Climate Action: Can We Change the Climate From the Grassroots Up?
By Irene Banos Ruiz
Alarming headlines regarding the climate crisis often overshadow positive actions taken by citizens around the world, but that doesn't mean they're not happening.
They are, and sometimes with considerable success. DW looks at some civil society victories.
Blocking Fossil Fuels
Despite scientific warnings, governments and companies continue to green light fossil fuel projects around the world. But in many instances, these authorizations are accompanied by protests.
1. Hema Thermal Power Plant
Earlier this year, after more than a decade of vocal opposition to the planned Hema thermal power plant, villagers in the coastal Turkish region of Amasra welcomed a court ruling that rejected its construction. Locals had not only feared the destruction of their land, but also the impacts on their health and that of their children.
Amasra villagers have been protesting for years to prevent the construction of a power plant.
The win is a milestone for Turkish climate activists, whose struggle to stop the expansion of fossil fuel plants in the country still has a long way to go.
2. Rocky Hill Open-Cut Mine
Locals around the Australian town of Gloucester experienced similar satisfaction when a national court rejected a plan to build the Rocky Hill open-cut coal mine on the basis that it would increase greenhouse gas emissions at a time when they needed to be reduced. It took those involved in fighting the plans about a decade to achieve success.
It took protesters a decade to fight plans of an open-cut coal mine.
The judge said the negative impacts outweighed its economic and public benefits. Australia is the fourth largest coal producer in the world.
3. Hambach Forest
Germany has become the setting for one of the most iconic fights against coal mining in Europe.
Hundreds of people have spent five years living in tree houses in a bit to prevent a tiny fraction of the Hambach forest in North Rhine-Westphalia from being razed for the expansion of a nearby open-pit coal mine that has already devoured dozens of villages and 90% of the forest.
In 2018, the anti-coal movement brought together thousands of people in Germany's biggest climate march. A few months later, authorities agreed on a moratorium on logging. Only until 2020, however, so theirs is a bittersweet victory.
4. Divesting Money
More and more people are demanding that investors, such as faith-based organizations and pension funds, withdraw their financial support from fossil fuel projects. The global divestment movement has convinced over 1,000 institutions to commit to divesting from oil, coal and gas companies. This translates to almost $8 trillion (€7 trillion) less in assets from fossil fuel investments.
"The momentum has been driven by a people-powered grassroots movement, ordinary people on every continent pushing their local institutions to take a stand against the fossil fuel industry and for a world powered by 100% renewable energy," the NGO 350.org says.
Thousands Coming Together
Climate protests have long been a niche for dedicated eco warriors, but this year, they've become increasingly mainstream.
1. Fridays for Future
Kids who go on strike to protect their future are becoming the new normal. The Fridays for Future movement has managed to capture everyone's attention — in a way that not even the iconic images of starving polar bears achieved.
It all began with Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg skipping school on Fridays to take a lone stand outside her country's parliament. That singular action has since spurred hundreds of thousands of young people worldwide to participate in Friday school strikes calling for decisive climate action.
2. Extinction Rebellion
In early 2019, a mass civil disobedience campaign emerged on the streets of London. The protest group, which includes members of all ages and walks of life, occupied iconic sites in the English capital and saw some of its number strip off inside parliament.
A week of disruptive actions in April led to the arrest of more than 1,000 people, but it also scored the group considerable global attention. The movement has since expanded to more than 30 countries.
3. We Are Still In
U.S. President Donald Trump's intention to withdraw from the Paris agreement came as a shock, but U.S. American civil society quickly recovered. They gathered strength and created the We Are Still In coalition.
Since then, the group has tripled in size and now totals over 3,500 institutions, including local governments, faith communities, businesses and universities.
The group has generated hundreds of climate commitments, businesses have pledged to meet climate targets and over 100 U.S. cities have committed to switching to 100% percent renewable energy.
The Climate Crisis Goes to Court
Globally, more than a thousand court cases are demanding governments and polluters comply with laws to protect citizens. Some have already achieved success.
1. The Urgenda Case
In 2015, a group of Dutch citizens decided to hold their government accountable for contributing to climate change.
In a landmark ruling, a court in the Hague ordered the Netherlands government to cut greenhouse-gas emissions in the country by at least 25% within five years. However, the Dutch government appealed the decision and a final decision is now expected from the Netherlands' Supreme Court.
Whatever happens, the Urgenda case is seen by many as the climate's greatest legal milestone. It has inspired lawsuits across the world.
