Bright line of denial connects health crises

March 31, 2020

By Kevin Hall

If you recently found yourself searching in vain for N95 masks, you’ve been ignoring health science. Not by looking for a mask, but by not having one already.

Valley residents know air pollution is a decades-old crisis in our valley that regularly reaches dangerous peaks. 

Whether it’s our cold, winter air choked with fireplace soot, diesel exhaust, and dairy ammonia or a summertime blanket of wildfire smoke filling our lungs, the warnings to wear these masks are by now familiar. Hardware stores normally have them in stock, as should every home, alongside smoke detectors and fire extinguishers. 

But many ignore the warnings or discount science-driven responses as too costly and downplay the risks to themselves and others. 

Sound familiar? It should. President Trump delayed for eight weeks before reacting to the pandemic. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District is approaching 30 years of having failed to clean our air. The Fresno County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in mid-March to not issue a shelter-in-place directive, as did the City of Clovis.

Raging along this continuum of denial and delay — in order of life-threatening immediacy — are the novel coronavirus pandemic, air and water pollution, and climate change. Stacked like crushing weights on the chest of an asthma victim, air pollution alone ensures early deaths for thousands of valley residents in a “normal” year. Continue reading Bright line of denial connects health crises

Drastic changes are needed if California is to win the climate-change challenge

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When Gov. Gavin Newsom delivered his keynote speech at the recent California Economic Summit in Fresno, he failed to say two keywords: climate change. Conversely, he said a lot about our economy while at a climate change summit held in New York just weeks earlier:

“The [California] economy is growing; a fully functioning cap-and-trade program; the most audacious low-carbon green growth goals in the United States of America. There’s nothing left for me to sign — it’s 100 percent across the board, in every category,” he boasted at Climate Week NYC held in support of the U.N. Climate Action Summit in late September.

Our Future
Valley Climate Activists greeted attendees of the California Economic Summit in Fresno on Sept. 27.

Speaking on the eve of wildfire season, Newsom seemed to be tempting fate itself. Conflagrations were soon exploding around the state as if an invading armada were shelling it: Sandalwood, Caples, Saddleridge, Kincade, Tick, Getty, Easy. People fled for their lives — some died — in war zones of flame, smoke, sirens, panic and confusion.

And if Newsom needed another call to arms, two days before the first wildfire hit, San Francisco-based nonprofit think tank Next 10 issued its 11th annual California Green Innovation Index. The report warns, “California will meet its 2030 climate targets more than three decades late — 2061… if the average rate of emissions reductions from the past year holds steady.”

But California and the world must cut emissions by half before 2030. If not, tipping points will be crossed that set in motion irreversible, ever-increasing releases of naturally stored carbon and methane, according to the October U.N.October U.N. report on a 1.5 C increase in global average temperature.

Yet there stood Newsom in Fresno on Nov. 8, one year after the Camp Fire, the deadliest, most destructive fire in state history with at least 85 victims, talking about the state’s economy without once mentioning climate change.

Consequently, the state government’s climate change programs are rooted in outdated strategies warped by fossil fuel lobbyists like former state legislators Henry T. Perea of Fresno, now with Western States Petroleum Association, and Chevron’s Michael Rubio of Bakersfield.

When pressed by The Bee and KFCF radio afterwards, Newsom explained California is now in the implementation phase of its climate change response, echoing his New York remarks.

Indeed we are.

California’s cap-and-trade program, dominated by oil and gas interests, encompasses 450 businesses emitting 85% of the state’s greenhouse gases and along with two Canadian provinces comprises the world’s fourth largest exchange for carbon credits. Since 2013 it has generated $11.9 billion for reduction efforts.

High speed rail has received a fifth so far — $2.5 billion — but the concrete-intensive project will never offset its carbon footprint, and its construction spews asthma-irritating dust and cancer-causing diesel exhaust continually on West Fresno residents already hard hit by industrial polluters.

Another $2.2 billion has gone toward low carbon transportation. Primarily for alternative fuel programs, these largely serve to extend dependence on fossil fuels and combustion technologies. For example, more than $800 million is slated for a dairy methane program best described as the HSR of agriculture: it offers dubious benefits but negatively impacts vulnerable rural communities, according to an April working paper from Fresno-based Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.

Finally, in late September the state Air Resources Board approved the California Tropical Forest Standard, a potential carbon credit source for fossil fuel companies, over the objections of indigenous opponents from around the world who decried the move as “carbon colonization” of their natural resources.

Newsom must address these policies’ shortcomings head on. Because, as the Next 10 report lays bare, cap-and-trade and other market-based solutions won’t work in time. They have not worked in time.

Unfortunately, Newsom and the rest of his generation now in power came of age in an era of market-as-solution, government-as-problem philosophy. Since the 1980s, most California politicians have drunk deeply from that Reagan-with-a-twist-of-Clinton policy cocktail; with it comes considerable financial backing from industry, particularly oil and gas extractors.

Consequently, the state government’s climate change programs are rooted in outdated strategies warped by fossil fuel lobbyists like former state legislators Henry T. Perea of Fresno, now with Western States Petroleum Association, and Chevron’s Michael Rubio of Bakersfield.

The urgent response appropriate to the scale of our climate emergency will remain out of reach unless Newsom and the state Legislature change direction dramatically. To push them, youth climate strikes will be held on Black Friday. People of all ages will challenge the status quo, fighting against its genocidal outcomes.

Kevin Hall is a Fresno resident and graduate of Fresno State. He formerly reported on farm issues for trade publications and is now an air-quality activist.

