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Call on Obama to block tar sands oil pipeline

As busloands of Chicagoans head to Washington D.C. for what’s billed as the largest climate change rally in history, local activists are planning a conference Saturday and rally Sunday calling on President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

A Climate Crisis Summit – a day-long conference starting at 9 a.m., Saturday, February 16, at IIT Kent College of Law, 565 W. Adams – will feature discussion of a range of grassroots action, including campaigns at local universities calling for divestment from oil companies and efforts to win a moratorium on fracking in Illinois.

In morning sessions, Professor Mark Potosnak of DePaul University will review climate science and discuss worst-case scenarios; Carl Wassilie, a Yup’ik Alaskan, will discuss the struggle to save native villages in Alaska now threatened by climate-related flooding.

On Sunday, February 17, an 11 a.m. rally at Michigan and Congress will show solidarity with thousands of protestors in Washington D.C., who will be surrounding the White House to demand that President Obama reject the Keystone pipeline, a $7 billion project which would carry 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil daily from Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries.

Tar sands oil are even more carbon-intensive than conventional oil, and scientists say the Keystone pipeline would boost annual carbon pollution in the U.S. by 27 million metric tons.  In addition its extraction is energy intensive, uses vast amounts of water, and would destroy huge stretches of Canada’s boreal forests, which capture more carbon than rainforests.

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Second term: immigration, climate, foreclosures

Immigration reform, climate change, the foreclosure crisis: with some disappointment over limited progress on these issues over the past four years, local activists hope more will be done in President Obama’s second term.

While support for comprehensive immigration reform has broadened noticeably since the November election, immigrant rights groups are concerned over dramatically stepped-up deportations under Obama, which reached 409,000 last year.

They’ll march on Inauguration Day (Monday, January 21, starting at 11 a.m. at the Daley Plaza and rallying at 12 noon at the Federal Plaza) calling on Obama to declare a moratorium on deporations.

A moratorium would be a first step toward comprehensive reform, said Eric Rodriguez, executive director of the Latino Union of Chicago.

“We want the president to be on the right side of history,” he said.  “His second term will define his legacy.  Will he be the president who deported more people than any other in history, or the president responsible for championing inclusion and equality?”

Immigration raids are a constant threat in Chicago communities today, said Tania Unzueta of the Immigant Youth Justice League; just last week scores of local residents were picked up in raids on a factory and two gathering places for day laborers.  IYJL is working to support several families who have members in detention, she said.

“Obama says he wants to do the right thing and keep families together, but we aren’t seeing it in our communities,” she said.

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Community summit on climate

National and international action on climate changed appears to be stalled, and the impact of Chicago’s widely-praised climate action plan will be limited as long as coal-fired plants are allowed to operate here.  Scientists warn that time is running short.

Community groups are coming together for a summit on climate change, considered as an issue of human rights and environmental justice – as well as high utility bills and pollution-related health problems – from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesday, February 8 at the Senior Satellite, 5701 W. Congress.

“Too often, climate change is only seen as something tackled by a United Nations conference,” said Theresa Welch, associate director of the South Austin Community Coalition. “But neighborhoods, particularly the poor and communities of color, are the worst hit and last to recover from such environmental devastation.

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Clean Power spotlight on Solis after Munoz signs on

An grassroots campaign to win aldermanic support for the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance had its first victory yesterday when Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) signed on as a co-sponsor.  Meanwhile the other alderman representing a ward containing a coal plant, Ald. Danny Solis (25th), faces a protest outside a fundraising dinner tonight.

Solis has not endorsed the clean power ordinance, which would raise standards for emissions of carbon dioxide and particulates.

A press conference at 6:30 p.m. (Wednesday, August 4) and a “people’s dinner” outside Alhambra Palace Restaurant, 1240 W. Randolph, will highlight the group’s charge that Solis is “more concerned about his campaign donors than the health of neighborhood residents,” said Jerry Mead of the Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization.

He said that Midwest Generation has been a major contributor to Solis’s campaigns.

Midwest Gen’s two Chicago plants, Fisk in Pilsen and Crawford in Little Village, cause premature deaths, ER visits and asthma attacks, and contribute to lung cancer and respiratory disease, according to the Chicago Clean Power Coalition.  The two plants are located in more densely populated areas than any other coal plants in the nation.

They are also among the largest sources of carbon emissions in the city, emitting 5 million metric tons – the equivalent of 872,000 cars – in 2007, according to the coalition.

In 2003 voters in a precinct near Fisk voted by nearly 90 percent in favor of tougher emission standards, Mead said.

In recent weeks PERRO and others have been petitioning residents at neighborhood festivals and churches.  “The response has been really good,” Mead said.  “It’s clear that people really favor the ordinance.”

Munoz announced his support for the ordinance Tuesday morning, citing congressional inaction on climate change and health concerns in his ward.

“For over eight years our communities have fought to clean up these plants, and we are glad Ald. Muñoz is responding to our cries for clean air,” said Kimberly Wasserman of Little Village Environmental Justice Organization.

Earth Day notes

Today Food and Water Watch is celebrating the fact that bottled water sales declined for the first time ever last year– and Color Lines features reports from the World People’s Conference on Climate Change, with 20,000 people gathered in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Cochabamba is the site of the water wars of 2000, after the World Bank demanded that Bolivia privatize its water systems, and massive protests led to a state of emergency — and the repeal of the privatization law.

Candles for climate change

Chicagoans concerned about climate change will hold a candlelight procession from the Federal Plaza (50 W. Adams) to Milennium Park’s bean sculpture on Saturday, December 12 starting at 4 p.m.  They’re calling on negotiators in Copenhagen to arrive at “an agreement strong enough to actually slow climate change.”

Local organizers include Greenpeace Chicago, Rainforest Action Network, and Little Village Environmental Justice Organization; it’s part of an international action led by

Lester Brown: Hope for the future

Lester Brown discussed his latest book (Plan B 4.0) at International House last night – opening with dire predictions of overdrawn aquifers, disappearing glaciers, and rising seas all threatening humanity’s food supply, and moving to a cheery description of new technology which could allow us to curb climate change, if we choose to.

He held out little hope for serious progress from the Copenhagen conference next month – indeed, he thinks international climate treaties move far too slowly to make sufficient difference.  (He notes that politicians generally set carbon reduction goals for 2050, when they’ll be long gone, while scientists talk about the need to turn things around in the next decade.)  He was not sanguine about the cap-and-trade proposal now before Congress, noting such a regime has had little to no impact in Europe.

And citing a de facto moratorium on new coal plant construction in this country, he suggested the most significant changes will come from grassroots movements, not legislatures.

EPA mulls limits on carbon

Local advocates for health, the environment, and alternative energy will hold a press conference Thursday morning at the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, where the US EPA is holding a hearing on its proposal to begin regulating carbon emissions.

Ron Burke of the Union of Concerned Scientists, James Gignac of the Sierra Club, Brian Urbaszewski of the Respiratory Health Association, and others will speak in support of the EPA’s proposal to phase in regulations starting with the largest industrial emitters – like Chicago’s two coal plants – which are responsible for half the nation’s global warming emissions.

The press conference is at 9:30 a.m. in Room 48 (level 2); EPA will hear testimony starting at 10 a.m. and running to 7 p.m.

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