Journeys of Light: When Women Power Meets Green Power

“I am talking of a place…a fertile place, full of rice and wheat fields and ponds in the middle of those fields choked with lotuses and water lilies, and water buffaloes wading through the ponds and chewing on the lotuses and lilies. Those who live in this place call it the Darkness. Please understand, Your Excellency, that India is two countries in one: an India of Light, and an India of Darkness.”

– The White Tiger By Aravind Adiga

By Neha Misra

A Sundari tree in the Sundarbans National Park

Sundarbans literally means “beautiful forest” in Bengali

I grew up in an India of Light, in the heart of urban Delhi with many privileges of a booming middle class brought by liberalization of the Indian economy in the early nineties. In 2005, for the first time, I got to see the India of Darkness up-close. I was working on a project for the Global Network on Energy for Sustainable Development in the Sundarbans region of India, one of the most biologically productive natural ecosystems on Earth, known for the world’s largest mangrove forests. While rich in biodiversity, Sundarbans is also one of the most densely populated and poorest parts of our world, and highly susceptible to the impacts of climate change.

During my field research, I learned that having something seemingly as simple as a solar light bulb could mean so much to the people of Sundarbans. One story particularly made a deep impact. I learned how women who had solar light could, for the first time in their lives, go to sleep peacefully without worrying about a snake biting them in their mud homes in the thick of night. The presence of solar lights reduces the risk of this hazard. This connection between light and a peaceful sleep (and life itself!) was new to me. The contrast between the lights of Delhi, as I knew it (despite its perennial power cuts), and darkness of Sundarbans could not have been more profound.

A typical kerosene lamp in the developing world

A typical kerosene lamp in the developing world

Fast forward to late 2009. I was living and working in the midst of the bright lights of America. On the heels of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, I was distraught with the lack of significant progress addressing climate equity and its relation to extreme energy poverty. There are 1.6 billion people in the world without a single light bulb. Four out of five people lacking access to electricity live in rural areas. 70% are women and girls who spend up to 40% of their family income on inefficient and dangerous fuels like kerosene. And according to an IFC report, fuel based lighting is responsible for carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to those from 30 million cars annually. Every day, women and children inhale smoke equivalent to two packs of cigarettes due to indoor air pollution. How can we create a bright future if women and girls around the world continue to live a life of darkness, and not one of possibilities?

Solar Sister Hawa leading a training session

Solar Sister Hawa leading a training session. Credit Solar Sister 2014.

My thoughts kept going back to Sundarbans. I wanted to be a part of a bottom-up solution. So I became a part of Solar Sister, a start-up social enterprise marrying “woman power” with “green power,” and doing so through market-based and locally driven innovation. Solar Sister combines the breakthrough potential of clean energy technology (like portable solar lamps, mobile phone chargers and, more recently, clean cookstoves) with a women-centric direct sales network to bring light, hope and opportunity to even the most remote communities in Africa.

Since our small beginnings in 2010 training 10 women in Uganda as Solar Sister entrepreneurs, today Solar Sister has recruited, trained and mentored more than 724 women in Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and South Sudan who have brought the life-transforming benefits of clean energy to over 113,550 Africans.

Solar Sister Valentina Tiem

Solar Sister Valentina Tiem. Credit Solar Sister 2014.

One Solar Sister at a time, we are bridging the wide rift between those living in light versus those in darkness whom I first saw in Sundarbans. For example, I met with Solar Sister Valentina Tiem from Hydom, Tanzania, a local leader and community health officer responsible for mobilizing women from more than 20 women’s savings groups in her community. Valentina is using income from her Solar Sister business to pay her children’s school fees, while being readily available to assist with child birth, all with her own solar light and charged mobile phone in hand.

