Arizona senators' staff in Tucson.

"Our job is to try to really motivate individuals to get up and do something, to call their congressman and to understand what the opportunities are."

--Ed Beshore, Tucson Citizen's Climate Lobby chapter co-leader

The CCL has a local focus as well. Beshore said the group has had successes in Flagstaff, Tucson and Pima County through the passage of resolutions that favor the group's overarching goals.

 

Beshore said those successes required a lot of shoe leather. He met with every member of the Pima County Board of Supervisors and every City of Tucson council member. He said lobbying is an essential way to move the needle on climate action.

 

But for those who can't be as involved, Beshore hopes to bring them an opportunity to learn more about climate issues. The CCL sets up tables at farmers markets and local festivals and hosts events, such as a recent public lecture series featuring professors from the University of Arizona's Institute of the Environment.

 

"Our job is to try to really motivate individuals to get up and do something, to call their congressman and to understand what the opportunities are," Beshore said.

Public movements take a stand

Sandy Bahr, the leader of the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club, said that since the election of President Donald Trump, citizens are feeling a need to step up on environmental issues. Trump's administration's has dismantled of many environmental regulations such as withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement.

 

"This administration has made it clear to people that we as activists need to do even more and that we need to fight to keep in place what we've already been able to accomplish and then do more," Bahr said.

 

In her 20 years of leading the Grand Canyon chapter, Sandy Bahr has noticed a major change in public awareness about environmental issues. More and more people have become knowledgeable about climate change, Bahr said. They know what it is and what reducing emissions will mean for the environment.

 

She especially sees an uptick in interest from young people.

 

"It is about the future and about what kind of world they're going to live in," she said.

Flyers laid out on a table outside the Pima Canyon Trailhead. People gave out flyers as part of an event for the People's Climate Movement on Sept. 8, 2018. Photo by Ava Garcia

One of those young people is Courtney Lasserre, a student at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix. A lifelong hiker, Lasserre took an interest in environmental issues when she learned about them in science classes. When conservation issues became a hot topic in politics, Lasserre wanted to get involved to make her voice heard. She and her friends formed a club at their school to encourage youth in the community more involved in the issues.

 

"It's important to protect what we have, especially for future generations," she said.

 

Lasserre was not old enough to vote in the midterm elections—she missed the midterms by 10 days—but she tried to talk about climate action with people who could cast their ballots.

 

On a sunny Saturday morning in early September, Lasserre and her friends set up a table at the Pima Canyon trailhead in Phoenix to talk to voters about climate issues ahead of the November midterm elections.

She and her club were part of a city-wide event in Phoenix called the People's Climate Movement. As part of a nationwide effort spearheaded by the national People's Climate Movement, environmental organizations around Arizona hosted small "lemonade stands" in parks and public spaces where they spoke to people about climate and environmental issues, said Bahr, whose Sierra Club chapter was involved in planning the event. She said the purpose of the "lemonade stands" was to connect people with their community members through one-on-one conversations.

At Lasserre's "lemonade stand," the students asked mountain bikers and hikers coming off the trail to pledge to vote for climate-friendly politicians, and they gave them information on environmentally focused legislation up for passage.

 

"I want to make sure that other people who are eligible to vote are out here using their civil rights as an American citizen to further the climate agenda," Lasserre said.

Community-based efforts bring people together

Not all individual action regarding climate change is political. For some, climate change action means preparing for the changes to come in their own lives and in their own communities. That's what the Building Resilient Neighborhoods Work Group does.

 

The group makes up part of the Tucson-based Arizona chapter of the Physicians for Social Responsibility and prepares neighborhoods for heat-related emergencies exacerbated by climate change. A lack of social cohesion in neighborhoods, coupled with average temperatures rising every year, can lead to potential danger if a power outage were to happen in the middle of the summer heat, said Barbara Warren, the executive director of the Arizona chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

 

"It's important to think about extreme heat and how we cope with it and what the risks are of having to deal with it without the kind of relief we usually can expect from going indoors and having air conditioning," Warren said.

 

So far, the group has worked with 22 neighborhoods in the Tucson metropolitan area.

The group leads three-hour workshops for communities to come together and build a plan to develop safety resources for emergencies, such as a power outage leaving people without air conditioning, Warren said. Power outages have occasionally happened in Tucson, such as one last August that left 2,000 Tucson Electric Power customers near Midvale Park without power for several hours in the middle of the day, according to a KGUN9 story.

A key part of the workshop is understanding who will be more vulnerable to heat exposure, such as elderly people, low-income residents and people who are isolated.

