climate change – Chicago Newstips by Community Media Workshop Chicago Community Stories Mon, 08 Jan 2018 18:45:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Call on Obama to block tar sands oil pipeline Fri, 15 Feb 2013 22:39:30 +0000 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.

Sunday’s rally is sponsored by the Chicago Youth Climate Coalition, which represents college students from around the city.

On Wednesday, 50 scientists, environmentalists, and supporters were arrested at the White House demanding Obama block the pipeline.  They included Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune and the group’s president, Allison Chin – the first time in the group’s 120-year history it has engaged in civil disobedience.  Others arrested included Bill McKibbon of, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and his son Conor, and civil rights leader Julian Bond.

Allowing the pipeline to proceed “would guarantee that we’re locked in to the most carbon-intensive fuel source on the planet for the next half century” and “would undo all the real progress on carbon pollution that the president rightly took credit for” in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Brune said.

“Although President Obama has declared his own determination to act, much that is within his power to accomplish remains undone, and the decision to allow the construction of a pipeline to carry millions of barrels of the most-polluting oil on Earth from Canada’s tar sands to the Gulf Coast of the U.S. is in his hands,” said Bond.

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Second term: immigration, climate, foreclosures Sun, 20 Jan 2013 02:24:45 +0000 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.

What should reform look like?  It should be comprehensive rather than piecemeal, and it should include a path to citizenship — not some kind of extended residency — that does not exclude large numbers of people, said Fred Tsao of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

“It needs to fix the current legal immigration system, so people aren’t waiting in line for ten or twenty years,” he said.  Reform should extend to enforcement policies, which have been cited for human rights violations, for impairing community safety, and most recently for exorbitant costs, with immigration enforcement spending outpacing the combined budgets of the FBI, DEA, Secret Service, and BATF.

Immigration reform should also include measures aimed at integrating immigrants, including English language education and citizenship training, Tsao said, pointing at Illinois’s New Americans Initiative as a model.

He adds that the support of Republican leaders in Springfield for a measure providing drivers licenses for undocumented residents during the recent veto sessions offers another model for politicians in Washington.

(For more, Colorlines has a guide to immigration reform.)


Chicagoans will be among thousands of protestors in Washington D.C. on February 17 for Forward on Climate, called by, the Sierra Club, and the Hip Hop Caucus, urging Obama to reject the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline as “the first step in putting our country on the path for addressing the climate crisis.”

After 15,000 protestors circled the White House a year ago, Obama postponed a decision of approval for the pipeline. Tar sands oil emits far more carbon than conventional oil, and a new study points out that the use of a refinery byproduct as a coal substitute – even more carbon-intensive than coal – will add dramatically to climate damage.

“We’re trying to start the new session of Congress and President Obama’s second term by showing that the public is beyond ready for serious action on climate and clean energy,” said Jack Darin, executive director of the Illinois Sierra Club.

On clean energy, “we need to level the playing field; it’s been titled toward fossil fuels for decades,” he said.  “If we give the market a clear signal we’re going to support and buy clean energy, it will respond.”

Darin praised departing EPA administrator Lisa Jackson and several initiatives in the administration’s first term, including raising mileage standards for cars — “the single largest reduction of pollution ever” – and regulations on toxic emissions from coal plants and on carbon emissions from new sources.  “The key now is finding ways to reduce carbon from existing sources,” he said.

Obama’s “all-of-the-above” energy policy, which seeks development of renewable energy along with oil, coal, and natural gas, came in for criticism from Len Richart of the Eco-Justice Collaborative.

He points out that destructive new “extreme” technologies like fracking and tar sands extraction are making additional sources of fossil fuels available, adding to carbon emissions when we should be reducing them.

“We really need a transitional plan,” Richart said.  “We’re going to be dependent on fossil fuels for the foreseeable future, but there’s a big difference if we agree on a transition to renewables.”

He’s particularly skeptical of the “clean coal” technology that Obama supports.  “They talk about it as if it’s up and running, and that’s not the case at all.”  In the meantime, he said, coal continues to be mined and burned, contributing a third of the nation’s carbon emissions.

Working with the Heartland Coalfield Alliance, EJC sends delegations of local activists to learn about the impact of coal mining in central and southern Illinois, which includes destruction of farmland, natural areas, and entire communities, and groundwater pollution from coal slurry and unlined pools of coal ash and sludge.

Like tar sands oil, much of Illinois’s high-sulfur coal is being exported to developing countries – which Richart argues should put to rest the argument that “all-of-the-above” development is needed for “energy independence.”


Housing advocates seem unanimous in their top priority for Obama’s second term: replacing Edward DeMarco as interim director of the Federal Housing Finance Authority.  “We need someone there who’s looking out for homeowners and communities and not the bottom lines of banks,” said Liz Ryan Murray, policy director for National Peoples Action.

DeMarco has blocked Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which FHFA regulates and which control a huge chunk of the nation’s mortgages, from carrying out loan modifications with principal reductions to reflect the collapse of housing prices.   That’s a key step if the foreclosure crisis is to be stemmed.

In the Chicago area, the foreclosure rate has been up and down, said Katie Buitrago of the Woodstock Institute.  Last year several poor communities where foreclosures had been dropping saw sharp increases: up 60 percent in West Pullman, 25 percent in Englewood, she said.

If the employment situation doesn’t improve – and if long-term unemployment benefits are cut – foreclosures could continue at high levels, she said.

Obama tried to replace DeMarco, a Bush administration holdover, two years ago, but the appointment was held up in Congress.  If Congress won’t approve a replacement, Obama should made a recess appointment, Murray said.

Principal reduction has been a key proposal for housing groups since the start of the crisis, when they pushed for bankruptcy reform, a proposal that Obama supported and then backed away from.

The administration’s early efforts at foreclosure prevention were largely ineffective, in part because they sought voluntary participation by banks.  Mortgage services seemed to lack both the capacity and the interest to address the crisis on their own.

Recent settlements by state attorney generals and federal regulators have improved the framework, though according to Murray, “legal aid attorneys say the on-the-ground experience hasn’t changed dramatically.”

New servicer regulations by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau may help, establishing strict timetables for servicers to act on modification requests and ending “dual tracking,” in which homeowners on trial modifications were simultaneously foreclosed on.

The future of Fannie and Freddie, now in government receivership after being bailed out, is under debate. The agencies should be reformed “in a way that maintains wealth building opportunities for the low-wealth communities of color that were targeted by predatory lending and really hurt by foreclosures,” Buitrago said.

“Completely privatizing the housing market and handing it all back to Wall Street couldn’t be a worse idea,” Murray said.  “We’ve already seen what that would mean.”

Community summit on climate Tue, 07 Feb 2012 23:21:18 +0000 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.

“Not only will this summit demand action from our elected officials and corporations, but we’re also going to give residents simple and solid actions they can take to save money and fight climate change from their own front door.”

In addition to SACC, participating groups include the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Pilsen Environmental Rights and Reform Organization, Energy Action Network, Citizens Utility Board, OpenLands, and the Field Museum.

Clean Power spotlight on Solis after Munoz signs on Wed, 04 Aug 2010 20:03:59 +0000 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 Thu, 22 Apr 2010 21:23:14 +0000 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 Fri, 11 Dec 2009 20:48:57 +0000 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 Wed, 18 Nov 2009 18:40:05 +0000 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 Tue, 17 Nov 2009 22:55:12 +0000 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.