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Racism & Climate Change

Climate justice activist atop tarpee at Washington State Capitol

by Barbara Bengtsson

Late last year, two major new reports called for urgent action on climate change; one, from the International Panel on Climate change (the IPCC), warned that we have less than twelve years to significantly reduce CO2 emissions. Why then should we battle racial oppression and economic injustice in our fight against runaway warming?

For one thing, overcoming the political and economic power of the fossil fuel industry requires an understanding of how the industry has operated, working to keep its most obvious pollution and harms far from those with political power. Those who have benefited the least from the fossil fuel economy have also suffered the most from it. In marginalized communities facing injustices like police violence and the daily struggle to make ends meet, climate change is seldom seen as the most immediate problem, but redlining and discriminatory land use policies have meant that it’s usually poor and/or African American, Native American, and Latinx communities who live in close proximity to chemical plants, incinerators, refineries, and other polluters — and who are also the most vulnerable to severe weather and other climate risks. Amy Goodman’s tour of Houston’s Fenceline Communities after Hurricane Harvey shows the shocking extent to which marginalized communities are exposed to toxic pollution. As researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Montana documented, “Minorities and low-income communities are seen as the path of least resistance because they have fewer resources and political clout to oppose the siting of unwanted facilities.

This raises unsettling questions: would we still be facing anthropogenic climate change if our society valued all lives equally? Maybe the sacrifices required to make a fossil fuel economy work would not have been acceptable. Unfortunately, as slavery and religious strife show, humans have a long history of considering some lives as less worthy than others.

Slaves, of course, were denied their humanity and sold like cattle; they suffered torture designed to force ever more productivity out of them. And the land on which cotton was grown was stolen from Native Americans, who were either killed or forced to leave their homes. After slavery, segregation and violence against African Americans and Natives continued, and redlining kept neighborhoods segregated and drained resources from black communities; these neighborhoods have often also been the most polluted. And the prison industrial complex that has disproportionately entrapped Black, Latinx, and Native people has environmental as well as social consequences, including a large carbon footprint.

It’s easy to show the violence of the oppressed; during the Baltimore uprising after the murder of Freddy Gray, media reports focused on images of burning cars and smashed storefronts. But the violence of the powerful is more subtle, virulent, and widespread; it places waste incinerators close to schools and refineries next to homes, poisons community water supplies to protect the profits of bond holders, and allows global warming to destabilize Sub-Saharan Africa because maintaining an unsustainable economic system is fundamentally valued over the lives of Africans.

Policies rooted in white supremacy are designed to divide people and thereby destroy solidarity. Other policies, rooted in the logic of capitalism, may inadvertently do so, because no one wants to believe that their comfort requires someone else’s illness or death. Failing to understand the brutal logic by which the fossil fuel industry has operated—“progress” at any price, and keep the pain and suffering out of view of those with power who might be troubled by it—profoundly limits our ability to deal with global warming for many reasons, perhaps most of all because we fail to see how willing they’ve been to sacrifice people. Why would it be different now? It isn’t—to see that, we only need to look at fights like the one over the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was rerouted so that it didn’t endanger the water supply of Bismarck, and did endanger the water supply of the Standing Rock Reservation.

We also need to remember that if only solutions coming out of the white ruling class are considered, we are listening only to those with  a vested interest in preventing changes that would limit their profits and power. Scientists have warned about the threat of anthropogenic climate change for over 40 years, ample time for the implementation of market-based solutions. But because the executives of the fossil fuel industry lied to protect its profits, here we are—faced with irreversible climate chaos unless we transform our economy over the next ten years, a formidable task that will require us to come together as never before. And that requires white people to understand the profound environmental and economic inequities of the system—a system that has benefited many of us greatly—and to show up in solidarity and humility for racial and economic justice.

We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past and expect that things will turn out differently. To solve climate change, we must recognize and overcome the system that gave rise to it.






