This has been a busy year with the Baltimore Peoples Climate Movement, from art builds to town halls to a big festival in September! Since our Festival for Change: Climate, Jobs & Justice in September, we’ve continued to connect the dots between climate change and other critical issues in the city, building a powerful climate justice movement in Baltimore. You can read more about what this coalition of environmental and social justice groups has been up to in 2018 here and here!
We’re gearing up for more events, trainings, and mobilizations in 2019. Mark your calendars now for these upcoming events, then keep reading to hear about what we’ve been up to since September. Thanks for joining us in 2018, and see you in the New Year!
Monday, February 11, 6:00pm: Baltimore Peoples Climate Movement General Meeting (save the date — more details to come!)
After the Festival for Change in September, we hosted our third skills training of the year, this one focused on providing people with the resources and tools they needed to get out the vote for the November elections. In partnership with Baltimore Votes, Black Girls Vote, Southwest Partnership, Baltimore Women United, Headcount, No Boundaries Coalition, the University of Maryland, Planned Parenthood, and Communities United, we hosted a Get Out the Vote Pep Rally at the UMB Community Engagement Center on September 22nd.
Over 80 people attended and heard from several organizations about their GOTV plans and how they could get involved to make sure their friends, neighbors, and communities voted in November. Presenters shared information about reaching out to returning citizens to ensure people know that they have the right to vote, fun ways to get people to the polls like “Party to the Poll” events, and how to combine existing outreach such as community health clinics with GOTV efforts.
In October, BPCM member Communities United led a Redefining Public Safety Town Hall. Nearly 90 Baltimoreans gathered to discuss the Freedom to Thrive report, a groundbreaking report that redefines safety and security by asking the question: What are we getting for enormous police spending? The report concludes: “The choice to resource punitive systems instead of stabilizing and nourishing ones does not make communities safer. Instead, study after study shows that a living wage, access to holistic health services and treatment, educational opportunity, and stable housing are far more successful in reducing crime than police or prisons.”
Attendees then broke out into six groups after the initial discussion to hone in on Education, Environment & Public Health, Housing, Harm Reduction & Health Care, Re-entry, and Youth Empowerment. Each group discussed how we could build healthy, resilient communities by right-sizing our police budget down to what other cities spend and investing in things that actually improve public safety. Spokespeople from each breakout then shared the ideas and takeaways with the full group.
As you can see, the Baltimore Peoples Climate Movement was busy in 2018! And we’re not slowing down in the new year. Join us for these exciting events in 2019!
New Year, New Money! When: Tuesday, January 29, 6:00 – 8:00pm Where: Baltimore Community Foundation’s Levi Conference Room (2 E Read St, Baltimore, MD) What: Do you have a neighborhood project, advocacy initiative, or nonprofit organization in need of financial support? Learn about foundations and the grant process from experts at the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers (ABAG). RSVP: RSVP here!
Scary Headlines & Climate Science: What Does the Latest News Mean for Baltimore? When: Saturday, February 2, 2 – 4:00pm. Where: Zion Lutheran Church (400 E Lexington St, Baltimore, MD) What: Have you read scary headlines about the most recent climate science reports? Are you worried about what climate change means for Baltimore? Join us for a teach-in on the most recent report from the world’s leading climate scientists! RSVP: RSVP here!
On September 17th, I had the great opportunity of joining a “Power Women” tour of the Block Island wind farm in Rhode Island, the nation’s only offshore wind farm. Organized by the National Wildlife Federation and Women of Renewable Industries and Sustainable Energy, the tour brought together women working in clean energy advocacy and in the industry itself. I traveled from Maryland with my colleagues Jennifer Kunze from Clean Water Action, Laqeisha Greene from United Workers, and Leah Kelly with the Environmental Integrity Project to join the tour.
