Pitzer’s website and the website of the RRC are undergoing construction. Please be patient and contact [email protected] with any questions.

The Redford Conservancy Atlas for Southern California Climate and Sustainability

Providing data to think with about our past, present, and future.

We will be rolling out key themes soon…so stay tuned!

1. Agriculture and Working Lands
a. Sub-themes: Agricultural Lands, Agricultural Tourism, Agricultural Water, Food
Production, Policy
2. Built Environment
a. Sub-themes: Consequence, Development, Land Cover, Policy, Services, Transit, Zoning
3. Climate Vulnerabilities and Resilience
a. Sub-themes: Earthquakes, Fire, Flood, heat, Resilience, Sea Level Rise
4. Environmental Justice, Equity, and Inclusion
a. Sub-themes: Air Pollution, Community, Community Assets, Community Index, Inequity,
Park Access, Protected Lands, Recreation, Transit, Urban Canopy
5. Habitat and Biodiversity
a. Sub-themes: Biodiversity, Carbon, Community Science, Connectivity, Conservation
Assessment, Conservation Plans, Protected Lands
6. Water Resources
a. Sub-themes: Water Quality, Water Supply

From “Dirt Cheap to Soil Rich:” Regenerative Land Use in the Inland Empire’s “New Storage Economy”

The Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability (RRC) presented, From “Dirt Cheap to Soil Rich:” Regenerative Land Use in the Inland Empire’s “New Storage Economy” on May 5th, 2021. The conference title is a concept that seeks to re-imagine the land use and development narratives that exist in Southern California’s Inland Empire in which far too often communities are utilized as a sacrifice for convenience and progress elsewhere. COVID-19, the resulting economic crisis, and the looming climate crises have inspired a re-centering of essential and underserved communities and have challenged us to look holistically at solutions to unhealthy systems.

The convening, the first of the RRC’s Regenerative Agriculture department, brought together six local practitioners/organizations working in Inland Empire contexts who are articulating solutions to a fundamentally unsustainable system and who are working to imagine alternatives that center equity, community health, soil health, and viable economic relationships that do not come at the cost of human or environmental health. The convening asked participants to support the RRC and out co-presenters in beginning to define a paradigm shift for the Inland Empire toward a regenerative economy. In addition to the recording here a report will be published in late June, 2021 in order to share the findings of the event.

Conference Introduction

Opening of the conference which included a word on language justice and equity from our interpreters at Cooperativa Brujulas, a Land Acknowledgement from our guest Valerie Dobesh recognizing that we are on Indigenous land [https://native-land.ca]. We then heard welcoming remarks from RRC director Susan Phillips and RRC Fellow Arthur Levine.

Breakout session 1

Convenience Economy in the Shopping Cart of America

In this session guests heard from Andrea Vidaurre who is an organizer with Peoples Collective for Environmental Justice. Andrea discussed how the IE has become one of the centers of storage and distribution of consumer goods and the impact this economic system has on communities. In the session participants are asked to consider how economic systems can benefit communities instead of bringing EJ crises.

From Food Apartheid to Black Food Sovereignty

In this breakout session we heard from Ali Anderson the founder and director of Feed Black Futures. We learn about the work that is being done to support Black mothers and caregivers through weekly healthy food distribution from BIPOC food producers. The session asks participants to consider what Black Food Sovereignty would look like.

Living by the Seasons

(**partial recording): In this breakout session participants heard from Valerie Dobesh who is a nutrition and health educator with Indian Health Inc. She shared her experiences and strategies of using healing gardens at schools, clinics, and other locations to work to educate people about a holistic perspective on health connecting to the four seasons. The session challenges participants to reconnect with natural cycles as a basis for learning and healing. **Tech difficulties resulted in only recording the second half of this presentation.

Breakout Session 2

What can RCDs do?

In this sessions Susie Kircshner from the Inland Empire Resource Conservation District discusses the work of local Resource Conservation District and how they can be a partner to other types of organizations from farmers, to community gardens, to schools. She also discusses the upcoming Sustainable Agriculture Land Conservation projects funded by CA DOC and asks the audience how RCDs can better serve the community.

Food systems as Economic Development

In this break out session Joyce Jong of the Riverside Food Systems Alliance and City of Riverside Economic Development department challenged participants to think of how food production can be a significant part of the economic future in the Inland Empire. Examples of how food systems can create jobs locally were shared. This session challenged participants to consider how agriculture can be a jobs creator and how investing in new farmers is crucial.

¿Como convertir basura en tierra fértil?

This breakout session lead by Maria Alonso of Huerta del Valle focused on the strategies that HDV community gardens and farms utilize to turn waste into healthy soil. Maria focused on the composting programs at HDV and other healthy soil practices including vermicomposting, composting, application of woodchips, and others.

Conference Conclusion

Report backs from the second breakout sessions with Joyce Jong (RFSA), Susie Kircshner (IERCD), and Maria Alonso (HDV). Final conversation with conference co-presenters and participants regarding what we learned and what can be done. Participants filled in a third JamBoard Exercise regarding goals and intentions for the IE in the next 10 years and looking at needs, assets, and projects that are already going on.

RRC is thrilled with the turnout and participation from the public in our first conference event related to regenerative land use. We are hopeful to continue working collaboratively with partners to develop the ideas behind “The New Storage Economy.” We are hoping to host a follow up event for this one early in 2022. Until then, please feel free to reach out to our staff with questions and comments and keep an eye out for our report on the convening coming late June 2021.

RRC staff can be contacted via: [email protected] and [email protected]

Redford Conservancy Lecture: Wildfire, Rumors, and Denial in the Trump Era

April 5 @ 4 – 5:15 p.m.

With Educator, Author, and Activist Laura Pulido

In fall 2020, the western US experienced unprecedented wildfires in response to global warming and management practices. In Oregon, numerous rural communities disseminated false rumors that Black Lives Matter activists and Antifa were deliberately setting the fires and preparing to loot vulnerable communities. In this talk, I explore why such rumors developed in Oregon and argue that they arose in response to deep racial and political anxieties amidst a deeply polarized country. Specifically, the rumors emanated from the Far Right’s rejection of multiracial democracy and movements for racial justice. Accordingly, the rumors embody two forms of denial: Climate denial and denial of structural racism in the US. The experience of Oregon illustrates the degree to which white supremacy can impact areas seemingly unrelated to race.

About the Speaker

Laura Pulido is the Collins Chair of Indigenous, Race, and Ethnic Studies and Geography at the University of Oregon where she studies race, environmental justice, and cultural memory. She has written numerous books, including Environmentalism and Economic Justice: Two Chicano Struggles in the Southwest (University of Arizona, 1996); Black, Brown, Yellow, and Left: Radical Activism in Los Angeles (University of California, 2006); A People’s Guide to Los Angeles (with Laura Barraclough and Wendy Cheng) (University of California, 2012). She has received numerous honors, including the Presidential Achievement Award from the Association of American Geographers and Ford and Guggenheim fellowships.

The Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability, co-hosted by Sunrise Claremont, and sponsored by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

Annual Sullivan Lecture: Climate Change and Southern California’s Water Justice Future

March 17, 2021

California has long struggled to provide safe and affordable drinking water to its low-income communities of color, but water insecurity is particularly acute in the arid south. As the state prepares for drought and other climate-driven disasters, how can concepts of climate change resilience and adaptation be folded into drinking water policy? What is the role of grassroots communities in defining adaptation strategies and policies? And most importantly, how can changes be made before the next climate disaster occurs?

Camille Pannu directs the Water Justice Clinic, a project of the Aoki Center for Critical Race and Nation Studies. The Water Justice Clinic partners with stakeholders to improve the sustainability of rural water systems; advocate for the inclusion of rural and low-income communities in water management decisions; and ensure that all Californians have access to safe, clean and affordable drinking water.

Presented by the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability

  • Video Transcript

    Susan Phillips, Interim Director, Robert Redford Conservancy – Welcome and Q&A
    Eva Tiller, Sunrise Claremont – Speaker Introduction and Q&A
    Camille Pannu, Director of the Water Justice Clinic – Lecture and Q&A

    Susan Phillips: Hello, everyone, I’m just going to wait a few minutes for folks to start connecting and then we’ll get started. Just to take a few seconds to get everybody connected, but I see people rolling in. It’s St. Patrick’s Day, I’m just pointing that out. I wore something vaguely that has a greenish tinge. But apparently, it’s a wonderful coincidence also, because John D. Sullivan, aka Jack Sullivan, was Irish. So, it all kind of comes full circle today. I think we’ll go ahead and get started.

    It’s my pleasure to welcome everyone today to the annual John D. Sullivan Lecture. We’re so pleased to have with us Camille Pannu, who’s a professor at UCI and Camille will be speaking about climate change and California’s water justice future. I’m Susan Phillips, and I’m the Interim Director of the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability here at Pitzer. And while my colleague, Director Brinda Sarathy is on research leave, since 2016, the Conservancy has brought speakers and panels to the college for this event, which is named in honor of Professor Jack Sullivan. Jack was a political studies professor. He passed away from cancer in December 2014. He was an intellectually engaging and challenging professor who helped his students to develop their critical thinking and analytical skills. And as a scholar, he was known for his work in conflict and negotiation processes, and on policy analysis with a particular focus on environmental and water policy. And that focus is the reason that this series, which is also focused on water, is named for him. Jack was also deeply involved in the local community, and he served as a natural resource director for the League of Women Voters in Los Angeles County.

    And this year, we’re pleased to welcome Professor Camille Pannu to join our Distinguished Lecture Series, along with Eva Tiller, a sophomore who is with Sunrise Claremont, who will be introducing Professor Pannu. Before turning it over to Eva, I wanted to extend some special thanks first to IT for helping us with all the logistics, and also to Mary Sophos, Pitzer Class of 1976 for her contribution to the John D. Sullivan Fund, which is intended to create public engagement around water in California and beyond. I’d also like to thank the Sullivan family, in particular Jackie Sullivan, as well as Sunrise Claremont for the inspiring work that they’re doing to combat climate change at the college. And finally, I’m grateful to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund who is sponsoring today’s lecture.

    Camille is going to give her talk for about 40 minutes or so. And we’re going to be opening up after that for questions, maybe at about 4:45. The chat is open if you want to chat. But I’d like for you to put your questions into the Q&A so that we can track them and feel free to start putting them in at any time questions occur to you. And we’ll chitchat for a little while after the fact and the ending of today’s lecture at about 5:10, 5:15, something like that. Okay, Eva.

    Eva Tiller: Hello, everyone. My name is Eva and I am one of the co-leaders of the action team at the Claremont Colleges Sunrise Movement. And currently, our project for the semester is working on a series of talks and lectures and we are particularly focusing on climate justice, and we’re really excited that this is our first talk.

    Professor Camille Pannu served as the inaugural director of the Water Justice Clinic at UC Davis School of Law, the first clinic of its kind in the country, and is currently a visiting clinical law professor at the Community and Economic Development Clinic at UC Irvine School of Law. Her practice utilizes transactional legal tools to redress the impact of racial and economic inequality on access to clean, safe drinking water in California’s low-income communities. Prior to joining King Hall at UC Davis Law, Pannu served as an Equal Justice Works Fellow in the southern San Joaquin Valley where she partnered with low-income communities to address poverty and racial and environmental inequality through community on green collar enterprises. She then clerked for the honorable Stefan R. Underhill, of the US District Court for the District of Connecticut, and for the honorable Richard A. Paez of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Pannu received her undergraduate and law degrees from UC Berkeley. Please join us in welcoming Professor Camille Pannu to discuss climate change and California’s water justice future.

    Susan Phillips: Thanks so much, Eva. Take it away, Camille.

    Camille Pannu: Thank you. First and foremost, thank you, everyone, so much for coming, for attending. Thank you to Professor Phillips for inviting me. And thank you to Eva for the generous introduction. I’m very excited to get to talk to you all today about one of my favorite topics. And I hope that by the end of this, you’re excited about it, too. Excuse me, I apologize in advance, I have a bit of a sore throat. So you may see me drinking water, popping a cough lozenge every now and again. And I also have to apologize in advance for my very adorable but very mischievous dog who likes to whine in the background from time to time. So with those disclaimers, let’s jump in.

    So, the structure of today’s talk is going to be as follows. I’m going to try to give you an idea of where California’s water comes from, you may know this already and so I apologize if it’s repetitive for anyone, but I think it helps to put us all on the same page, both as a state and regionally where our water is sourced, what the state of water quality is, or water equity is today, meaning the social justice ramifications and who has access to water. And I’m speaking very specifically in the context of drinking water. But there is some back and forth between water supplies in general and how that’s related to drinking water.

    Then I’ll turn to how climate change is going to affect California’s future water security, and our ability to be resilient moving forward. And this is maybe a little bit of a big promise, but I’d like to offer some thoughts on how we could avoid a humanitarian water crisis, which is what will happen if we jump into the future without a really good plan for what to do with climate change and its effect on our water systems.

    Throughout the talk, one of the animating principles of what I’m discussing is going to be that I hope you come away understanding that a lot of California water decisions are not solely engineering, innovation-based, or solution-based. A lot of our water problems can be assisted with the integration of science and engineering, but part of how we got here was through a series of political decisions. So, I want folks to be able to think about this in more of a system structure, where we talk about how the law and money and politics and development of land all kind of interchange, are interwoven to create the system we have today, and in many ways created the inequality we see today as well.

    So for a quick orientation, we mostly get our water through two sources in California for an anomaly of legal reasons. We talk about surface water and groundwater as if they were not connected, even though they are. We know that 70% of California, wherein water falls in this top third, or perhaps even the top quarter of the state, but 80% of the demand is here in the south with the lion’s share starting right at Los Angeles. That’s not surprising, Los Angeles is the largest city, although the heaviest user of water that’s taken for human use in general is agriculture. Domestic supply is actually quite small as a proportion of the total amount of water that we appropriate or take out of the system.

    Throughout the year, a lot of where we store our water, in addition to storing it in reservoirs and whatnot, is actually in the Sierra Nevada snowpack, and so the snowpack becomes a really important source for us. California is almost constantly in a normal state of drought in that we have a dry season and we have a wet season. And we rely on the snow from the wet season to carry us through the dry months that follow as snow melts slowly and replenishes our surface water systems. And so here’s the infrastructure we built. I think most folks, if you’re familiar with California, will know this part of the state is not the most densely populated part of the state. There’s certainly folks there in very rich culture, but the majority of people live on the coasts. And the lion’s share of California’s population lives in Southern California.

    So, in order to irrigate what is essentially a series of deserts with some small river valleys, we built a lot of water infrastructure. This is a map. Some folks will call it the water highway because it’ll show you how we move water. And it’s overlaid with the major hydrological basins and watersheds that the state is divided into. Despite the fact that the coast is right by the ocean, it doesn’t have a lot of freshwater supply. So generally speaking, most of our freshwater that’s coming from surface water is coming from the east and being shipped out to the west. And what we did is we had a complex series of really fascinating river systems. Through the federal water project, which we call the Central Valley Project for the most part, we started moving water from what are called the headwaters of the state that are up in this region. The headwaters are what primarily feed the Sacramento River. And so, the Sacramento River and the San Joaquin River become a really important source of delivering water.

