Bringing Power to the People: Women for 100% Renewable Energy, 2016 WECAN Training Recap

Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN International Communications Coordinator

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Wahleah Johns (Black Mesa Water Coalition), Diane Moss (Renewables 100 Policy Institute) and Lynn Benander (Co-op Power) – ‘Women for 100% Renewable Energy: From Installation to Advocacy’ 2016 speakers

In early May 2016, allies from across the US and the world united for ‘Women for 100% Renewable Energy: From Installation to Advocacy’, an open online training presented by the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network U.S. Women’s Climate Justice Initiative.

Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network, opened the training with an overview of topics including women’s leadership in movements to end fossil fuel extraction and grow renewable energy, renewable energy within a climate justice framework, and the vital the concept of ‘just transition’.

According to Osprey, climate justice in the context of renewable energy means clean energy solutions that are safe and accessible to all people; that respect natures needs and diversity; that do not involve the pursuit of false solutions such as fracking and large scale hydro-dams; that do not involve the displacement of Indigenous people or local communities; and which give attention and resources first and foremost to frontline communities and those who have been historically sacrificed to dirty energy industries.

She explained that the ‘Just Transition’ to renewables must at its heart incorporate care for workers, families and communities currently involved in fossil fuel production, and be based upon models of decentralization and genuine democracy, with renewable systems planned, owned and benefiting local residents. For WECAN International, a Just Transition also means those with women at the forefront at all stages of planning and implementation.

Focusing in on the U.S., Osprey explained that women direct over 80% of all purchases – one of many potential sources of power to move the country, and the world as a whole, towards clean energy and democratic local economies.

“Power to the people is a very literal phrase,” Osprey explained, “we, and the incredible women you will hear from today, are challenging the status quo, taking back power in our communities, and providing for ourselves the clean power that will allow us to sustain present and future generations, and Earth herself.”

She also reminded all on the call that as less than 5% of the world population, the U.S. is responsible for over 27% of global climate change causing emissions. As women with immense power to effect change, Osprey explained, it is thus the collective and individual responsibility of U.S. women to take action for a just transition to renewable energy, and also pursue systemic change and deep solutions which address overconsumption and deeply unequal distribution – working together to “live better not more”. We must simultaneously transition to clean energy while seriously decreasing over-consumption and unsustainable lifestyles.

Diane Moss took the floor as the first guest speaker. 

Diane is a co-founder of the Renewables 100 Policy Institute and founder of Dima-Media, which specializes in sustainability-related projects, companies and campaigns. Diane is also an independent energy strategies consultant, and has worked with several non-profit organizations, including Friends of the Earth and Heinrich Boell Foundation, as well as various clean tech companies. She has served as US policy advisor to World Future Council, as environmental deputy to United States Congress-member Jane Harman, and as an intern to the Costa Rican Ambassador to UNESCO in Paris. Diane studied at Harvard and New York University, and completed a thesis program in political science in Paris.

Diane began with a bold statement, whose truth is becoming more apparent everyday: It is not a question of if we transition to renewable energy, but of when, how, and with whom leading the way and profiting?

She highlighted 2014/2015 as a “watershed” year for action and ambition for renewable energy, bringing the topic “from pipe-dream to main stream”, with groups as varied as large corporations, neighborhood groups, state governments, and international institutions such as the G7, UNESCO and United Nations beginning to discuss encourage and move towards implementation of 100% renewable energy targets.

According to recent reports, resources and maps by the Renewables 100 Policy Institute and allies, more than 8 countries, 55 cities, 61 regions, 9 utilities, and 10 nonprofits/educational/public representing over 54.9 million people have committed to going 100% renewable in at least one sector in coming years and decades.

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Image from Diane Moss 2016 PowerPoint

Diane discussed Vermont and Hawaii as two powerful examples of citizens ability to effect change and push for a just transitions in the U.S., and highlighted the vital fact that it is rarely political representatives that introduce renewable energy, but rather it is by the will and drive of strong local leaders that renewable energy gets on the table and is actualized.

Diane shared six basic tools available to advance renewable energy, including:

  • 100% renewable energy targets with implementation plans, procurement requirements, milestones (to be set within schools, neighborhoods, cities, place of worship and at other scales, big and small)
  • Renewable portfolio standards (state policies that set targets for how much renewable energy the local or regional utilities must have in their procurement – ex. Hawaii with the goal of a 100% renewable portfolio standard by 2045)
  • Community local choice programs
  • Net zero energy building targets and codes
  • Net metering (get credits for the renewable power you generate; major driver for rooftop solar but under attack by utility companies in some states)
  • Federal tax credits (great tool, but with problems in current form, which gives greatest benefit to those with high incomes)

She ended by stressing the importance of an integrated and holistic view as we seek to change policies, making clear that energy cannot be separated from other critical issues including food, water, consumption and daily decisions to pollute or protect the planet. 

Wahleah Johns, Solar Project Manager with the Black Mesa Water Coalition (BMWC), spoke next. Wahleah comes from the Dine (Navajo) Nation and the community of Forest Lake, one of many atop Black Mesa in what is now north-east Arizona, USA, Turtle Island. She is a founding member of the Black Mesa Water Coalition, and it’s longest standing staff member. In her several years at BMWC she has taken on various roles, helping lead groundbreaking legislative victories for groundwater protection, green jobs, and environmental justice across the Dine Nation, Arizona and the U.S. Southwest. Wahleah is also a member of the Navajo Green Economy Coalition, working to educate the local community and lobby at the federal, state and tribal levels on behalf of maintaining balance with nature and building self-sustaining Indigenous communities.

In her current role as BMWC’s Black Mesa Solar Project Coordinator, Wahleah is working out of the Bay Area, California to gain organizational expertise and support for transitioning Black Mesa’s reclaimed mining lands into solar farms.