Solar Sister is continuing to invest and expand its network of women entrepreneurs while significantly reducing carbon dioxide emissions and lowering air pollution exposure for countless families across Africa. Some key lessons for us: first, that engaging and empowering women leaders can have a transformational impact on transitioning our world from energy poverty to green prosperity. Second, cutting edge advances in technology, targeted skills training and capital must be matched to ensure that the products reach where they are needed the most. Third, achieving an impact at scale calls for innovative public, private, and people partnerships. This is not just one nation’s or one gender’s issue. It’s a human issue, and we all can do something to share the light.

About the Author: Neha Misra is the Chief Collaboration Officer of Solar Sister. She also serves as a Solar Suitcase Ambassador for We Care Solar, which is bringing solar power to remote maternal health clinics around the world. When not advocating for women’s role in clean tech, Neha is a poet and a contemporary folk artist, connecting the dots between creativity and social innovation for building a sustainable society. Follow her on Twitter: @LightSolar

Neha Misra spoke on the Environmental Protection Agency’s April 29th panel “Women as Climate Leaders: Building Resilience Across Our Communities”. This event was an important part of EPA’s Earth Month celebrations.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

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Using Traditional Ecological Knowledge to Adapt to Climate Change

[vimeo width=”800″ height=”300″]http://vimeo.com/92680831[/vimeo]

By Rosalyn LaPier

My grandmother, Annie Mad Plume Wall, learned about nature and plants from her grandmother and her great-grandmother. Their knowledge stemmed from an intimate relationship with the environment that was formed over generations of time and through generations of women. Today we call this Traditional Ecological (or in some cases, Environmental) Knowledge, or TEK for short.

My grandmother taught me her knowledge. However unlike what most people think, it was not an informal activity. Instead it was a formal process of learning. The Amskapi Pikuni, now known as the Blackfeet, believe in a process they call “transferring.” The Blackfeet believe that both tangible and intangible items are considered personal property which can be bought and sold. A tipi, which is tangible, or a name, which is intangible, are given equal value as property. However, instead of using the words “buy” or “sell,” the Blackfeet use the word “transfer.”

Rosalyn and her grandmother, Annie Mad Plume Wall

My grandmother lived to be 97 and I spent the 20 years before her passing learning about Blackfeet plant knowledge and environmental knowledge from her. We did this by traveling across the reservation to different plant ecosystems, alone or with the whole family, and even traveling off the reservation to old Blackfeet gathering sites. I paid her each time she “transferred” her environmental knowledge to me. Towards the end, when she decided my learning was near completion, she announced; “Now you are an old woman like me.”

In those 20 years I learned something that she had not intended to teach me. In central Montana and southern Alberta in Canada (the traditional homelands of the Blackfeet), global climate change has impacted the environment that the Blackfeet have relied on for both medicinal plants, used for healing, and edible plants used for subsistence. New research conducted in the Rocky Mountains reflects what we’ve been learning as each year passed — instead of the short growth cycle in the spring and summer which we were accustomed to, the seasons have lasted longer, plants now grow earlier and live longer and bloom at different times. Plants that once grew at the same time now grow at different times in the seasonal cycle. For some plants these differences are dramatic.

For those who do not spend time outdoors it may be difficult to fully appreciate the change that is occurring. But for those who live off the land, such as farmers, ranchers, and those with subsistence lifestyles, climate change is having a real impact. It impacts the health and well-being of countless Native peoples who rely on gathering plants for both medicinal and edible purposes. More importantly, climate change impacts the spiritual life of Native peoples.

Winter thunderstorms are becoming more frequent in Montana

Winter thunderstorms are becoming more frequent in Montana

But we are adapting. The Blackfeet, similar to other tribes, schedule their ceremonial activity according to seasonal cycles. But with the cycles destabilizing, we now need to adjust each year to the volatile weather. For example, the Blackfeet conduct their Thunder-pipe ceremony at the sound of the first thunder which marks the return of rain. At the ceremony, serviceberries (Amelanchier alnifolia) are planted to celebrate the renewal of life. Traditionally, first thunder occurred in spring. The first thunder now happens much earlier in the year, sometimes even in the winter when it is unwise to plant in Montana.