    The other area where we pull a ton of water is from the Klamath River system, which is perhaps off map but up here north of Redding. And the Klamath water system is an integral part of the state water project. So, both of these projects had very different goals. The state water project’s primary goal was to bring water from the north down to the south primarily for the consumption of Southern California, and this was residential consumption. It could be used for irrigation but at the time we built the project, there was certainly agriculture in the region. But it was brought down primarily to help facilitate residential development and development of the city of Los Angeles, which was quite small at the time, all things considered, and was small because it was contained within its water system, so it didn’t have more people than what it could sustain. So, to get over the natural boundary of what its water could sustain, we started moving water down primarily through the California Aqueduct. And we also developed a series of dams and reservoirs to hold that water.

    The Central Valley Project, which is these red lines that are all over the place, is a network of reservoirs, dams, and canals that are primarily focused on appropriating water from river systems toward farming. And so, although there were already river systems in the area, the Central Valley Project irrigates, along with the aqueduct, a very dry and a not particularly arable or not very great for growing part of the valley, which is in the west. So, the Central Valley Project distributions are primarily to agriculture. It certainly also distributes water for drinking water consumption, but the lion’s share of what it does is store water for agriculture and for irrigation.

    And then finally, because we’re in Southern California, in addition to pulling a ton of water from the Klamath River Basin down through the aqueduct, we also are part of the complex series of multi-state agreements on how to distribute water that comes from the Colorado River. We are probably the last stop on the Colorado River train. And there’s over 50 years of significant litigation between all of the states who are parties to this compact, but essentially, they all work together to determine how much water is going to be allocated, who gets it where, whose water rights go where. And due to climate change, this has become an increasingly difficult issue to resolve. But also, we’ve seen as a result of the Colorado River Project, and the Colorado River watershed, we’ve seen significant growth in cities that I think we would say now with the benefit of hindsight, were not really designed to support that many people. So, examples of this would be Las Vegas, Phoenix, really large metropolitan areas that did not really have a water supply that was big enough to sustain the populations that live there right now.

    But now I’m going to switch to groundwater. Although surface water is super important for how we distribute water, and we kind of divvy up the shares, we rely really heavily on groundwater as well. This map is a map of the basins that were considered to be over-drafted, meaning we’re pumping more than we’re replacing, or we’re otherwise at risk of collapsing under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which was a really landmark effort to try to deal with the issue of people over-pumping during periods of drought in ways that created a lot of negative side effects, which I’ll talk about a little bit later. These were the areas that were required to come up with sustainability plans. You’ll see a lot of Southern California is missing. Part of that is because there’s been a ton of litigation. So, a lot of Southern California has already gone through this kind of planning process before this bill was adopted. But it’s really important because over 40% of our water use is from groundwater. And in the context of drinking water, 85% of Californians rely on groundwater, at least in part, for their water supply. So even if you’re buying, let’s say, municipal water, you’re buying water from your city, it’s probably coming in part from a city well, and that’s certainly true in Orange County where I’m located. It’s somewhat true in Los Angeles County depending on where you are regionally, but groundwater is an important part of our water storage system. We store much more water underground than we do in any other area. And if you overpump all of the underground storage, capacities begin to sink, the land subsides, is what we call it. And when it subsides, it collapses these aquifers, these underground aquifers, and so we lose the benefit of storage forever. And unsurprisingly perhaps, the greatest amount of overdraft and the biggest kind of subsidence has happened primarily in agricultural belts of California.

    So, if we look at where the orange is, it’s primarily areas that are growing food. In Southern California, our primary sources of water are a combination of the Sierra Nevada snowpack, the Los Angeles Aqueduct, which as you can see is nowhere near Los Angeles, but which was the subject of a really famous lawsuit, the Mono Lake case. And if you’ve ever watched “Cadillac Desert,” this is what they’re talking about, or “Chinatown,” the fictionalization of that story. We also receive some water through the Bay Delta system; the Bay Delta is where the San Joaquin River and the Sacramento River join. And we truck that water down using the State Water Project, like I mentioned before, and the Colorado River Aqueduct. Something that’s unique to the coast in California is that most of these areas, which have had issues with groundwater pumping historically, are now in a somewhat more stable position, in part because they do a lot of collaborative governance over their water infrastructure. And they also do a lot of water recycling, which is not for human consumption, but certainly for things like if you needed water to water the landscaping, for example. So, for non-potable uses, areas in Southern California also engage in water recycling. And we have at least two experimental projects now that are trying to desalinate water, so taking seawater and taking the salt out of it. I have feelings about it; I think almost everyone who thinks about it or deals with it does. But there are some regions that have suggested that they’ll be able to get around climate change through desalination. Me, I’m not really on board with that. But that’s okay. We need lots and lots of ideas to get here.

    So, this is the backdrop of where California water is. California also did something that’s really significant and it’s very different from anywhere else in the country. In 2012, we adopted the human right to water. We had actually passed the human right to water before, but it got vetoed. And so, when it came back around and was approved, the governor had changed. That probably helped a little bit. But what it did was that California has this complex system of what we call beneficial uses. We go through an ordering and we say here are the different ways you can use water. Here’s the priority system. But we don’t tell people what the priority is until they’re in a fight, that we try to figure it out through a variety of different cases that have interpreted the California Constitution. It has a provision about water, and also cases that were related specifically to surface water rights. And part of what makes those cases so difficult to parse is that first of all, the prioritization is not always clear. And it’s not always clear if there’s a certain list of priorities in one place and if there’s a list at another place. And so, the purpose of the Human Right to Water was to change the lens or the framework for how we looked at water. Water policy tends to be wonky in the state and tends to be contentious. I think folks use really technocratic language when they don’t necessarily need to, and that helps keep a bit of a cabal around how water decisions are made. But the other thing that it does is that it encourages the best organized group to make a run on water. So, there’s this agency problem but we often talk about how environmental protection, for example, or in law, we talk about how environmental protection is difficult because the benefits of environmental protection are diffuse; we all benefit from having a healthier environment. However, the person who wants to pollute or who needs or who wants to use a resource has a very focused interest and is very organized in a very different way than the general public tends to be.

    So, California has done a couple of things to try to cut against that. The first is that we have the famous Mono Lake case which provided that surface water, at least, is held in public trust, which means that you cannot privatize it using the property rights regime alone. And that can’t be the sole source of how we decide what’s important to give water to. Case law had already told us that human use or domestic use of water was the most important, the highest and most beneficial use and should be protected. But as a practical matter, it wasn’t being protected. And it certainly wasn’t being protected in the same areas where we saw these priority groundwater basins. So, for example, during the drought, we had literally hundreds of people who relied exclusively on what we call domestic wells, it’s a very small well that’s on your personal land, as their only source of drinking water, and almost all of those wells went dry due to overpumping of these aquifers. So, folks we’re essentially doing. I call it the “There Will Be Blood” method. So, if folks have seen the movie, there’s a point at which the main character says, “I take your straw and I drink your milkshake.” And the other character is very confused by this analogy, but the concept is, if I get a big enough straw, I can draw down the water such that your water is going to start moving over on to where I’m located.

    So part of what ended up happening is we had a situation where we had over 1500 homes that completely lost water, for example, for over four years. And we had that kind of a crisis all throughout the state. It was primarily in rural areas and the one good thing, I think, about the drought was that for the first time, there was news coverage of this issue because it had happened before, and local government had told people we’re not going to really protect your right to have a well, even if you were there first, even if your well has priority and water uses, because we don’t want to get involved with water decisions and fights.

    And so, the Human Rights to Water in part was created to help arbitrate those disagreements and to shift our lens on how we think of water issues and how we think of who gets water, and why should they get water, and how much and what for. And so, it established the policy of this state that every human being, not even every Californian, every human being in the state has the right to have clean, affordable and accessible water that is adequate for human consumption, cooking and sanitation. And the way that the Human Right to Water is thought about or conceptualized and implementation in California is through these three kinds of issue areas.

    So, one area of water justice and of trying to figure out how to get people safe and affordable drinking water, is to ensure that their water is high quality, and that it’s not contaminated. So, there’s a whole set of issues we have around pollution policy, essentially pollution and water treatment policy, then we have a whole other bucket that’s whether or not you can even access water. So that goes in our access Venn diagram that can come from things like your groundwater aquifer sinking, and all of a sudden, your well goes dry, or could come from periods where there’s drought. And so, the surface water allocations that are made every year are quite low. It could be that you don’t have safe drinking water where you live. So, you have to drive miles and miles to go buy bottled water, which is incredibly expensive. So, you’ve now paid in time, travel, gas costs, and you’re doing something that generally is not great for the environment. But it’s certainly going to be safer in most cases than drinking your tap water, although bottled water is not subject to the same requirements as tap water; tap water has higher standards. And then we also have water affordability. So, in a universe in which any technical solution was possible, it’s kind of bounded by whether or not anyone can afford it.

    And so, in many cases in California, we have very low income communities who have been designed into place, they’ve been pushed into a region denied services for a very, very long time. Their infrastructure is failing or nonexistent and building water infrastructure is really expensive. And so, it makes their water incredibly unaffordable for them although they’re already paying what in the water justice world we call a triple tax. They’re paying for tap water they can’t drink because it’s dangerous for them. They’re paying for replacement water, usually at a much higher rate. And they’re paying for the health cost of not having access to safe water. And of course, the human ramifications of not having access to safe water are enormous.

    First and foremost, your children can be taken away if you are not able to provide them with safe drinking water. Your house is not going to be easy to sell and it will be devalued if it doesn’t have access to safe drinking water. In some cases, you can’t get loans to fix problems because of a pre-existing water problem. I worked in a region that had suffered a catastrophic fire and no one could rebuild their homes until they could prove that they had safe and affordable water. So, lack of water access becomes a significant burden for low-income communities and for all communities. But in California, it tends to hit people in different ways. So, I’m going to talk a little bit about who bears the brunt of our lack of access to high quality water that is accessible and affordable.

    This is a map that the State Water Board created. Their map is trying to track all of the systems in the state that have failed a public health standard. If you fail a public health standard, what it means is that you’re serving people water that is not considered to be healthy or safe for them from a public health perspective. But not all contaminants are made the same way. There’s a big difference between if you have E. coli in your water, which in theory can be treated by boiling it, versus if you have heavy metals in your water, which cannot be removed through boiling, or nitrates which become actually more toxic if you boil your water. So, all these different contaminants and these different stars don’t tell us really what the issues are. I can tell you that for at least this belt of the state right down the middle, the Central Coast, the Imperial Valley, the Coachella Valley/Inland Empire and down here (sorry, that’s the Imperial Valley, the Inland Empire and is here, Coachella in between). So, all of those agricultural areas have significant amounts, the systems that are there tend to have arsenic in their water, nitrates, which are essentially runoff from farm operations and manure, or from concentrated animal feed operations, and in some cases, uranium, and in many cases, pollutants that are related to industrial agriculture. So, things that come from pesticides, and rodenticides and all those other kinds of soil amendments or treatments that folks use when they’re growing crops, but that might be quite dangerous to people if they’re too close. And that can seep into their water or run off into their water sources and contaminate them.

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, when we look at who bears the burden where, a study that was conducted by Reuters right after the Flint, Michigan disaster, this is several years after but there was a lot of interest in evaluating and assessing how many other folks were being exposed to lead and how much of that was a story about racial inequality. And in California, what they found was that Black children who are living in low-income communities of California were extremely disproportionately more likely to be exposed to lead. Now, that lead could have come not from their water sources, but they did pay special attention to failing infrastructure and pipes and any kind of degradation of old pipes that could result in someone being exposed to more lead. So, this factored in water and water was the primary lens through which they did the study, although of course there’s other confounding factors that could contribute to being exposed to lead.

    And unsurprisingly, California’s African American population is not very diffuse, our African American communities tend to be clustered. There’s lots of historical reasons for why that’s the case. But where they’re clustered also shows us some hotspots. So, this community, this zip code in Fresno, has the highest lead exposure rate for Black children. That zip code is a historically black community in Fresno and its population is about 60-70% African American. If we jump down or if we look at Oakland and West Oakland, the area with the highest amounts, the highest exposure levels are in East Oakland and West Oakland, which is unfortunately unsurprising; those are both historically African American communities, West Oakland in particular. I’m not sure how Eureka ended up on the map, but it has a very high level as well, although not necessarily as correlated with race. And of course, in San Diego and Los Angeles, there’s a very high correlation of exposure to lead, vis-à-vis race in African American communities.

    And hopefully folks know this, but lead is a neurotoxin, it never goes away, it bioaccumulates, and it has profound lifetime effects that can really destroy someone’s life before they even get started. Similarly, this was an assessment of public wells, so these are wells that provide water to public water systems. And it was tracking where nitrate contamination was located. I forgot to include my arsenic map, but it looks almost exactly the same. It’s perhaps unsurprising that Latinx children, Latinx communities and Latinx children tend to be exposed to arsenic and nitrates at a higher level. The Latinx population in California is very diffuse. We have relatively diverse spread of where Latinx communities are located, even though there may be pockets, they tend to appear throughout the whole state. And it’s unsurprising but not great that the greatest amounts of contamination, from what I think many of us would think of as a byproduct of agriculture are, of course, in agricultural regions in the state. And arsenic is a very common contaminant in groundwater in these parts of the state as well, particularly in the San Joaquin Valley. And up here, if you get into the high desert area as well, you have uranium and arsenic, you have uranium up here as well.

    When we think of how climate change affects water, I think it’s really important that we think of climate change from many different angles. The most obvious way that climate change affects water security or water access is through the supply. But supply is not the limit, that’s not the only thing that creates problems. And so, some folks will advocate for the creation of more dams or more reservoirs, they’ll say, we should be storing more water. And it doesn’t really grapple with the fact that even if you stored more water, our supply overall is going down. As temperatures go up, California snowpack has shrunk significantly. This year, it’s about 40% lower than it was before, when we had an unusually wet year at unusual times of the year.

    What we had a couple years ago, we had incredible amounts; I was living in Northern California, we had tons of flooding, we had tons of rain. And rain is lovely, but rain is not a great way to store water. And so, the snow levels were low, but our rain levels were high. And so, we had this really bizarre circumstance where we were in drought, but we’re having flooding, which just seems insane. But it’s a very common byproduct of climate change, because climate change shifts the weather cycle and the water cycle, the timing of when water comes down and how it comes down, whether it can be stored or not stored, becomes a really big issue. And so, it also shifts when we are in drought, which throws off how we’ve historically been able to manage it.

    The other thing that’s really challenging with climate change, and it’s not climate change exclusively that’s done this, but generally speaking, we want what folks and what engineers, civil engineers in this field, we’ll call water redundancy, which only means we want you to have more than one source of water, so that if one of your sources fails, you have another option. And in general, California does not have a lot of water supply redundancy in low-income communities who are facing water challenges. And even in communities that are not low income and having water challenges, we just don’t have a lot of water supply redundancy. And so, climate change makes it even harder. During the drought, for example, people relied on groundwater because we didn’t have as much surface water. Well, if climate change proceeds as it has been, even if we’re able to curb some of the most egregious jumps that have already happened, we’re still going to see a lack of surface water, and we’re still going to see problems in that in the next 30 years.