Wahleah began her presentation with a background on the Dine (Navajo) Nation and it’s dark history with uranium, coal and other toxic mining.

There are more than 300,000 people living across the Dine Nation, which stretches some 27,000 square miles across what are now the U.S. states of New Mexico and Arizona. Wahleahs community of Forest Lake sits next to one of the largest coal mine strips in the country, touted for providing “affordable power” for the region. However, as Wahleah’s powerful presentation highlighted, the devastation wrought on the Earth and Dine communities like Forest Lake make clear that this power is not “affordable”, nor excusable.

Most of the energy created through exploitation of Dine lands is sent to power nearby cities in Arizona and California – while over 32% of Dine homes lack access to electricity and 38% go without running water. The Navajo Generating Station (not owned by the Dine people, despite the name) processes toxic coal to power the Central Arizona Project (CAP) water canals, which carry water across the dry state to booming cities, luxury residences and unsustainable agricultural areas.

Mining companies are adding insult to injury by sucking up billions of gallons of water from the pristine ice age Navajo Aquifer, the lifeline of the parched desert region. Wahleah reported that over 3.3 million gallons of water are used everyday by Peabody coal for operations on Dine lands, drying up sacred water springs, wells and rivers vital to cultural, spiritual, economic and physical survival.

The environmental racism and disregard for Indigenous rights and wellbeing is brutally apparent.

In 2006, Black Mesa Water Coalition and regional allies pressured tribal leaders to demand the end of the use of Peabody Coal’s slurry lines, citing dire threats and impacts on fresh water sources. Since initial struggles and victories, Wahleah and her colleagues have been spearheading growing discussions and action groups to figure out what it really means to shut down coal and uranium mines, generating stations and pipelines in communities that have been polluted and made dependent on extraction for decades.

BMWC, under the leadership of Wahleah and the outstanding climate woman, Jihan Gearon, is resisting new mining and infrastructure, and researching ways to repurpose brown and leach fields, with the goal of reclaiming a sizable portion of the 14 thousand acres of mined land for use in new solar projects. Arizona has 300+ days of sunshine a year, with seemingly endless renewable potential.

Among many goals, the Black Mesa Solar Project aims to replace the dirty Navajo Generating Station coal used to power the CAP with solar energy, owned by and benefiting Dine communities.

Wahleah and colleagues are learning how to deal with old infrastructure, roads and toxic dumping, and moving forward with an off grid solar install (like the amazing Lubicon Solar project in the middle of the Canadian Tar Sands), thus forging a path for the Dine people to have access to and lead the just next system that climate activists around the world are calling forth.

Groups and individuals across the Navajo nation are beginning to collaborate, collect recommendations and build action plans of how to move forward collectively and as a tribal nation, shedding a toxic legacy and seeking out a new path based on sustainable living and Indigenous sovereignty.

In starting solar power projects on reclaimed lands, held in community hands – Wahleah and other Dine leaders and community members are building hope and directly challenging the unsustainable status quo that has exploited their people for generations

As they build the transition on Dine lands, Wahleah and colleagues are drawing upon their rich culture and the knowledge and vision of their ancestors, building solar and passive energy homes in the style of traditional Dine hogans, and translating renewable energy resources and technical information into the Dine language.

Wahleah discussed renewable energy and the Just Transition as a way to enliven spiritual and cultural connection, touching on work to reach out to children, youth, adults and elders by connecting renewable energy information with traditional knowledge and storytelling about the sun and Dine thought on relationship to light and the sacred directions. According to Wahleah, Dine stories recount that the sun has always helped their people overcome challenges.

Wahleah ended by explaining that a Just Transition remands reciprocity and justice for those, such as the Dine (Navajo) Nation, who have had their lives, water, health and cultural and spiritual connection to their homelands denigrated by decades of fossil fuel extraction. She reminded participants that while much attention is given to exploitation and horror abroad, within the wealthy Northern Nation, Indigenous communities have also been and continue to be sacrificed to bring luxury, comfort, and energy those with institutionalized power and privilege.

Within this context, it is clear that the movement for renewables and just climate change solutions must be diverse and open, and shaped by Indigenous peoples, low-income communities and marginalized people of all forms.

“100% renewable energy really resonates with Indigenous communities – it means the ability to control our own destiny, to build self reliance and sovereignty – this is what clean energy can provide is it is done right,” Wahleah explained.

She emphasized that the team working on Black Mesa is still finding their way everyday, learning lessons for themselves and all communities on the frontlines struggling against extraction and the legacy of colonialism. She reflected on the many invaluable allies who have helped her and Black Mesa make model business plans, and grow their understanding of markets and potential for creating an effective renewable system.

“We do this work for future generations, for the health of our communities, and because of our deep understanding of our connection to everything, “ Wahleah reflected in her closing comments.

Her work, and that of Black Mesa Water Coalition as a whole, is part of a long line of Indigenous rights, environmental racism and anti-extraction work led by courageous Dine leaders over the decades.

Lynn Benander took the floor as the final presenter of the day.

Lynn Benander, CEO and President of Co-op Power, works tirelessly to build community ownership of renewable energy resources in New England and New York, USA. She has worked for many years to support the development of consumer, producer, worker-owned and other locally-controlled businesses that meet basic needs for energy, food, and shelter. Ms. Benander has raised more than $25 million in development grants, renewable energy grants, and financing for business development. She lives in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts and serves on numerous cooperative and community boards and on her town’s energy and finance committees.

Lynn shared the story of Co-op Power as a powerful example of what is possible when a “multi-race, multi-class movement” unites to build locally owned and operated renewable energy systems.

Co-op Power is a consumer-owned sustainable energy cooperative, which operated within a network of co-ops that together support 22 ‘Green Enterprises’, 200 ‘Good Green Jobs’ and a growing group of over 7,000 people across Massachusetts and Vermont.