Another world

by Rachel McDonald

I was recently elected to 350 Seattle’s board of directors. Those of you who know me well know I’m a librarian by trade, and reading is one of the ways in which I make sense of the world. For years, I read about climate change, but I became involved in climate justice fairly recently, when I realized that we as a society can no longer expect that our elected leaders will treat this issue like the crisis it is. On some level, I’d also been looking for a community: a group of people whose values were similar to mine and who weren’t afraid to take action in all sorts of ways to live those values. Whether it’s showing up to city council budget hearings to advocate for a more liveable city for all, canvassing for a carbon fee on corporate polluters, supporting the Puyallup tribe in their fight against a fracked gas facility, or holding big banks accountable for their investments in tar sands infrastructure, I’m proud of the transformative work that this organization is engaged in.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about hope in the past year. There is no denying that we are in dark times, certainly the darkest era I’ve seen in my lifetime. And that’s why hope is so vital. We can choose to succumb to cynicism and despair, we can stand idly by and wish things were different, or we can choose a path of collective action — of working together with our friends, our neighbors, in our communities, and even forming global networks of direct action, resistance, and mutual aid. Having hope is all about recognizing that, as author Arundhati Roy says, “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

If we’re willing to peer into that darkness and imagine the world in which we want to live, the world in which we want future generations to live, and then get up every morning and take small steps toward making that world a reality while acknowledging that we may not see it in our lifetimes, then we are creating a climate of hope. And that is why the work that 350 Seattle is doing is so important to me. When I think of the battles we’ve won, and the battles we’ve yet to win, it brings me hope. And as the brilliant essayist Rebecca Solnit says, “Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender, a power you don’t have to throw away.”

We have it within our power to make change. Whatever your talents and interests, there are so many ways that you can be involved in this work. I’m a bit of a theater geek, so perhaps it’s not surprising then that in the past couple years I’ve found myself dressed up in a bright yellow hazmat suit, occupying banks in Seattle, and performing street theater to bring attention to Chase’s funding of tar sands pipeline projects. And while this definitely involved me moving outside of my comfort zone, it was also really fun. I’ve made connections and friendships that I believe will last for the rest of my life. And it’s thanks to these connections and that support that I felt ready to take a risk and use my privilege to get arrested and hopefully bring more attention to the seriousness of climate chaos. (Now I’m not asking you all to get arrested, but if you’re interested in talking about it, come and find me sometime).

We have an amazing group of people from all walks of life who are engaged in this fight. Some of them have radically rearranged their priorities and sacrificed financial stability to become more involved with 350 Seattle, but they can’t do this alone. Doing this work takes a great deal of organizing, coordinating resources, and providing logistical support. And that’s where we all come in. We are spending the next few weeks trying to raise $6000 more for 350 Seattle’s work — the remainder of our original goal of $20,000 that’s being matched by an anonymous donor. I’m asking you to ask yourself what you can donate. Please donate an amount that is meaningful to you. Or become a monthly donor, of which we now have almost 200. Think about how much you pay a month for coffee, or perhaps for Netflix, or some other small indulgence. Would you be willing to match that amount with a regular donation? Or maybe give a little more? I’m asking you to make a gift that feels significant to you, as significant as the work we’re doing. We all have different financial circumstances and no amount is too small. Most of all, thank you for continuing to engage in and support the work of 350 Seattle. Without you, without us, none of this would be possible.


Let’s Fight For A Fossil Free KC

by Jess Wallach

Across the US, local governments are banning new fossil fuel infrastructure. Next month, King County Councilmember Upthegrove will introduce an ordinance that we expect will see King County implement the strongest prohibition on new fossil fuel infrastructure anywhere in the United States. We need your help to make sure it passes.

Two years ago, Portland became the first city in the US to ban new fossil fuel infrastructure.

Recognizing that local governments have constitutional power to protect the health and safety of their residents, Portland changed its land use zoning codes to prohibit new bulk fossil fuel storage facilities (i.e. large storage tanks for coal, oil and gas). Other communities under threat from the fossil fuel industry – Vancouver, Aberdeen, Hoquiam, Tacoma, Whatcom County and Baltimore, MD – soon followed with similar ordinances. Together, these communities have established a proven legal pathway for municipal governments to protect residents from toxic air, water and climate pollution.

King County is poised to be next.

In January 2019, King County Councilmember Upthegrove will introduce an ordinance that we expect will prohibit major new fossil fuel infrastructure, which would effectively prohibit significant expansions to existing gas infrastructure and ban new fossil fuel storage facilities in King County. To be more exact, the anticipated ordinance will do two things:

  1. Direct County staff to study and recommend changes to County land use and other regulatory frameworks to prohibit all new fossil fuel infrastructure to the greatest extent legally possible; and
  2. Establish a common-sense moratorium that freezes all new fossil fuel infrastructure development while these changes are being made.