    The other thing that climate change does is it changes how contamination works for people. So generally speaking, the way that we determine whether someone can drink water, and the way we measure whether it’s safe or not, is by figuring out how high the concentration of the contaminant is. So, if your total amount of water starts decreasing, the concentration of the contaminant starts increasing in ways that become really dangerous. And we saw this happen as well during the drought, we saw folks beginning to fail water safety tests that they had passed prior to the drought, because the entire aquifer was shrinking, and the concentration of contaminants was increasing. For folks who are coastal, we end up with a really big problem around sea water intrusion as well. So perhaps one of the biggest political fights, certainly in the Bay Areas around the Bay Delta and how far into the Delta you can be, you can have what salinity level, how salty can you be and how far? And typically, the argument happens in a way that talks primarily about fisheries who are important and I think serve as a canary on whether or not that’s a healthy water system. But it also has a negative effect on groundwater wells that are close to surface water sources. So, groundwater wells that are close to surface water will often have surface water leaching in. So, if you have seawater intrusion, all of a sudden now you have a bunch of wells that have gone, that have been contaminated with salt. And although lead is a very scary thing to have in your water system, and arsenic is and it’s very expensive and hard to remove them, salt is the hardest contaminant to remove from water. Once you have salt in there, your costs of getting it out of there are really, really hard, and in many cases, it just completely destroys your water source.

    The other thing that we’ve seen happening with climate change, shifting when water happens and whether it’s available, is that we’re also seeing shifts in waterborne disease pathology. So, we’re seeing waterborne diseases that we normally wouldn’t expect to see as a result of our climate changing and of our environment becoming warmer and more hospitable to pathologies, or to diseases that we associate with perhaps more tropical or temperate, more tropical regions.

    And finally, the other place where climate change wreaks havoc, is on our infrastructure. So, for better or for worse, we know that climate change, for worse, we know that climate change will create extreme weather events and disasters. But for better or for worse, having seen now Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Rita, the effects on the water system in Puerto Rico, even just now recently with the freeze in Texas and folks going for weeks without any running water or electricity and people dying of exposure; those extreme weather events have a heavy toll on the system, on the water infrastructure system. And we don’t fund water infrastructure in a sustainable way. And so, once your infrastructure fails, you’re in a crisis situation. And that’s what we saw in Puerto Rico. We had a lot of outdated infrastructure systems that had not been upgraded, had not received the funding to be able to do it or had had corruption and how the funding was appropriated. And that’s not unique to Puerto Rico, corruption and how water funding for infrastructure is appropriated happens everywhere in the United States. But it was a really good reminder that climate change resiliency is not only about the water supply and actual water itself, it’s also about how we deliver water, and it can affect how we deliver water.

    Okay, I’m in the homestretch. So, with that very dark and depressing series of parameters, there’s a couple of things that we could do as we go forward. This is where we kind of end up in what I was talking about as the world of a political solution, as opposed to simply scientific or engineering innovation. So, one of the things that advocates from these communities did early on and have finally gotten through is that they’ve gotten the state to require all the different water systems that it is able to regulate to do drought planning and prevention, meaning that we know whether or not someone’s system or someone’s water is going to fail. We’ve seen it before, we have a lot more data after the 2011-2017 drought. (Sorry, there’s a small dog knocking my laptop.)

    And so, we now know what to anticipate, which means that we could do a much better job or perhaps be better in how we intervene before droughts become disastrous. An example of this for a community that I worked with was the community of East Porterville. They’re in Tulare County, California, which is in the middle of the state in the San Joaquin Valley. East Porterville is adjacent to the city of Porterville, and if you drive there, for a while, you won’t be able to tell the difference, you won’t know that you’ve left the city. And East Porterville is almost exclusively on domestic wells. The community went dry, they have about 2,000 homes, 1,500 lost access to water, their walls went dry. And when that happened, the state marshaled this really amazing intervention. And they marshaled all these resources to get people emergency replacement water, to fast track the process for getting them funding to build a connection to connect the city of Porterville system to these individual folks, so now they were on a water system instead of a well. And they were able to do all that in part because we had passed a huge bond package that had funding for it in there in the middle of the drought. But one of the things that was really difficult about it was that it’s even though it’s often pointed to as a success, it cost hundreds of millions of dollars to provide that. And it would have probably been significantly cheaper if we had done some strategic drought planning. Knowing that East Porterville had gone dry in 2007 because of a mini-drought, we probably could have predicted that they were going to end up in the situation they were in, and we probably could have helped people before it became a very dire situation for them from a public health perspective. And even though the project was fast tracked, it took over five years and I think they finally connected the last houses that were supposed to be part of the project about a year and a half ago. There was no drive around 2012-2013 so it’s a long time to wait to not have running water or safe water.

    The other thing that California could do and that is it is doing in ways that I think are exciting, and I hope the federal government also supports, is that it can invest more in its infrastructure and its repair. Historically, we’ve spent a lot of money on repairing infrastructure that benefits the transportation of water, not always to residential areas. But we spent a lot of money on maintaining the state water project, for example, which we should, we shouldn’t let things fall into disarray, but we need an infusion. And this is true for most essential infrastructure throughout the state, whether it’s bridges, whether it’s roads, most water infrastructure, is beginning to reach the end of its life. It’s been around for over 20 to 30 years. And so there’s a really interesting and exciting bill that was introduced at the federal level that was put together through the People’s Water Project. So, if you’re interested in the political aspects of how you fund infrastructure, that’s a really cool and interesting case study. It’ll be interesting to see where it goes and how it goes.

    Additionally, in California, we created what’s called the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund. And it has an explicit rural justice focus, which I think is really interesting and unique. So it focuses not only on low income communities who have lacked access to water, it also tries to address the fact that many low income communities of colors, in particular, were deprived access to safe water as a series of political choices, and that that was motivated or animated by historical, racial discrimination and might continue to have racially disparate impacts because we’re kind of single legacy of those choices or decisions that were made earlier in time.

    I personally think we should significantly reconsider our water uses, it’s hard to convince people to do this, but we have a shift in California towards what folks call a durable water demand. So, for example, if you had to choose between growing certain row crops, and grown trees, trees are always going to be heavily water demanding; they’re a long term investment. And most of our agricultural decisions in the state are based on the global market for food. So, farmers make their decisions; with the exception of very, very small farms, most farmers are making their decisions based on where they could get the best price for their product on the global market for food. And part of that in the last 15 years has been a big shift towards almonds and other kinds of nut trees, which already existed in places like the San Joaquin Valley. But we’ve just seen a lot of very water thirsty crops being planted, I guess. And it seems like an odd thing to do at a time when we know that water supply is waning. I think we have to really think about how we’re using water and how the allocation of water could perhaps be reconfigured. And there are areas, there are certainly farm communities, particularly in perhaps more wet areas of the state, that do this. They get together, they think through how can we do this in a more sustainable way? Or is our current use something that we can keep up and then they try to negotiate and a lot of the time, that takes a very long time. But there tends to be more cooperation as you go further north, and I suspect it’s because there’s more water, but something to consider. And there are certainly some interesting innovations in water conservation happening, and water planning and crop planning. So, I think there’s a lot of interesting things that are happening in the agricultural sector that could be helpful for long term water preservation and conservation.

    You should conserve, we’re really good at conserving when there’s a drought. As soon as a drought order is released, we all go back to our old habits, particularly in domestic water. So, I think there needs to be a bigger conversation about conservation in general. Australia has had some really interesting changes in how they deal with conservation of water because they’ve had to deal with catastrophic drought for over 20 years. And I also think we should shift the lens of how we view these problems, instead of thinking of them as an issue of how much pipeline do we have and how much pipe per capita are we willing to spend? We have to think a little bit more holistically about our decisions. And that includes our land use policies or other policies that created the problem that we’re currently in. So, I’m happy to talk about any of these ideas further, I want to make sure we have time for discussion. So, let’s take a breather so that we can do questions and discussion.

    Susan Phillips: Camille, thank you so much. That was wonderful and super informative, and I personally have lots of questions. I encourage everyone who has questions to go ahead and put them into the Q&A. We have a couple of questions lined up already. So, I’ll start with the first one and then Eva, if you want to take the second one.

    Arsenic is the most common, but natural, groundwater water quality issue, but nitrate mitigation might be also? Might it be co-linked? However, how do we partition who pays? My guess is taxpayers since farming sources are often historic and historically permitted. Moreover, in the context of climate change, can we mitigate quality and protect groundwater when inputs might be declining?

    Camille Pannu: I think it’s a really good question. So, I’ll start with the first part about who pays. So, this has always been, I think, the political struggle of how to deal with a sticky problem. So, there was a proposal; currently, we have the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund, it’s funded through general fund appropriations, which is not a good way, it’s not that it’s not a good way, but folks are always nervous about appropriating out of California’s General Fund because our economic reality can be very volatile and the General Fund is the first place people go when we lose tax monies for essential programs. It’s also partially funded through the Climate Change Reinvestment Act that we created and programs we created. The original bill suggested that there should be a tax on fertilizer and a tax on dairies, and the tax was built into their operation. So, it wasn’t on the fact that they existed, it was a small tax added to the cost of fertilizer itself. It had a cap, and it was actually designed to cover the cost of nitrate contamination as it was understood at that time. When the bill was being advanced, agriculture consulted on the bill and seemed to be in favor. There were a handful of folks (I’m trying to figure out how much I’m allowed to say about it in my role as a professor at UC Irvine), but essentially, it came down to politics. There’s lots of different decision makers in the room. I think it was interesting that agriculture was willing to get on board to propose this, I understand the criticisms of why people were concerned about having agriculture funded, because there was a worry that they would try to get out of liability by saying that they had paid into the fund. So as a result, what ends up happening is the taxpayer ends up paying for it, even though there’s a very concrete industry that’s contributing to it. So, on the back end, I think what folks have been trying to do is a couple of things. So, in Salinas, the regional waterboard there did an enforcement order, which was pretty fantastic, in my opinion. And they acknowledged that, they were able to say, here are the folks who have contributed to the matrix contamination. It’s disproportionately affecting low-income Latinx farmworker communities in the Salinas and [inaudible] Valleys, you need to pay for their replacement water, and to get them a well that’s safe. And they’re doing it and it’s a confidential settlement. I don’t know what the details are, but I think it’s safe to say that if agriculture was willing to pay for the costs in a bill, it was probably less than what they have to pay through an enforcement action settlement. So that’s one avenue to think about is could the state, the regional water boards who are primarily charged with enforcement actions in their area, could they be more collaborative or thoughtful about how they’re doing enforcement and who’s paying for what?

    There’s also an anti-degradation policy and an irrigated lands policy that were passed. And so, there are more hooks now to require regulation of farming. And California is one of the first states that started to regulate farming on water contamination issues. So, I think there’s actually quite a bit of promise there. I generally like to try to work with people with carrots instead of sticks, but it helps to have a stick sometimes.

    And then I think the second question was, how can we mitigate quality and protect groundwater? If you can answer this question, you will be worth millions and millions of dollars, because right now what folks are doing is they’re trying to do these for profit water banks that are going to quote, unquote, “bank” water using surface water and having read some of the sustainability plans that were proposed, from what I can tell, I’ve been calling it voodoo water like math, because none of it makes sense. We know surface water’s coming down, I have no idea where they think they’re going to get extra water to pour on the ground to let it sink in and replenish underground aquifers. I think it’s a lot of magical thinking at the moment. And so, I think the protection of groundwater needs to be a more rigorous conversation. It’s a legally difficult conversation to have because the law of how we regulate water is dumb. And it’s particularly dumb in California; we’re the only Western State but doesn’t regulate groundwater the way that other arid states do.

    Eva Tiller: I can ask the second question. So, this person asks, “I was wondering if Camille could expand on her ideas around desalination plants, and why she thinks there are problems around it and just talk more about her thoughts on those and why they might not be the best path forward?”

    Camille Pannu: Sure, I’m happy to talk about it. A big caveat is that absent technological innovation, my opinion could change. But at the moment, desalination plants are incredibly energy wasting, they take a ton of energy. And California doesn’t have a grid that produces mostly clean energy, we have more clean energy than we did in the past, but we have fossil fuel-based energy production. So essentially what you have is your climate change, driven by all of this fossil fuel-related emissions, including CO2. So, if you’re upping the amount of energy you’re creating or using, you’re just contributing more to the climate change cycle, and you’re not actually fixing the problem, which is that we have climate change, and it’s affecting our water cycle. So, in my opinion, it makes the system worse. I know it’s a very diffuse effect; of course, it’s not localized, but it’s expensive. It can make the situation worse, and it doesn’t grapple with the fact that are we really going to… what are you going to do with the salt and are we really going to try to boil the ocean? Those are just insane concepts, or they’re not insane concepts, I don’t need to do pejorative, they’re places that do desalination because it’s the only thing they can do, especially globally, but you do it when you have no other alternative. And so I just don’t think it should be our first alternative, particularly because of the negative impact environmentally at this point in time.

    Susan Phillips: That resonates so deeply in terms of how to, if technology, in a sense, created these problems in the first place, do you use technology to kind of write your way out of them? It’s always a bit of a contradiction.

    We have a lot of, several more farming questions. I have a couple questions as well. But let’s go to the next one. “Farmers are price takers; to change, crop decision making can’t be reconfigured on a large scale. In other words, they’re just trying to make ends meet. So a lot of farmland has become speculative and land use is critical, but needs to be further articulated.” These are statements rather than questions. But kind of begging that, sort of like the question of land use is really a key thing that the Conservancy is thinking about right now in our region. The shrinking of farmland is really critical here; we’re losing farmland. And this is obviously happening all over the country but because we have land here, we have a historic agriculture district, we’re losing that farmland to development. And logistics, in particular, is a very real problem. For me, I also just want to throw in, I think, piggyback on Mark’s question about the idea of nature-based solutions to climate change. So Governor Newsom had his N-82-20 bill, these 30 by 30 calls, Biden is in on this, sort of a global movement around it. It includes working lands, and it includes farms as having the potential to kind of reverse this. So, I think that might be part of the further articulation that Mark is talking about. Do you have any thoughts about either Mark’s question, or the stuff that I’m bringing up about nature-based solutions to climate change and whether you think that farming can play a role in that?