Using the locally owned co-op model, every community involved with Co-op Power decides what approach and type of renewables they wish to use, and then works collectively to ensure that energy is created and distributed in a just and inclusive way. According to Lynn, women are playing a key role on every level of community renewable energy development, as project catalysts, investors, activists, policymakers, supporters, organizers, and builders.

Through their diverse network, Co-op Power members are learning how to reclaim their power and take back the commons through green job and installation training, environmentally sustainable renewable choices, just and open renewable financing options, and local planning, installation and benefit.

The transition to renewables is about the “power of the people to build local, living economies,” Lynn explained, stressing that truly effective systems must be firmly grounded and supportive of local resilience and sovereignty.

During her presentation, Lynn decried the current U.S. renewables tax incentive structure, which supports wealthy investors more than local communities, families and small scale projects, and stressed the need for new enabling legislation to make renewable energy accessible to all.

Despite the gap in policy support in much of the U.S., grassroots urban and rural solar projects are popping up in inspired communities across the country, from the rooftops of low-income housing units in New York City, to the tops of greenhouses in California and beyond.

In closing, Lynn drew attention to the Energy Democracy Movement and one of its key leaders, Denise Fairchild, and shared the Co-op Power ‘5 Years to Energy Freedom’ plan, which asks people to pledge to reduce energy consumption by 50%, and then work towards using renewables to supply the other half of their energy needs.

‘Women for 100% Renewable Energy: From Installation to Advocacy’ concluded with a Question and Answer session exploring topics including the sourcing of renewable, fairly traded materials for clean energy technology; the developing US solar market; energy efficiency; what reciprocity for frontline community looks like in action; and questions about the effectiveness of working inside the system versus outside the system (using tools such as non-violent civil disobedience) in pursuit of timely action to #KeepItInTheGround and transition to renewables.

Learn more about past and upcoming US Women’s Climate Justice Initiative Trainings here.

Training Resources

 

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For Earth & Future Generations: Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change, Paris

Blog by Emily Arasim, WECAN Communications Coordinator

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On December 7, 2015, women from around the world united at ‘Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change – Paris’, a Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network event held in parallel to United Nations COP21 climate negotiations.

In holding with tradition, WECAN began the event by honoring the peoples of the land on which event presenters and participants stood. Osprey Orielle Lake, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network Executive Director, presented a gift and opened the floor to Josefina Skerk, Vice-President of the Sami Parliament of Sweden, who offered a traditional Sami welcome on behalf of the Indigenous peoples of Europe.

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“We are all bound to each other, and we are all bound to Nature,” Josefina reflected, “As Indigenous peoples, the bond that we have to Nature is that of a family member, it is someone that does not have to be vocal for you to understand them. And right now our family member, our mother, our Nature is screaming. But thanks to people like you and me who are speaking out, taking action and working together to build strong alliances against this exploitation, there is hope. We are becoming joined in a beautiful weave.”

Sally Ranney, co-Founder of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network took the floor, sharing thoughts on consumerism, personal responsibility, and the imperative of changing our cultural narratives.

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Sally Ranney (Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network)

“We are experiencing a wake up call, both internally, for our internal journeys and decision making protocol, and for our global decision making protocol. Climate change asks us to look really deeply at what are values are, and these are the kind of discussion that aren’t happening inside COP21,” Sally explained, handing the mike back to WECAN co-Founder and Executive Director, Osprey Orielle Lake for a critical analysis and foundation for subsequent panels and presentation.

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Osprey Orielle Lake (Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network)

“It is not a time to be timid, we are not in a rehearsal but rather in a truly a transformative moment,” Osprey began, noting that COP21 discussions and emissions cuts happening simultaneously just outside of Paris remained absolutely insufficient, “There is no later date – the time is irrefutable now, so we are calling for radical change and I want to bring that forward today,”

“There needs to be an understanding that there is a systemic link between the climate crisis, our economic model, and the ongoing exploitation and disempowerment of women,” she continued, outlining why women are impacted first and worst by climate change, but more importantly, why women are key to climate justice and global peace making.

“To address systemic problems, women are advocating for and implementing models of collective ownership of the plants, the forests – they are working to localize their economies… they are already demonstrating alternative plans and policies, small scale solutions with very large impacts.”

“There is something else that women are bringing to the conversation that really cannot be left out as we face massive loss of life, species extinction, and the increasing threats of climate change, and that is our emotional and spiritual intelligence. Healing our seeming disconnect to Mother Earth is a solution, and women’s voices are central to this.”

Osprey drew attention to the critical leadership of Indigenous women across the globe – framing their struggles and solutions as one of the most critical untold stories of the climate crisis.

“We are Mother Earth’s immune system – standing up together to protect and defend and heal her. Through our collective networks, we are calling for system change, not climate change. We need climate justice, and we need to have the courage to change everything about how we are living with each other and the Earth,” Osprey concluded, bringing the first group of outstanding women leaders to the stage for the ‘Women Speak from the Frontlines of Climate Change’ panel.

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Pictured right to left: Kandi Mossett, Josefina Skerk, Eriel Deranger and Thilmeeza Hussain

Kandi Mossett (Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara), Climate and Energy Campaign Organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network of North Dakota, Turtle Island, USA spoke first – sharing immensely powerful words on what is happening in her homeland, and on the connections between capitalism, colonization, and violations of women and the Earth.

“This is COP21 – they have been doing this for 21 years… the truth is that women and Indigenous peoples have the answers, if you would just listen to us and stop telling us what is best for us. You cannot expect to take and take and take and never give back.”

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Kandi Mossett (Indigenous Environmental Network)

“Without balance we will destroy ourselves, and I think that is why women are leading the movement… women have always played a central role in the balance of life and livelihoods…look at the COP21 and what you’ll see is primarily a room full of older white males in suits making decisions on our behalf. My two and a half year old daughter is at home and has no idea about the decisions they are making for her, we must think about the next generation and the seventh generation. ”

Kandi’s spoke on her experiences in North Dakota, where fracking has exploded and brought dire environmental threats and a host of social injustice to her communities’ doorstep. She looked to the roots of escalating pollution, cancer, violent crime, drug use, and sexual assaults and sex trafficking – which all lie in the rapidly expanding toxic industry.