The Blackfeet are now in the process of adapting and evolving to what some environmentalists call a new Earth. The TEK I learned from my grandmother is from the old Earth. However it still has value and the Blackfeet will continue to find new ways of gathering plants, new methods of identifying changes in our weather, and ways to further our traditions. Climate change will continue to affect the Blackfeet’s environment, ultimately impacting our lifestyle and spiritual life. But as we learn new TEK practices, we will be able to work better with nature and continue the process of transferring our “new” Traditional Environmental Knowledge to the next generation.

Rosalyn has worked for 20+ years with several national and regional Native non-profits including the Council of Energy Resource Tribes (who protected Native lands and natural resources), Americans for Indian Opportunity (who strengthen emerging Native leaders and governments) and Piegan Institute (who preserve and promote Native languages). Rosalyn has also worked at a Native college for 12 years, both as an Instructor and program director, and She also serves as a member of the EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC).

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

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Ways that Weatherization Works: Climate Justice through Revitalization

By Kerry N. Doi

When I first came to Los Angeles from Hawaii in the late 1950s I remember the smog being so thick that, at times, you could barely make out the shape of a building that was only a few blocks away. As kids growing up we couldn’t run around outside for more than 20 minutes because the air quality was so bad that your lungs would burn.

Although air pollution in Los Angeles has drastically reduced since then, we need to find ways to continue improving environmental conditions for our children and families, especially in communities that suffer more than their share of the environmental burden.

It’s well documented in urban cities like Los Angeles that low income and ethnic minority communities bear a disproportionate amount of adverse health impacts from environmental burdens. However, it is often overlooked that these same communities are also at the forefront of addressing climate change.

ScreenShot_CalEnviro2 0Low income and ethnic minority communities have a wealth of knowledge that, when combined with data and standardized government information, provide a holistic picture of the pollution burdens and socioeconomic vulnerabilities within our neighborhoods. According to CalEnviroScreen 2.0, half of the statewide population of ‘Disadvantaged Communities’ resides in Los Angeles County. These are neighborhoods that are densely populated and include historically low income, ethnic minority communities where residents look to strategies that can mitigate the causes and adapt to the impacts of climate change while providing revitalization opportunities to their communities.

As President and CEO of the Pacific Asian Consortium in Employment (PACE), I have witnessed firsthand the passion that our communities of color have for a greener Los Angeles. PACE’s Weatherization Program is run by our diverse, multi-lingual staff, which is the foundation for PACE’s reputation as a resource for low income, ethnic minority populations. Over the past 38 years, we have built familiarity and trust with these neighborhoods and aim to create a meaningful relationship with each community member. Our staff is fluent in over 40 different languages/dialects and provides cultural sensitivity that enables PACE to access and empower disadvantaged communities.

Untitled-1PACE’s Energy and Environmental Services Program has grown with funding from the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the President’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Today, PACE serves 26 zip codes in Los Angeles and is one of the largest contractor agencies for the State of California, Community Services Department.

Overall, our Energy and Environmental Services Program has assisted over 284,000 homes throughout Southern California since the inception of the program. This hard work has resulted in more than $2 billion in savings for residents by lowering energy bills, which helps low income residents to stay in their homes, especially when faced with issues of displacement and gentrification.

Weatherization

What we have also seen, is that weatherization Assistance Programs also have the potential to offer workforce training, expand green industry opportunities and create much needed jobs. At PACE, these jobs not only provide benefits and career ladder opportunities but also living wages at $15-$35 per hour. With the infusion of ARRA funding in 2009, PACE’s Weatherization Program doubled in size and was able to create/retain 60 jobs!

“My wife and I fled our home country of Ethiopia in order to escape the violence and political upheaval. In ‘81 we came to the U.S. as refugees. It was 31 years ago when I started at PACE that they gave me just a screwdriver and a hammer. Over time I was trained as an installer and now I am a field supervisor. I was able to buy a house and put two children through school. I thank God for the strength he gave me to take care of PACE’s Weatherization Program. As a result, the program has taken care of me all these years.”

