International Women's Earth and Climate Summit Convenes to Draft Action Agenda

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Posted Sept. 25, 2013

Interview with Jacqueline Patterson, director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, conducted by Melinda tuhus

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At a three-day conference Sept. 20-23 in Suffern, N.Y., 100 women environmental leaders from around the world convened to share their experiences and hammer out a Women's Climate Action Agenda. The International Women's Earth and Climate Initiative summit included equal representation from both industrial and developing nations around the globe, including many indigenous leaders from North America, the Amazon, and Africa.

One of the key issues raised was that of carbon trading, in which polluting corporations provide benefits, such as planting trees, in one part of the world in order to offset their continuing pollution in another location. While supported by many governments, corporations and big environmental groups, every Summit delegate who spoke on the issue opposed it.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus attended the Summit and spoke with Jacqueline Patterson, director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program and co-founder and coordinator of Women of Color United. Here she addresses the issue of carbon trading, and explains why she believes that the climate justice movement is not a subset of other mainstream groups working on climate change issues in the U.S., where these organizations are still overwhelmingly white, attracting little participation from people of color.

JACQUELINE PATTERSON: Even the framing of the question is interesting in that I think a lot of people wouldn't necessarily characterize the climate justice movement as a subset of the larger climate movement; and in fact, many people would say the climate justice movement is a broader view of looking at climate change, looking at climate change within a context of broader social justice issues, social, political, economic issues ... and our movement to address climate change fits into that broader conversation. So I think in order to see more merging of the disparate efforts on climate change ...the folks who are involved in the climate justice movement feel those are inextricably bound connections, and so to see more connections I believe that folks who are in the climate movement who are more focused on climate alone would need to have some conversations about how to broaden that analysis and broaden how we actually work on these issues in a more holistic way.

For us, we're actually very explicitly having a number of conversations to figure out how we can bring that together a little more and have more collaboration among movements. For example, the NAACP is soon coming out with a white paper called, "And the People Shall Lead," that actually comes from several conversations with frontline community groups as well as big enviro groups about how we can work better together; what are the current barriers now; what are some promising models and practices where people have worked together well, and how can we upscale those models of success and how can we address the challenges in collaboration. There's a couple of initiatives that have been born from those efforts, such as the Climate Justice Alliance, which was originally called the Climate Justice Alignment process, and it was really looking at this questions of how to have more alignment within the climate justice movement. Then we also have another process, I can't remember the name of it exactly, but it's building equity and alignment, that was facilitated by the Overbrook Foundation, and they pulled together a number of big greens and climate justice frontline communities and philanthropies, to really talk about this conversation about how we can better collaborate.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Can you give us a little peek at the white paper and any example of what's in the paper of a successful collaboration?

JACQUELINE PATTERSON: Sure. Starting with some of the challenges, some of the challenges have included recognizing some of the constraints of the big greens in that they're often driven by funding that calls for certain deliverables in a certain timeframe. But for us, if we're looking at this broader issue around social, political, economic rights in a larger climate justice framing, and social justice framing, while we recognize that we need to have incremental goals like shutting down that power plant or starting that community-owned solar project or whatever, we also need to always be doing that within a broader strategic frame, and so we come into conflict when there are these short-term goals that might even be counter to that long-term frame. For example, carbon markets. For us, in some ways, trading in a carbon market often means that some communities end up continuing to suffer because a company has been allowed to trade for the right to continue polluting in one area, and so for us, that's a fundamental challenge, and we can't support any kind of effort that's moving in that direction. So that's one example.

In terms of some successes, one of the things I'm writing up now as a scenario in that paper, I just spoke with someone who's an environmental justice organizer with the Sierra Club – fortunately, the Sierra Club has started a discrete environmental justice program – and they have an organizer in Minnesota who worked with the NAACP branch, and what they did was, the Sierra Club members who were part of that chapter, they all joined the NAACP branch, and instead of kind of coming in and saying at them, you need to be doing this, you need to be doing that, join us, they actually joined the NAACP branch. They worked together with the NAACP on whatever issues they were working on, and also began to introduce the issues they were working on in terms of environment, and together they ended up working together on some things. For example, last year, I went there and was a keynote speaker for this Earth Day event they did together. So, that's an example of, instead of coming in and trying to push an agenda, come in and join the existing agenda as well as integrate your issues into that agenda and find common ground.

BETWEEN THE LINES: That's fascinating, and I bet doesn't happen very often, I'm sure. Just a last question: for this women's summit right now, what do you hope will come out of this gathering of a hundred women, from all over the world, all of whom are doing amazing work in their home country?

JACQUELINE PATTERSON: Yes. So I'm really excited about this gathering because there is so much we're doing... in the U.S. we talk about this whole NIMBY thing in terms of Not In My Back Yard, so we want to make sure we're creating policies so that certain practices can't move from one neighborhood to another. And now we have this new construction, which is NOPE – Not On Planet Earth. And so we feel when we have these international gatherings together we can really talk about how we can set standards and practices that can transcend borders. So right now we have this situation with coal-fired power plants; while we're shutting down power plants here, it's all well and good, but it's actually pushing the coal export industry. So we do have to talk to our sisters around the world to make sure there's no quarter for practices like burning dirty coal, or whatever the practice is, so that we have a concerted effort to address those issues instead of doing it piecemeal in each of our respective countries.

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