Browngirl Going Green

June 13, 2010, 4:05 pm
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It’s been frickin’ hot lately here in the Bay Area—and while the Bay definitely has its fair share of hot spots, Oakland is generally not one of them. It’s warmer here, yes, than in San Francisco most of the time, but not as hot as, say, Concord, Pittsburg, Antioch or other points further east and farther away from the ocean.

So it’s a little weird that in early June—when at times the weather can be so mild in the Bay that you wonder whether you’ve got the dates right in your calendar—we’re having 80+ degree weather. Climate change? Natural fluke? I’m no weather expert, but I have lived here all my life, and I can say that the weather has become more erratic and extreme of late, shifting from cool and rainy (just a week ago) to swelteringly hot and back again. Weather in the Bay Area always has been a bit changeable and unpredictable, but generally we don’t get more than a 10-degree swing from month to month. And while I generally do like heat, and my tomatoes in the garden are loving it, it’s been a little strange.

Of course, all this heat is coming when all of us are thinking more and more about our dependence on oil as a fuel source, with the BP spill still leaking and tons of birds and other wildlife in the Gulf dying or suffering, and whole communities being devastated by this awful disaster. And in the local Oakland Tribune, there was an article today about how the waters of the Bay are rising, threatening to displace more than a quarter of a million residents from their homes in the next 50+ years.

On a positive note, however, there is a silver cloud to the BP oil spill tragedy—that hopefully it will get more people to open their eyes to the reality that we cannot keep exploiting the earth’s natural resources without some pretty terrible repercussions. And also, that we need to realize that everything is connected, and that the extreme weather many of us are witnessing is only one symptom of a larger problem.

In the meantime, I await my new oscillating fan/ionic filter for my home, and hunker down to do some reading and gearing up for some writing workshops, and continue to try to live as green as possible during what promises to be a hot, hot summer.


One Way to Help: A Fundraiser’s Request

I sent this email out to several of my colleagues and friends, because as a fundraiser and an activist I can’t just sit idly by while animals die, people’s livelihoods are destroyed, and an entire eco-system is plagued by man-made death and destruction. It’s bad out there. So please do what you can to help the people who really do care about the environment and communities of the Gulf Coast to hold BP accountable and aid in the cleanup efforts. This is just one way to help, but it is a way.

Hey there,

It makes me so mad to watch the news every night and see how badly the oil spill is affecting the Gulf of Mexico. The environment, the communities there, the whales . . . it’s crazy.

Luckily, there’s one easy thing we can do to help. The Gulf Restoration Network is keeping us up-to-date on their blog, and you can take action to make sure BP cleans up its mess by clicking the link below.

Also, please consider making a donation to their work. I found about GRN through my friend Judy Hatcher, a long-time environmental justice activist who knows what’s what in the movement, and so I trust her opinion. GRN was her first referral to me when I asked about ways that I could help with this awful crisis in the gulf.

Thanks and take care,
Towards a just and sustainable world-

Two Dead Pelicans
January 30, 2010, 10:26 pm
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We saw the first one not long after we rounded the corner in a trail near the seasonal ponds at Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline in Oakland. The park consists of protected marsh wetlands inhabited by many overwintering birds, as well as biking and walking trails inhabited by some people, and a lot of ground squirrels. I’ve also seen plenty of wild rabbits hopping around in the protected areas, but the birds are definitely the most visible inhabitants.

That day we’d seen a hawk (I think), a tiny black bird with an amazing red throat that was as vibrant as its high-pitched call, lots of different kinds of ducks, and several pelicans. It was a cold day, but not too cold, and we could hear the airplanes landing nearby at Oakland International Airport. And then we rounded the corner—my husband Henry and I—and saw something in the grass between the paved trail and the San Leandro Creek. We got closer, and saw that it was one of the enormous pelicans, lying in the grass, dead. It looked almost like it had been flattened, as it was stretched on its belly, its wings sprawled on the ground as if someone had stomped on it. We didn’t see any blood or any obvious wounds, and even if it did, what animal would’ve been big enough to kill it? Even a gang of raccoons would have had a hard time taking down the big-billed creature.

“That’s sad,” I said, and Henry agreed. We stood there for a moment out of respect for the dead animal, and then continued our walk. When we neared the next corner in the trail, I saw another dead pelican, this time inside the protected area of the park, which is fenced off to keep people and (I’m guessing) other animals out. Sadly, there are still clumps of garbage inside the parameters of the protected area. And on this gray, cloudy day, another dead pelican. This one wasn’t as big as the first one we’d seen just a few minutes before, but it was also semi-flattened on the ground, its dark gray webbed feet stretched out behind its body like metal rods.

Seeing one dead animal is sad enough, seeing two was just too much. The activist in me had to do something, so I looked in the park brochure for a number to call. I found one, not knowing if it was the appropriate one, and called. Surprisingly, a live person answered the phone (it was a Sunday afternoon, when most public offices are closed), and I told them about the two dead pelicans that we’d just seen. The woman sounded mildly concerned, and told me she would make sure park staff went out to check on the situation.

And then today I happened to read this as I was researching trail closures. It makes me wonder, did the two pelicans die because they were poisoned by ‘urban runoff’—which this document defines as “contaminants, such as litter, food, human & animal waste, automobile fluids, industrial pollutants, fertilizers and pesticides….[that create] health risks for people, killing marine life and contributing to localized flooding and beach closures.” I mean, if people aren’t supposed to go near bay water after a storm, why would it be safe for birds? Or did the birds eat some stray plastic bag that they thought was a shiny fish?

In any case, it was tragic, seeing two birds dead on what was otherwise a pleasant hike. And it was another reminder of how human activity can cause so much death and destruction. But Nature will always rebound—and a book I’ve just started reading, The World Without Us, is about just that. More on this later.

RIP, pelicans.

Another BrownGirl Going Green

Photo of Jolene Rodriguez, by Jennie Warren, from The Long Beach District Weekly

This is another good example of how communities of color and immigrants communities in this country are often at the cutting edge of creating more a more ‘green’ environment for everyone. But they’re not necessarily driving Priuses or eating locally grown food. Usually they’re fighting for basic environmental rights that more privileged folks take for granted, like clean air.

I’m so proud of my former organization, Californians for Justice (CFJ), where I worked for many years, and also of this CFJ student, Jolene Rodriguez, who was recently profiled in a local publication for speaking out about air pollution in her community in Long Beach. The article talks about a testimonial she gave before the Long Beach City Council, and includes this great quote from Jolene: ““Every weekday at 1:40 p.m., I should look forward to softball practice. But instead, I fear that my lungs will give out because I have asthma.”

Yes, Jolene is just one of many young people in California and elsewhere fighting for clean air and a healthy environment. I don’t know whether she eats humanely raised meat or organic produce (although I’m guessing she doesn’t, since that kind of food is likely harder to find or afford in the low-income neighborhoods in Long Beach), but she’s another Browngirl Going Green. Kudos to CFJ and Jolene for their great work!