    Camille Pannu: Oh, definitely. Farming is a really important industry in California. And I don’t mean to sound in any way opposed to farming, I think there’s great dignity in growing food that nourishes people. And it’s an incredible thing to be able to do, and we should compensate people fairly for it. Right now, I think there are a couple of things that are somewhat abstract that affect why we’re stuck where we are. So, in terms of the price taker aspect, it’s true that they’re price takers. A great deal of that is because of our global market for agriculture. A lot of the kind of efforts at local and sustainable agriculture will not overcome that but could help blunt some of that to give folks greater choice. One of the biggest food deserts in California are located where we grow food, which is insane and unfortunate. And I think we could begin to kind of rethink about how we could support people in that. But I understand that you can’t change this vast, neoliberal global market overnight and you can’t push people to do it and that you have to be very thoughtful about it and that we have farms of all different sizes and the amount of volatility they can withstand is very different. And the reality is that the folks who are smaller or if they haven’t already been driven out of business are very much at the verge of that. And that deserves a bit of compassion when we talk about different policies. So, suggestions with respect to farmland and farmland speculation, so a lot of the speculation is happening because people want the groundwater rights. So, some of it comes back down to water again. I think there’s a lot that we should be thinking about when we think of land use. California finally passed a bill in 2010 that required you to prove that you had an adequate source of water that wasn’t going to decrease or otherwise diminish your neighbor’s water for the first time. It didn’t stop the growth of suburbs, though, there’s been tons of new developments that are in areas that clearly don’t have water, and it requires a little bit more buy in from local government, frankly, because most land use decisions, even if they’re mandated by the state, land use is local, and land use decision making is local. And so you have to be very engaged with your local government and often if we’re talking about the development of farmland, we’re talking about county government in particular, which operates in the shadows for a lot of folks.

    And then finally, I think the last question was about the role that farms can play. Farms are currently doing a lot of innovation around water; they don’t have the money to get more and more water, either. There’s areas where there’s farming, and folks are doing really innovative things. There’s agro-ecological practices that happen in different regions that are really helpful. And so, I do think that there’s a role for farms to play in conservation and they’ve historically played that role as guardians. And as kind of, gosh, there’s a very specific word for it and I’m forgetting, stewards, as stewards of natural resources. And so I think there’s a great deal of pride around that in farming communities. And I think that we should tap into that and support it. I think the part where it gets a little tricky is that three families in California control 70% of farmland, and they’re major businesses, and they don’t live there. And it’s not in their interest for anything to change, at least.

    Eva Tiller: And then Zoey asks, “Are there any water saving innovations in agriculture that you’re most excited about and think should be applied widespread?”

    Camille Pannu: So, there’s a lot of really cool, actually tech innovations that are happening in agriculture related to water monitoring. And that includes real time analysis of what kind of groundwater they have. And so there’s some irrigation districts that are doing some really innovative and cool stuff. They haven’t shared it publicly because it’s all proprietary, and people are very secretive about groundwater data in California. I understand why they’re secretive. I don’t like that they’re secretive, but I get why they are. But I think those innovations are actually really excellent and that we should be thinking about how there are technological innovations around monitoring, reporting, assessing the health of their watersheds, etc., could be scaled up or leveraged to other industries or to include other uses, especially in groundwater. Agriculture is really ahead of the curve when it comes to figuring out how to apply tech to groundwater.

    Susan Phillips: I’d like to encourage people if they still have questions, to write them into the Q&A for us. And I’d also like to shift the terms of the discussion just a little bit. Again, it’s been marvelous and very enlightening. I’m really interested; at the Conservancy, we’re really deeply invested in regenerative agriculture and thinking about solutions for our region and how that can make a difference. So this is wonderful for me personally, and I think for the Conservancy, just giving us a wealth of knowledge here and lots of things to think about.

    I want to talk a little bit more about you. And about How did Camille Pannu come to be interested in these issues? You’ve done a lot of community work and thinking about how that’s not the case with everybody who does policy. It is the case sometimes, and usually the people for whom those two things kind of collide, it’s easy to do policy without ever talking to community. I mean, it shouldn’t be done according to us at Pitzer College, and you I’m sure, but I’m just curious about your work and curious about your particular practice of law, and also just curious about your background. So, if we can talk about that for a minute, and then we can shift back to the question and answer.

    Camille Pannu: So what’s the concise TLDR version of how I got here? So I grew up in Richmond, California, which is super postindustrial, and very depressed. When we had the 90s tech boom and the economy was growing under Clinton, and the mid-90s, and whatnot, that did not happen where I lived. We were the murder capital of the country several years in a row. And for me, the big thing that affected how I saw the world was the Chevron Refinery, which is the largest oil refinery west of the Mississippi. And so that was kind of my orientation. I went to college, and I was very dedicated to the idea of working on the systemic causes of poverty. And so I started kind of chasing different things. My first theory was that education is the biggest lever of upward mobility. And it is, but you can’t really get a great education if you’re getting poisoned with lead, for example, or if the air you breathe, or the water you drink is putting you in a position where that’s not feasible.

    Then I started working on juvenile justice advocacy, because there was all this stuff around the school to prison pipeline. And the reason I never did environment was not because I wasn’t interested in it but because none of the programs that I that I looked at when I was an undergraduate were talking about environment and human society, if that makes sense, and how environment… I really wanted to study environmental justice. I didn’t know that was what it was called at the time. But most of our environmental programs did not do that, and so I just kind of opted out. And I was a poverty studies kind of person, I was in that vein instead. But what I was studying was a lot of work around environmental devastation. When abroad (because I didn’t get to study abroad in college), my first job was overseas, working on rural water in one of the poorest states in Kenya. So, it was super rural, it was all about waterborne diseases and infant mortality. I came back to the United States and when I went to law school, what actually made the difference (he’s now my coworker) was my supervising attorney, Bob Solomon over at the CED Clinic at UC Irvine. I was working at Yale Law School the year before I went to law school, and Bob was there at the time. And I wanted to sit in on a lecture class on community development. So, I emailed him and he said, “Oh, we’re actually a clinical program.” And so I was like, “I’m not qualified, I don’t know what to do.” And he said, “No, come over, no one’s qualified. No one knows what they’re doing. They’re all new law students, you’ll blend right in, it’ll be fine. We have all sorts of non-lawyers from time to time.”

    And working with Bob was really great, because community development is a lot about working directly with communities to help them plan and transform what they want to see. And it’s often working with people who haven’t had access to whether it was financing or capital or even just decision-making authority. And it was nice, and it was interesting to me and it felt very grassroots. And it was very local economy-focused, which I found very attractive. And so I went, when I went to law school, I had already decided I want to be an environmental justice attorney, I want to do the kind of stuff I got to do with Bob. I also had done, I had been a student organizer and a community organizer, as well. But my life had always been like organizing on one side, and then nerdy life pursuits on the other. What I liked about law, and what was good for me in law, was that it let my nerd mind and my community justice mind work together. And what I wanted to do is, I wanted to go to law school because law can be a very powerful tool for exclusion. Or, if you can give people access and help them navigate it, it can be a tool for empowerment and for shifting power. So, I felt like all the structures of the world were written through law. And all the structural inequality I was seeing had a lot to do with law. And if we could get people to have power over, or if we could get people to harness their own power to be able to change those structures, perhaps we could get to more innovative places.

    So, I thought I was going to sue refineries and work on community development. My first year, I had a professor and she said, “Oh, you worked on water.” And I was, “Yeah, but I don’t know if I’ll work on it here in the United States, because most of the really horrible water stuff seems to be happening on federal Indian lands and in tribal lands.” And she said, “You should come with me to the Central Valley, we’re going to go down to the San Joaquin Valley and take a trip.” And I was like, “I’ve cousins in the valley, I’ve been to the valley over 100 times. There’s absolutely nothing you could show me that I haven’t already seen.” Well, I was wrong. We went to a community that was a mile from Madeira, which is where my cousins live. So, I’d been past that community at least 150 times. I’d never seen it; I didn’t know it was there. Very low income, primarily Black and Latinx. And they took us on a tour of their water system, and they were running their entire water pump off of a Cadillac engine. And that, for me, just blew my mind. When I was in rural Kenya where we didn’t have running water or regular electricity, the way that we watched the World Cup was we went to a bar that hooked its TV up to a car engine, and that was in one of the poorest counties in the world. And here I am in one of the richest states in the richest country in the world, and we have people who can’t get water, it was just profoundly disturbing to me. I did a huge 180 and became a rural justice person, and the rest is history.

    Susan Phillips: Let me just say that Camille Pannu has worked with a project that is near and dear to our hearts at Pitzer which Huerta de Valle, so she was on the legal team with Bob Solomon and Carrie Hempel that is still the pro bono law team for Huerta that is the program that you teach in now as well. So it’s just really exciting to kind of come full circle, we can say we know you when.

    Camille Pannu: Do you want to ask the next question?

    Eva Tiller: Someone asks, how would you anticipate California and policymakers will prepare and react to the impending effects of climate change? In the case of Phoenix, groundwater extraction has become intertwined with the impacts of climate change causing natural and economic stress for agriculture, housing, etc. in the region. How will run off groundwater in eastern California and its importance for the rest of the state change in the coming years or decades?

    Camille Pannu: Yeah, I think it’s going to be pretty profound. So one of the things that is difficult is that (and perhaps this is not true for this group because this is a group that’s particularly interested in these issues), I am embarrassed to admit that until my second year of law school, I didn’t realize that my drinking water didn’t actually come from the reservoir. I didn’t realize that it came from like the Sierra Nevada. I knew it did abstractly, but if you had said, “What’s your aquifer for your water supply,” I would have said, “Oh, it’s the Lafayette or the Richmond reservoir,” and people would have said, “Oh, okay.” and I said, “Yeah, I just fills up the water,” which is not true. I think a lot of it is that most of us are not, I think this is true when we think of food justice, also, right? Most of us don’t know where our food comes from, we don’t know where our water comes from. And we just turn on the tap, and we expect it to work. And if it works, it must be okay. But I think one of the downsides of that is that we don’t value the parts of the state that perhaps provide these kinds of essential resources to us. So, when I lived in the San Joaquin Valley for quite some time, if I could do the job that I want to do there, I would do it in a heartbeat. And that’s even though it was incredibly politically different from how I am and from what I believe, and things run very differently. Devin Nunes was my congressman at the time I lived there, so it was different.

    But the feeling I got was that coastal California, especially like the Bay Area, LA, the kind of more concentrated metropolitan areas where there’s a great deal of affluence among also poverty, I think they take it for granted. Like the Six Californias proposal is a really good example of people not understanding the complexity of how our state is put together. And I think a lot of people treat inland California as flyover country, or as backwards or as somehow not worth listening to because it’s politically very different than it is on the coast, and I think that’s a mistake, and I think we miss an opportunity for engagement. In the context of policy, I think one of my favorite policymakers was Lois Wolk, she’s since retired because she termed out, but she was a senator from the Central Valley, but from the northern part, and she was amazing. She’s passed amazing amounts of legislation, and a lot of it comes from just treating people with some kind of respect.

    But I will say that, for better or for worse, I think Professor Phillips actually asked me this, so I’ve worked on a lot of grassroots policy stuff with organizations that do grassroots policy, which for me, was hard to imagine at first. How do you take something from the grassroots and make it a statewide effort, and they did it and it was very empowering and very cool, and it was very much based in principles of community empowerment and community organizing. But their own elected officials don’t listen to them, a lot of the bills that have passed have passed because coastal policymakers are listening to people who are not their constituents about an issue that they are shocked exists. The governor articulated that drinking water was one of the most shocking things and he was really upset about it. So, when it comes to climate change, I think there’s a lot of political will to do something there. California tends to be ahead of the of the curve on it in some ways, and sometimes we’re a little behind the curve in other ways. But I think that if we want to continue to really move the ball and think and talk comprehensively, we need to be engaging the eastern part of the state and the central part of the state with a little bit more humility and a great deal more compassion.

    Yeah, that’s what I would say. I’ve certainly been in meetings with policymakers and felt like they’re company men or women who have their own bias in what industry or they’re heavily influenced by something else. But one of the quotes that was very inspiring to me when I was a baby attorney was from Luke Cole who wrote a lot of the theory behind environmental justice lawyers specifically, so how to do rural justice as a lawyer as opposed to doing it as a community member or an organizer. And he said, there’s two kinds of power, there’s the power of people or the power of money. And so I like to think that if we invest in the power of people, we can get effective solutions passed and we can get more inclusive solutions passed and from a policy standpoint, that’s been happening. There’s been, as a result, over 30 years of grassroots organizing and effort. In the last 10 years, California has passed over 30 bills related to water justice, and to implementing water as a human right.

    Susan Phillips: That’s fantastic. We have time for just one more question. And it is appropriate, I think, to the audience here, which is, what areas does Camille think that students can be engaged in these issues? So how can students get engaged in this? And I’m talking particularly about undergrads, because we’re all undergraduate here. So curious about your thoughts about that.

    Camille Pannu: Yeah, absolutely. So the great news is, there’s a lot that students can do. And it also depends on the role that you want to play in your advocacy. So for example, there’s this Community Water Center, it’s probably one of the best known water justice organizations in the state at this point. And the Community Water Center will frequently host undergraduates, in particularly undergraduates who are juniors or seniors or right after they graduated. They hosted a student who had graduated her senior year, she was doing a year of service, and it was funded through a fellowship. And the report that she did for them was she looked up every single water district in California and tried to figure out when was the last time they had an election, and when was the last time anyone had a contested election. And she found out that something like over 70 or 80% of systems had not had an election in more than 20 years. That’s illegal, but no one was watching. And she produced this really compelling report that was super helpful. That’s a perfect example, if you’re more academically inclined, of the kind of work that they could use.

    A lot of these groups that do the grassroots work and do policy advocacy, have really good and sophisticated relationships with research institutions to help them figure out where the data is. There’s a project that is shaping up right now that’s looking at California’s administrator program. It’s a way that the state wants to build drinking water systems out. And there’s a lot of questions about democratic control, and is that fair, but even at a local level, even if you’re not interested in policy, or you don’t want to do an intensive report or anything like that, there are a lot of opportunities to get involved with community engagement, and community organizing. Speaking personally, I think one of the best things you can do is spend as much time as possible with the community that you want to serve, whether that means living there, or just spending hours and hours and hours really just developing relationships and understanding the kind of perspectives of the folks who are there. And then there’s, of course, lots of internship opportunities and lots of organizations that do all sorts of work related to water justice throughout the state. So I think there’s a lot of different places where folks can plug in, we need scientists, we need policy folks, we need organizers, we need every kind of skill you have. Don’t feel like you can’t get involved.

    Susan Phillips: I hope everyone will join me in thanking Professor Camille Pannu for such a wonderful presentation and for being our 2021 Annual Sullivan lecturer for today. Thank you so much, Camille.Camille Pannu: Thank you so much for having me and for your questions. They were all really good and really thoughtful.

    Susan Phillips: I think someone has raised a hand. I’m not sure what that means. Jackie Sullivan has raised her hand. Jackie, I’m not sure how we can communicate with you. Jackie, hello. Can you unmute yourself and show us your face if you can? Are you there Jackie?

    (IT: She’s gonna rejoin as a panelist give her one second.

    Susan Phillips: Fantastic. Thank you so much, John.

    Jackie Sullivan: And I’ve actually gotten you on my computer.

    Susan Phillips: Oh, Jackie, you’re echoing. I’m wondering if you could do a single source for your, for talking to us. Yeah. If you mute your computer, you should be fine. If you mute your computer or step into the next room with your device, you should be fine. Yeah, that’s way better. Thank you so much. That’s perfect.)