By making changes to land use zoning code, King County can prohibit new fossil fuel bulk storage terminals, blocking any new refinery or export projects on unincorporated County land. By strengthening County permitting criteria to protect local communities from health, safety and financial risks, King County can critically slow down – and perhaps effectively stop – the buildout of existing fossil fuel infrastructure like fracked gas pipelines and oil-by-rail. And by proactively prohibiting new fossil fuel infrastructure, King County can become the next brick in the wall of West Coast communities prohibiting the expansion of dangerous fossil fuel infrastructure.

Undoubtedly, the fossil fuel industry and fossil fuel-hungry utilities like Puget Sound Energy will do everything in their power to fight this ordinance. That’s where you come in – we need your help to build powerful community support that resonates more loudly than fossil fuel industry money.

We’ll win by generating phone calls and emails to Council members, showing up to King County Council meetings, and ensuring that King County Council members know that their communities support bold climate action.

Will you join us? There are 3 things you can do right now to help:

  1. Take 30 seconds and sign our petition to King County leaders in support of a Fossil Free Future.
  2. Sign up here for the Fossil Free KC mailing list to get campaign updates and action opportunities.
  3. Join our next Fossil Free KC Action Meeting on December 13th! 6:30-7:30pm at 1919 E Prospect St, Seattle WA 98122

We know that the first step to getting out of a hole is to stop digging. Yet the fossil fuel industry is continuing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year on looking for new fossil fuels, and will do everything in its power to extract them and bring them to market ― even if it means the whole world burns.

This January, we have the chance to pass meaningful local legislation in King County that will help prevent the fossil fuel industry from digging the climate hole even deeper. But it will take all of us to ensure that this ordinance passes.

If you have questions, or want to jump in and help us win a Fossil Free Future please contact jess@350seattle.org. And if you want to read more about the campaign you can do that here.

Together, we can win.


Unis’to’ten Camp: Heal the People Heal the Land

by Andrew Eckels

(photo credit: itsgoingdown.org)

For nearly ten years, the Unist’ot’en Camp has been a leader in indigenous anti-colonial resistance and the movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Now, they are asking for help.  

Located in Northern (so-called) British Columbia in the unceded territories of the Wet’suwet’en nation, a cabin, bunkhouse, and three-story healing center sit in the direct path of TransCanada’s Coastal Gaslink Pipeline, Chevron’s Pacific Trails Pipeline, and the former route of the now dead Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline. The pipelines would link BC’s ports (and thus Asian markets) to its fracking industry—and later, potentially, to Alberta’s tar sands; the gas pipeline contracts stipulate that after 5 years they can carry tar sands  to brand new export terminals.

The Unis’to’ten camp sits on the shore of the Wedzin Kwa, a salmon-bearing glacial river that provides clean drinking water and is surrounded by forests with plentiful wildlife. The only way to access the Unist’ot’en Clan’s mountainous territory, and a significant portion of the proposed pipeline route, is by crossing a one-lane bridge. At the bridge the Unist’ot’en have installed a gate and a checkpoint, where they enforce their right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, and all visitors must answer questions about the nature of their visit to be granted access to their territory.

For almost ten years, oil and gas workers who have attempted to cross the bridge have been turned away, and work crews who have landed in the territory via helicopter have been told to leave. In 2014, during the height of the Idle No More movement, video of the Unist’to’en evicting industry helicopters from their territory went viral and was an inspiration to land defenders around the world. For me, it was an inspiration to visit the camp and find out how I could lend support.

While opposition to pipelines was the impetus for the camp and an attraction for many visitors, the larger vision for the Unist’ot’en has been for the camp to play a central role in healing their community from the impact of generations of colonialism, and to assert their sovereignty over the little remaining territory where they can still hunt and gather medicine and foods. For the Unist’ot’en, connection to the land and culture is central to the process of healing, and the construction of pipelines threatens to take that away from them.

