As we enter into the final month of the year, it’s natural to take an inventory. As I reflected on the 2013 environmental front, the nagging image of climate deniers immediately came to mind. There are several members in the United States Congress that I find positively scary…right up there with the Koch Brothers and the power of Big Oil. Then, in a truly Zen moment, I took a deep breath and let that image dissipate. Rather, I thought of all the amazing people and actions that have been on my radar over the past twelve months. They are on the front lines of activism to heal the planet. They are lawmakers and scientists, but also people in all walks of life who are standing up to make a difference through personal actions. Here are a few that are on my radar. They push the boundaries every day and give me hope:
- The Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change: With Senator Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) helping to lead the charge, this group works to bring public visibility and representational support to the need for instituting policy initiatives around climate change.
- Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA): The Chairperson of the Environmental and Public Works Committee, Boxer stood her ground through numerous difficult hearings. Remember the 136 days it took to confirm Gina McCarthy as EPA administrator? Currently, she has been demanding answers about the chemical and gas odors that have been emanating from a local pumping facility operated by Allenco Energy Company. Residents in the University Park neighborhood have become ill. In this vicinity, there are four schools (from elementary to college level) and a childcare center. Children have been suffering from persistent nosebleeds and respiratory ailments.
- Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY): My home state senator, who I had the opportunity to meet and interview, Gillibrand has seen the devastating effects of extreme weather firsthand. She witnessed the impact of Hurricane Sandy throughout the hard hit areas, and has been vigilant in fighting to make sure homeowners get federal help. As a committee member of the EPW from the majority, she has been a vocal advocate for the environment, working to counterbalance the extreme views of several minority Senators.
- Dr. Robert Bullard: I wrote about him and used Dr. Bullard as a repeated source on stories dealing with environmental inequities. He is referenced as “the father of Environmental Justice.” Bullard built the original framework for understanding and reframing an essential part of the environmental equation.
- Documentary Filmmakers: This year has seen a plethora of movies that have delved into concerns including flame retardants in furniture, toxins in every day products, fracking, climate change, and global trash. Titles to check out: Toxic Hot Seat, Unacceptable Levels, Gasland 2, Trashed.
- Women Grassroots Leaders: Back in 1970, Lois Gibbs and Love Canal became household names when Gibbs fought a toxic dump near her son’s elementary school in New York state. Penny Newman fought a similar battle in California in 1979, taking on local government when the Stringfellow acid pits overflowed into her community due to heavy rains. This year, Kimberly Wasserman was recognized with a Goldman Environmental Prize for her fight to protect her neighborhood on Chicago’s southwest side. In a largely Latino district, where respiratory disease and children’s rate of asthma were greatly elevated, Wasserman founded the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization. She canvassed other parents to discuss the pollution from the Fisk and Crawford coal-fired power plants. Pushing back against the coal industry, she was instrumental in closing numerous facilities. She stated, “We’re not alone in this world and everything that we do has an impact.”