    Jackie Sullivan: Anyway, I just wanted to thank the speaker. I thought that Jack would have really been so interested in talking about those things, especially in terms of the kinds of things that ought to be, taken into account and solved. And the issue about the people without access to water is very disturbing. And he was very much into social justice in terms of access to water, and clean water, and so forth. I’m just glad that we had the lecture this year. And I have to say that I really do miss Jack a lot about a lot of things. But one of the things we always talked about was water. In fact, once one of my students stopped me in the hall and said, “Does Jack talk about water at home too?”

    Susan Phillips: Oh my gosh, we miss Jack so much. He was a wonderful, larger than life presence on our campus as were you, Jackie. We’re so deeply grateful you could join us today. And again, the magic of Zoom and this time, we’re lucky that we can convene a group despite those limitations, through the power of technology, so I’m very grateful for that.

    Jackie Sullivan: I hope we can do it in person again, I always enjoyed meeting the people that were doing the lectures. So thanks for letting me know.

    Susan Phillips: Jackie, check your email because I just sent you a link, we’ll do a little debrief with Professor Pannu after the conversation. All right, everyone. Thank you so much for a wonderful lecture and for your attendance today. Really appreciate it.


Redford Conservancy Fall Lecture: “Environmental Racism and Climate Justice” with Julie Sze and Michael Méndez

September 30, 2020

The Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability presented its fall lecture featuring Julie Sze and Michael Méndez in conversation about their new books on September 30.

Authors, activists, and academics Michael Méndez (UCI) and Julie Sze (UC Davis) joined RRC Interim Director Susan Phillips for a conversation about the intersection of climate change and environmental justice.

Sze’s new book, Environmental Justice in a Moment of Danger (UC Press 2020), examines mobilizations and movements, from protests at Standing Rock to activism in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. The book is the essential primer on environmental justice, packed with cautiously hopeful stories for the future.  All proceeds from this book are split between the Community Water Center https://www.communitywatercenter.org/ and UPROSE https://www.uprose.org/, two environmental justice organizations.

Méndez’s new book, Climate Change from the Streets: How Conflict and Collaboration Strengthen the Environmental Justice Movement (Yale 2020), tells an urgent and timely story of the contentious politics of incorporating environmental justice into global climate change policy. Méndez contends that we must incorporate local knowledge, culture, and history into policymaking to fully address the global complexities of climate change and the real threats facing our local communities.

This event was sponsored by the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability and the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation.

Michael Méndez is an assistant professor of environmental planning and policy at the University of California, Irvine. He previously served in California as a senior consultant, lobbyist, and gubernatorial appointee during the passage of the state’s internationally acclaimed climate change legislation.

Julie Sze is a Professor of American Studies at UC Davis. She is also the founding director of the Environmental Justice Project for UC Davis’ John Muir Institute for the Environment, and in that capacity is the Faculty Advisor for 25 Stories from the Central Valley.

  • Video Transcript

    [Program begins at 0:01:21 mark]

    Susan Phillips:
    My name is Susan Phillips, and I’m the Interim Director of the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability. And I wanted to welcome you all today, first by acknowledging our presence on traditional ancestral lands of the Gabrielino Tongva people, and we’re lucky enough to be able to work in partnership with them here at Pitzer College and with the Redford Conservancy, in particular. And I just wanted to say a couple things about the Conservancy. Our mission is to engage people in communities and work for socio-ecological justice and sustainability in our region and beyond. And each fall and spring, we bring distinguished speakers to our campus, or in this case, to our virtual space, our virtual campus. And the point is to engage in discussion and conversation to have symposia or panels.

    I wanted to let everyone know that this will be recorded, I’m going to actually cut and paste, in case you have classes or other folks that you think would like to access this after the fact. This is the website where it will be recorded. I just put it into the chat. And actually, there’s a bunch of other wonderful events and wonderful talks on there that have been done in the past. And that brings me to the other thing I wanted to say which before we do this today, I wanted to acknowledge Brinda Sarathy, who is the Director of the Robert Redford Conservancy, and this talk with Julie Sze and Mike Mendez was totally her conception. So, I just wanted to thank her for that, and also for trusting me with the reins of the program temporarily while she’s on leave. So, thank you, Brinda. I wanted to say in terms of housekeeping-type stuff, we are going to have questions. The chat is open, you can feel free to chat. But if you do have questions that you would like to be addressed (oh, the chat is disabled in Zoom). Okay, the chat has been disabled. I will…

    [John, I think we’ll be able to you…
    IT Support: If you change the message from “all panelists” to “all panelists and attendees,” attendees will be able to see it. So you can just repaste the link.]

    Susan Phillips:
    Oh, nice. Got it. Thank you. Okay, I just repasted the link. And that link is where this event will be recorded and where you also can find previous events. So, what I was going to say about the chat and how to thank you, select how to add, ask questions. During this event, we’re going to have a Q&A period, feel free to chat up a storm if you want to during the conversation. People love to do that. And it’s one of the really fun ways of building community during things like this. But in terms of if you want to have a question answered, it’ll be a little bit harder for me to follow those through the thread of the chat. So, if you could put your formal questions in the Q&A, that would be wonderful.

    Okay, so without further ado, I want to introduce our speakers. And basically, Michael Mendez and Julie Sze, they’re both here to discuss their new books about climate change and environmental justice. And I’m going to take a minute to introduce them. Then I will ask them a question that kind of allows them to talk about their books. So, each of them is going to be doing a mini-kind of presentation of their book and their work and themselves. And then I will ask them more questions, we’ll kind of have a conversation. And at about 5:45 or 5:50, we’re going to open it up to the audience for question and answer. And again, I’ll be monitoring the chat as much as I can, but try to focus on the Q&A.

    Michael Mendez is an assistant professor of environmental planning and policy at the University of California, Irvine. He previously served in California as a senior consultant, lobbyist and gubernatorial appointee during the passage of the state’s internationally acclaimed climate change legislation. His new book is Climate Change from the Streets: How Conflict and Collaboration Strengthen the Environmental Justice Movement, published with Yale in 2020. And it’s about the contentious politics of incorporating environmental justice into global climate change policy. He argues that we have to incorporate local knowledge, culture and history into policymaking in order to fully address the global complexities of climate change, and the real threats facing our local communities.

    Julie Sze is a professor of American Studies at UC Davis. She’s also the founding director of the Environmental Justice Project for UC Davis’s John Muir Institute for the Environment, and in that capacity is the faculty advisor for “25 Stories from the Central Valley.” Her new book is Environmental Justice in a Moment of Danger published with UC Press in 2020, and it examines mobilizations and movements, from protests at Standing Rock to activism in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, and her book has been called an essential primer on environmental justice and is packed with cautiously hopeful stories for the future. All the proceeds from this book are split between the Community Water Center, and UPROSE which are two environmental justice organizations. In other words, buy the book, buy both books, you’ll be doing a lot of folks a lot of good.

    I want to thank you both so much for being here. And this is where the crowd normally would really start to applaud. But I’m going to move right into the first question. I wanted to start today with the title of Julie’s book, Environmental Justice in a Moment of Danger. And this is the question where I’m kind of asking you to talk about yourself and your book, but linking it to this contemporary moment in terms of politics and climate emergency. In other words, how do you both, in your work separately, define this moment of danger? How do you work within that moment? And also, how did you come to the work? Is it about you, your positionality, your history, that led you to these topics? And how is that moment of danger sort of shifted and changed through time? And what shape does it take in your work? So, this is an invitation for Mike; go ahead if you’d like to share your screen and we’ll look forward to hearing what you have to say followed by Julie.

    Michael Mendez:
    Thank you, Susan. It’s such a pleasure to be here. Thank you for the invitation. I’d like to thank the director of the Robert Redford Conservancy for extending the invitation to both myself and Julie. And it’s quite an honor to be on this esteemed panel with Julie Sze. I remember reading her very first book and now I’m on a panel with her and her third book. So, thank you for this opportunity.

    So, to answer that question, I’m going to start with talking about a broad overview about my book. (Let me share my screen and make sure…. Okay, there it was full screen.) In California, we’re experiencing a major climate change crisis. In the last two months, millions of people have been impacted by the fires, blackouts, heat waves, hazardous air quality, and the ever-present COVID-19 pandemic. These are all major life events and very representative of this historic moment for social justice. Most importantly, currently, three of the 10 largest wildfires by acreage in California’s history, are currently burning. These compounding of disasters have cascading health, socio-economic impacts due to existing structural inequality. These impacts are disproportionately affecting low income people of color.

    To address the climate emergency, activists and policymakers have proposed the Green New Deal at the federal level. As many of you know, the Green New Deal is a radical proposal to decarbonize our economy and address poverty and inequality. For the last two decades, local communities of color have also put state and local governments to experiment with reducing greenhouse gas emissions and approaches that also address inequality and public health. These efforts and climate experimentation, however, have been contentious and are often met with significant resistance. However, I’m also here to tell you that there’s nothing new about the Green New Deal; as I mentioned before, climate activists, environmental justice activists have been doing this for nearly 20 years. Climate change experiments in places like California, which is the basis of my research, have been all-out street fights. Environmental justice activists are often pitted against traditional environmentalists who favor the least costly mitigation solutions, which does not necessarily maximize equity and public health outcomes, let alone communities of color. These conflicts over climate change are cultural at their core. They illustrate that although the science of climate change is clear, policy decisions about how to respond to the effects remain contentious. Even when such decisions are claimed to be guided by objective knowledge. They are made and implemented through political institutions and relationships and all the competing power struggles and interests that this implies.

    If we look towards the example of California, it reveals a contingent nature of climate policy. Assumptions and social political cultural attitudes that often create conflict between community understandings of local environmental conditions and the prevailing global top-down conceptualization of climate change. In California, tensions between different approaches to addressing climate change are often centered on the politics of scale, economics and race. These differences in worldviews, if unacknowledged, can lead to the breakdown of trust, even among groups that are nominally working towards the same goal, reducing the harm climate change would do to human societies and our planet. For insight into national level climate conflicts around climate change, about working towards climate change and justice, one should look to the nearly two-decades experiment of incorporating environmental justice and health equity principles into climate change policy. For environmental justice activists in California, the main threat from climate change is a disproportionate harm it causes to their bodies and the health of their communities. For them, climate change is not just about greenhouse gas models. Rather, it’s also about opposing worldviews to which policy and science is seen.

    Yet California is so often seen as a modulus entity that uniformly values environmentalism and climate action. This image universalizes the idea of climate change and detaches it from its cultural settings. It also obscures how the localization of environmental policy and science within the state involves processes of public consultation and legitimacy. For example, in this 2018 book that was published by a major academic University Press, it takes a very traditional environmental narrative of California’s environmental history, which includes in the ratio of people of color and their influence in comprehensive environmental policy, (I’ve blocked out the name of the book and the authors; I don’t want to target them here), but in this nearly 300-page book that markets itself as a definitive environmental history of California, people of color are only referenced three times throughout the whole book. So, there’s this continual erasure of people of color. And therefore, my book, Climate Change from the Streets, has an explicit focus on people of color. And this book [unintelligible] people placed in power in the context of climate change inequality and trying to write in people of color and California’s environmental history.

    This research originated in my public policy work for the California State Legislature during a 15-year period. This provided me valuable insight into how the interactions of governments, activists, businesses and NGOs shaped climate change policy. My research is further influenced from my experience growing up in Latino immigrant communities of Los Angeles that face multiple environmental threats. As a youth in Pacoima, I was surrounded by people resisting environmental racism, whether protesting the siting of landfills or organizing to demand cleanup of toxic sites. They sought to understand how these situations originated, to develop alternatives and to imagine new environmental futures. This has focused my work on what the conceptualization of environmental justice and climate change has meant to activists, policymakers and scholars.

    The case of California is particularly productive as a climate experiment as the world’s fifth-largest economy, and the only US state to implement a comprehensive program of regulatory and market-based mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. California has consistently been at the forefront of broader national and global environmental experimentation. The state’s cap and trade program, a central market-based mechanism for ensuring carbon emissions reductions, is the third-largest in the world after the European Union and China. The program has been especially contentious in debates within California, yet supporters emphasize its global reach and cost-effectiveness and detractors criticize inequitable facts on specific local communities and demographic groups. California’s prominence in climate policy makes it an ideal place to investigate the dynamics of such disputes, and their roots in differing climate change worldviews.

    My multiscale ethnographic policy approach weaves together analyses of three interconnected case studies. The first two look at climate and public health activism in two heavily impacted communities of color, Richmond and Oakland, California. The second looks at conflict over state-level carbon trading and use of its revenue for investment and low-income communities of color most harmed by air pollution. And then finally, it looks at international-local implications of forest conservation projects in the global south and Mexico and Brazil, allowed under California’s market-based climate change loss. These cases combine to reveal the contested politics of local, state, and transnational levels on which California makes climate change policy and takes action. Therefore, to summarize, my three aims of my multiscale research is to demonstrate that public health and environmental justice perspectives can be central to successful climate change policy development and implementation, offer an interdisciplinary framework for theorizing the kinds of negotiations between scales and worldviews that are involved in the development of equitable climate change policy, and finally, provide a set of findings that activists can use to negotiate with governments that legitimizes their perspectives about the differential impact of climate change on disadvantaged communities of color. So, in closing, mind-body research represents new models of engagement with climate change that makes space for alternative paradigms of environmental protection. My engagement with key stakeholders since 2006 has allowed me to critically analyze how the success of climate policy in California now depends on incorporating marginalized voices and embodied perspectives on the local and global scales.

    Thank you for this opportunity, and I’ll hand it off to Julie.

    Julie Sze:
    Thank you, Mike and Susan. It’s really great to have a chance to chat with you. And I was really excited to be on a panel with Mike, who I’ve known for a few years. In terms of how I got here and what this book is about, and sort of how it’s all threaded together; I come from a working-class immigrant community in New York City. I had no prior experience with any conception of nature or the environment or environmental justice. For me, I came to this material much later in life. I was a college student at UC Berkeley. I took Carl Anthony’s “Race, Poverty and the Environment” class in the early 90s. And what I didn’t know at the time, was that who Carl Anthony was and how important he was. And I just was sort of lucky enough to be at Berkeley when there was this coalescing of social movements around racial justice, and this burgeoning awareness by activists at the student scale, both undergraduate and graduate students, and also at the community level in the Bay Area around environmental justice issues. So I cut my teeth, I was a student organizer that got really deep into environmental justice, while there was all this organizing against Prop 187, against the anti-affirmative action, the anti-immigrant referendum, the anti-three strikes, you’re out. And so, I was just lucky to be taking classes with Ron Takaki, and Carl Anthony. And I didn’t really even understand how I was, it was a function of time and place. But there’s nothing really about my background that would say that I have to, that would explain why I have spent 27 years working on environmental justice movements, except in so far is that the ethnic studies worldview, and my own lack of understanding of the history of the US, especially race and racism, and around settler colonialism. I retained that kind of outrage that I had when I was 18 when I learned about all these things that I had never learned about before. I knew about anti-Asian racism in a sort of generic sense because we lived it, growing up in Chinatown. But I did not know the full history within the US of how much it is built on anti-blackness and settler colonialism. And so I think, why that story matters is that I like to actually retain my anger, a) and not knowing and b) not accepting these as like just the way it is. So that kind of shapes my sensibility.

