(This article was first published in the January 2019 edition of Community Alliance, http://www.alliance.com.)
By Kevin Hall
Parents worldwide are faced with far greater fears and challenges today than at any time in history. They have the enormous responsibility for children’s lives, people they have chosen to bring into a world with a rapidly destabilizing climate. It’s a shared responsibility, of course, because at this point anyone under the age of 50 cannot count on having a stable climate in their old age.
Nearly 20 million people were climate refugees in 2018, according to U.N. estimates. Internally dislocated people, from hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to the firestorm victims in Paradise and Magalia, are already straining governmental relief systems in the U.S. Externally dislocated climate refugees, who must seek safety outside their own countries, are dying at the hands of uncaring brutes everywhere from the California-Mexico border to the Mediterranean.
In this century an estimated 200-300 million people will be forced from the planet’s equatorial regions and will mostly have to flee to the northern continents’ greater land masses. The crises we are already witnessing are a mere flicker of what lies ahead.
But, to paraphrase a French saying, we have to save pessimism for better times. Optimism and determination are called for. As is action on the local level, which means that here in the San Joaquin Valley we have an enormous amount of work to do. Because if we hope to address climate change, we must first address our political climate.
Stunningly, climate change deniers hold elected office and wield disproportionate amounts of power throughout our region, and they are not all old, white, male Republicans. There are some young ones, too, and some women. That party ran away from all action on climate change immediately after the 2010 Citizens United decision of the U.S. Supreme Court; the dark money unleashed on our political system demands it of them.
Democrats are not much better. That party lost its progressive populist soul beginning in the 1970s when the wave of young “Watergate Democrats” swept into office and cinched the deal with the ruling elite under Bill Clinton and the “New Democrats”. Remember, Richard Nixon was working with Congress on a basic minimum income in the early ’70s. That’s where the center once was.
So, like their Republican counterparts who refuse to accept the science of climate change, Democrats refuse to accept the urgent need to break with the financial sector and the billionaires who lead it. From Jerry Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco to COP24 in Poland, every major effort at tackling the problem centers on a key factor: continued profit and economic expansion. As a result, the need to finance the decarbonization of our world is controlled by the private sector. For now, that is.
At some point in the very near future, all of the “solutions” to reducing greenhouse gas emissions will shift suddenly and dramatically away from the “market-based systems” of cap-and-trade to high taxes and centralized systems of governance. Today’s incentive programs are tomorrow’s emergency mandates.
Which means we are going need people in office of the highest moral fiber. Selfless, caring, smart individuals who love to work hard and collaborate well. Above all else, they’ll need to have an amazing capacity for stress.
In Fresno, we don’t have any such people on our city council or county board of supervisors or representing us in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
Let’s just give up on Republicans. They’re in the minority here and under Trump are melting down completely. As for the Dems, two examples of all that’s wrong with that party were in the news recently: Joaquin Arambula and Miguel Arias.
Regardless of whether the local D.A. decides to prosecute Arambula for striking his 7-year-old daughter so hard it left a mark worthy of his arrest, the public has learned about the man. First, he resorted to violence against a child. Secondly, immediately after his arrest but before giving a statement to the police, Arambula had a media day of damage control in which he blamed his daughter and gave a description of her spanking, according to Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer, that didn’t match the evidence.
Dyer’s untrustworthiness aside, the incident and how he handled it reveals Arambula as ill-suited just for the challenges of today, not to mention the incredible demands ahead. And his friend Arias’s instant support warrants a reminder of his character, too, because he is a very ambitious, morally stunted political operator who is equally unqualified to help save the planet.
According to Bee reporter Rory Appleton’s Dec. 12 article:
Miguel Arias, an incoming Fresno City councilman and friend of Arambula, said he was confident Arambula would be cleared of any wrongdoing. “My kids and his kids have grown up together,” Arias said. “My family knows him for what he is: a caring and loving family man. I trust the process will show him for what he is.”