“We need to use the gifts that shine down on us almost everyday from the sun, the wind that blows in our face… So my message to the leaders that are listening, if they are listening, is to use your common sense. Get away from these ideas of greed and power – because when they are sitting around in a torn up world and everything around them is polluted, they will not be able to drink their oil and they will not be able to eat their money.”

Josefina Skerk, Vice President of the Sami Parliament in Sweden, took the floor again to share more on her peoples, lands and the stark climate impacts being felt there.

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Josefina Skerk (Sami Parliment)

Josefina explained that a two-degree temperature increase in most regions results in an eight degree rise in the far North, and that the traditional life and livelihood of the her people is already directly threatened and changing rapidly due to fragile ice and warming ecosystems. The Sami have persevered through intense discrimination and forced sterilization as recently as the 1970’s and 80’s – but now climate change is bringing new threats to their very existence itself.

“We are not strawberry jam, a wise Sami women once said…we do not want to be preserved,” Josefina stated to a resounding applause and calls of solidarity from the audience and fellow presenters.

“However through global work and though connecting with Indigenous people and others – through raising our voices – we are truly finding a way forward. There are demonstrations, there are protests and what we see is leaders taking their place, and they are normally Sami women from our society,”

“I do not know where the men are,” she laughed, “but I do know that women are fighting back and I see the strength of this. Raising our voices is immensely effective.”

Eriel Deranger, Communications Manager of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Treaty 8 Territory in Northern Alberta, Canada spoke next, bringing critical light to the importance of Indigenous peoples and Indigenous women’s climate solutions.

“Despite centuries of colonization and attempted assimilation, we have persevered and we have survived. Now, in 2015, it is time to abandon patriarchal and colonial ideologies… we have always been here, we have not been discovered. … we cannot move forward to a just and balanced society if we do not unpack these systems of patriarchy and colonization that have brought us to where we are today.”

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Eriel Deranger (Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation)

Eriel continued, “We are seeing a merging of movement, and it is imperative. The environmental movement, the Indigenous rights movement, they are coming together because we have a common goal – the protection and preservation of the lands, of Mother Earth, of the places that have given us life and bred cultures that have persevered… I have no intention of stepping down – I will stand up to every government so that my children know who they are, so that my children can go back to the Delta and eat the fish and caribou and moose and know who they are. Without the strong voices of the women on the frontlines of climate change, without the strong voices of Indigenous women on the frontlines – we would not have a hope, so I want to pay homage to the strong women, all the strong women, I raise my hands up to you.”

Eriel passed the floor to Thilmeeza Hussain, Founder of Voice of Women, Maldives, who offered a jolting testimony based in her experience as a woman of a highly climate vulnerable small island nation.

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Thilmeeza Hussain (Voice of Women Maldives)

“We need to look beyond the negotiations, beyond the text – we need to put a human face on what is going on – we need to understand what is really at stake. Lives are at stake, we are loosing lives, people are dying – that is what is at stake… how many lives are we willing to sacrifice before we act on climate change? How many dead bodies should we serve on a gold platter to these oil corporations before we can satisfy their greed and move away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy?”

Thilmeeza continued, “as mothers, as women, as sisters – as responsible citizens of this world – we cannot afford to watch our children be killed by climate change, we need to look beyond Paris and insure our governments are held accountable for the promises made here… we need to take strength from each other and move forward, we cannot afford to look back.”

Patricia Gualinga, Indigenous Kichwa leader of Sarayaku, Ecuador took the stage as the afternoon’s first keynote speaker. Patricia spoke on the struggle and victory of her people, who have campaigned and successfully prevented oil extraction in their territories in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

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Patricia Gualinga (Sarayaku, Ecuador) with translation by Leila Salazar-López (Amazon Watch)

“Our people, our women are determined that there will be no oil extraction in our territory, there will be no mining or industrial development. For this reason, we can say that we are already combatting climate change,”

Patricia spoke to the role of women in this vital work, to the need for strengthened global solidarity, and on the Kawsak Sacha ‘Living Forests’ proposal, her communities integral plan for a just and sustainable future. She framed the global climate crisis as fundamentally rooted in Western thought’s division of the material from the spiritual, and its loss of vision surrounding the profound interconnection of humans and the Earth.

“There is much worry about regarding what the governments are doing [inside COP21]… in many ways it pains me, they are so isolated – have you noticed how they drive in blacked out cars, how they hold meetings in these very cold sites that are so cut off from contact with reality? They have imprisoned themselves in their own heads in some ways, and they are the ones making decisions about the planet. We need to be very worried – if they are generating laws that don’t include us, with which we have never agreed, then we do not have any reason to obey them. If they are going to destroy the planet, it is our responsibility to resist them.”

Patricia continued with words of hope and unity;

“Now is not the time to see social classes, or colors or different languages – now is the time to transform ourselves, it is time to see each other as brothers and sisters. It is the time to understand and the time to change…. This is not a matter for Indigenous peoples, this is not a matter for just those who are out on the front fighting every day against oil concessions in our territories. This is an issue for everyone – respect Indigenous rights, respect the integrity of our lives, of future generations. In this we are all united, and if we are just one more everyday, then we can generate change,”

After concluding the translation from Spanish, Leila Salazar-López, Executive Director of Amazon Watch, provided closing comments contextualizing why it is imperative that we work with communities like Sarayaku to protect the Amazon, and sharing the newly released document, ‘Keep It In The Ground: A Declaration for the Health of Mother Earth‘.