    I took this work; I did student organizing with environmental justice organizations. And then I worked in New York with an environmental justice group. And I went back to grad school because organizing work and academic work, there is some overlap. But sometimes there isn’t really a space to ask certain kinds of questions because of the kind of urgency. But even as a grad student doing the research for my book, I was always, I’ve always been connected with environmental justice movements, there’s no separation for me between my research and the movements that I work with, and an alliance. So engaged scholarship and community struggles are really central to what I do and why I do it. So that’s a big preface to I just want to briefly go into this.

    [Can you see my screen right now? Okay, is that visual cut off? Right there? Can you see it? No, it’s perfect. Okay.]

    So yesterday was the debate. And I really liked this Jake Tapper quote afterwards, which you could read it yourself. And I posted this on Facebook. And then my friend said, “Yeah, and also a wildfire and also a pandemic.” And so I think in this question of why, what is this moment of danger right now we’re in? I wrote this book before the pandemic exploded, before this explosion of wildfires, before this precipice of this political crisis that we are on an edge of a political crisis that has not been seen in the US for a very long time. And it’s very scary, and it’s frightening. So, I think the question of crises and what is the danger right now, is only heightened by what I talked about in the book. I was also thinking about this idea of syndemic, which in a disease context, is talking about how there are interlocking, how things can make each other worse. So, coming from a disease standpoint, the medical anthropologist who coined this was talking about tuberculosis and AIDS in African American communities. There are these things that pile on and make things worse. And in a lot of ways, I was thinking about this, because I remember the moment, I remember the moment when environmental racism was made clear to me, and which took my breath away. Because for me, and I’m old enough, that there wasn’t GIS, there wasn’t this kind of cool visualizations that happened, it was still the old school transparencies. And so I remember this transparency of race and lead poisoning, and asthma, and I don’t remember school absences, whatever it was; stuff that now, I think we understand that it exists.

    But in the early 90s, it was much more like you have to empirically prove it was true. But I remember that moment going, Oh, my God, you know, this is horrendous, and I’ve always wanted to understand why. And I think that idea of this syndemic or these interlocking conditions, is the basic framework, as Michael indicated, of what environmental justice offers. The environmental justice movement always said there was no separation between racism and environmental inequality; there was no separation between these different problems. And I think this moment now really makes that so clear to anybody who didn’t know, or anybody who cares. And so, you could see this in the wildfires and the climate crisis. And Michael’s done some important work on this, about how the conditions of wildfire hit the people who are already burdened the most like farmworkers, for example.

    I’d like to put these up now, too, because this is like a new slide for me. Some of this I just learned, like the first one, that the US is the single greatest contributor to cumulative carbon emissions since 1750. So, 25% of global emissions comes from the US. I’m a professor of American Studies. So, thinking about what that means from a US context, and what is the weight of our responsibility, being in an institution that’s based in the US. Before, until 1882, it is the UK because of colonialism. Many of you know this already but it’s worth making very clear. 100 companies are responsible for 71% of emissions. And further, if you want to drill down, 20 firms are responsible for one third of global emissions. So that question of disproportionality, that question of power, is very much a core analytic for the environmental justice movement. Less than 5% of the world’s population is in the US, but a vastly disproportionate number of the world’s incarcerated people are here. Incredible racial disparities for Black, Latinx, and indigenous people; highest rates of police killings, four times higher than the next highest, which is Canada. America, the US owns, people in the US own 45% of the world’s privately-held firearms. And now the US has 25% of the world’s COVID deaths, incredibly racially disproportionate deaths, rates of death in Black and Latino populations. I think that number is now down to 20%. But my point is about the question of disproportionality both within the US context, but also further in without, within the US, there’s racial disproportionality.

    So, I like to put this together because I think this at least gets to your question, what’s at stake? What are the dangers we face right now? So, this book, Environmental Justice in a Moment of Danger comes from the American Studies Now series, which are these short, teachable books. And I think I wrote this book, mostly as a way to synthesize a lot of the different movements that people know about. So as opposed to the early 90s, where there was this step of empirical documentation, now, because of social media, many more people will say, oh, I know Standing Rock, or they’ve heard of what happened in Flint, or so on. But at the same time, there’s so much information that it can be hard to kind of go through or understand exactly what happened and when. So, I wrote this as a short kind of primer for people around these issues of environmental justice, and you mentioned already, the royalties go to two organizations that I work with. UPROSE is my collaborator in New York that I’ve worked with for 27 years.

    So, the book asks a simple question: what crossroads and moment are we in? And what might we learn from environmental justice in our moment of danger? And I’ll actually get to the second question, I think, in the Q&A. But just to be clear, for me, the moment of danger is many things that are interwoven, that cannot be separated, they’re threaded together. That’s anti-immigrationism, anti-refugee politics, there’s a national political authoritarianism. There’s militarized security discourse, racist public policies, regressive gender policies, and climate change, denial and hostility. And this is not unique to the US. This is true in the US, but it’s also true in the Philippines, India, Brazil, Poland and Hungary. So, I wanted to both talk about the particular US dangers, because of the weight of the US-based multinationals, but also understand what’s happening in the US within this broader global context. And so, the book is structured (it’s very short book), as a combination of key words and case studies. So the first chapter looks at Standing Rock and anti-pipeline protests, through the framework, through key words like settler colonialism, extraction, gender violence, and each chapter also has an environmental justice group to anchor, because a lot of the book is also about in the weight of all this danger, there’s still always resistance and that’s the most important lesson to take away. That’s the non-naive, radical hope to leave with.

    The second chapter looks at water racism, injustice, and injustice looking at Flint and the Central Valley region of California, and to look at those two case studies together, through understanding the politics of privatization and neoliberalism and the organization there is a community water center. The last chapter looks at disasters, these kind of very excessive disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Maria, climate justice activism in Kivalina and Alaska. Kivalina is one of 400 Arctic native villages that are currently facing sea level rise and have to be relocated. Kivalina is not exceptional. But it is important because they sued 25 oil and gas companies for the damage from their climate emissions. The lawsuit got thrown out because it was seen as not a legal issue but a political one.

    So again, I think, you know what Mike was pointing to environmental justice, does it accept those separations? It accepts that these things are deeply interconnected. Whereas the traditional framework might say, oh, well, that’s legal, that’s political, that’s public health, that’s housing. Environmental justice and justice movements do not accept those boundaries. The chapter also focuses on radical hope and disasters through thinking about restorative environmental justice. And the anchor organization in that chapter is UPROSE in New York, and their leadership in something called the Climate Justice Alliance and the idea of just transition, which is connected to what Mike was talking about as well. Of the argument of the book is that environmental justice are freedom struggles. And by freedom struggles, I mean, connected to the struggles of the Black radical tradition, freedom struggles in terms of decolonizing movements, they’re particularly significant now because the threats that they have been fighting are even more intense. So, I guess in some ways, you could say all of us now are feeling like communities that have been victims to environmental racism. We’re getting to all the shit that we never used to have to, if you didn’t grow up in these communities, you didn’t have to think about. And maybe that’s shocking to some people, maybe it’s normal to others. But I think as more of us feel the burden of all of this, like the wildfire smoke and the heat wave and the pandemic, it behooves us to look at the lessons of organizers who have been fighting on those multiple fronts for a very long time. Environmental justice as a framework and as a movement is intersectional. And I really appreciate my attention to the body and thinking about multi-scaler approaches, and environmental justice movements across time and space. So, the analytic that people are talking about sometimes, like in Kivalina, they talk about the Doctrine of Discovery and the problem of timescale being from colonialism and contact. So anyway, that’s all I wanted to say, and then we’ll move it over to questions.

    Susan Phillips:
    Great, thank you so much for those wonderful kinds of summaries, and just encapsulating all of those things. One of the things that came up in a previous talk that we had a couple of weeks ago, as part of our Racial Justice Initiative, is something that I always have in my mind, as well, which you’ve kind of touched on here, which is that if you protect the, if you work to include and protect the most vulnerable people and the most vulnerable places, then you really will have protected everyone. If you think about the idea of breath, I’ve been thinking a lot about just the idea of breathing right now, and all the things that you’re both bringing up about. That kind of cross sectional resonance, the idea of I can’t breathe, starting with the idea of police violence, and then, of course, asthma rates due to the particulate matter, the idea of people across the country due to COVID in ventilators, that this attacks the lungs. And then, of course, in California in particular, in the West, the idea of rampant wildfires. And so, I’ve been thinking a lot about the right to breathe as a kind of foundational concept. And then, of course, I know a lot of people who are really interested in mindfulness, and they’re like, you just have to come back to your breath. And, and it’s like that foundation is somehow really compromised. And I think that you both do a wonderful job of really talking about that intersectionality.

    And one of the questions I guess I have for you is, you’re two scholars and you work, in a sense, on different, on the same issues in a way, but just have really, really different approaches. And so, I wanted to hear you both. And you started to touch on this a little bit, Julie, in terms of talking about Mike’s work and the embodiment. But to talk about how do you understand that difference in each other’s work? And how do you value the work that the other one does? If you have any key questions for the other person, like what would they be in terms of why they approach things, who are they talking to, who’s the audience? What are the conceptualizations that really formulate, what it is that makes a scholar, a public scholar? In that sense, what you both are are activist scholars, engaged scholars and public scholars in different ways. So just wanted to throw that out there for either of you to address. Maybe Mike, because Julie’s just been talking you, can you start not to put you…

    Mike Mendez:
    Sure, thank you for that question. And I think what I gain most from Julie’s work and other colleagues like David Pellow, is at this understanding of how do you move the environmental justice on theories, ideas and frameworks to the next level? And they’re part of a new generation, second generation of environmental justice scholars that are looking at what’s called Critical Environmental Justice Study. It’s what Julie and, Susan, what you talked about: looking at multiple scales and understanding, move beyond a very bounded field site. Traditional environmental justice has been focused on hazardous waste dumps, a very localized type of injustice or environmental racism, if you will. But understanding more of the structural, political, social and economic structures that create that injustice, and that part in Pacoima and Bronx, New York, is part of it. To solve a local problem, you often have to jump to different policy scales to resolve it and move constantly between those areas. And that’s what I do in my book. And what I’ve learned from people like Julie and David Pellow, about that is really understanding that multiple scales and how these environmental justice groups are not bounded either by space or time and that they’re moving simultaneously. But from the local scale, to the regional, statewide on to the national and then even to the United Nations and other countries.

    And a second aspect that I really appreciate, this critical environmental justice scholars focus again is on intersectionality. And looking at the ways in which gender, race, income, immigration status, sexuality, intersect to create disparate and new forms of impacts. And these in terms of environmental impacts, climate change impacts or disaster impacts, that’s where my research now is going to that more intersectional approach. Julie mentioned a new research project I have on looking at undocumented, Latino and indigenous migrants in California, and their impact with wildfires. And I just published an article in one of the leading on geography journals, Geoforum, with community organizers. So this is a top tier journal in geography and I co-wrote it with them. They provided great field influence, and it gave them an opportunity to speak for themselves as experts in their own right, both in academic terms to the media. And now in sort of these policy briefings, we’re doing policy briefings up and down the state now, the governor’s office, local government, and county offices, and we’re going to even do a joint webinar with the United Nations and the International Organization on Migration. So that’s another aspect that I appreciate from the work.

    Susan Phillips:
    Thanks. Julie?

    Julie Sze:
    Yeah, I think a question about breathing and what the wildfires bring up is really important. My colleague, Lindsey Dylan and I wrote an article about asthma and police killings, and we looked at the Eric Garner killing in New York, and on a parallel one, based on her 15-year engagement at Hunter’s Point. And we talk, we use a lot of things that had that thing about colonialism, like impinges upon your ability to breathe, and that showed up a lot in the police, anti-police killing organizing; you see that I can’t breathe, everywhere, like with the NBA players, and so on. And I’ve been thinking about this a lot. And the New York Times did an overview and they I think they found it was like over 130 police killings where the person who was being killed said I can’t breathe. They have this incredible report that documents that. Also, in the book, I talk about that phrase, I can’t breathe, because it’s also what happened to Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist who was killed by agents of the Saudi government, which is an oil petro-oligarchy in Istanbul. And I talk about this, there’s a film called “How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change” by Josh Fox, and you know, he’s the director who did “Gasland.” But he has this incredible point where he talks about what does it mean, what can’t you do when you can’t breathe? Or what can you do when you can breathe? And he talks about singing, and dancing and love. And so, I’ve been trying to think about what that idea of what is it that people in the environmental justice movement want? And so at the very beginning, I don’t know if you know, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs or something, but the ability to have life continue is important, obviously, and then not beyond that, but in addition to that, there is a sort of positive kind of freedom that isn’t even, we can’t even imagine what that looks like, to be free from oil and to be free of capitalism and to be free of white supremacy.

    And so the book also is trying, or I’m trying to think about freedom in both the not just the negative sense, but like the positive sense of what does it mean to imagine differently, and so that’s why I think it’s important to do all of the different levels of work. The policy translation work that moves, movement values into the state of California, that’s incredibly important. And there’s also work that goes on culturally in literature through Octavia Butler’s work, and the ways to imagine that are more in the sort of cultural literary sphere. And my thing is that I don’t really think of these as separate domains, but they’re all part of the same struggle, and so that everybody does their thing. And we need this work in every way, in all translation work possible. And I’m really inspired by Elizabeth Yeampierre’s work in UPROSE. It’s community-based, but they were big leaders in the people’s Climate March. And they’re really involved in thinking about climate justice, both in the US, network within the US, but also globally. And so, it’s a big task but I think, for this big a task, we need as many people on deck to do it, however it looks, and not to prioritize one at the expense of another approach.

    Susan Phillips:
    Yeah, I also think that one of the things I tell my students a lot is work where you work best. Find your best self in the work and figure out if you like numbers and data, do that work, but deploy it in the service of social justice and social change and environmental justice. Others have a different thing. I wonder if you both think that in terms of transformational moments, it’s a moment of danger, right? But it’s also a moment of immense transformation right now. And those two things, kind of like conflict and collaboration in your book, Mike, they’re very closely intertwined, this idea of the incredible danger of this moment, but also the incredible promise. So we’re on the cusp of something, that we’re on the cusp of, and I’m not ever sure whether to think about, “Oh, we’ve got 10 years,” is that helpful to say 10 years? Or is it just going to disengage a lot of people; what happens after year 10? Do we just throw up our hands? So, I just think there’s this kind of like razor’s edge that we’re on right now, where, according to science, we haven’t necessarily passed the point of no return. But we definitely need to act now and quickly. And I do see the two, not to make it into an opposition, but sort of the policy work, working kind of in tandem with broader changes in conceptualization. How do we even conceive of, should we even have a term for nature, or should it be something else? How do we conceive of worlds beyond capitalism? So yes, it’s a cliché to say it now. But why is it easier to envision the end of the world, rather than to envision the end of capitalism? And I’d like to open that to you as a question. And also, to ask you, if you have any favorite examples of what you think of as a healthy post-capitalist type of space that could exist? What would be in that space for you? If even if you haven’t thought about it, but think about what would you populate it with? Julie, do you want to start?