Asrat Feissa, Field Supervisor of PACE’s Weatherization Program

PACE is proud to be a part of this movement toward addressing climate change. As we continue to build on our efforts to address the environmental injustices resulting from the warming climate, we look forward to continuing our efforts in comprehensive community development, with a triple bottom line—lessening our carbon footprint, creating green jobs, and helping people to save on energy costs. In this way, we hope that our efforts will also allow the children of our future to not suffer from asthma because of too much smog caused by dirty energy, or the long-term consequences from climate change inaction.

About the Author: Kerry N. Doi has honed and demonstrated his experience and expertise in all forms of community economic development. In his 38 years as President and CEO of Pacific Asian Consortium in Employment (PACE. On the national level, Kerry is a member of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) and is a founding member and the former national chair of the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (CAPACD), a national association of Asian and Pacific Islanders engaged in community development.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

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Announcing EPA’s Climate Justice in Action Series

By Mustafa Santiago Ali

Untitled-2Climate change is real, its impacts are enormous, and we are already seeing these effects across the planet today. And while we are deeply engaged in a discourse about the extent of the disruptions and devastation that a changing and destabilized climate causes, we don’t talk nearly enough about how those burdens will be shared in our country.

Wreckage From Hurricane Katrina

Wreckage From Hurricane Katrina

You see, not all people bear an equal amount of the burden posed by climate change. The sad truth is the majority of the impacts will be felt in our more vulnerable communities, in neighborhoods filled with people who are already struggling to get by. In low income communities, these impacts have already been distressing, including heat-related illness and death; respiratory ailments; increases in the proliferation of infectious diseases; unaffordable rises in energy costs; loss of farm land, and crushing natural disasters.

It’s also under-appreciated that within these same communities, the seeds of positive action are being sown to adapt and be more resilient to climate change. Thousands of individuals and organizations in low income areas and communities of color are joining hands on the frontlines to counteract the effects of climate change. These actions are reducing greenhouse gas emissions, making our cities and towns more resilient to its effects, and doing everything they can to offset these impending challenges.

And that’s why I am excited to start the conversation with EPA’s Climate Justice in Action Series. Climate justice is a movement that has been defined by its stakeholders – in the grassroots, in academia, in government – and so rather than EPA attempting to articulate what climate justice is, this blog series will allow you to help define and expand the boundaries of climate justice.

Click on the Map and Follow the Instructions to Share your Story!

 

We have also created an interactive Climate Justice in Action Map. You can use the map below to submit your story and provide further perspective. When you tell us about what you are doing, make sure to describe how your work is improving your communities right now. We need to make clear that when we talk about climate justice, we are not just talking about saving the planet for future generations, but also about creating good paying jobs, healthier and safer communities, and preventing future economic devastation by mitigating the effects of climate change.

Untitled-7Lastly, in order to truly turn the tide on climate change, we all need to work collaboratively. My hope is that through this climate justice campaign you just might think about things a little differently. You may read about projects from other stakeholders that make the light bulb go off for you. Hopefully you contribute your knowledge and share what you’ve learned so others can build from your experience.

We’ll do our part to share your stories. Throughout the summer we will be highlighting your submissions in various ways. At the conclusion of the campaign, we will compile and share all of the stories to keep the conversation going. So, please participate, join the conversation, and make this a meaningful dialogue about how we can work together to put climate justice in action. Your comments and contributions will give a fuller and richer understanding of climate justice than EPA could accomplish alone.

About the author: Mustafa Ali currently serves as the Senior Advisor to the Administrator for Environmental Justice at EPA.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Climate Justice

Reposted from EPA Connect Blog

By Charles Lee

Untitled-1Climate change is impacting our lives today, including record high temperatures, reduced air quality, extreme weather, severe droughts and sea-level rise, just to name a few examples. While we all share this burden, these impacts greatly exacerbate the many environmental and public health challenges in minority, indigenous and low-income communities. That’s why EPA promotes “climate justice” – a movement, building on more than 20 years of commitment to Environmental Justice, to protect disadvantaged communities disproportionately affected by climate change.