Fleur Newman, Programme Officer and UNFCCC Gender Focal Point representing the UNFCCC Secretariat, spoke next after having listened to the first panel.

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Fleur Newman (UNFCCC Secretariat)

Fleur presented an overview of her role within the UNFCCC, and the various programs and mechanisms around women and climate change that she helps facilitate, including the UN System Wide Plan on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. She shared words of support and encouragement with the women leaders, helping bring the formal COP21 process together with the frontline and grassroots women leaders present at the event.

Following Fleurs remarks, presenters of the second panel, ‘Women’s Strategic Analysis, Policy and Advocacy for Systemic Change and Climate Justice’ took the stage. 

Titilope Akosa of Centre for 21st Century Issues, Nigeria and representative of the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency opened the panel with an in-depth analysis on the status of gender equity in the Paris climate accord and the work of the Women and Gender Constituency inside of COP21.

She presented the ten point Women and Gender Constituencies COP21 Key Demands document, and outlined the Constituencies struggles and ceaseless work to retain gender responsive language in the Paris accord.

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Titilope Akosa (Centre for 21st Century Issues & the UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency)

“We have made it clear that this agreement, the global agreement on climate change will not be complete without women…you cannot write off half of humanity, it is not possible. If gender is not referenced and if the aspiration of women is not included, if the aspirations of the women on the frontlines are not included in this global agreement, then a whole half of humanity is excluded,”

“We do not want a polluted future, we do not want a future that is used up before our children come to life,” Titilope continued, “We are women, we are the ones that create, we are the ones that bring forth life and this is why we must stand strong for the people and planet. And this is why I am here, I come all the way from Nigeria in Africa – I said that I cannot sit down and allow this to go on, and allow these leaders to gamble with the future. If I have to talk to my children, the ones yet unborn, I will be happy and grateful to tell that when it was time to act, I was there, I stood for their future and I am proud to say that I am a warrior on this land and I am ready to fight to the end. We will not give up on our beautiful planet.”

Mary Louise Malig, Campaigns Coordinator and Research Associate with the Global Forest Coalition in the Philippines spoke next, shedding light on connections between climate change, agribusiness and global industrial trade, and presenting small-scale agro-ecological farming as a critical, tangible and immediate climate solution.

She discussed how the WTO and trade agreements like the hotly debated Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) effectively block the progress made through negotiations such as COP and other local and national initiatives, using its fierce, legally binding power to enforce trade sanctions that benefit very few over the health and wellbeing of people and planet.

Mary Lou shared the example of Ontario, Canada, where a tariff program to encourage local renewables was shut down by a WTO dispute claiming they were unfairly favoring local workers and processes – both vital to just climate solutions.

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Mary Louise Malig (Global Forest Coalition)

“It has to be the system that is changed. We cannot win a battle where we just fight inside this arena. We have to connect our struggles – we have to connect the struggles against deforestation, the struggle against free trade, the struggle for real solutions to climate change. We have to connect them all together and really fight to change the system and bring peoples solutions up to the front.”

Mary Lou passed the floor to Jacqueline Patterson, Director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Environmental & Climate Justice Program, who shared a presentation called ‘Resistance, Resilience, Reclamation and Revolution’.

Jacqui spoke to the effects of environmental discrimination and industrial pollution on communities in the US, and called out false solutions such as natural gas, which are only deepening the climate crisis and violating rights, particularly those of frontline communities, low-income families, and peoples of color.

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Jaqcui Patterson (NAACP Environmental & Climate Justice Program)

“We must address the disparity between who is making decisions and who is most impacted,” Jacqui explained, simultaneously referencing her experience with the post Hurricane Katrina reconstruction and the concurrent COP21 climate negotiations.

She shared stories of successful, tragic and ongoing struggles of women and community leaders documenting pollution related health impacts in their communities and taking direct action to shut down toxic industries and build alternatives – and expanded Mary Lou’s insights on the intersectionality of our people’s movements.

“Not only are we pushing for clean energy, but we are also working to insure that there are economic justice measures in these policies,” Jacqui explained, emphasizing that things like women in renewable energy, accessible and sovereign food systems, immigrant rights and justice, and racial justice are all connected and essential elements of the just transition we so desperately need.

Angelina Galiteva, Founder of the Renewables 100 Policy Institute in the USA closed the second panel with compelling comments on energy policy derived from years of work inside the industry and outside as an advocate, activist and mother.

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Angelina Galiteva (Renewables 100 Policy Institute)

“We are moving forward and we are going to transition the system to 100% renewable energy. Why? Because we have the technology, because it is possible,”

She shared poignant reflections on the role of women in the coming clean energy revolutions, “climate change is a man-made problem, women are the solution.”

Neema Namadamu, Director of SAFECO and Coordinator of the WECAN Democratic Republic of Congo program opened the third and final panel.

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Neema Namadamu (SAFECO & WECAN DR Congo)

Neema framed her work in the context of the Congo rainforest, the second largest rainforest in the world and cradle of more than 60% of Africa’s forest area. She expressed solidarity with the global Indigenous women who had already shared their stories, and urged collective global action to care for the vital ecosystems of the Congo.

“Open your eyes, look to Africa…we must invest in Africa planting trees again, so you can have oxygen – after that we can negotiate everything else we need to negotiate.”

Aleta Baun, conservationist and activist of West Timor, Indonesia took the mike next, speaking on her communities successful resistance to mining, and the ways in which they took positive direct action to conserve the forest and build sustainable local economies around textile weaving in the aftermath of the mobilization against mining.

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Aleta Baun (activist of West Timor, Indonesia)

“In our worldwide land is flesh, water is blood, forest are hair and stone is like our bones… We plant trees to heal the water that was once destroyed by mining companies. We discuss how to build women’s strength, especially though weaving so that we can have economic strength and this will protect us from being uprooted again.”