    Julie Sze:
    Sure, the last chapter of my book talks about, actually asked that question, and that’s why I talk a lot in that chapter about narratives and storytelling. And I talked about “Sorry to Bother You,” that film, which I think is an important, I think culture and cultural production, is important in terms of shaping the terrain of both critique, but also possibility. I am very impacted by the writing of Rebecca Solnit, which I think many of us are, but she had a piece that she called “’The impossible has already happened’: what coronavirus can teach us about hope.” And I think that in that piece, she talks about these kinds of big questions, which I think this is what… I always hate using the crisis opportunity language because then you end up sounding like a, you know, like a university administrator, or like a government official, do you know what I mean? Like the crisis lets us just… so I don’t mean it in that neoliberal sense of let’s use this as an opportunity to cut, or to get rid of things. But I think for me, I have been struck by thinking of abolitionism, and abolitionist practice around policing and defunding the police, to think about how those ideas are being leveraged in terms of the idea of building something different and building new.

    And so in Rebecca Solnit’s piece, she talks about this idea of crisis, crossroads and disasters, and those are her key words. But she also ends the piece talking about freedom and what those moments of extreme danger are when these amazing things emerge. And that’s the topic of one of her books, where she looks at disasters and so on, these places where mutual aid and solidarity just sort of happens organically, like after the 1906 earthquake, or so on. So, I think there are examples, but I think we also have to make them. And that’s where, that’s what, that’s the moment we’re in. And I think the crisis has forced us to look at gigantic terms that usually we don’t really think about or gigantic questions like, what’s the point of an economy? What’s the point of a government? And I think one of the things that the crisis did was explode the idea that there wasn’t money. Like the first stimulus, and all the inequities in it, it kind of blew apart the economic argument about “Well, we don’t have money for a transition” and so on. And so, I think we need to think about this moment, there are lots of on-the-ground climate justice communities that are talking about this as a lever point, or having more people who, in different political moments, will just be kind of like, everything’s kind of fine. I’m kind of fine the way it is. And so, I’ve always I use Gramshi a lot in the book, and so I use this quote about, “The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.” And so it’s kind of horrible. It’s like a horrible way to live in the moment of monsters. But on the other hand, we don’t really have a choice and other people have lived through those moments of monsters, or annihilation, or transformations in their way of life. And so, for me, the only thing that helps me is to connect with people who share the values of social justice and environmental justice, and to think with those folks and to build community. So not to be too Pollyannish about it, but I think that we really have to be careful not to go into some sort of nihilistic spiral about “We only have two years left, and our decarbonization window is closing.” And it’s sort of like the mental abuse that we had yesterday from the debate. If you’re so demoralized, you’re just like, what’s the point? You know what I mean? That’s also a political stance, too. I think what organizers give us and what movements give us is clarity, and insistence. And that’s actually the main lesson from the book.

    Susan Phillips:
    Yeah, that’s beautiful. And if you haven’t read this book, you should read it. The thing I also love about it is it’s short. I love those short books, because it’s a really wonderful kind of… and not… I’ve written a long book. So don’t take… I always aspire to write a short one. But I think for that reason, it’s accessible. And it’s right there and the argument is right there. And it’s very easy to just immerse yourself in it in a short period of time, which I think can be transformational, kind of in a personal way. Mike, do you want to follow up with that question? I’m going to actually urge the audience, we have a couple of questions in the Q&A. I would urge folks in the audience if there are more questions to please put them in and we’ll get started, maybe after Mike weighs in on this part of the conversation.

    Mike Mendez:
    I would agree with everything that Julie would say, I think we’re at an historic moment. These compounding of disasters and issues with racial justice, it’s really creating ruptures in our society, where we can really sit back, we’ll stand back ,that is, and reflect on what we want our society to look like. And really coming to terms and no longer being able to look the other way of these sacrifice zones and, or issues of police brutality or sacrifice zones in terms of environmental stabilization, and understanding that if we don’t have a sustainable society, we continually have these sacrifice zones where dumping in all the environmental hazards and environmental [unintelligible] that eventually through a feedback loop, an assistance-based approach is going to reach the rest of society, and no longer will be sustainable. So, I would agree with Julie in terms of social movements; social movements are putting up political pressure. You can have the best policy report, the best data out there proving your disproportionate impact or the solution that you want. But without any political exercise, exerting political power, and building coalitions that will never come into manifestation. So right now, we’re writing the momentum to push forward for the type of society that we want.

    Susan Phillips:
    Great, I’m going to go ahead and open it up to questions. I think that the first question we have is from Wilfredo Bautista, “Where do you see the EJ movement globally? Thinking about Puerto Rico and abroad in how the Black Lives Matter movement may be opening new avenues to EJ globally and locally?” So does anybody want to tackle that one?

    Julie Sze:
    Sorry, somebody asked me about a statistic of where I got that number from. So, I was in the middle of cutting and pasting, I get distracted,

    Susan Phillips:
    I think know what I would rather we… I mean, I would like…

    Julie Sze:
    I actually would rather answer, I let myself get distracted by trying to be… I knew someone was going ask me the stat and here I have it. I will put it in the chat.

    Susan Phillips:
    And we can address it live if you want to stop.

    Julie Sze:
    Alright, so I think the environmental justice movement is working in partnership and collaboration with people all around the world. I think this is one of the amazing things about the moment we’re in is that the movements themselves are making, are building solidarity across struggles. And so the book talks about how people in Flint went to Standing Rock, for example, and when I think about what is happening now, and where it comes from, I was talking to my husband, who is a political journalist, and I was telling him, life was so much better before the internet, because I’m old enough that I can remember when the internet started, and stuff. And so the internet and conspiracy theories, and all of the ways that there’s, not to be too naive about it too, because obviously, the technology can enable organizing across right wing groups, and for right wing groups to organize. And that’s, you see that very clearly as well. But on the other side, groups who have are fighting similar struggles, or similar actors are networking, globally, and they did before the internet, but the internet allows there to be easier connection before that. And so, I think that there are coalitions after in Puerto Rico, that are very involved with these growth movements in Latin America. And so, movements, justice movements are always very capacious in their geographic scale, and in their temporal scale.

    And so, the Punta Gente is a coalition after Maria that focuses on climate transition, and sort of what food justice look like, post-Maria, on the island. And so, I think that there are a lot of examples that are out there. The internet also enables more knowledge to be shared about the struggles that people are facing, and also the histories behind them. And so part of what the goal of the book was that when something happens like Standing Rock, now people can share these like, syllabi, where they’ll explain a lot of history or what happened after in Charleston when Dylan Roof went in and killed nine black churchgoers. So there are all these incredible resources that are being available, that made available, but that most people aren’t going to sit and read them all, and so I wanted to synthesize it, but also just give people a taste of like, all of the work that justice movements are doing on the ground, which is pretty vast. So, climate justice, the indigenous environmental network is involved with global indigenous struggles, their network with folks out in Latin America, and also, indigenous groups in Europe. And so, there’s just so many examples, and that’s, without… I always have to answer this question of the internet allows that and it also allows something like much darker. So, what we need is the clarity to kind of cut through that.

    Susan Phillips:
    Mike, do you want to talk a little bit about Chiapas, or…

    Mike Mendez:
    So that’s specifically a question that comes up in my book in Chapter Six that looks at these trends, local movements, that California Environmental Justice groups, as I mentioned, on this analysis of a multi-scale, how these activist groups are moving between policy, geography scales and timescales as well. And understanding that these carbon trading markets that have aspirations to become global markets have implications for places like Mexico and Brazil. And I talked about that chapter and really aim to show the power of these trends, local movements, how concept of environmental justice, activists of environmental justice in California, were able to work with indigenous rights groups in Mexico and Brazil, that were both confronting issues of environmental impact, dispossession of lands, and issues of environmental justice and how they came together in commonality to build trust. Understanding that well, these were both justice issues, the California justice issue, and in a global south justice issue, they were quite different in the context on, were different and how they came to terms with that. So we see this, we see this at the United Nations, we see this as other types of global platforms where environmental justice groups, indigenous tribes, from the United States and other groups, confronting environmental injustice are collaborating, both on the internet and in these global platforms, and its helping create new concepts that are traveling throughout the globe.

    Susan Phillips:
    Great. Thank you so much for that. Let’s move to the next question, which actually mirrors a question I was going to ask you anyway. This is from Thomas Kim, “What models of practice are out there to guide young people toward radical action, consistent with the themes of the session? Put differently, what specific campaigns or organizations are out there that you would point to at this moment?” And I would say, adding to that, what advice would you give, like college-age students, in terms of what they can do to make a difference, and they’re dealing with a very grave world, all of our children are actually, regardless of age. I don’t think that the youngest of children are really insulated from anything. So, I’d be curious to know what your, how you would give students advice, and what models of practice you think are out there to guide people toward action, making a difference?

    Michael Mendez:
    I would say, get to know some of the key community organizations working on environmental, if you’re interested in environmental or social justice issues, looking at what are the organizations in their community, and do the work. Reach out to them, build a relationship with them, volunteer your time, donate either your time or your resources to help enact some of those campaigns. I always encourage students that are interested in environmental justice work to have a form of reciprocity. If they’re pursuing their education and doing a research paper and they’re studying these issues, that not only are they interviewing these people, are reading about them, that’s just not enough. But you also have to have a reciprocity and ensure that what you’re doing also benefits them. And you’re creating a product, you’re, again, doing other types of work that directly helps the movement. We see this with the Sunrise Movement that’s been bringing in a more of an intergenerational resurgence into the environmental justice and climate justice movements, important process. But there’s also long-established organizations such as UPROSE that Julie mentioned, that are there that want to continue and have those relationships. So, there’s a lot of organizations now that I would encourage people to find out that are out there, specifically in your own backyard.

    Susan Phillips:

    Julie Sze:
    Yeah, I think that Mike hit on a lot of really good examples. I think the way you framed the question of what advice can I give, and I think actually, we’re in a really different moment where I learn as much from my students, and their ability to learn and connect things. It is incredible what is happening now. And it’s also an incredible psychological burden as well. Because I think that I was, for example, I remember when I was working in New York, I never knew about climate change. That wasn’t a thing that we understood because the oil and gas companies had basically suppressed it for decades. But I didn’t know about climate change. And I remember reading Hurricane Katrina, from the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Coalition, they had done a fact sheet about what a hurricane would do in New Orleans, what a hurricane, a major disaster event, it was 1997. Katrina was in 2005. And I remember reading it and thinking, oh, my God, this is not real. This can’t happen. And, of course, I was treating it like a dystopian novel, when actually the reality that we’re in is that we’re all in a dystopian novel where you’ve seen those memes of “Octavia Butler tried to warn us,” that kind of thing. And so, I think I don’t understand what it’s like to be a young person to not have, to grow up with this and how it shapes your sense of hope and futurity. I don’t understand that. And so, it’s hard for me to give advice, because it’s a very different psychological kind of landscape. The only advice I could say is that there are people who have been fighting for a long time and at some point, you make a choice to fight with them. The fights are going to happen, whether you opt out or not. So, you throw down on a side, and you do whatever that is, whatever you can.

    That said, there are politics of working with community-based organizations, they’re sort of issues around expertise and that kind of thing, which can be questions that are tied to educational privilege, sometimes they’re tied to class, sometimes they’re tied to race. And so, I think, to do work collaboratively with a community-based organization or a tribe, for example, they have a lot of students who want to work with them. But sometimes… I remember when I was directing the Environmental Justice Project with Beth, which Beth Middleton now directs, we did this gathering, and the head of this tribe was like, if you start this, you are with us forever. And so, this, if you want to engage, it is a lifelong engagement. And I think that can be scary sometimes for people, but on the other hand, we’re in this all in for the lifetime anyway. So, I think it’s better to have a sense of clarity in the stakes. And I’m really impacted. I really like this book by my colleague, Sarah Jacquette Ray, it’s called A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety, How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet. And she talks a lot about what climate change for the Gen Z generation looks like, and sort of how to not fall into a politics of despair, but around sort of principled opposition to extreme economic concentration, extreme carbon, the harms from climate change, and so on. So, I think that’s why I wanted to share the stats, because I think there’s that sense always of, oh, this is a huge meta scale problem, and we can’t do anything about it. Well, of course we can, because it had a history and their ages, and they’re unequally distributed. So if we keep our focus on what the fights are, and who the targets are, oil and gas companies, for example, and by extension, what does it mean to have a government that, where the Environmental Protection Agency is captured by oil and gas companies? If we keep our focus on what the stakes are, then you can keep yourself from going into that nihilistic spiral.

    So, I would just, use that as a chance to reframe the question, which is, I don’t really have advice to give, because I have a different set of life experiences, why I feel my role as a professor right now is to support the struggles and aspirations of a generation of people who are facing things without any innocence that I was allowed to sort of have because by virtue of my age. I’m Gen Z, by the way, I’m not a boomer. My kids always say, okay, Boomer, and I’m not a boomer, not to oversimplify the generational argument. But I do think that there’s something unique for young people now. And so also part of the book is talking to myself at different moments, like talking to myself when I was like, Oh, this thing can happen in Hurricane Katrina. Well, now it’s happened many times, not just with Maria, but Harvey and Sandy and so on. So, our life now is devoid of innocence, of violence, whether that’s environmental violence, or police violence or social violence, and we’re about to see a lot more overt violence right now, political violence. On a scale that is not exceptional, but it is rare and the US historically has been insulated for many of our lives. And so what we need to understand is all of the different struggles of people in the US, so learning about the history of COINTELPRO in the US is helpful to understanding the moment we’re in, understanding the policing of social movements, and understanding what they look like in other places the world. We cannot have an innocence, which, as people in the US we’ve been (and I’m generalizing), have been allowed sometimes to have, and that moment is gone. That moment is like the band aid being stripped off. So, the question is, what do you do? And that’s the organizing question.

    Susan Phillips:
    What do you do? There’s a couple more questions here, one of ones I had wanted to ask you both was really was about the idea of the streets and protest, and what it means to occupy the streets and really, ultimately, it’s about land and control over land. So, there’s definitely, I think, embedded questions in all this that lead in many different directions. And so, as people interested in making change, you just need to pick one, and just go. I think that this question, for me, at least, the question of expertise, is really, really important. Don’t go in there thinking you’ve got the answers, recognize that the people who are close to the problem are the closest ones to the solution, and they’re the experts, like Mike was saying earlier as well.

    We have another question: “Outside of academia, what key disciplines do you see as having the potential to accelerate a sustainable society?” There’s another question about “Cap and trade has been a successful economic approach to limit global greenhouse gas emissions in California, but it is subject to manipulation and injustices, and suggest another approach about a carbon fee.”