Five Things Individuals Can Do To Reduce Their Carbon Footprint

Take public transportation, ride a bike or walk to work or school instead of driving.

Cut down the amount of meat in your diet. Meat production contributes to carbon emissions.

Reduce your consumption--bring reusable versions of cutlery, straws and takeaway boxes when going out to avoid using single-use items. Producing single-use items contributes to emissions.

Eat local products whenever possible. When your food doesn't have to travel far, it cuts down on transportation emissions.

Reduce your electricity usage. Unplug electronics when not in use, and make switches like line-drying your clothes instead of using a dryer.

"We have people work together to come up with ideas," Warren said.

 

Sainz also focuses her work on community members, specifically on the Latina community. As part of her work with Mom's Clean Air Force, Sainz works with the Ecomadres program in Arizona.

 

The program started last October as a collaboration between Mom's Clean Air Force and her? environmental organization GreenLatinos and has since spread to several states in the Southwest and to Florida, said Gabriela Rivera, the program's regional coordinator.

 

Ecomadres focuses on Latina moms and shares knowledge through house parties called "cafecitos" (coffee chats).

 

"We get together and we talk about how, as a community, we are being affected by climate change, air pollution or anything that's happening in [our] environment that affects us," said Sainz, who grew up on the border of San Diego and Tijuana.

She said much of this environmental injustice starts out with cost—where people can afford to live. Some people have to live in industrial areas or areas by the freeway, which can be closer to more pollutants. Sainz said it's a problem that often affects ethnic and racial minorities.

 

A 2019 University of Minnesota study found that Hispanic people, on average, are exposed to 63 percent more pollution than is created through their consumption. Non-Hispanic whites, on the other hand, are exposed to an average of 17 percent less air pollution than is created through their consumption. This shows a disparity between the amount of pollution people create through their actions, like using a gas-powered car, and the amount of pollution they are exposed to in their lives.

Members of Mom's Clean Air Force plant a tree during an environmental activist event in Phoenix on Sept. 8, 2018. Photo by Ava Garcia.

Stanford University and the University of Arizona found in a 2014 study on Arizona's views of climate change that Hispanics were more concerned about global warming impacts than any other group; 84 percent of Hispanics surveyed felt global warming would affect them personally (compared to 52 percent of whites and 60 percent other), and 91 percent said it would hurt future generations (compared to 73 percent of whites and 78 percent other).

 

Through her cafecito community meetings, Sainz hopes to let people know about these environmental issues in the language they are most comfortable in—often Spanish.

 

Once people know what's going on, Sainz hopes to mobilize them to take a stand for climate action.

 

"If we stand up together for what we want, especially to take care of the health of our children and future generations, that we should stick together, that we shouldn't lose hope if our representatives do not agree with us," Sainz said. "Unity is power. It doesn't matter what your color is, what your religion is. We all share the same world, and we should do something about it for future generations."

 

On the same day that Lasserre was working at a table outside a trailhead to spread climate change information, Sainz was hosting an event for Latino environmental groups in downtown Phoenix.

 

Dressed in a red Mom's Clean Air Force T-shirt and a straw hat, Sainz flitted through the crowd of families gathering under a ramada at the Spaces of Opportunity lot. People clustered around tables and helped themselves to fruit laid out in trays in the back of a pickup truck. Children zigzagged through the families to get in line for the colorful bouncy house in the corner of the lot.

Members of Mom's Clean Air Force plant a tree during an environmental activist event in Phoenix on Sept. 8, 2018. Photo by Ava Garcia.

Everyone gathered around as speakers took turns talking in both English and Spanish with a portable microphone, rallying the crowd to partake in climate action.

 

As the sun slowly sank from the sky and cast a red glow, the groups made their way to a field on the other side of the lot. Rows of soil stretched around the crowd. With shovels in hand, people took turns breaking ground.

 

People started to bring out trees in plastic pots. The families took turns planting the trees, a splash of green against the brown dirt, a bit of hope in a desert environment.

 

Rivera hopes Ecomadres grows to work in all 50 states and one day to even partner with similar groups in Mexico. She said the organization encourages people to vote for candidates who represent their values. To make that happen, Ecomadres sometimes partners with groups like Mi Familia Vota to encourage voter registration at their events.

 

Rivera said her goal is "empowering communities so that they feel empowered to hold their representatives accountable."

 

Encouraging people to vote is something that Bahr does in her work for the Sierra Club as well. She made sure to include voter registration at the September climate action event. Environmental activism is more than just attending events; it's about making the people's voice heard in the voting booth.

 

"A good massive mobilization will include things that help to build for the future," Bahr said.