That final sentence might prove accurate in ways Arias didn’t intend. A divorced father of two, he has a history of abusive behavior in his workplace — Fresno Unified School District. According to author and former reporter Mark Arax, Arias worked as the “fixer” for the 73,000-student school system’s disgraced former superintendent Michael Hanson.
Arax’s 2015 deep dig into Arias’s shameful behavior can be read online at The Arax File. In it he describes a tawdry culture in the Hanson administration and how the former superintendent’s reliance on his fixer led him to overlook significant problems:
“I’m the guy who knows where all the bodies are buried,” Arias boasts to co-workers and others. “I’m the guy who cleans up all of Hanson’s messes.”
Arax goes on to report:
[Arias’s] promotion earlier this month to communications chief came in the wake of formal complaints of hostile work environment filed against Arias while he directed Parent University. The internal complaints by two female supervisors, one an African American and the other Hmong, date back to 2013-2014 and include intimidation, angry verbal outbursts, inappropriate language and work assignments that demeaned the two women.
That’s Arambula’s biggest defender. If the two men are as close as Arias told The Bee, they apparently get along so well because they have shared values. Besides abusive behavior to those they perceive as beneath them, the two share an ambition to wield power over others through elected office.
We need much, much better people in office. Newly seated FUSD board member Veva Islas is one such person. And 2018’s biggest surprise victor, State Senator Melissa Hurtado, might be another. The rest of the political dance card is blank.
Kevin Hall hosts Climate Politics from 5-6 p.m. on the second and fourth Fridays of each month on KFCF 88.1 FM. He is on Twitter at @sjvalleyclimate and @airfrezno and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This opinion piece appeared in The Fresno Bee on December 14, 2018.
By Kevin Hall
Climate change denial is alive and well in the San Joaquin Valley. Most worryingly, it is the dominant opinion among politicians serving on our regional air quality board. The eight-county agency handles hundreds of millions of dollars annually in state funds dedicated to reducing greenhouse gases, and the money couldn’t be in worse hands.
At issue is our children’s survival. Not our grandchildren, this generation. The babes and toddlers around us already face an uncertain adulthood due to the latent excess heat stored in the ocean that will be warming the planet for decades to come.
Last year’s jump in global emissions has the world on track with scientists’ worst-case outcome. Under that scenario, sometime between 2030 and 2050 six thresholds known as “tipping points” get crossed at a 1.5 C increase in global average temperature, unleashing natural stores of greenhouse gases that no amount of reductions by humans can reverse.
Yet climate-change deniers on the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District board have gone so far as blame the tragic loss of life in the climate-fueled Camp fire on a lack of logging. They mistakenly claim forest management practices are responsible for all state wildfires in recent years, though the majority of the deadly infernos have been at foothill elevations, and most important, increasingly frequent wildfires of greater intensity are now a worldwide phenomenon.
It’s not possible to provide specific citations from air board meetings so people might witness this appalling ignorance firsthand. The secretive agency refuses to post an online archive of its proceedings.
Clearly this body is ill-suited for its role in helping to address the immediate and long-term threats of our destabilizing atmosphere, despite the threats faced by 4 million, soon to be 6 million, Valley residents.
Consider the risk from wildfire. Foothill communities lying at the mouths of the canyons and river gorges of the Sierra Nevada could face the same meteorological conditions that led to the deaths of unfortunate Butte County residents in Magalia and Paradise. Like here, the populations of those towns were disproportionately retirees, many of whom had physical mobility limitations and couldn’t escape the flames.
All that’s missing, for now, are the high easterly winds that drove the incineration of 70,000 acres in 24 hours, spawned a fire tornado and took at least 85 lives. Such winds are possible here now as the jet stream’s path becomes increasingly unstable, dipping further south and more forcefully into this region.
The urgently needed adaptations and pollution reduction efforts are complex, involved and expensive. And they’re beyond the interest and ability of our air board.
Of its 15 members, two are appointed by the governor for their expertise in health or air pollution-related science; no complaints there.
But of the remaining 13, eight are county supervisors, one each from Kern to San Joaquin. Five more are city council members, two from cities with populations of greater than 100,000 and three from smaller cities.