Continue reading Drastic changes are needed if California is to win the climate-change challenge

Climate Strike, Nov. 8

MEDIA ADVISORY , NOVEMBER 7, 2019

WHO: Valley Climate Activists, Contact: Kevin Hall

WHAT: CLIMATE STRIKE

WHEN: FRIDAY, NOV. 8, 10:00 AM

WHERE: SELLAND ARENA ENTRANCE, 700 M ST.

“Governor Newsom, Our Future or Fossil Fuels”

Fresno residents to protest local pollution impacts of Gov. Newsom’s ‘low-carbon green growth’ 

Governor Gavin Newsom will speak to hundreds of people from around the valley and state Friday morning at the California Economic Summit about our future prospects, but not a single session at the summit is dedicated to the issue of climate change.

“The failure of the governor and other officials to highlight climate change as the central concern of long-term economic planning is a failure of leadership,” said Kevin Hall, organizer of Valley Climate Activists. “Climate change and the state’s climate change spending are having profound negative impacts on our economy and health now.”

Continue reading Climate Strike, Nov. 8

The way to ease ‘climate anxiety’ is to get active and make changes for the coming future

(This article first appeared in The Fresno Bee on Aug. 23, 2019)

By Kevin Hall

Public concern over climate change is surging. Perhaps it’s due to the ravages of fire, flood, hurricane, drought, tornado, etc. Maybe it’s that the first generation of people facing a truly uncertain future is now entering adulthood. Media coverage has certainly increased.

FCC colloquium Continue reading The way to ease ‘climate anxiety’ is to get active and make changes for the coming future

A Quick Note to Mike Karbassi

By Kevin Hall

Mike Karbassi was recently elected to the Fresno City Council to represent District 2 in Northwest Fresno. His Twitter praise for an inferior editorial by District 5 councilor Luis Chavez, home to most of Fresno’s heavy industry, led me to be tweet back at him, and he kindly replied (below). My longer response wouldn’t fit easily into tweets, so this: Continue reading A Quick Note to Mike Karbassi

Climate Politics radio broadcast 4.26.19

(Climate Politics is broadcast on the second and fourth Fridays of each month on KFCF 88.1FM in Fresno. ) LISTEN HERE ON SOUNDCLOUD to the April 26, 2019 show.

INTRODUCTION: Good afternoon and welcome to a special edition Climate Politics. This show is dedicated to the premise that if we hope to avoid climate change’s worst impacts, then we need to fix our political climate, from Fresno to D.C. and everyplace in between.

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Rev. B.T. Lewis, Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church, Fresno

And it’s impossible in this country, and certainly this town and valley, to discuss our politics without grounding them in the context of the systemic racism that has shaped every institution, policy, and practice in both the public and private sector. Continue reading Climate Politics radio broadcast 4.26.19

Developer Dollars, Democratic Duplicity

(This article first appeared in the April 2019 issue of Community Alliance magazine.)

By Kevin Hall

Few were downtown at Fresno city hall on a cold morning in late January to witness the new council fail its first real test of character. The one that matters most in city politics, it’s a single-question exam: Do developers still run this town?

They do.

The new five-member, veto-proof Democratic majority on the council has raised the hopes of many locals. At long last, some say, our humble burg of half a million souls will be governed by a body with a greater interest in the needs of poor and working families, one willing to take on the special interests running roughshod over lives and futures.

Assemi Kashian $ Totals
When dread developer Darius Assemi looks up at the dais in Fresno City Hall, he is looking at more than $200,000 invested by his family members and their businesses in the political careers of the current council and mayor. The city’s election cycle limits are easily ignored and candidates often receive four or five times the limit from Assemi interests. Commercial developer Ed Kashian is the second most prolific backer in local politics.

Continue reading Developer Dollars, Democratic Duplicity

Oil Money Seeps into Fresno Politics

March 31, 2019

By Kevin Hall

Today would be a good day for Paul Caprioglio, Luis Chavez, Nelson Esparza, and Esmeralda Soria to get out their checkbooks and return some dirty campaign contributions. Nearly $100,000 in Big Oil money made its way into Fresno politics in 2018, and the Fresno city council members have received direct and indirect contributions from Chevron and the California Independent Petroleum Association.

Soria Oil $
Council member Esmeralda Soria received $5,000 in direct contributions from the California Independent Petroleum Association in 2018. Chevron donated $90,000 to the Chamber of Commerce PAC which gave $5,400 each to Luis Chavez and Nelson Esparza.

Soria’s contributions came directly from the Irvine-based petroleum association in the form of a pair of $2,500 contributions on Feb. 24 and June 4, according to City of Fresno Electronic Filing System reports. She has a direct connection to the organization through Willie Rivera, a former coworker. Himself an elected city council member in Bakersfield, Rivera is the regulatory affairs director for the oil organization.

Rivera is apparently serious about his job as the local oil industry’s junkyard dog fighting off government regulation. In 2018 his association PAC launched campaigns in Arvin, Kern County, against young, progressive Latinx officeholders there who supported Mayor Jose Gurrola’s ordinance limiting oil operations within the beleaguered city limits. Soria and Rivera worked together in the offices of state senator Michael Rubio, the disgraced official from Bakersfield who left office a year early to join Chevron in their war on the planet as director of government relations. Continue reading Oil Money Seeps into Fresno Politics

Dodging the bullet train for a uniquely Valley future

 

Valley air board doing poor job of recognizing reality of climate change

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 sjvalleyclimate@gmail.com or on Twitter, @sjvalleyclimate.