Thursday, February 25, 2016

Looking Back: Paris, Pope and WNY Rise Up for Climate Justice Campaign

September to December 2015 

By Lynda Schneekloth
Sierra Club Niagara Group

December 2015 will be remembered as a significant time for the history of the world and the Earth. Over 190 countries, from the U.S. and China to the small island nations, sat together in U.N. Paris Climate Talks (COP21) to develop an agreement about a global address to the increasingly dangerous climate crisis. The people of Western New York had been preparing for four months for this meeting through the Rise Up for Climate Justice Campaign, sponsoring and attending gatherings, rallies, vigils, films, presentations and a community fast. We knew how important these meetings were and we had sent our message to the world leaders demanding a just and sane agreement. 

This campaign began In August 2015, as the Sierra Club Niagara Group was discussing the shift in the world’s imagination and actions on climate change. Pope Francis had released Laudato Si, On Care for our Common Home and its impact has been felt across the world. And the U.N. Climate Talks (COP21) were already in process with individual nations preparing their “Intended Nationally Determined Contribution” (INDC) that is, how much they would cut the emissions. 

What could we do in Western New York to make people aware of the urgency of immediately addressing climate change? How could we reinforce a conversation in our region about the moral imperative to stop burning fossil fuels and transition to clean energy? How could we manage this energy transformation in a democratic manner? From these questions, the Rise up for Climate Justice Campaign was born. Are you for Climate Justice (RU4CJ)? The Niagara Group made a commitment to spend some of our limited funds to support this effort and developed some aspirational goals for the work we had set for ourselves. 

We set out to raise awareness of the upcoming Paris Climate talks – a specific and time constrained objective. We organized public events for education and urged our elected leaders and institutions to push for ethical action from Washington. We used a “Climate Justice Pledge” to open the conversation and to give people an opportunity to take action about the Paris Climate Talks through collective and individual commitments. The Pledge had three aspects: We call on President Obama and the U.S. to lead the world in cutting greenhouse gas emissions; We call on our state and local leaders to take climate action through a just transition; and we call on each of us to take action on behalf of the Earth and future generations. 

The three months leading up to the Paris talks were intense for members of our Executive Committee and the Climate Justice Coalition that emerged. We used the insights of the NY City People’s Climate March (Sept. 2014) and our own local experience to build a diverse and large coalition. We formed a strong relationship with faith groups and together helped organize the Interfaith Climate Justice Community. The Catholic sisters, Creation Care and Network of Religious Communities were the leaders of this sector and together we began our campaign with a Prayer Vigil on Sept. 1, called by Pope Francis as the “World Day of Prayer for the Creation.” 

We contacted our brothers and sisters in labor and shared conversations about the ways in which this energy transformation was going to impact their working lives. The Western New York Environmental Alliance, a coalition of over 100 environmental groups, stepped up and agreed to use their annual Congress on the topic of Climate Justice. The coalition for social/economic justice groups -- Partnership for the Public Good and Open Buffalo -- worked with us and helped engage their members. And the University at Buffalo Law School played an important role through two seminars, including one in which students and faculty member, Jessica Owley, would actually travel to Paris for the talks. 

One of our initial acts was to contact the City of Buffalo Common Council President, Darius Pridgen. We asked for and received a resolution on Climate Justice unanimously endorsed by all member. Council President Pridgen opened our first rally in front of City Hall in Niagara Square with a fiery talk on the necessity of ‘justice’ in action on climate change. The rally was held on September 24, 2015 in support of Pope Francis’ U.S. visit and his address to Congress. 

Rally in Niagara Square [Click to enlarge] Photo: Nate Schneekloth

Whenever possible, we crafted our events to reinforce state and worldwide climate actions to involve our community in the global climate justice movement. 