The white, male, conservative perspective is grossly overrepresented. With less than 40 percent of the Valley population, whites hold 92 percent of these board seats; men, with less than half the population, comprise 84 percent; and Republicans, a mere third of registered voters, are at 92 percent.
This select group is bound to a political ideology that seemingly requires them to ignore basic science and promote an agenda of less regulation, more pollution, and disregard for everyone’s health and safety.
Let’s reform our air board.
This will take state legislation and uncommon leadership from our Sacramento delegation. An earlier attempt lasted five years and yielded minimal improvement. Democrats including Juan Arambula then proved nearly as intractable as their Republican colleagues, and two more recent disappointments were Michael Rubio and Henry T. Perea, both of whom left office early and now work as oil industry lobbyists.
The push for reform and a realistic action plan must come from the grassroots, pressuring politicians at every level of government for immediate action. A volunteer effort, #ValleyClimate, is underway. For a presentation in your community, contact email@example.com or on Twitter, @sjvalleyclimate.
By Kevin Hall
Three candidates are vying to become the next representative for District 7 on the Fresno City Council. The one woman, Veva Islas, and two men, Brian Whelan and Nelson Esparza, will have raised and spent more than $400,000 on the June primary election alone, an unusually high amount in local races. Clearly, there’s a lot riding on this, but for whom? Read More
May 27, 2018
STEP AWAY FROM THE INCINERATOR
Disasters—whether natural or human-caused—tend to spur action.
They also draw out the opportunists.
We saw this during the ten-year drought when mountains of stressed trees were overtaken by opportunistic bark beetles. Today, the U.S. Forest Service estimates there are up to 129 million dead trees in California’s forests.
By Kevin Hall
Lame duck Fresno City Councilman Clint Olivier, now in his final year in office and approaching the end of his political career, is disingenuous when he acts as if public health concerns about diesel exhaust are a desperate, last minute attempt to stop a project’s approval, as in the recent Gap Inc vote.
By Kevin Hall
Our kids are the canaries in Fresno’s coal-mine-like atmosphere of microscopic pieces of soot and gases.
The more deleterious impacts to their sensitive, developing systems play out over their shortened lifetimes. One in four suffer acute impacts from asthma, about which Mayor Lee Brand once asked if air pollution is so bad why don’t we all have asthma? He was voting in support of wrapping a commercial almond orchard around California Veterans Home at the time.
By Kevin Hall
“The lower we go, the stronger our negotiating position becomes.” Fresno Mayor Lee Brand, April 4, 2018
With the latest in a string of negative declarations of environmental impacts for warehouse distribution centers, Fresno government’s institutionalized racist policies and practices have impacted people’s health once more. With its early April approval of the Gap Inc.’s expansion, it also approved potentially thousands of additional daily diesel truck trips by schools and neighborhoods.
By Kevin Hall
I was first introduced to Nelson Esparza while he was briefly employed at a local nonprofit, so I agreed to get together and talk politics when he called a few months later. Over a quart-sized ice tea at Irene’s in the Tower, I listened closely as he told me he was running for city council and asked me to join his kitchen cabinet, that close circle of advisers candidates rely on to keep them honest and who have some experience with politics. And I do. Which is why I said no. Read More
By Kevin Hall
A pustule occasionally erupts on Fresno’s complacent face of institutionalized racism. At the Jan. 25 city council meeting it was council member Steve Brandau’s turn. Again. He apparently thought he was cast to play the role of council member Oliver Baines’s anger translator, a la Keegan-Michael Key’s Luther, but Brandau wasn’t joking when he used the pejorative “poverty pimps.”
By Kevin Hall
FRESNO – A recent unanimous vote by the Fresno City Council threatens to knock the city’s developer-controlled politics right off their very old foundations. The legislative temblor struck in late January when the opposing plates of profit and public health converged, cracking open a deep fissure in the city’s current land use decision-making practices. At its core are environmentally racist practices at odds with state law and the city’s own policies.