The impacts of climate change on our lives, families and communities are felt by everyone. In low income communities, these impacts are often devastating, including compromised health, financial hardship, and social and cultural disruptions. Often they are the first to experience heat-related illness and death, respiratory ailments, infectious diseases, unaffordable rises in energy costs, and crushing natural disasters.

At the same time, these communities receive less support and experience greater obstacles when trying to influence decisions about mitigating and adapting to climate change impacts. Their voices, concerns and ideas can easily be discounted. We must develop processes that make them active participants in developing solutions.

I know from experience that these communities want their voices heard and valued. They want to participate meaningfully in climate change negotiations and help to develop solutions that will affect their lives and their children’s lives for generations to come. Indeed these communities have much to contribute. For millennia, many indigenous communities have survived through cycles of environmental change using “traditional ecological knowledge” (TEK). This can be immensely useful in developing adaptation and mitigation strategies. For example, TEK may assist in predicting weather patterns, identifying medicinal plants, and adapting new plants to a changing ecosystem.

A 2010 study from the Yale Project on Climate Change and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication found that “in many cases, minorities are equally as supportive, and often more supportive of national climate and energy policies, than white Americans.” In particular:

  • 89% of blacks supported the regulation of carbon dioxide as a pollutant
  • 70% of Asian-Americans consider themselves as environmentalists
  • 60% of Asian-Americans prioritize environmental protection over economic growth

recent poll shows 74 percent of Latinos believe climate change is a serious or very serious issue, and 86 percent of Latinos support the President taking action to reduce carbon pollution.

As part of EPA’s focus on climate justice, the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), a federal advisory committee to EPA, is preparing advice and recommendations on how EPA can help improve community resilience in or near industrial waterfronts with environmental justice concerns. This project highlights the efforts of former NEJAC Chair Elizabeth Yiampierre to strengthen community resilience and emergency planning in her overburdened Brooklyn, NY community. NEJAC also embarked recently on a project to provide advice and recommendations for EPA’s individual program and regional climate adaptation implementation plans.

In 2012, communities in California took climate justice to a new level. Their advocacy resulted in legislation that ensures that resources go to communities most hurt by climate change. SB 535 calls for 25 percent of proceeds from the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund go to projects that benefit disadvantaged communities. By using CalEnviroScreen to identify disadvantaged communities, the state will make both socio-economic and environmental factors important considerations for determining where potentially billions of dollars of climate change resources will go.

It’s evident that minority, indigenous and low-income communities not only care about the impacts of climate change, but have been leaders in creating solutions. They believe strongly that as a nation, we can address climate change with common-sense, comprehensive strategies. In that process, they will help us build healthier and more sustainable communities, as well as a stronger more inclusive economy beneficial to all citizens.

Charles Lee is the Deputy Associate Assistant Administrator for Environmental Justice at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Mr. Lee is widely recognized as a true pioneer in the arena of environmental justice, as the principal author of the landmark report, Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Climate Justice

Climate change is impacting our lives today, including record high temperatures, reduced air quality, extreme weather, severe droughts and sea-level rise, just to name a few examples. While we all share this burden, these impacts greatly exasperate the many environmental and public health challenges in minority, indigenous and low-income communities. That’s why EPA promotes “climate justice” – a movement, building on more than 20 years of commitment to Environmental Justice, to protect disadvantaged communities disproportionately affected by climate change.

The impacts of climate change on our lives, families and communities are felt by everyone. In low income communities, these impacts are often devastating, including compromised health, financial hardship, and social and cultural disruptions. Often they are the first to experience heat-related illness and death, respiratory ailments, infectious diseases, unaffordable rises in energy costs, and crushing natural disasters. Continue reading

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.