Between September 1 and December 19, 2015, seventeen different organizations of the coalition held events focused on climate justice: films, presentations and panel discussion, public hearings, hikes and bike rides, art showings and a “Party for the Climate.” The RU4CJ coalition itself assumed responsibility for four major events: the Rise Up for Climate Justice Rally on September 24 with over 400 people attending; a ‘thunderclap’ on the Oct. 10 Day of Action that reached over 73,000 people; The Gathering, a ritual gathering of over 200 people to speak to our concerns and hopes about the Paris talks held on 11/28 as a part of world actions at the eve of the Climate Talks; and on 12/19, Report from Paris where we met with those from our community who attended the COP21 Paris Climate Talks and heard their words of insight, and yes, hope. 

Being hopeful is not to say the agreement is what we had hoped for; the agreement is not nearly enough as it doesn’t even reach the standards set by the former Kyoto Agreement. In fact, if all of the pledges agreed to by nations in Paris are strictly met, the Earth will still experience catastrophic climate change as it will only limit global warming to 3.5 degrees C (6.3 degrees F) above pre-industrial levels by the year 2100. This level of warming would result in injustice throughout the world, with the most vulnerable the most impacted, and would leave a devastated planet for our descendants. One of the reasons there is no legal binding agreement is because it is known that the U.S. Congress would never sign such an agreement, a great sadness to all of us living in this country. What is hopeful is that all the nations of the Earth did come an agreement about action; they even identified an aspirational goal of 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels; they agreed to a review country goals in five years instead of ten, and agreed to annually report action toward their pledge. They have established a framework for action, this is the good news. 

These leaders tried and most of them engaged with a great sense of purpose. We are, after all, the first generation to really understand the catastrophic impacts of global climate change, and we are also, perhaps, the last generation to do something about it. But the negotiators could not step out of their role as heads of state to understand that we, together, share this planet. There will be no winners if we don’t all win. So we, the people, must lead: we must create a massive, global climate justice movement so overwhelming that they cannot help but act. This must be addressed at the international level but must work deeply into cities and regions. This is where most humans live, have the power to take action themselves, and the forum to impact our leaders. Regions like Buffalo Niagara can and should lead the way. 

Computer analysis of the text in the Buffalo News article “UB law students to attend climate conference - Two to present scroll of local pledges in Paris.” Size of the words reflects frequency of citation in the article. [Click Image to enlarge] Image: D. Kowalski

And our Climate Justice Pledge? We gathered over 2000 signatures from our community, 60 organizations, unions and churches, and 20 elected officials. We put these names on a scroll that measured 42’ when opened. The scroll was carried to Paris by UB Law students, presented to Michael Brune, head of the Sierra Club in a small ceremony, and in turn, Brune delivered our pledge to John Kerry, Secretary of State of the United States. Our call to President Obama was taken to the talks and the voices of Western New Yorkers concerned with the necessity of immediate action on climate change and climate justice was heard. 

The Rise Up for Climate Justice Campaign is over, the U.N. Climate Paris Talks are over. But the work is just beginning. Join us as we initiate next steps in our local and regional communities to cut greenhouse gas emissions, to increase ‘carbon negative’ actions, and to ensure that this energy transformation is embedded in a just transition and promotes energy democracy. 

Stay involved – Get involved! 

Link to the Buffalo News article: UB law students to attend climate conference - Two to present scroll of local pledges in Paris

For more information, see:; RiseUpforClimateJustice; 

Funded in part by a grant from the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and the Sierra Club Niagara Group; Communication Workers of America Int’l; United Auto Workers 9; Buffalo Teachers Federation; Peace Education Fund; Western New York Environmental Alliance. 

With support from The Interfaith Climate Justice Community; Network of Religious Communities; PUSH; Buffalo Zen Dharma Community; Working Families Party; ADK; WNY Peace Center; Western New York Land Conservancy; Partnership for the Public Good, PUSH, Open Buffalo.

Fossil Fuel Industry is in for Dramatic Changes

Did ExxonMobil Lie to Investors About Climate Change?
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is pursuing an investigation—one of many signs that momentum is on the side of climate-justice activists.