Unsurrendered Land

Like most land in British Columbia, Unist’ot’en territory is unceded, meaning they never signed any treaties with the Canadian government, never sold their land, nor lost it in war. The Unist’ot’en are unique in that they and the other clans of the Wet’suwet’en nation won the first major land claims case in the Supreme Court of Canada: Delgamuux vs The Queen. In that case, the courts acknowledged that the Hereditary Chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en and Gixtsan nations held title over all of their traditional territories encompassing 58,000 square kilometers.

All the Hereditary chiefs of the Wets’suwet’en nation have stood in firm opposition to all proposed pipelines, and have been exercising their own pre-colonial laws to prevent construction. Freda Huson, spokesperson for the camp, has been clear that the camp is not a protest or demonstration, it is an occupation of their traditional homelands. Industry and the pipeline-supporting Canadian government have been trying to circumvent the authority of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs by signing agreements with band councils, but the Canadian government’s own legal precedent compels it to gain the consent of pre-colonial indigenous governing bodies.

Movement Solidarity

Over the years, the outpouring of solidarity for the camp has been impressive. Thousands of visitors have spent time at the camp, holding the frontline and helping to fundraise and build multiple significant structures. When pressure from industry and government mounted on the camp in 2015 and police threatened to violently evict its peaceful residents, grassroots groups mobilized to the frontline and organized solidarity actions at banks, industry offices, and embassies including the Canadian Embassy in Seattle. In that moment, the international pressure was enough to give the state pause, and they backed off from a raid.

Now, after a couple years of quiet, the fossil fuel industry has won  final investment in its LNG Canada export terminal, and is launching another offensive against the camp. Last week, TransCanada filed for both an injunction and a SLAPP suit against leaders of the camp. They have a court hearing scheduled for Monday, December 10th and could have an injunction granted as early as the next day that could allow police to evict the camp.

It appears the fossil fuel industry’s strategy is to try to push through in the dead of winter while people and media are distracted with the holidays, and leaders of the camp are caring for ailing relatives ― one of the two camp leaders, Hereditary Chief Smogelgem, is currently caring for his sick mother in palliative care. We cannot let them get away with this. The camp is calling for people to show solidarity. You can do that by…

  • Donating.

    Make a donation directly to the camp here: Unistoten.Camp/Donate
  • Joining the Camp.

    The camp has put out a call for people to travel to the camp and to stand with them. And here in Coast Salish Territory, it’s not far—Vancouver and Seattle are the only big metropolitan areas near to the camp. If you are in a position to do so, please consider going to camp. If going to camp you MUST register here first.

  • Organizing a fundraiser for the camp.

    The camp requests that all fundraising is done with their consent, and that consent is given before fundraising begins. You can contact the camp through their Facebook page.
  • Organizing a Solidarity Action

    The camp has called for solidarity actions around Turtle Island and so-called Canada. Possible targets include the Canadian Consulate and Chase, the largest funder of TransCanada. If organizing your own action, please seek consent before organizing a solidarity action by making contact with camp leaders through Facebook.

  • Spreading the Word on Social Media

    Please share this social media post to help us spread the word.

The Unist’ot’en Camp has been a key leader in the movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground, and a critical inspiration for indigenous anti-colonial resistance and healing. For nearly ten years, they have been living on the frontline and preventing one of the largest expansions of the fossil fuel industry in North America, fighting a fight that has received little attention or resistance from NGOs since the defeat of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline.  

The time for solidarity is now. As a young person with my heart in the fight for climate justice I call on all of my peers and comrades to mobilize in solidarity with the Unist’ot’en camp in their time of need in whatever way you can.



Andrew, who just finished 7 months working as an organizer for 1631, has spent time at camp every year since 2014 and has been in contact with camp leaders since TransCanada’s recent move to have the camp evicted.



Today, We’re Stronger

We won’t mince words. Locally, last night sucked. Despite the largest, most diverse coalition in WA state history, and despite the heroic efforts of 6,500 volunteers, I-1631 probably lost. But if we broaden our view to take in the rest of the country, it’s important to understand what we gained:

  • Democrats won 7 governorships held by Republicans ― in IL, KS, ME, MI, NM, NV, WI.

    This is the most governships that have changed party since 1994. It means that a majority of Americans now live in states that support the U.S. commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement. Most of these seven new Governors ran on platforms promising swift transitions to clean energy and aggressive climate pollution reduction measures. Their positions in Governor’s mansions gives them the power to follow through on their promises. (The fact that Kansas is no longer governed by monstrous climate denier and vote suppressor Kris Kobach but instead by Laura Kelly, a strong champion of climate action and democracy, is particularly notable.)

