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'We're Kind of Running Out of Time': Berkeley Joins Global Day of Action for Climate Justice

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Young people walk down a street in Berkeley with small signs and big signs saying 'Climate Justice Now'.
Young people in Berkeley joined the global day of action for climate justice on Nov. 6, 2021.  (Azul Dahlstrom-Eckman/KQED)

Over 100 people took to the streets of Berkeley on Saturday morning in solidarity with a global day of action for climate justice. Youth organizers coordinated the event, aligning their demands with a collective of grassroots community campaigns, racial justice networks and global groups focused on climate justice and ecological equity.

"We're here rallying today to show that we have the power … and we're paying attention," said Zoe Jonick, a youth activist and organizer with 350 Bay Area. "We're going to make sure that those in charge are making decisions that will actually do something."

"Things at COP are not as inclusive as they should be," Jonick added, referring to the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference. "There's a lot of exclusion of places in the Global South that don't have the resources or the vaccines to attend." Global organizations have cited "vaccine apartheid" as a threat to the equity of climate negotiations, and in September over 1,500 global groups urged for a delay of the summit.

"There's voices that aren't being heard, that aren't coming to the table," said Jonick.

Marches took place in Glasgow, Scotland, where COP26 is now happening, and around the world. Demonstrators outlined a list of demands in solidarity with COP26 Coalition and the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy, according to one toolkit shared in advance of the event.

The Berkeley march laid out a more specific set of local demands, including closing the Richmond Chevron refinery; calling on CalSTRS, the second largest pension fund in the U.S. to divest from fossil fuels; ending development at the Berkeley shellmound and returning the area to "the care and vision of the Confederated Villages of Lisjan"; and investing in communities disproportionately affected by climate change and pollution.

"We're already starting to see some of the really bigger effects of climate change," said Aniya Butler, a 15-year-old Oakland activist with Youth Vs. Apocalypse who came out to help others get involved.

For Karly Hampshire, a medical student at UCSF who attended the march, the climate is directly related to health. "Climate solutions are health solutions, and the health of every person alive today on the planet will be fundamentally affected by climate change," she said. “Health institutions need to join together and start taking climate change seriously.”

On the state level, Lauren Sanchez, Gov. Newsom's senior climate adviser, also sees climate as a multilayered issue. "Truly tackling this crisis means integrating this issue into everything we do: the governor's entire agenda on health care, on immigration, on education, and so much more," she said. "We know that climate justice can deliver social and economic justice."

Sanchez told KQED on Wednesday through a recorded message from Glasgow that her top agenda item is "to save the planet from our certain doom.” Sanchez said the state of California brings two important messages to the global stage and world leaders in Scotland: "One is around hope and the other around the urgency of this crisis," she said.

While she said she’s been to many of these conferences, this one "feels different," because of the sense of urgency. Her top concern when it comes to climate change is "the disproportionate impacts that we know this crisis has on low-income Californians and our communities of color that are already suffering from too many environmental and social burdens."

Speaking alongside Sanchez from Glasgow, Jared Blumenfeld, the secretary of California's Environmental Protection Agency echoed the importance of taking action quickly.

"We're kind of running out of time,” he said. The governor and the whole state are balancing the immediate emergency response to wildfires and heat waves alongside tackling the root causes of climate change, “and we need to do it really, really quickly," he said. Many of the changes to the climate are unprecedented, and some changes — like sea-level rise — are irreversible in our lifetime.

Wade Crowfoot, California’s natural resources secretary, who spoke with KQED just before leaving for Scotland, put it in slightly starker terms: "This is an all-hands-on-deck response to a five-alarm fire, and that's the level of urgency that we're bringing from California to Scotland."

"We need to maintain hope and we maintain hope through taking action," he said. From his perspective, he sees that the only option is to understand the threat, and take the level of action that is needed.

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Blumenfeld also noted the importance of action at both the local and state levels, referencing what seems to be a glimmer of hope, should the pledges swiftly be converted into policy: "If the promises made actually can be turned into action, we can turn this crisis around,” he said.

Despite the promises to end deforestation, "for Californians who look outside their window during fire season," Sanchez said, "we're not doing enough and there's so much more the state and communities and global leaders need to be doing.”

For Blumenfeld, it’s all about accountability. "These leaders go home, and you never hear about what happens next," he said.

But, he said, California is unique because the state is tracking each of the goals, which allows the public to see what's happening.

For many other states and countries, "there's a lot of speeches … but really, what we need is action," he said.

KQED's Azul Dahlstrom-Eckman and Monica Lam contributed to this story.


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