YouTube video

TRNN will be covering the Sept. 8 Climate march in San Francisco, which is part of an international day of action. Environmentalists are challenging California’s Governor Jerry Brown claim to be a champion in the fight against climate change

Story Transcript

DIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris, reporting for The Real News Network from Winnipeg, Canada. On September 13 and 14, global civic leaders will convene in San Francisco for the Global Climate Action Summit to ensure the goals of the Paris climate accord are met. But some say this may not be enough to fight catastrophic climate change. So on September 8, thousands in San Francisco and across the nation and world will take to the streets under the banner Rise for Climate. They’re demanding climate policy that prioritizes frontline communities and working people. They say to create real change we need to stop all new fossil fuel projects and invest in policies that reduce emissions and create green jobs.

Joining us today to discuss this is Jennifer Kunze. Jennifer is a community organizer at Clean Water Action and a member of the Baltimore People’s Climate Movement. Her work focuses on local level campaigns in Maryland to fight climate change and fossil fuels, protect drinking water sources and infrastructure, and build movements across the state. She joins us today from Baltimore. Thanks for coming on The Real News, Jennifer.

JENNIFER KUNZE: Thanks so much for having me.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: So, Jennifer, let’s start, if you might, by elaborating on the goals of this march and telling us a little bit about the organizations that are behind it and are participating.

Absolutely. Well, this Saturday is going to be a national and international, even, Day of Action connected to pushing the envelope on local climate action. And the national coalition organizing the march in California includes environmental groups, labor groups, community groups, frontline organizations, unions, all uniting around the idea that right now in this moment with the Trump administration in power, we need our local governments to be stepping up and committing 100 percent to 100 percent clean energy here in Baltimore City.

We are holding a rally and festival around climate action in front of City Hall. The coalition putting this on first organized around the People’s Climate Movement in D.C. last year when we brought over 600 Baltimoreans to the march under one unified banner highlighting climate change and environmental injustices here in Baltimore. And this year with this mobilization we’re bringing that energy home with a huge focus on environment and climate injustices here in Baltimore, and what needs to be done to build a Baltimore that is healthy and safe for all of us.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: So relative to the Trump administration, many regard Jerry Brown’s administration in California as a national climate leader. But is the Brown administration, in your view, doing enough to end California’s dependence on fossil fuels? And in particular, is he doing enough to stop new oil and gas development in the state and offshore California?

JENNIFER KUNZE: I think that local governments and state governments all across the country, including California and Governor Jerry Brown’s administration need to be doing more. We know that we cannot continue extracting carbon from the ground and putting it in the atmosphere and avert a future where climate change is running rampant and costing lives and harming infrastructure, and harming communities all across the planet. And so we need to be doing more to move away from drilling and from fracking and towards renewable energy, solar, wind power, and offshore wind in every local jurisdiction across the country, from California to Baltimore.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: So reports have found that some 50 percent of all Americans are living in or near poverty. In Baltimore, a majority black working-class city, there is a climate movement, as you describe. But for many people who are just struggling to meet the daily needs of existence, climate change is not on the forefront of their minds. You know, especially when you’re facing problems like unemployment and violence in your community. How do you mobilize the poor and the working poor to demand strong action to confront the climate crisis?

JENNIFER KUNZE: Well, the movement that we’ve been building in Baltimore is really focused on drawing the connections that aren’t always very apparent between both the negative impacts of climate change and how they will make all the injustices that Baltimoreans face far worse, and how the solutions to climate change can also be solutions to the problems that people face every day. For example, one of our coalition members, the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition, is fighting to bring back the red line, which would have been an electrified subway system connecting West and East Baltimore, and providing hundreds of thousands of jobs to Baltimore residents and taking cars off the road. And that project was killed by Governor Larry Hogan, but it would’ve provided a solution to both climate and environmental injustices, and to many of the problems that people face in Baltimore every day, from the lack of jobs, to the air pollution from the cars and the transportation sector, which is actually the largest contributor to poor air quality, by taking cars off the road off of the road. And it would have reduced Baltimore’s contribution to greenhouse gases.

