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My Word: Oakland's opportunity to be green and be economically vibrant

Submitted by Staff on Wed, 12/16/2009 - 12:04pm
OAKLAND has an amazing opportunity to be a worldwide leader in equitable climate action.

With crucial international climate talks in Copenhagen set for December, the Oakland Climate Action Coalition is showing how strong climate policy can build a safe, economically vibrant, and socially just city.

In our everyday lives, we are already feeling the impacts of climate change and our dangerous dependence on fossil fuels. Gasoline and utility bills continue to rise with no end in sight. Turbulent and unpredictable weather patterns threaten valuable food crops, raising prices at the grocery store.

Meanwhile, polluting industries cause children in East and West Oakland to suffer from asthma at twice the rate of the Alameda County average. Everyone, rich and poor, will bear the impacts of the climate crisis, but the disturbing reality is that those who are least responsible for the climate crisis are being hit first and worst.

So what is Oakland doing? It turns out that city officials are crafting a plan — called the Energy and Climate Action Plan — that will go to the City Council in 2010. This plan could make Oakland a model city in the fight against global warming in ways that benefit all people.

But will it? Will Oakland's plan be a strong or weak one? Will it supercharge the green economy and provide much-needed jobs, or green wash the city and continue to pour our precious tax dollars into growth and development at any cost? Will the plan protect and uplift vulnerable communities, or leave people to drown, figuratively if not literally?

With this in mind, leaders throughout Oakland have organized a vibrant alliance called the Oakland Climate Action Coalition to fight for a strong and workable plan. Hundreds of people and dozens of impressive organizations are involved.

Parents and youth, scientists and teachers, trade unionists and environmentalists, community leaders and business owners are taking action. Together, we have spent months crafting dozens of detailed policy proposals that can make Oakland a model green city.

We are advocating for real, equitable solutions to become law. We're fighting for an Oakland with a thriving green economy that runs on clean, local energy; an Oakland that creates quality jobs; and an Oakland that protects and uplifts both our people and our planet.

Together, we can pass and implement real climate solutions that divert resources away from criminalization and detention, and instead focus on creating opportunities by investing in public transportation, efficient energy and water use, reuse and recycling of materials and urban agriculture in a way that puts our most precious and valuable resources to work — our people.

Oakland can lead the Bay Area and the nation in building a green and equitable society. You can join us. The Oakland Climate Action Coalition hosted a free Community Convergence for Climate Action earlier this month where hundreds of Oakland community members celebrated local climate solutions crafted by diverse allies, enjoyed free food and were inspired by performances from local artists, including live green hip-hop and a theatrical performance on climate by high school-aged youth. This convergence is just the beginning.

In the coming months, the Oakland Climate Action Coalition will be pushing for the City Council to adopt and implement these landmark climate goals. Join us in making this vision of safe, economically sound and socially just city a reality.

For more information, visit

Emily Kirsch is convener of the Oakland Climate Action Coalition at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.