Climate, Environmental Health, and Justice - 2014 Nexus Gathering

November 7, 2014

The Nexus 2014 Global Gathering on Climate, Environmental Health, and Justice sprang out of a recognition that many activists and organizations of the Global South were implementing solutions that are of immense value to the world’s fight to stop and reverse climate change.  I identify with this line of thinking because of Detroit’s status as a Global Black Metropolis and thus an internal colony of the usa.  I was sent to represent EMEAC and the Climate Justice Alliance.  CJA holds the motto “It takes roots to weather the storm” and exists to empower frontline communities to greater leadership in the national and international movement against climate change.  At one point I joined with a few other comrades to emphasize the distinction between “climate change” analysis and climate justice.  We are working for system change not just a reform of industrial pollution practices that maintains their power over our lives and our governments.

I also represented our local work with the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA).  GAIA was a co-convener of Nexus 2014, an international gathering on climate, health and justice that was organized in coalition between four powerhouse worldwide organizations in the field of global environmental health: GAIA, Healthcare without Harm, Pesticide Action Network, and IPEN which works towards a toxics free future. Jenifer Altman Foundation was the fifth convener. Nexus 2014 was hosted by University of California at Irvine as part of their Towards a Sustainable 21st Century Initiative with planning support and facilitation by the UCI Sustainability Initiative.

Day 1 was a conference held at UCI.  There were panels and presentation.  I was on a panel called “Health Energy, Clean Air.” I spoke about Detroit’s fight against incineration and broader struggles against waste-to-energy.  These policies actually provide incentives for corporations to build incinerators as they label these monstrosities “sustainable energy”
Day 2 we worked on story telling. One prompt was to “Describe a challenge you faced in your work.” I told the story of organizing during the US Social Forum and how local medical doctors withdrew their support from our health care organizing.  Due to the tireless work of Charity Hicks and Dr. Anjali Taneji we organized less priveleged sectors of health professionals (nurses, EMTs, physician assistants, etc) and still created a powerful rapid response team for 20,000 people during the USSF 2010.
Daly 3 focused on sharing strategies and small groups.  I enjoyed our GAIA small group, exchanging with organizers from China, Brasil, and India.  From this discussion I got a greater idea of the connections between climate justice and our waste policies. We analyzed packaging and the consumer culture of the United States, breaking it down all the way to individually wrapped candies and mints! There’s great untapped potential in this framework to build our local Just Transition framework and help create synergy between activities that may be viewed as separate.

After this, we went to San Francisco, where the group presented a Funders’ Briefing. The testimony was powerful. Our group made clear that connections between climate change and community health, while making compelling cases for the leadership of the Global South. At the reception that evening, we networked with funders.  Later, we debriefed the entire week at the National Resources Defence Council, and had a pizza and beer party at a Berkeley brewerie.

One of the best benefits of my participation in this meeting was relationships with a powerful group of organizers.  Alex from the Union of Waste Pickers in Porto Allegre, Brasil was inspirational.  He conveyed a powerful analysis contrasting corporate capture  with peoples’ recycling and told how his Union has offered a nationwide Zero Waste plan to national leaders. They have the political swagger to demonstrate that recycling offered by cooperatives is actually LESS expensive and more effiecient than done by major corporations.

I was welcomed by a trio of powerful African women activists, Mercia from South Africa, Elizabeth from Zimbabwe, and Bridget from Uganda.  Bridget works with the Pan-African Food Sovereignty Network. We discussed a skill exchange: sharing our experiences in youth organizing, as they share skills in international policy work.  Both our organizations are committed to fighting REDD+ (Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) which diminishes indigenous sovereignty, local agriculture, and strengthens corporate land ownership in the Global South all while posing to reduce carbon emissions.

They kept our schedules quite full, but there was some spare time for other pursuits such as: an acupressure massage, riding the BART around the Bay Area, looking at the ocean, standing beneath redwood forest, learning about gentrification and its resistance in Oakland, meeting with a strategic funding ally, and catching up with friends from Detroit, University of Michigan, and beyond.

I am still in my first month as Climate Justice Director for EMEAC. Nexus 2014 helped me to broaden my scope while connecting climate justice to the work EMEAC has already been doing.  There are some powerful opportunities to connect zero waste, Just Transition and build local economic networks.  I am honored to serve as your Climate Justice Director and help build a cleaner, stronger, self-determined Detroit.