Aleta passed the floor to Natalie Isaacs, CEO and co-Founder of 1 Million Women, Australia, who addressed themes of overconsumption and lifestyle choice amongst women in wealthy nations.

“Individual action, action of households, action of communities and all of us acting together actually makes a big difference,” Natalie began, reflecting on her personal transformation from an unengaged corporate leader, to a catalyst of women and girls for healthy lives and climate justice.

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Natalie Isaacs (1 Million Women)

“In all our discussions, inside the COP21 climate negotiations – behavior change and how we live our lives is actually the elephant in the room, it is not being talked about…1 Million Women has a big task, we are trying to change the way people in a developed country like Australia live – but luckily we all know that women and girls are incredible change agents,”

Nino Gamisonia, Projects Coordinator with the Rural Communities Development Agency of Abkhazia, Georgia spoke next, providing insights on renewable energy and solar water heater programs in her country, and their benefits for the environment and rural communities.

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Nino Gamisonia (Rural Communities Development Agency)

She highlighted how women are disproportionately impacted by dirty energy and the burning of wood as fuel, and detailed how women’s engagement in solar water programs has generated a profound and critical sense of empowerment amongst those involved.

Naomi Ages, Climate Liability Project Lead with Greenpeace USA closed the third and panel of the day with thoughts on risk, bravery and action on climate change. Drawing on stories of activists who put their bodies on the line for climate justice, Naomi asked each person in the room to reflect on the level of commitment and action that they are willing and able to make in order to contribute to critical climate solutions.

“This is a call to action – choose your version of courage and do the thing for you that really contributes and combats climate change.”

Mary Robinson, President of the Mary Robinson Foundation-Climate Justice, current UNFCCC Climate Change Envoy and former President of Ireland, took the stage to present her thoughts on the climate negotiations and women’s leadership in climate change solutions at COP21 and beyond.

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Mary Robinson (Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice)

Mary acknowledged great strides by COP21 government representatives to address the needs of most vulnerable nations and recognize the imperative of human rights and gender equality – however also spoke to a sense of stagnation and repetition within climate negotiations and the struggles to retain gender responsive, just and concrete language within the accord.

“But we’re back again with a real sense that this will be a very important agreement. It wont be a great agreement, but it will hopefully be ambitious enough to help us to realize that on the 1st of January of 2016, we are in a new era,”

“We really need the power and knowledge of women leaders at all levels, it is so important for the future. Indeed, if we had more women’s leadership, I do not think we would be where we are now…women’s participation is an enabler of climate justice,” Mary attested, discussing her foundation’s new report, ‘Women’s Participation – An Enabler of Climate Justice’.

“There really is no longer a divide between the sustainable development goals and the France climate agreement, we bring them together in January. And I really do think that women are at the forefront of what happens after that. Why? Because it’s women that change behavior, its women who influence change – starting in the family, starting in the community, starting by assisting in the schools and having young people encouraged to think about their futures in a way that is sustainable. And it is every little step in all of that…we are going to need transformative change throughout the world, and women in every community would be on the frontlines … in the beginning of next year comes a new surge of energy and commitment to start implementing what this year has brought us at the global level, but we know that it is at the local level that things will really make a difference,”

“In a way, we are privileged to be at this moment when we can in fact bend the curve and get back on track towards a safe world. We are not there, and we will not be there the day after Paris, but we will be heading in the right direction. And we will put gender equality issues on the frontlines, because we know we are sacrificing our children, in my case my grandchildren, to a much more dangerous and catastrophic world, and we cannot have that. … We are ready to take the leadership, to give the changes to make sure that there is no going back and that we have a world of sustainability with our Mother Earth, our beautiful Mother Earth, who we must cherish more, who we must reinvigorate in the degraded areas. Take back the deforested areas and have Mother Earth breathe freely as she has for centuries upon centuries until we started to interfere with her. And it is women who have to be at the forefront of that.”

Following Mary Robinson’s keynote, members of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature provided a brief recap and analysis of the International Rights of Nature Tribunal, held over two days in Paris the previous week.

Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network and Co-Chair of International Advocacy for the Global Alliance provided an introduction,

“What we’re really seeing, and as we heard from so many of our speakers, is that the way that we are interacting with Mother Earth is not working and part of that is also based upon our legal system that treats Nature as property.… we have to change this system, so the Rights of Nature movement is really looking at the DNA of our legal frameworks and saying NO, Mother Earth has rights, rivers have the right to flow, all the systems of life have the right to grow and thrive and be healthy, and we as human being have to have new laws that allow us to live in good harmony with Mother Earth,”

Osprey continued, “What we are saying through these Tribunals is that we have the right to create laws that work for the people and for the plant, we are not asking for permission. Humans invented our governance structures, humans invented our economies, that means that we can reinvent them again and take back our power as people,”

Shannon Biggs of Movement Rights in the USA shared her insights;

“As long as we continue the story of separation, that Nature is owned by humans, that we are separate from Nature – we are never going to be able to move forward. So the Rights of Nature Tribunal has been a very powerful place, especially when put head to head with the COP, to ask, ‘what would it look like in a world where we recognized the inherent rights of ecosystems to live, to thrive, to regenerate…Imagine if we acted like rights matter, as if our human rights came and were derived from the rights of ecosystems, from nature, from creation – what would it look like to be in that world?”

“We heard not just from experts, but from people who are living this everyday on the ground, defenders of the Earth, people who are living under these conditions. We are really showcasing the world as it could be, because the one thing that I think was critical for the Tribunal was to see that the way the COP process is operating isn’t the way it has to be,” Shannon continued, “We are looking at two very different power structures –we are looking at the power of corporations running the world one way, and we are looking at the power of people taking ownership and responsibility and connection for their communities and saying ‘we can work together, there is a way forward’ – we can together actually commit to our relationship and break the cycle of separation from Nature, we can live as one. We can put forward new laws and really showcase how to make this shift.”