As we work with our local partners to bring offshore wind to Maryland, we can learn a lot from the U.S.’s only offshore wind farm off of Block Island. The wind farm was built by Deepwater Wind and came online in December 2016. It’s a small project, made up of just five 6-megawatt turbines. But those five turbines are enough to power 17,000 homes both on Block Island and on the mainland with clean, renewable energy. Prior to the wind farm, Block Island’s 300 residents received their power from diesel generators. When the turbines were installed, Deepwater built a submarine cable that connected Block Island to the mainland electric grid for the first time, and the island was able to turn off those diesel generators. As Aileen Kenney of Deepwater Wind remarked on the tour, “It’s a small symbol of how renewable energy will replace some of those dirtier older fuels.”
The project is 16 miles off of the mainland, so it took a while to get out there. While there have been some concerns in Maryland about how visible offshore wind turbines will be from the shore, I struggled to see them for most of our boat ride. Then they slowly began to appear on the horizon, cropping up on the horizon in their slow-moving elegance. Once we approached the turbines, we cruised around them and heard from local elected officials, technical experts from Deepwater Wind and GE, and advocates who were instrumental in bringing this project online.
Once we reached the turbines, elected officials from Rhode Island and Massachusetts engaged in competitive banter about who is going to install the most megawatts of offshore wind power. Rep. Pat Haddad from Massachusetts got a lot of laughs when she commented, “I used to be the queen of coal. Now I’m the witch of wind.” I chatted with Janet Coit, director of Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management, on the boat, and she shared more insights into the project’s local reception. I mentioned some of the concerns that I’ve heard in Maryland, particularly about how offshore wind could potentially impact tourism. Ms. Coit spoke about how the turbines off of Block Island have actually become a tourist destination themselves. And as an island that is largely dependent upon tourism, the additional reason to visit has been a boon. While there was some initial hesitation from a few folks on the island who were worried about impacts to the pristine view of the ocean, she said that most people have come around: “it’s just like how people get used to utility lines, it’s part of the viewshed and it’s actually cool, like Block Island is celebrating that it’s green.”
Aileen Kenney, Senior Vice President of Development at Deepwater Wind, shared a lot of information about the project including its economic benefits, the company’s engagement with local communities, and various precautions to protect wildlife. She said that the Block Island project generated 300 construction jobs and noted that when she goes to public meetings about offshore wind, “you don’t even hear about the climate benefits anymore because people are really focusing in on the port improvement, the jobs, what is it going to mean for people going back to work in ports, and the whole manufacturing side of it.” Coming from Baltimore where we stand to gain port improvements and local manufacturing jobs from Maryland’s proposed wind farms, I can attest to this deep interest in the economic opportunities presented by offshore wind.
Ms. Kenney also pointed out an avian radar unit that was installed in collaboration with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that allows the agency to track endangered species when they’re flying across Rhode Island Sound. And she spoke about efforts to minimize the impacts from pile driving, which causes noise that can be disruptive to marine mammals and sea turtles. To protect local wildlife, particularly the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale from the construction noise, conservation groups helped develop an agreement to limit the time of year that pile driving could occur. And when pile driving did take place, Ms. Kenney described how “teams of protected species observers on vessels patroll[ed] around, looking for marine mammals and shutting down construction activity when they were in certain zones.”
While no development project is going to have zero impacts to the local community and environment, the team of people who brought the Block Island wind farm to completion seemed genuinely committed to addressing concerns and working in collaboration to build the best possible project. As we headed back to shore, I spoke with Ms. Kenney and Joy Weber from Deepwater to learn more about what their plans are for Maryland. Their proposed wind farm in Maryland will be much bigger than the one off Block Island, generating 120 MW of energy and creating 913 direct and 484 indirect jobs. I asked what type of jobs they expect the project to create and what types of transferable skills will be useful for people hoping to work on the project. Ms. Kenney said that the Block Island project employed “welders, painters, electricians,” and noted that “welding is welding. It’s a transferable skill if you’re a qualified welder, so the weld on that [pointing to a turbine] is a very transferable skill.” Then there are the maintenance and operating jobs after the projects are built.