  • Democrats now control the state legislature and the governorships in fossil fuel-heavy states Illinois and Colorado

    Illinois is one the country’s major coal producers. Colorado one of the largest oil and gas states. In both states, the governorships and state legislatures and now solidly controlled by Democrats, making regulation and managed decline of these industries more likely than ever.

  • Stephanie Garcia Richard won the Land Commissioner race in New Mexico.

    This might seem like an odd one to hold up ― but it’s huge. New Mexico’s Land Commissioner essentially has sole control over public lands in the state. And New Mexico’s public lands are home to the Permian Basin, which is the largest new potential carbon bomb in the world today. Stephanie Garcia Richard won running on a platform to stop the expansion of fracking and drilling for oil and gas in the Basin. Chevron, the top leaseholder in the Permian, spent many millions to defeat her, but lost.

  • Portland passed the Portland Clean Energy Fund by an overwhelming margin.

    The Portland Clean Energy Fund passed with a whopping 64% of the vote. This ballot measure creates a 1% surcharge on retailers with over $1 billion in annual nationwide revenue and over $500,000 in annual Portland revenue. The resultant funds ― of at least $30 million a year ― will be spent on local clean energy projects such as rooftop solar, energy efficiency weatherization, job training in clean energy trades, community gardens, tree canopy planting, and more. In all projects, priority will be given to low-income households and communities of color, since these communities are disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change.

  • Nevada passed a ballot initiative mandating a vastly improved renewable energy standard.

    Nevada will now have at least 50% of its electricity coming from renewable energy by 2030.

  • 19 of the likely 54 new Democrats in the House of Representatives have taken the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge

    As we have seen in WA, fossil fuel money is a diabolical influence on our political system. The fact that nineteen congressional candidates won after pledging to refuse all fossil fuel industry contributions is real validation for rejecting industry money and influence. In addition, it looks like this is a trend set to continue: Preliminary analysis of campaign finance data from the Center for Responsive Politics indicates that fossil fuel industry money was less than ¼ of one percent of all money raised by Democrats running for the House in 2018. The time is now ripe for Democratic leadership to take a stance fully rejecting all fossil fuel industry donations.

  • Congress is going from zero Native American congresswomen and zero Muslim women to two Native American women and two Muslim women.

    New Mexican voters elected Native American Deb Haaland to Congress. Haaland has pledged to vote against all new fossil fuel infrastructure, in line with climate science and the Paris climate goals. She is a strong advocate for Indigenous rights and climate justice. Meanwhile, Minnesotans elected Ilhan Omar, who ran a proudly fossil-free campaign and vocally opposing the Line 3 tar sands pipeline, voters in Kansas elected Native American woman Sharice Davids and Michigan proudly elected Rashida Tlaib.

If it holds, the defeat of I-1631 is still a tragedy—yet, the truth is that even in defeat we have accomplished a lot. For a start, Yes on 1631 focused the country’s attention on the need for urgent climate action: USA Today and the New York Times were just two of the major national papers that endorsed Yes on 1631; here in Washington, we’ve helped influence the national conversation in a real, lasting way.

Yet more importantly, we are stronger today because of what we have experienced together. No one organization can even begin to meaningfully take on the challenge of confronting climate change alone. This is history’s greatest problem, and it will take all of us to confront it. Here in Washington we are in a better place than ever to do that. Our coalition has never been stronger, more determined, or more unified. As our friend Ahmed Gaya, the Yes on 1631 Field Director, wrote today: “This problem isn’t going anywhere and neither are we.”

As we look toward tomorrow, we look forward to what comes next ― and we look forward to seeing you there.


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From giving testimony at hearings to blockading oil trains, we work on all levels to fight for climate justice. We’re building a movement here in the region, and we need you!



Watch videos of our actions, events, members and community as we work together at all levels to safeguard our planet. 


The Science

Why 350 is the most important number in history: To protect our world from devastating climate disruption, science tells us we must stop global warming in its tracks, and justice demands it. This means holding total warming to the peak seen since the last ice age, just a little over 1°C


- Naomi Klein

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