"Climate change is the greatest public health challenge of this century"

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

By Dana Ginn Paredes

“Climate change is the greatest public health challenge of this century.” – Alameda County public health staff at the Oakland City Council meeting (March 1, 2011)
“We have achieved a global state failure to transform our economies and negotiate a global plan to mitigate climate change. And so, what is left is ONLY to prepare our communities. This responsibility must start with local action.” – Visiting professor from Durban, South Africa at the Oakland City Council meeting (March 1, 2011
Last night, the Oakland City Council passed its Energy and Climate Action Plan (ECAP) which is designed to reach the most aggressive target reduction of any major city in the country (reduce green house gas emissions 36% below 2005 levels by 2020). Many would call this a victory—which it IS—and one that would not have happened without the two years of involvement and pressure by local organizations and communities led by the Oakland Climate Action Coalition.

Now the next challenge begins: to guarantee sufficient affordable housing and renter protections for low-income families in areas where they may be displaced by transit-oriented development, to ensure Oakland’s energy efficiency plan includes a strategy to establish local control of energy production (vs. industrial giant PG&E), and to secure a stable food supply through a large scale urban agriculture initiative.

OK, so not all city council members completely agreed with the details of these last three items, but what struck me was their agreement that food security was an issue of public health, and that due to the global food production crisis (a combination of a decrease in supply due to climate change and an increase in demand, price and the cost of energy) ensuring that all Oakland families have enough food in the future is going to be an issue. This prompted the Council to agree to move the food security items to the category of climate adaptation.

This is an interesting development, right?

OK, for folks who have not been following the climate crisis, climate adaptation generally lays out policies and processes that lead to a reduction of harm or risk in preparation for or in the event of a significant environmental threat or disaster. To me, viewing food security policy as more a part of climate adaptation policy shows us that the Oakland City Council is viewing “food access” in its most fundamental form. It’s not just about ensuring the poor and homeless don’t go hungry or that we need more grocery stores instead of liquor stores (all of which are important and true); it’s about ensuring that all Oakland families have enough food in preparation for the global food production crisis which will be felt here in Oakland and everywhere. I believe that the suggestion that food security policy be held within climate adaptation policy was a pivotal moment, and it is an opening which I am sure the coalition will continue to leverage.

The climate crisis is the most significant and unprecedented issue facing our world today. And the Oakland Climate Action Coalition has done an amazing job in pushing the Council and our communities to imagine and prepare for what we have not yet experienced but are on the trajectory towards – a new economy, community and way of living. I believe this effort will only contribute to strengthening Oakland communities’ chance for resilience, and I am honored to have been a part of it.

For more information on what is happening in Oakland and to get involved, contact Emily Kirsch, Lead Organizer for the Green-Collar Jobs Campaign at the Ella Baker Center and convener of the Oakland Climate Action Coalition (emily@ellabakercenter.org). To learn more about local urban agriculture solutions, contact Gopal Dayaneni with Movement Generation (gopal@movementgeneration.org).