Natalia Greene of CEDENMA (Coordinadora Ecuatoriana para la Defensa de la Naturaleza y del Ambiente) and Fundacion Pachamama in Ecuador provided more background on the Tribunal and on implementation of Rights of Nature in her country.

“People are thirsty to have these places to voice new ideas, to voice their suffering and the hurt to Mother Earth,” Natalia explained, “Rights of Nature is not theoretical, it is happening in Ecuador, it is happening in the US and in more communities and more places if people start to understand that we cannot work without Mother Earth…. If we want to have peace on the Earth, we must have peace with the Earth.”

Closing the Rights of Nature report back, Osprey called to the stage a group of outstanding Indigenous women leaders from across North and South America to share their stories, struggles and solutions for climate justice as part of a presentation of the Indigenous Women of the America’s: Defenders of Mother Earth Treaty Compact.

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Casey Camp Horinek (Ponca Nation)

Casey Camp Horinek, Ponca Nation elder and representative of the Indigenous Environmental Network, Turtle Island, USA opened and guided the subsequent series of thought-provoking, hard-hitting and heartfelt presentations.

“There is much we want to share, but we want to share first and foremost is our love of you and Mother Earth….it is very simple my relatives, if our [Indigenous] rights are upheld, we know how to save you. So together we have a path to walk.”

Casey spoke on the connections between the conditions experiences by her family– relocation, persecution, boarding schools, and labor camps – and the modern environmental genocide and crisis with which we are all faced, and which Indigenous peoples feel directly and disproportionately.

“The struggle for us is not one issue, it is a totality of all the issues – it is whether or not humanity will continue on this Earth, do we get that honor? Do we deserve that honor? My mother, my relatives felt that we do, they felt that we simply need to align ourselves with the natural laws.”

Faith Gemmill, Pit River/Wintu and Neets’aii Gwich’in Athabascan woman from above the Arctic Circle in Alaska, USA addressed the room next, speaking first in her traditional language. For over 30 years Faith and her community have been protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refugee, one of the last stretches of Arctic Alaskan coast still free from oil extraction.

The land that Faith and her community defend is the land of the threatened polar bear, hundreds of species of nesting birds, fish and caribou, an animal deeply sacred to her people.

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Faith Gemmill (Pit River/Wintu and Neets’aii Gwich’in Athabasca)

“Our elders knew about climate change, they prophesized it. And they said, ‘tell them that we are not standing here for ourselves, we are standing for them [the animals], for their children’. And it is our belief that if this place is ever accessed, it will begins a cycle of destruction of humanity…All of our prophecies are all connected, in the South, in the North and across the world, Indigenous prophecies all say the same thing – there is a path destruction, but there is also a path of life, and we have a choice as humanity – and right now we are at that place where we make that choice.”

“We have to think about our children – what are we going to leave them? We have to change the consciousness of the leaders of the world, that’s what we have to do, that is our responsibility. And I have hope because my people said, if we do it in a good way, we are going to be successful – I believe in us and that is why I am standing here today…I think if we all keep holding our ground, if we all keep defending our territories, protecting these spaces – if we keep it in the ground, we can make it, we are going to win.”

Eriel Deranger of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Canada and Kandi Mossett, Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara woman of North Dakota, USA spoke again briefly, sharing messages of solidarity and encouraging everyone in the room to stay engaged with the issues and stories presented, including through donations to the women and organization putting their all into speaking out and driving forward momentum for a just world for all.

“We have to take back the power in our communities because no one else is going to do it for us,” Kandi concluded.

Ena Santi, women’s leader of the Kichwa community of Sarayakyu, Ecuador spoke next on behalf of the women of the South.

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Ena Santi (Sarayaku, Ecuador)

“I am feeling so much emotion to be here and hear the voices of all my sisters gathered here today….we as women are treated so badly so much of the time insulted, violated, treated poorly – physically and physiologically,” Ena began.

“But even with all of these obstacles that we are experiencing in our Indigenous communities, us women are fighting, we are continuing ahead. To save our Mother Earth we have confronted the military, the police – and when this happened I carried on my back my baby of just 2 months,”

“In this way we can save our Mother Earth, because within Mother Earth exists all of humanity… Us women fight for our grandchildren, for our children, for the children that will come in the future – it is for them that we fight. Human beings are not eternal, in whatever moment we will go to rest.”

“So us together, sisters that are here now, united, we women must together put forth a strong effort to save our Mother Earth, because pure air still exists in the Amazon of Ecuador. We must keep this in our hearts…. As women on our Earth, in my land where I live in Sarayaku in Ecuador, we will fight until the very end. We will not allow oil, mining, wood companies to enter. We will fight, not with guns, but with thought, in a peaceful way,”

Mirian Cisneros of Sarayaku also shared words,

“We have flown from very far away, like the eagles… we have a prophecy that Sarayaku is called the ‘pueblo de medio dia’ – the people of the noon time. That when all our neighbors had been contaminated, that we would be that community that would be there until the end defending the Earth. We take on this great responsibility as mothers, as wives, as givers of health, food and the security of future generations…. And so we are here, to ask for solidarity, for an alliance between all sisters and brothers of the world to defend our only Earth, the one that has been left to us by our ancestors, by our grandparents,”

Mirian then called on the whole room to join hands and speak together with her, ‘Pachamama estamos contigo’ – ‘Mother Earth, we are with you’.

Monique Verdin, a Houma woman of the Mississippi river delta in South Louisiana, USA spoke next,

“We have lost our land, they cut down our forest, we have waste pits in our back yard and we are loosing land at one of the fastest rates on the planet next to the Maldives,” Monique began,

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Monique Verdin (Houma)

“I came to Paris not knowing what I’d find, and I found these amazing women who are standing up, and I am going home with inspiration…. we cannot be silenced any longer…even though our men are afraid to say anything, even though they are the ones witnessing the land going and know why, they are also being paid by the oil and gas companies and that’s how they feed their babies. They’ve told us that we don’t have any other economic source, but they are wrong.”

