TOM BUTT E-FORUM: Response to RPA Open Letter


I received (indirectly) the “open letter” at the end of this email from the RPA.

I want to be clear that my characterization of the UN Climate Change Conference was intended to emphasize the scale of the movement and the consequences of not acting rather than to criticize any local efforts to relieve poverty, provide shelter and jobs or to achieve justice.

Indeed, I wrote, “Many stand to lose their homes, or even countries, to rising seas, and others stand to lose their livelihoods as oceans acidify, warm and lose oxygen. The oceans are perhaps the most vulnerable. This is not about warmer weather – this is about life and death. Maybe not ours – at least in the short run, but that of our grandchildren and great grandchildren. It’s also about social and environmental justice as those with the least stand to lose the most.”

In the best of all worlds, acting on  a local level, we can combine these efforts.

One good example is the recent use a grant derived from cap and trade funds (a method of carbon taxing) as a catalyst for affordable housing in Richmond. We received $6.1 million in an Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program (AHSC) for an affordable housing project at Miraflores. This supports sustainability by reducing sprawl and traffic in the region and provides affordable housing. It will also provide jobs in the construction phase with a requirement for local hiring. This is a triple win, while the rent control movement has only one objective that doesn’t even have a history of success.

Another example is the Solar 1 project funded by the Chevron Environmental and Community Benefits Agreement, which provided 60 acres on a Chevron brownfields for a 10.5 megawatt solar farm. The developer will provide solar generated electricity to Marin Clean Energy (MCE) at an attractive price (that Richmond will benefit from), and the construction will provide over 300 jobs, half of them required to be Richmond residents, many of whom have been trained by Richmond Build, another triple win. 

I think at the end of the day, I am mostly on the same page with the RPA except for the rent control issue. I certainly agree it doesn’t have to be “either/or,”  but neither do I appreciate being taken to task for trying to simply describe the scale and power of a worldwide movement to save the earth. While others are focusing on global challenges, we in Richmond have spent most of our City Council meeting time dealing with issues like rent control and space weapons (targeted individuals). One thing I have learned from this conference is both the value and necessity of local action.

I disagree with the RPA that many people should not or cannot “focus on what will happen to the world in the future.” Educating people to understand the gravity of the predicament we are in and bringing everyone into the fight is critical. What happened in WWII and the Home Front that we know so well in Richmond provides a good lesson. The only way victory was achieved was to bring everyone into the fight with a single focus. But along with it we got advances in civil rights, women’s rights, health care and child care as well as full employment. 

For a while, Richmond has had a Health in All Policies ordinance that requires all public policy decisions to be evaluated for their impact on community health. Maybe it is time for Sustainability in All Policies.

Tom Butt

An Open Letter to Tom Butt 
Not “either/or” — We need a just transition for a healthy world

Dear Tom,

We are pleased with the intensity of your concern about climate change in yourreports from Paris.* We agree that climate change is the most pressing issue facing humanity. We appreciate that you work so hard on MCE alternative energy, and we look forward to fighting climate change alongside you.

But we disagree when you imply that those who are concerned with rent control and a UC global campus community benefits agreement are “self-absorbed.” That is only partly right. We believe it is unreasonable, and unrealistic, to expect people who may not have a roof over their heads, justice from the police, decent jobs, food for their families, or medical care to put these concerns aside to focus on what will happen to the world in the future. What is unseemly and self-absorbed is for those who are provided for and have the comforts of life to spend their time on opposing rent control and community benefits and on protecting their privileged place in society.

In fact, you may have noticed that the people who lead the fight for rent control, decent jobs, a community hospital, and healthy food in Richmond are also among those most active in fighting climate change. And those who most oppose rent control and favor slashing the social safety net do nothing about, and often dismiss, the issues in climate change. The correlation is not perfect, but it is quite striking.

The lack of response to climate change is due in large part to the power of the fossil fuel industry and giant utilities. For decades, Exxon, Chevron, the Koch brothers, and other fossil-fuel corporations have been financing a massive campaign to undermine scientific consensus about the causes of global warming. Their money elects climate change deniers to office. PG&E and other mega-utilities are using their lobbying power in Sacramento to undermine green energy providers like MCE. They claim we should let the market make the decisions, the same argument used against controlling rental and housing prices, allowing DMC to close, and opposing a higher minimum wage and the right of workers to organize.

The struggles for rent control and a community benefits agreement are attempts to confront a system in which people gain enormous wealth at the expense of others—and the whole earth—by claiming they are just letting the market work things out.  

Only by organizing together can we take on the so-called market forces—the power of huge corporations and concentrated wealth—and change things. In reality, the struggles for rent control and community benefits are an essential part of the movement to make a just transition to a sustainable economy and a fair and livable world.

Richmond Progressive Alliance Steering Committee, 12/6/15

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