“What other than injustice could be the reason that the displaced citizens of New Orleans cannot be accommodated by the richest nation in the world?”
— Wynton Marsalis, Jazz musician
The storm hurtled across the land, bringing the sea and everything with it. Trees snapped, houses washed away, vehicles became projectiles into second story windows, coconuts became cannon balls smashing bone and wood beams. My great grandmother’s cashew farm splintered in the salt and the wind. This particular storm was called Typhoon Haiyan and it hit the Philippines in November 2013 – the largest storm on Earth ever to make landfall at that time. The Philippines has still not recovered from the impact of Haiyan —or rather its government and the corporations it is beholden to are trying to militarize and privatize it.
This year I was at work and another storm hit me right in the chest. The LA area Exxonmobil refinery a block away from where I grew up had an explosion that registered 1.7 on the Richter scale. A faulty fluid catalytic converter caused the blast and threw an 80,000 pound piece of equipment a hundred feet. Windows blew out and the sky filled with “ash”. I got on the phone and breathed again when I heard my mom’s uninjured voice, my dad was busy outside with a mask, watering the house down so nothing caught on fire—their vegetable garden ruined as sludge gray water loaded with heavy metals oozed over the front yard.
As it stands, the COP21 agreement is brewing another kind of storm for communities on the frontline. World leaders converged to talk about greenhouse gas emissions in the parts per million, keeping up endless growth through a force of green consumers, and making sure polluters and their false promises can come along for the ride without losing any profits. Without long-term vision, accountability, and concrete steps to de-carbonizing all economies, we’re headed towards destruction that neither we nor this planet deserve.
At the end of these talks much is being heralded about the US actually signing on to an agreement despite internal right wing pressure and climate deniers in Congress. There is a lot of talk about state-by-state innovations—including California Governor Jerry Brown pushing offsets agreements with regional partners. These steps are at best helping climate change become a daily conversation. At worst they are pushing for increased privatization, confiscation of Indigenous People’s lands, loss of cultural and biological diversity, and human rights violations. What we need now post-COP is bold action to keep fossil fuels in the ground, reject the fundamentalist ideology of globalization, a commitment to the well being of people over the profiteering of a few, and infrastructure and resource support for locally owned and controlled renewable energy solutions.
Earlier this month, I traveled to Paris as part of the It Takes Roots delegation to build towards just that: a community rooted deeply in place, connected globally through solidarity, and that has the strength and know-how to weather all the storms that are yet to come. We know our communities have been on the cutting edge of true climate resiliency work for generations. We have always been the ones hit first and worst—and we’re still here and will continue to lead the transformative path towards a regenerative economy and a living planet.
Community by community, we’re linking up to show our own solutions. At the Asian and Pacific Environmental Network, (APEN) we build leadership and power in the Asian American & Pacific Islander communities for bold action. Our members stand up to the largest stationary polluter in the state of California, educate legislators and neighbors on climate policy in six languages, and are working on building a living model of a just transition through community-owned solar power.
APEN and the groups who are part of the It Takes Roots delegation are just some of the many grassroots organizations in the US doing the work necessary to change the system, build people power, and save our climate. Amazing solutions are happening all over the world too. In the Philippines—a country of over 7,000 islands and 175 languages in a portion of the Pacific known as “Typhoon Alley”—solutions are sorely needed. Salugpongan International is one network that speaks to the core of climate justice: supporting Indigenous People’s local initiatives to protect rights to the land and culture, of knowledge of place, and of education by the people for the people. A global movement—against war, against warming, for community rooted power—is growing.
The indigenous people of the world deserve to thrive. The people of Richmond, California, deserve to thrive. Your community deserves to thrive. The COP21 process closed without real, durable and lasting commitments that bring us any closer to a cleaner, greener world—much less a more just one. But life goes on after the COP and so does grassroots organizing. So let’s feel our roots, keep an eye on where we can sprout and build the world we do deserve.
But there is unspeakable love:
we use our ten thousand tongues
let the tides loose and truths
be storm surge
in this surrender
to our humanity
–Of Storms and Tears, Aimee Suzara
Shina Robinson is a part of the It Takes Roots Delegation and works with the Asian and Pacific Environmental Network.