By Mark Hertsgaard | The Nation

The dawn of 2016 is not a happy time to be an executive in the fossil-fuel industry. Like Gulliver, who awakens to find his limbs and trunk tied down by the tiny but industrious Lilliputians, the industry is under assault on many fronts at once, and it’s not clear whether it can free itself.

Economically, the prices for oil, coal, and natural gas have been falling, even as production costs remain high. Industry stocks are tumbling, and small and large companies alike are going out of business. Arch Coal, one of the largest coal companies in the United States, declared bankruptcy on January 11. Outside investors are wary or fleeing. Many are embracing solar and wind energy, drawn by plummeting costs that have driven stratospheric growth and market penetration worldwide.

The political terrain is no more favorable. At the United Nations climate summit in Paris last December, virtually every nation on earth promised to all but eliminate the use of fossil fuels after 2050—to abandon oil, gas, and coal in favor of renewable energy. In the United States, one of the nation’s most powerful legal authorities, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, is investigating whether ExxonMobil, the industry’s alpha leader, committed fraud by lying to investors and the public for decades about climate change. Schneiderman’s investigation and the Paris Agreement in turn exemplify a third threat: an increasingly aroused civil society, spearheaded by a climate-justice movement that continues to grow in size, impact, and global reach.

The fossil-fuel industry remains an immensely rich and politically powerful enterprise, and volatility has been a theme throughout its history. This particular episode may yet prove to be a passing storm. Depressed oil prices can also discourage investment in renewable energy and conservation alternatives. But ExxonMobil, Peabody Energy, and their fossil-fuel brethren at home and abroad appear to be in a fight for their lives. And for the moment, at least, the momentum is against them.

On January 15, US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced a three-year moratorium on new coal-mining leases on publicly owned land, as well as a comprehensive review of the “environmental and public health impacts” of coal mining. This ranks as perhaps the strongest climate action the Obama administration has taken to date; publicly owned coal in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin alone accounts for 10 percent of the country’s annual greenhouse-gas emissions.

The world’s other climate-change superpower did much the same, two weeks before Obama did. China will halt new coal-mine approvals for three years and close roughly 1,000 existing mines, the head of its National Energy Administration, Nur Bekri, announced on December 29. Together, China and the United States are responsible for about 60 percent of global coal consumption. Their rejection of coal is fresh evidence that the industry is “a dead man walkin’,” as Kevin Parker, former head of global-asset management at Deutsche Bank, first noted back in 2011.

Momentum begets momentum. Pressure from civil society—from grassroots activists, state and local government leaders, educational and faith institutions, and enlightened business and financial leaders—was essential to reaching the rhetorically ambitious though functionally nonbinding Paris Agreement. Now that accord is giving fresh ammunition to civil society’s efforts to keep most remaining fossil fuels in the ground, as scientists say is required to honor the Paris target of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level.

“The Paris Agreement, which has the support of virtually every nation on earth, is a clear and undeniable sign that the fossil-fuel industry is about to experience dramatic changes,” Schneiderman told The Nation. “During this time of rapid transition in the energy economy, it’s crucial that fossil-fuel companies tell the truth to the public and customers about the impacts of climate change on their business.”

Telling the truth is not only crucial; it’s the law. American firms must regularly disclose to investors and the public all material risks that could affect corporate operations and profitability. That will be a challenging if not self-defeating exercise for fossil-fuel companies in the post-Paris era. Telling the truth about Paris only figures to further spook already-nervous investors.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Climate & Economic Justice - Conversation with Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben and more

Hangout with Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, and more

WHEN:    FRIDAY, Feb. 5, 11:30 AM - 12:30 PM

WHERE: Hangouts On Air - Broadcast for free

WHAT: No more small steps for the Climate and Economic Justice Movement. Now is the time to LEAP!

WHO: A conversation with Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis (This Changes Everything), Bill McKibben ( and Asad Rehman (Friend of the Earth UK) and special guests.

REGISTER: Click Here

To celebrate the Leap Year, people are gathering to mobilize towards new economic and energy systems. 

Learn more about Leap Year 2016