A profile of Barbara Bengtsson by Sheryl Feldman

In the late 1980s, a young German Flight attendant checked into a French beach resort in The Gambia on the west coast of Africa. The resort was protected by a fence; on the inside it was all sun-tan lotion and bikinis; on the perimeter a crowd of African children called out for gifts.

Barbara Bengtsson, having heard that the children liked sneakers, had brought one pair with her.  She passed it over the fence, thinking how pathetic, almost shameful, were two shoes in the face of what all the children needed.

While the moment marked her, it wasn’t till decades later – after raising two children and getting a degree in biology – that her thinking made the connection between colonialism, inequality, the climate crisis, and our economic system.

“Capitalism is built on the exploitation of land, nature, and human labor, often through violent means – a recent example is the treatment of the water protectors at Standing Rock. The acceptance of sacrifices, be they children getting sick from poisoned water, forests turned into waste lands, or bleached corral reefs, is a fundamental condition of the climate crisis.”

Joining up with 350 Seattle, Barbara became its calendar host and Book Club convener. Realizing that other people in 350 understood the climate crisis as being systemic, she helped establish a workgroup on capitalism.

Today, she is focused on housing. First, the homeless part: “Housing should be driven by need not profit. Not only do we need to be creating public housing on public land, but the housing should be energy efficient with solar panels on the buildings and set-aside plots for public gardens. ”

And then the density part: “Because about 80% of the zoning in Seattle is for single family houses, Seattle has a larger carbon footprint than cities that have less restrictive zoning thus allowing for greater density. Greater density means people walk and take public transport instead of driving cars; it means having less stuff, which reduces consumption, and it means that people from different backgrounds learn to live together in solidarity.”

In January 2018, she took up her Leadership Team position on the 350 Seattle Board, where she’ll “stand up for the importance of civil disobedience, press for the equity work, and try to build stronger alliances with other organizations.”