    And so, I don’t know if you want to tackle both of those in tandem? You know, academia is made up of disciplines, and I’m pretty sure what the question might mean, like what realms of work, maybe as opposed to disciplines, have the potential to accelerate a sustainable society?

    Mike Mendez:
    One of the key arguments that I make in the book is that climate change, and this conflict over climate change, is a cultural and a political question. It’s not a scientific one; we have the science; we know the science is about the implementation. And then you, Julie, mentioned a little bit about that innocence that we had before. And now, it’s in your face. But I would also argue that for many people, they ignore it, they have their own privilege. And they’re benefiting from the current economic system, or the capitalistic system, and so they’re quite fine with that. And they don’t see that or don’t relate to that. So, it really does take political processes, political power, organizing social movements. So, I say that growing up in the environmental justice community, I was turning towards more politics and public policy, because I wanted to be involved in a field, in a profession that could have more macro and micro structural changes. And I saw that I’d rather be at the seat of power next to that power with policymakers and other types of experts and representing the communities that have environmental justice and be able to do that. So that’s why I picked that. I think everyone has, as Julie mentioned, everyone has a different path. But I was more drawn to that political public policy realm. And the importance, another key theme in the book, it’s important, the inside-outside strategy among social movements. You need the agitators, you need the people protesting you, the people creating all this noise, needed noise, but you also need people in these agencies, in the legislature, in Congress that are writing these bills or that know the maneuvers.

    So we see that in California, there’s this unique inside-outside where you have activists now that were diehard activists, that are in the governor’s office now or at Cal EPA as assistant secretary, or on powerful regulatory agencies such as the Public Utilities Commission, the State Water Board, and how this or the Air Resources Board, how this has changed the dynamic. I started my career in the legislature in 2003. And to see that progression from all-white male, mostly white male-dominated environmental movement, to having women of color, particularly Latino women, Latino men, African Americans, writing some of the key legislation, almost two-thirds of the key legislations revolving around climate change were written by a person of color; that’s changing a little bit. But in the last 15 years, people of color have been leading that charge, that unique inside-outside, so that’s when I saw that a book about that marketed itself as a definitive history of California’s contemporary environmental movement. I was so angered by it, that people of color were just a footnote, when people of color have been leading the charge. But constantly, the mainstream environmental movement oftentimes doesn’t want to acknowledge that. Neither did they want to talk about the environmental racism, or the conflicts that have happened in California’s climate change programs. That’s why the subtitle of my book is “conflict and collaboration.” And quite frankly, I get a lot of pushback by environmentalists, even environmental scholars that are wedded to those market-based systems such as cap and trade and believe in the Holy Gospel of cap and trade as ultimate savior. They see talking about these fights and these infights within California, who the global leader on this, kind of detracts from that message; puts California back; but we need to honor that history. Understanding why these conflicts and tensions exist and continue to exist, otherwise, we’re not going to have any changes, any structural changes that we see.

    Susan Phillips:
    We just have a couple minutes left, I wanted to note that Zoe put a link to the Sunrise Movement for Claremont. Monica Mahoney has a question about activism taking place virtually and the sort of minimization of how does the lack of available public space in marginalized communities contribute to the suppression of voices? And I think, Julie, you were touching a little bit on this when you were talking about the power of the internet and the power of organizing in virtual spaces, kind of leading to all kinds of outcomes as well. Does anybody want to talk about that just sort of as our last thing? And our very last question is, “What are some leverage points we see as being important to target in order to tackle the political and social systems and institutions that have spurred the entire environmental justice movement?” So thinking in terms of leverage points, if we could maybe just keep those questions in mind, if you have just the last thing that you’d like to say to the audience, or to kind of sum up your work today. I want to thank, obviously, members of the audience for contributing these questions. But I do want to give Mike and Julia the ability to kind of to wrap up a bit.

    Julie Sze:
    I just wanted to acknowledge Mike’s point about more people, some people, are still comfortable, but I think the question is, “Are more people becoming less comfortable?” And that to me, not being someone who is an empiricist, it certainly seems that way. Maybe I don’t know if that’s actually true. I don’t know. But I think that we are in a really big moment and so we can’t keep on doing the things that we’ve done. Because this is where the time running out thing does feel, is real. And so, I think that we need to think about the urgency of the moment. And so this other book I wrote, which is much more in environmental studies and sustainability collection, is really I do think that there’s more interest in thinking of these questions of social justice interdisciplinarity crossing sectors, than there has been in, in the 16 years I’ve been a faculty member. So, more people are trying to understand, what does that mean for my work, so my colleagues who have been sort of able to think about teaching environmental policy, but never teaching environmental justice? They have to now take it seriously, in the state of California, you have to take it seriously. I would argue you have to take it even more seriously now in the US, even as it’s being erased and attacked at the federal level. And so, I think we all have a role to play and we’re all different people at different times. Sometimes we’re students, sometimes we’re teachers, we’re all members of the public, we’re all consumers, but we’re also all citizens. And so those are all (and I don’t mean citizens in like the documentation sense of citizens), we’re members of a community and we have kinship with others and that is a thing that is other beings, non-human beings and animals and ecosystems. And that’s actually a natural, I think, a universal thing that gets taken away kind of the more professionalized we get. And I think that there is something, I have to believe that my hopefulness is that there is something that’s very core for many people across many traditions, that believes in empathy and kinship with others. And so that’s sort of how I feel like the moment we’re in is that there’s this feeling of what’s actually, what feels like most people have, but I don’t know, maybe that’s not true. We’ll see.

    Susan Phillips:
    No, I agree, I actually cling to that as a core thing, as well. And I do think it is almost the definition of being human, so I do think that that’s an important one. Mike?

    Mike Mendez:
    I thank you for again, thank you for this opportunity to present my book and to have this very dynamic and engaging conversation with Julie and Susan and everyone out there. Thank you for that opportunity. We are in this climate emergency and climate crisis. We see California, Texas and Florida are at the forefront of the climate crisis. We have a compounding of disasters, including the COVID-19 pandemic. And hopefully, these compounding disasters are trigger points, and political science and public health, they often talk about these trigger events, that some catastrophe happens. And then there’s major structural changes in policy and infrastructure that normally would not have occurred absent a crisis. So perhaps when I was having a conversation with someone about the climate crisis, and it’s also important to note that before, you would have people of the privileged classes to be able to get away from and protect themselves and safeguard themselves from floods, sea level rise, wildfires, and go away. But with the lockdowns and COVID-19, you can’t run away with influence anymore. It’s these disasters are now following even the wealthy. So no longer you can go into the quote, unquote, your ivory tower or your castle, or your summer home, like outside of England, or even to Aspen or someplace like that, that these climate disasters are following. So hopefully, that’s sort of a trigger that’ll have a multiplier effect for changes in our society. So, thank you again for the opportunity. But I am hopeful that the social movements, the younger generations, are able to continue the fight and put a strong forward and intergenerational approach and strategies to address the climate crisis or climate emergency. Thank you.

    Susan Phillips:
    Thank you so much to Julie Sze and Michael Mendez. I’m so pleased to have them. I wanted to also thank Stephanie Estrada from Communications, as well as John Morgan and Jessica Levy from our IT department for helping to set this up. And thanks to the audience for your wonderful questions. I hope everyone has a wonderful evening. And for Michael and Julia, I put in a chat to you, the next place where we’re going. Okay, thank you so much, everyone. Bye.

Forever Chemicals: PFAS Contamination in California’s Drinking Water & Beyond

Annual Sullivan Lecture
February 14, 2020

In 2019, California state officials reported that chemicals widely used for decades in manufacturing and household goods had seeped into the public’s water supply. Known as “forever chemicals” or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, these common compounds have been detected in 86 water systems that serve up to 9 million Californians and are part of a public health crisis that is playing out nationally.

This panel will bring together government officials, public health advocates, and technical experts to discuss the breadth of the PFAS contamination crisis and steps towards protecting public health.


  • Andria Ventura, Clean Water Action
  • Barbara Morrissey, Washington State Department of Public Health
  • Peter O’Connell, Pall Water
  • Joaquin Esquivel, Chair, California State Water Resources Control Board

David N. Pellow: Critical Environmental Justice

David N. Pellow
University of California, Santa Barbara

Professor David N. Pellow is the Dehlsen and Department Chair of Environmental Studies and Director of the Global Environmental Justice Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara where he teaches courses on environmental and social justice, race/class/gender and environmental conflict, human-animal conflicts, sustainability and social change movements that confront our socio-environmental crises and social inequality.

Friday, October 11, 2019
4:15 p.m.

Benson Auditorium, Avery Hall
Pitzer College

Bess Garner Preservation Award

Presented by Claremont Heritage The Bess Garner Historic Preservation Award celebrates the best of preservation by recognizing individuals and organization whose contributions demonstrate excellence in historic preservation in the City of Claremont.

The Dreamt Land: Chasing Dust and Water Across California

Annual Sullivan Lecture
Friday, February 15, 2019
3-5 p.m., Benson Auditorium, Pitzer College

Author and journalist Mark Arax will discuss his forthcoming book, The Dreamt Land: Dust and Water Across California. In the world of journalism, Arax stands out as a rarity. On one hand, he is a skilled investigative reporter who unearths secrets from the depths of shadow governments. On the other hand, he is a gifted writer whose feature stories and books are distinguished by the “poetry of his prose.”

A top graduate of Fresno State and Columbia University, Arax left the Los Angeles Times in 2007 after a public fight over censorship of his story on the Armenian Genocide. He has taught literary nonfiction at Claremont McKenna College and Fresno State University and served as a senior policy director for the California Senate Majority Leader.

Hahrie Han: People on the Move: Organizing for Climate Change

October 11, 2018 @ 4:15 pm – 5:45 pm

To create a humane, ecologically sustainable and socially-just world, we need a movement designed to equip ordinary people to participate in ways that are not only possible and probable, but also powerful. How do we engage people from diverse backgrounds in that kind of activity?

In this talk, Hahrie Han, Anton Vonk Professor of Political Science at UC Santa Barbara, will start by examining what a social movement is and why we need it to solve the power problems that underlie climate injustice. Then we will examine what we know — and don’t know — about how to organize constituencies in ways that build their power.

Claremont, Calif. (June 1, 2018)—Pitzer College’s Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability has been awarded LEED Platinum certification by the US Green Building Council (USGBC). LEED, or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is a globally recognized symbol of excellence in green building. The Redford Conservancy joins a slate of green buildings on Pitzer’s campus, where nearly 70 percent of students live in LEED-certified housing.

Pitzer College’s Robert Redford Conservancy Earns Top LEED Rating for Green Building

Straight-on view of the exterior of the front of Redford Conservancy building

Pitzer College Press Release
June 01, 2018

Climate Change, Climate Justice: Organizing in the Face of a Changing Planet

February 16, 2018 @ 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm

This symposium features three dynamic speakers who are deeply involved in climate science research and activism around climate justice. This event will engage students, parents, and the broader public around the challenges posed by the climate crisis while also envisioning creative ways forward to more hopeful and fossil free futures.

Dr. Geeta Persad, Climate Scientist, Stanford University

Dr. Getta Persad, Climate Scientist, Standford University

Dr. Persad uses numerical modeling to study climate change, impacts, and mitigation. In particular, she uses global climate models to study the role of anthropogenic aerosols—the solid and liquid particles emitted into the atmosphere whenever humans burn stuff—in regional and global climate change. She combines this scientific understanding with economic and policy analysis to explore how the shifting global landscape of these short-lived, but potent, human emissions will impact health, infrastructure, and mitigation decisions. Geeta is currently a Postdoctoral Research Scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University.

Ryan Camero, Climate Justice Artist-Activist

Ryan Camero, Climate Justice Artist-Activist

A climate culture-jammer, visual storytelling educator, and aspiring animator for social change, Ryan has devoted his organizing work to embodying rooted values of intersectional justice and anti-oppression. Camero’s activism originated from the needs of his hometown Stockton, California, to instill cross-cultural understanding and intergenerational harmony through the arts; fighting against apathy, illiteracy, systems perpetuating gang involvement and murder rates, poverty and lack of opportunity.

Since then, Ryan’s theory of change drove him to coalition building across the nonprofit sector- notable examples include working as a student facilitator for the California Student Sustainability Coalition, as a water rights campaigner with Restore the Delta, and as a storytelling educator for international arts-activist group, the Beehive Design Collective. He is a 2015 Brower Youth Award winner, the most prestigious award for young environmental leaders in the country, and represented California at COP21 – the international climate negotiations in Paris.

Nwamaka Agbo, New Economy Innovation Fellow, Movement Strategy Center

Nwakama Agbo, New Economy Innovation Fellow, Movement Strategy Center

Through a strategic partnership with Movement Strategy Center, Nwamaka Agbo currently serves as the Program Manager for Restore Oakland – a joint initiative of the Ella Baker Center and Restaurant Opportunity Centers United. As the Director of Programs at EcoDistricts, Nwamaka was responsible for leading Target Cities – a pilot program designed to support 11 innovative neighborhoods in 9 cities across North America in applying the EcoDistricts Global Protocol to help accelerate and achieve their district-scale sustainability goals.

Prior to that, Nwamaka worked at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights for over six years in a range of positions spanning from Policy Director, to Campaign Director and Deputy Director. During her tenure at the Ella Baker Center, Nwamaka helped to support the launch of the Oakland Green Jobs Corp and later went on to develop the organization’s Oakland-based Soul of the City civic engagement campaign.

Climate Change: The La Madre of Weather Systems

Sullivan Memorial Lecture: Friday, February 17, 2017, 2:15 PM-3:30 PM, Benson Audotorium, Pitzer College

featuring Dr. Juliet Christian Smith, Senior Scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists

Air Quality in Southern California: Which Way Forward?

Thursday, October 6, 4:00-6:30 PM, Benson Auditorium, Pitzer College

Please join us for a summit on two critically important air quality issues in Southern California:

The implications of the Porter Ranch gas leak for both local public health and the state’s AB 32 green house gas reduction goals and the roll back of air quality regulations by the South Coast Air Quality Management District and efforts by the California Air Resources Board to strengthen positions on public health and environmental justice.

Featured Speakers

  • Honorable Senator Kevin de Leon, California Senate Pro Tem
  • Dr. Joseph Lyou, Clean Air Coalition and AQMD
  • Timothy O’Connor, Environmental Defense Fund
  • Nancy Martinez, Eastern Group Publications

Groundwater in the Golden State

Inaugural John D. Sullivan Memorial Lecture
February 12, 2016

Cynthia Koehler, a Pomona alumnus, has been a public interest attorney and environmental advocate specializing in water policy for 25 years. She has served as the California Water Legislative Director for the Environmental Defense Fund and the Legal Director for Save San Francisco Bay. In 2014 she was instrumental in launching WaterNow, a NGO dedicated to sustainable water solutions n California communities.

Kristin Dobbin’s academic and professional experience lies in rural water policy and community water management. Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, Kristin graduated from Pitzer College in 2013 with a degree in environmental policy. She currently works at the Community Water Center to increase access to safe and affordable drinking water for communities in the Central Valley.

The Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability

2012 announcement video