On the Changing Climate.

José G. González
7 min readOct 3, 2020

My speech for the 2020 ONE TAM VIRTUAL SUMMIT ON CLIMATE: CHANGE AND RESILIENCE.

Source: Adapting to Rising Tides, San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC).

Good morning, I greet you from the ancestral, traditional, and stolen lands of the Maidu/Miwok and others, now Sacramento. This serves as a reminder not merely that the lands on which we work, gather, recreate, and travel were originally stewarded by many tribes, indigenous communities, and nations of Turtle Island, Abya Yala, Oasisamerica, Pachamama, and other names for this land, past and present, that also, that this is but one step in a reparative process that is justice-oriented and addresses historic and systemic injustices.

And that is how we start, so that as we tackle this work together, we do not shy away from the complexity of the problems as we engage in the creativity of solutions.

We’re familiar with climate change.

We have the maps that show the risk of sea-level rise and now we increasingly face more frequent and intense wildfires. We look at a variety of options for mitigation and adaptation, as for example, the restoration of wetlands, and more.

Part of the challenge in addressing the work needed to face climate change is having the general public feel invested in both understanding it and doing something about it. Not just in individual action, also in collective policy change. The issue can include complexity and nuance — why it is often called a “wicked problem” by scientists and policymakers. An associated sense of urgency is also stressed with evolving terms to make a point: Climate Chaos, Climate Crisis, and Climate Breakdown, for example. Nonetheless, inaction is a choice of great consequence. This is part of why we’re here. We’re invested, we care, we want to change course as best we can.

This can serve as a reference point in engaging the work of equity and ultimately tackling systemic injustices.

Hence a term like Climate Justice.

Much as with climate science, it can be easy to get stuck in academic discourse on defining justice as a theory and practice, with its corresponding applications by government entities and mainstream environmental organizations — noting there is not always a simple way to arrive at a simple definition.

However, it is important to acknowledge the contributions and foundational frameworks of grassroots organizations and movements, since that has served as a major propellant for the work. As Schlosberg and Collins note in “From Environmental to Climate Justice: Climate Change and the Discourse of Environmental Justice”, the principles for Climate Justice are “clear and consistent” with a focus on “local impacts and experience, inequitable vulnerabilities, the importance of community voice, and demands for community sovereignty and functioning.”

This is a helpful point to center our discourse of climate justice on the “human element” in terms of the “disparate impact,” the harmful unequal effects that result from a more chaotic and disrupted climate. This is not to discount the impact of climate change on all living things, but it does help to understand how “caring about the polar bears” is not sufficient in some cases and how focusing solely on such can be counterproductive if the impacts on marginalized human communities is ignored.

These terms I’ve used matter:

  • Centering
  • Disparate Impact
  • Marginalized

Not from any need to keep a running social justice glossary, but to pay attention and focus. So that as we look at the impact of rising sea levels and plan for corresponding mitigation and adaptation strategies, we do so in the context of communities often not centered.

We are also looking at the tools and framework that can ensure that we do not perpetuate systemic privileges and inequities that continue to have Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities too often are “hit first and hit worst.” So that justice is not merely a term. It is a practice and outcome. As scholar Margot A. Hulbert notes in “Evaluating climate justice — attitudes and opinions of individual stakeholders in the United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention Conference of the Parties” we can look at what that means in terms of a definition of climate justice that includes “legal justice, distributive justice, participatory justice, and ethical practice.”

And ultimately to center on a point that “climate change is an issue of justice,” as climate change can undermine the human rights of those who least contributed to the problem.

What can this mean for the Bay Area and specific areas within?

Well, looking at a map of the Bay Area now is to also see the effects and consequences of history, of policy choices, of what we deemed “important and valuable” to protect.

We see that in the number of protected landscapes. Valued, scenic, recreational, ecological gems.

We also see it in other stark contrasts.

A reality is that the Bay Area at large and even specific areas such as Marin County are racially segregated. These patterns are not “natural,” random, or simply the result of individual housing preferences. They are a byproduct of exclusionary policies that included private housing discrimination. Of redlining as an example. This is important to acknowledge because it has effects on the social justice challenges we must also face at the moment.

“Racial Segregation in the San Francisco Bay Area” Othering & Belonging Institute, UC Berkeley
“Racial Segregation in the San Francisco Bay Area” Othering & Belonging Institute, UC Berkeley

As we tackle the complex problem of climate change, we cannot leave out additional “inconvenient truths.” That Black Lives Matter. That Native Sovereignty matters. That systemic inequities are not random and inconsequential. That there is a need, a necessity, for Climate Justice if we truly mean the values found in our respective mission and vision statements.

Yes, this can be uncomfortable. They may be conversations we often find ways to avoid. But in experiencing any fragility in this, I see it as an invitation to see that any discomfort from this is a source of learning and growth, to do better. To understand tension and address conflict with intention.

So that when we look at the maps of the future we created, it reflects not just the choices of a region adapted to climate change, but also a more just society.

The choices we make now, in the face of climate change, along with racial justice, will dictate what those maps will look like in the future. The Bay in 50 years, in 100 years, and beyond.

Can we do it? Yes, I believe we can. We know climate change cares little for borders and does not respect jurisdictional boundaries, hence the ever-increasing need and call for collective action. It touches much, it touches all. As we tackle issues that may too easily deem “out of our lane,” issues like exclusionary zoning, affordable housing, accessible education, and so forth, it invites the engagement of an intersectional lens to see how these are climate change issues and vice versa. As Audre Lorde is oft-quoted “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” (1982).

To be in community with each other is a call to act in community and for community — that means all in our community, not just the demographics we relied on 50 years ago, as those are not the demographics of 50 years from now. We know that inaction on climate change has consequences. So does inaction on equity and racial justice. It is not an either/or proposition, it is an invitation to the power of “and.”

As we face respective ecological and social emergencies and crises, just as there is a role for quick responsive action, there is a role for envisioning the long-term, to invest in life-affirming systems as much as we respond to the oppressive and harmful ones.

In the way we restore ecological community, we restore social community. As we invest in the resiliency and adaptability of natural landscapes, we invest in the resilience and adaptivity of Black, Brown, Indigenous, and People of Color communities most disparately impacted. As we care for the ecological succession of a wildfire, we do the same in its social counterpart.

You’ve shown and continue to show the power of collaboration and coordination — this is at the heart and creation of One Tam. As William Merkle, supervisory wildlife ecologist for the GGNRA was quoted in Bay Nature “The whole idea is that…we should be doing a better job of working consistently across boundaries to work on a landscape level.”

Working across boundaries, for common goals, emergence from engaging in divergence and convergence as we engage in and value difference and connect on commonalities.

Si se puede, hay que hacerlo.

Thank you.

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José G. González

Chicano/Mexicano teacher by training, artist by practice, conservationist by pursuit. Art, Education & Environment- UC Davis, SNRE Michigan http://t.co/jIDIExxH