On Saturday, October 31, 2015 Lori Braunstein attended the Food & Water Watch Climate and Energy Forum. The intention of the forum was to bridge the gap between local energy infrastructure fights and the larger movement to end fossil fuel dependence. The following is a post about the forum that originally appeared on Sustainable Cherry Hill’s website.
Last weekend, dozens of dedicated activists gathered at the Food & Water Watch Climate and Energy Forum, hosted by The Center for Sustainability at Ramapo College in Mahwah, NJ. The event, “Building a Movement for a Safe, Healthy and Just Future” brought together many diverse partner groups from across the state, including Sustainable Cherry Hill, Don’t Gas the Pinelands, The Mother’s Project, NJ Sierra Club and Eastern Environmental Law Center, to name just a few.
The event was designed to bridge the gap between the local energy infrastructure fights, like pipelines, LNG projects and dangerous Bakken oil trains to the larger movement striving to end our fossil fuel dependence. Through networking opportunities, break-out sessions and inspiring keynote speakers, participants had the opportunity to build the skills needed to engage in all levels of grassroots organizing and to understand critical energy and climate policy making.
The forum offered three break-out sessions: Strategies for Resisting Oil and Gas Pipelines, Protecting our Common Resources and the panel I attended, New Jersey Oil and Gas Impacts. I chose this session so that I could supplement my understanding of national and global energy issues with a more local focus and because the speakers were were billed as “leaders on the front lines of NJ’s fossil fuel fights”. As I walked into the room, I was pleasantly surprised to see Geoff Richter, a young Cherry Hill native, representing the NJ Pinelands Preservation Alliance on the panel. Geoff did a great job detailing the long and drawn out political battle of the two pipelines proposed for Southern NJ. Other speakers included John Weber from the Surfrider Foundation, who broke down the facts about LNG and the proposed Port Ambrose project off the coast of NJ/NY. This was something I was less familiar with and I appreciated gaining a deeper understanding. The two other speakers, Paula Rogovin, Coalition to Ban Unsafe Oil Trains and Tom Von Lindern, Franciscan Response to Fracking, were dedicated activists who came by their facts as a result of their grassroots work at a community level. We were also told about 100% renewable solutions, as an alternative to destructive fossil fuels. A Stanford scientist, Mark Jacobson, documented how each of the 50 states can achieve 100% renewable energy plan (see easy-to-view details for each state, including NJ here).
The Real Climate Solutions Keynote Panel Discussion, moderated by Ashwani Vasishth, Director of the Center for Sustainability at Ramapo College, highlighted the motives behind current market-driven climate solutions, such as cap-and-trade, the effects they have on the most vulnerable populations and common sense climate solutions that will lead to a more safe, healthy and just future. The first panelist was Scott Edwards from Food & Water Watch, who explained how market-based solutions allow industry to get around environmental permitting: “If you can afford to pollute, keep going!” He told us that the rich and powerful were generally the winners in this type of climate solution, while the poor, living in impacted communities around the polluting power plants would be the losers. And since cap-and-trade systems typically don’t result in real cuts in greenhouse gases, the planet loses, too. Read more here. Next up was Suzanne Golas from WATERSPIRIT/Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace at UN, who used Pope Francis’ Encyclical to frame a dialogue between faith and science in order to help us to understand that we are “part of” and not “having dominion over” nature. The third speaker was Dr. Nicky Sheats, Center for the Urban Environment at Thomas Edison State College/NJ Environmental Justice Alliance. Dr. Sheats used data to help us to understand the direct connection between air pollution exposure and race/income in NJ. “We must use climate policy to also drive down local air pollution in EJ communities,” he emphasized. “And ‘cap-and-trade’ does not fulfill this requirement.” Hear Dr. Sheats describe how climate policy and equity intersect here. The final panelist was Cynthia Mellon from Newark Environmental Commission/Ironbound Community Corporation, who works with an organization called no-redd.com. This group opposes the commodification and privatization of nature, including climate offsets that put profits over the well-being of people and the planet. I had previously heard stories about how the purchase of forests in other continents as a means of offsetting carbon in this country often results in divided communities and other unintended consequences. It was fascinating to hear this perspective reinforced and contextualized at the conference.
We closed the day with a rousing keynote address from civil rights activist, humanitarian and lecturer, Lawrence Hamm. Larry passionately connected issues of environmental racism and climate change to the broader historical context of progressive political struggles. As he finished speaking, we stood, pounding our hands together, in respect and hope, and off we went, filled with determination for a healthy, just and resilient future.
Lori Braunstein is the Founder of Sustainable Cherry Hill, an all-volunteer nonprofit community outreach and educational organization that fosters the global sustainability movement at a local level. Their mission is “bringing people together to build a sustainable South Jersey.”