Pennie Opal Plant (Yaqui, Mexican, English, Choctaw, Cherokee and European) of Movement Rights, USA took the floor next, providing a beautiful and vital overview, and reading sections of the ‘Indigenous Women of the Americas: Defenders of Mother Earth Treaty Compact’, which can be read in full here.

“By this time next year I imagine that there will be millions of women around the world shutting it down…so I want to ask you, whose with us?” Pennie asked, the whole room rising and raising their fists alongside her.

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Pennie Opal Plant (Movement Rights)

Casey Camp Horinek took the floor to close the presentation,

“I want to take this moment to remind us, what is real power? Is it what is in COP’s? Is it Obama? Or, or, realign your thinking, realign your thoughts so that we all go forward with the seventh generation philosophy, each and everyone of us. To think about the seven generations that came before us, and what they went though to arrive at this point, to bring us into life. What about the seven generations to come? If every step you make is thinking about those coming in the seventh generation, then thank you. If not, then switch it up, right now… Realign your thoughts, what is real power?”

Osprey Orielle Lake of WECAN closed the event with brief words before an end of event group action.

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“We need to reconnect with our original instructions, we need to reconnect with Mother Earth. We have these incredible women and Indigenous peoples who are generously, kindly offering knowledge and information to us, so lets have really big hearts and respect and dedication to what they are offering us. The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network is first and foremost dedicated to frontline communities in countries all over the world … we the people have power, we the people are making change, this, right here, is where real change is coming from.”

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From right to left: Patricia Gualinga, Neema Namadamu, Mirian Cisneros and Ena Santi – women of Ecuador and DR Congo united

The event will be commemorated and continued through the planting of a French olive tree near Paris – a symbol of hope, peace, growth and resistance into the future.

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Mother Earth Cries Out & We Must Listen and Act Boldly – Reflecting on Pope Francis’s Encyclical on the Environment

Blog by Osprey Orielle Lake, WECAN International Co-Founder & Executive Director 

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Photo by Emily Arasim

Pope Francis’s new encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, is a powerful tool for the climate movement, and has created a critical space inviting other world leaders to step up and take bold action to address the root causes of the crisis we face. We must recognize however, that this is not just a tool for the movement, but also a tool of the movement, with statements echoing years of peoples organizing worldwide.

Pope Francis calls not just for climate action, but also for climate justice, recognizing that human poverty and vulnerability is intimately tied to environmental degradation. He espouses an integral ecology that embraces the deep interdependence of the Earth, human society, and the economy. The encyclical is also a call for a fundamental shift in our collective consciousness and understanding of the world and our place in it- requiring movement from a global society of destruction and consumption, to one of care and connection to our collective home, our Mother Earth.

“This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted,” Pope Francis writes.

Critically, Francis explains that real change means bringing together three worldviews that have been divided for too long in modern societies: scientific knowledge, spirituality, and Indigenous understanding. He calls for the voices of the world’s Indigenous peoples to be at the center of all climate discussions and actions, recognizing that we have so much to learn from these cultures that have maintained their connection to the land. The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network could not agree more, as we are advocating for action based on four Guiding Principles: Rights of Women, Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Rights of Nature and Rights of Future Generations.

Pope Francis does not waiver in his criticism of the corporate interests driving environmental degradation, nor the politicians facilitating their destruction. He calls for immediate action to keep fossil fuels in the ground, a bold transition to a clean energy future, and climate solutions free of inappropriate market mechanisms.

The encyclical opens the door further to addressing the urgency of global warming and touches on how this crisis is giving us the opportunity (or perhaps rather forcing us) to entirely redesign our economic systems and ways of living with the Earth and each other.

We humans invented our economy, we built it, and we can build it again in a very new way. In fact, we must if we want to survive and thrive. As we head into the redesign, we need to look at the very DNA of our economic and legal structures regarding nature in order to truly address systemic changes and root injustices.

Many climate justice leaders around the world are working to define a just, new economy, and we see many echoes of the key ingredients they have outlined within Pope Francis’ statements. The new economy must take into account social, gender, Indigenous, economic and environmental justice. It must transition out of the endless material growth paradigm that forms the foundation of the capitalist system, returning to a lifeway that is based on the carrying capacity of the Earth and the laws of Nature. Our new economic and social paradigm must be based on different concepts of wealth, development and well-being, and must take into immediate consideration the health and rights of frontline communities and the worlds most vulnerable peoples.

The Pope’s Laudato Si questions the belief that humans are here to control and dominate life on Earth, and in this we see an important opening for the implementation of the Rights of Nature worldwide. A Rights of Nature legal framework recognizes the Earth’s inherent right to exist and flourish, not as a resource for humans, but as a living entity in and of itself. Activities that harm the ability of ecosystems and natural communities to thrive and naturally restore themselves are thus illegal violations of the Earth’s rights, allowing for a depth and strength of action that decades of conventional environmental protection laws have yet to deliver.

While we applaud the Pope for his leadership and unwavering stance, as a women’s climate justice organization we must pause and stand firm in asserting that there is still much work to be done to address the patriarchal worldview that this encyclical still portrays, evident in the peppering of old paradigm comments on gender and sexuality. The document fails to make the connection that violence against Mother Earth begets violence against women, and that, until there is universal women’s equality and respect for women’s human rights, we will not resolve the existential crisis we now face. Women are the most negatively impacted by climate change and environmental degradation, yet they are key to solutions. Click here to read more in the Women’s Climate Action Agenda.

That said, this is the first time that a global figure of such authority has spoken so openly and directly about the depth of the climate catastrophe, false solutions, root causes, inequities, and systemic change,  and for this we truly commend him. Thank you Pope Francis!