So projects like the red line provide an answer to both the economic and very direct injustices that Baltimoreans, especially black Baltimoreans and people living in historically redlined communities face every day, and provide a solution to the actions that we need to take right now to reduce our greenhouse gas and toxic air emissions, and make Baltimoreans healthier and safer.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: So you’re marching under the banner Rise for Climate, Jobs, and Justice. In June, the Democratic National Committee voted to ban contributions from fossil fuel companies, but they reversed that decision. And top Democratic Party official Tom Perez said it was because of concerns from unions that this would be an attack on workers. And what’s your response to Mr. Perez’s explanation?

JENNIFER KUNZE: I think that there are really real tensions that we need to address head on around how do we build a transition from fossil-fuel based industries to renewable industries that is fair for workers, that puts impacted workers in the driver’s seat of how that change happens, and builds communities instead of leaving people with few options when, for example, a coal plant shuts down. But it is a transition that we need to make.

And one tremendous opportunity here in Baltimore is replacing the lost jobs from Bethlehem Steel and other industries that provided huge economic drivers to Baltimore historically, but also were huge sources of pollution, replacing those industries with offshore wind assembly and manufacturing, which is a potential for Maryland and a tremendous potential for Baltimore City and eastern Baltimore County. So we need to move toward … we need to protect workers. But that needs to include moving towards green renewable industries, and making sure that jobs in, for example, the solar sector, or the offshore wind sector, or even the climate resiliency sectors, like investing in underground infrastructure, sewage, drinking water capacity, and so on, we’re creating jobs in those sectors, and that those are good unionized jobs for workers.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: Within the past year or so we have seen devastating hurricanes and other extreme weather, along with massive wildfires in many regions around the world. In the Baltimore area, how do you anticipate the lives of ordinary Baltimoreans would be impacted if governments did not act decisively to confront the climate crisis?

JENNIFER KUNZE: Well, this week in Baltimore we’re seeing a very clear and present example of what daily impacts of climate change are going to look like as global temperatures rise. In the past two days students returned to school after summer break. And many students in Baltimore could not go to their schools or were sent home early after an abbreviated day because the temperatures here today and this week are so extremely high. And because of the lack of investment over a period of years, many city schools don’t have air conditioning, and don’t have functioning air conditioning. Extreme heat like this is going to continue to impact people’s lives and routines and abilities to learn and make a living, and other types of extreme weather will also impact Baltimore.

We are seeing increasing rainstorms and increasingly severe rainstorms that both cause localized flooding. Historic Ellicott City, right outside of Baltimore city, saw two devastating floods in the last two years. The increased rainfall also taxes our underground infrastructure and results in many neighborhoods in Baltimore city experiencing chronic sewage backups into peoples homes and basements, not to mention the sewage overflows that occur into local streams and stormwater drains routinely with any large rainstorm. And we are going to see extreme weather, including potentially hurricanes, continuing to threaten people’s lives here in Baltimore City.

And that really speaks to the need not only to act for … that really speaks to the need not only to act to fight climate change and to build renewable energy sectors and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, but also to invest in climate resiliency, invest in safe and healthy homes, invest in our underground infrastructure and public transit, so that when these effects do come we’re better better able to weather them and we don’t see historic injustices being repeated and strengthened because of the historically unjust lack of investment in redlined neighborhoods in Baltimore.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: We’ve been speaking to Jennifer Kunze, community organizer at Clean Water Action in Baltimore, about the upcoming Global Climate Action Summit. Thank you very much for joining us today, Jennifer.

JENNIFER KUNZE: Thank you very much for having me.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: And this is Dimitri Lascaris, reporting for the Real News Network.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Dimitri Lascaris is a lawyer that focuses on human rights and environmental law. He is the former justice critic of the Green Party of Canada and is a former board member of the Real News Network. You can follow him @dimitrilascaris and find more of his work at