2. Waorani Against Oil
Earlier this year, Ecuador's Waorani indigenous people celebrated a court ruling that suspends the sale of the community's territory in the remote Amazon for the pursuit of oil extraction. The result came after more than five years of opposition from the indigenous group.
This victory could also mark a turning point for other indigenous communities struggling to defend their land rights and oppose oil exploration.
Reposted with permission from our media associate DW.
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By Eric Tate and Christopher Emrich
Disasters stemming from hazards like floods, wildfires, and disease often garner attention because of their extreme conditions and heavy societal impacts. Although the nature of the damage may vary, major disasters are alike in that socially vulnerable populations often experience the worst repercussions. For example, we saw this following Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, each of which generated widespread physical damage and outsized impacts to low-income and minority survivors.
Mapping Social Vulnerability<p>Figure 1a is a typical map of social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract level based on the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) algorithm of <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1540-6237.8402002" target="_blank"><em>Cutter et al.</em></a> . Spatial representation of the index depicts high social vulnerability regionally in the Southwest, upper Great Plains, eastern Oklahoma, southern Texas, and southern Appalachia, among other places. With such a map, users can focus attention on select places and identify population characteristics associated with elevated vulnerabilities.</p>
Fig. 1. (a) Social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract scale is mapped here following the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI). Red and pink hues indicate high social vulnerability. (b) This bivariate map depicts social vulnerability (blue hues) and annualized per capita hazard losses (pink hues) for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019.<p>Many current indexes in the United States and abroad are direct or conceptual offshoots of SoVI, which has been widely replicated [e.g., <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13753-016-0090-9" target="_blank"><em>de Loyola Hummell et al.</em></a>, 2016]. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/placeandhealth/svi/index.html" target="_blank">has also developed</a> a commonly used social vulnerability index intended to help local officials identify communities that may need support before, during, and after disasters.</p><p>The first modeling and mapping efforts, starting around the mid-2000s, largely focused on describing spatial distributions of social vulnerability at varying geographic scales. Over time, research in this area came to emphasize spatial comparisons between social vulnerability and physical hazards [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-009-9376-1" target="_blank"><em>Wood et al.</em></a>, 2010], modeling population dynamics following disasters [<a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11111-008-0072-y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Myers et al.</em></a>, 2008], and quantifying the robustness of social vulnerability measures [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-012-0152-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate</em></a>, 2012].</p><p>More recent work is beginning to dissolve barriers between social vulnerability and environmental justice scholarship [<a href="https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304846" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Chakraborty et al.</em></a>, 2019], which has traditionally focused on root causes of exposure to pollution hazards. Another prominent new research direction involves deeper interrogation of social vulnerability drivers in specific hazard contexts and disaster phases (e.g., before, during, after). Such work has revealed that interactions among drivers are important, but existing case studies are ill suited to guiding development of new indicators [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2015.09.013" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Rufat et al.</em></a>, 2015].</p><p>Advances in geostatistical analyses have enabled researchers to characterize interactions more accurately among social vulnerability and hazard outcomes. Figure 1b depicts social vulnerability and annualized per capita hazard losses for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019, facilitating visualization of the spatial coincidence of pre‑event susceptibilities and hazard impacts. Places ranked high in both dimensions may be priority locations for management interventions. Further, such analysis provides invaluable comparisons between places as well as information summarizing state and regional conditions.</p><p>In Figure 2, we take the analysis of interactions a step further, dividing counties into two categories: those experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019. The differences among individual race, ethnicity, and poverty variables between the two county groups are small. But expressing race together with poverty (poverty attenuated by race) produces quite different results: Counties with high hazard losses have higher percentages of both impoverished Black populations and impoverished white populations than counties with low hazard losses. These county differences are most pronounced for impoverished Black populations.</p>
Fig. 2. Differences in population percentages between counties experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019 for individual and compound social vulnerability indicators (race and poverty).<p>Our current work focuses on social vulnerability to floods using geostatistical modeling and mapping. The research directions are twofold. The first is to develop hazard-specific indicators of social vulnerability to aid in mitigation planning [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-020-04470-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate et al.</em></a>, 2021]. Because natural hazards differ in their innate characteristics (e.g., rate of onset, spatial extent), causal processes (e.g., urbanization, meteorology), and programmatic responses by government, manifestations of social vulnerability vary across hazards.</p><p>The second is to assess the degree to which socially vulnerable populations benefit from the leading disaster recovery programs [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/17477891.2019.1675578" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Emrich et al.</em></a>, 2020], such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) <a href="https://www.fema.gov/individual-disaster-assistance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Individual Assistance</a> program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) <a href="https://www.hudexchange.info/programs/cdbg-dr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Disaster Recovery</a> program. Both research directions posit social vulnerability indicators as potential measures of social equity.</p>
Social Vulnerability as a Measure of Equity<p>Given their focus on social marginalization and economic barriers, social vulnerability indicators are attracting growing scientific interest as measures of inequity resulting from disasters. Indeed, social vulnerability and inequity are related concepts. Social vulnerability research explores the differential susceptibilities and capacities of disaster-affected populations, whereas social equity analyses tend to focus on population disparities in the allocation of resources for hazard mitigation and disaster recovery. Interventions with an equity focus emphasize full and equal resource access for all people with unmet disaster needs.</p><p>Yet newer studies of inequity in disaster programs have documented troubling disparities in income, race, and home ownership among those who <a href="https://eos.org/articles/equity-concerns-raised-in-federal-flood-property-buyouts" target="_blank">participate in flood buyout programs</a>, are <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063477407" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eligible for postdisaster loans</a>, receive short-term recovery assistance [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2020.102010" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Drakes et al.</em></a>, 2021], and have <a href="https://www.texastribune.org/2020/08/25/texas-natural-disasters--mental-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">access to mental health services</a>. For example, a recent analysis of federal flood buyouts found racial privilege to be infused at multiple program stages and geographic scales, resulting in resources that disproportionately benefit whiter and more urban counties and neighborhoods [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/2378023120905439" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Elliott et al.</em></a>, 2020].</p><p>Investments in disaster risk reduction are largely prioritized on the basis of hazard modeling, historical impacts, and economic risk. Social equity, meanwhile, has been far less integrated into the considerations of public agencies for hazard and disaster management. But this situation may be beginning to shift. Following the adage of "what gets measured gets managed," social equity metrics are increasingly being inserted into disaster management.</p><p>At the national level, FEMA has <a href="https://www.fema.gov/news-release/20200220/fema-releases-affordability-framework-national-flood-insurance-program" target="_blank">developed options</a> to increase the affordability of flood insurance [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2018]. At the subnational scale, Puerto Rico has integrated social vulnerability into its CDBG Mitigation Action Plan, expanding its considerations of risk beyond only economic factors. At the local level, Harris County, Texas, has begun using social vulnerability indicators alongside traditional measures of flood risk to introduce equity into the prioritization of flood mitigation projects [<a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/Portals/62/Resilience/Bond-Program/Prioritization-Framework/final_prioritization-framework-report_20190827.pdf?ver=2019-09-19-092535-743" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Harris County Flood Control District</em></a>, 2019].</p><p>Unfortunately, many existing measures of disaster equity fall short. They may be unidimensional, using single indicators such as income in places where underlying vulnerability processes suggest that a multidimensional measure like racialized poverty (Figure 2) would be more valid. And criteria presumed to be objective and neutral for determining resource allocation, such as economic loss and cost-benefit ratios, prioritize asset value over social equity. For example, following the <a href="http://www.cedar-rapids.org/discover_cedar_rapids/flood_of_2008/2008_flood_facts.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2008 flooding</a> in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, cost-benefit criteria supported new flood protections for the city's central business district on the east side of the Cedar River but not for vulnerable populations and workforce housing on the west side.</p><p>Furthermore, many equity measures are aspatial or ahistorical, even though the roots of marginalization may lie in systemic and spatially explicit processes that originated long ago like redlining and urban renewal. More research is thus needed to understand which measures are most suitable for which social equity analyses.</p>
Challenges for Disaster Equity Analysis<p>Across studies that quantify, map, and analyze social vulnerability to natural hazards, modelers have faced recurrent measurement challenges, many of which also apply in measuring disaster equity (Table 1). The first is clearly establishing the purpose of an equity analysis by defining characteristics such as the end user and intended use, the type of hazard, and the disaster stage (i.e., mitigation, response, or recovery). Analyses using generalized indicators like the CDC Social Vulnerability Index may be appropriate for identifying broad areas of concern, whereas more detailed analyses are ideal for high-stakes decisions about budget allocations and project prioritization.</p>
By Jessica Corbett
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday was the lone progressive to vote against Tom Vilsack reprising his role as secretary of agriculture, citing concerns that progressive advocacy groups have been raising since even before President Joe Biden officially nominated the former Obama administration appointee.