Ms. Weber remarked that as the industry gets off the ground, “there’s going to be a lot of partnering [with] companies that have done this before and maybe from out of state that come in and partner with Maryland companies that are interested in getting involved.” As Maryland’s Public Service Commission emphasized when they approved both Deepwater’s project as well as U.S. Wind’s project last year, Maryland has an exciting opportunity to lead the offshore wind industry on the East Coast. Ms. Kenney spoke of this potential: “there’s not just a project, there’s an industry that will mean long-term, sustainable jobs as well.” We also chatted about how to overcome some of the lingering opposition and concerns in Maryland, mostly around the appearance of the wind turbines. Ms. Weber predicted, “I think that understandably there’s concern about changing anything. But I think that people are going to be okay once they see how you can barely see them.” Indeed, as our boat got closer to shore, the turbines disappeared from view once again. But I was sad to see them go. Rather than obstructing a pristine ocean view, I think the turbines are beautiful symbols of our clean energy future.
Check out a video from the tour below!
Want to bring offshore wind to Maryland? Sign this petition to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management urging them to approve offshore wind in our state!
On Saturday, September 8th, the Baltimore Peoples Climate Movement hosted the Festival for Change: Climate, Jobs & Justice as part of an international day of action to #RiseforClimate in the lead-up to a major climate summit in California this week. Despite rainy conditions, two hundred people from Baltimore and from as far away as Ocean City and Washington D.C. gathered at War Memorial Plaza in front of City Hall to demand bold action on climate change. Watch a video with highlights from the day HERE! The festival kicked off with two marching bands, the Baltimore Twilighters and the Dynasty Marching Unit, who encircled War Memorial Plaza and energized the crowd.
After the opening numbers, Dr. Rev. Heber Brown from the Black Church Food Security Network delivered a powerful keynote address where he urged us to “bring it all together” and unite our struggles for racial, economic, and environmental justice.
Out across the plaza, festival goers moved through an “action village” full of opportunities to join the movement for climate justice and gain practical skills to build climate resilient communities.
The festival also featured several art exhibits that encouraged attendees to creatively engage with environmental and climate justice issues. A highlight of the exhibits was “Resilience Street,” a cardboard village that serves as a model for the strong and resilient neighborhoods we need to face the climate crisis. Festival goers were invited to paint and “plant” vegetables for the garden and take photos with the village.
Valeska Populoh of the Maryland Institute College of Art and Black Cherry Puppet Theater, spoke about the importance of art in the Baltimore Peoples Climate Movement’s work: “Art Builds, informal workshop spaces where coalition members and community members can drop in, hold space for people to come together, have conversation, connect across issue areas, and learn new art making skills, like banner making and screenprinting. The banners and props we made were designed to support various ongoing campaigns, in addition to the work of the Baltimore Peoples Climate Movement, and will be a kind of lending library for coalition member groups in the future.”
Laure Drogoul exhibited her kinetic sculpture “Teetering x Tottering (On the Brink)” at the festival. The seesaw-inspired sculpture is made from wood, recycled plastic bottles, and water and “invites participants to level and stabilize themselves using the shared water in the sculpture as a balancing mechanism.” Drogoul explains, “through movement, the work creates a relationship between the participants and creates an experiential awareness of water as a shared resource.” This was one of the most popular exhibits at the festival, since many of use hadn’t been on a seesaw in years!
One of my favorite activities was Climate Justice Cornhole. I collaborated with Naadiya Hutchinson to paint climate-themed boards for this classic game, and we worked with several members of the coalition on accompanying cards that help define different aspects of climate justice including “food sovereignty,” “just transition,” and “energy democracy.” The cards were color coded to match up with the hand-sewn beanbags. When participants tossed a bean bag, they were invited to read the corresponding card and learn about different components of climate justice.
And it wouldn’t have been a climate festival without bringing the “Wonders of the Wind” backdrop back out from our traveling art show earlier in the year!
Meanwhile, local musicians took the stage including Ronald Rucker and Naomi & Malaika.
While the event was celebratory in nature, the gravity of the issues facing Baltimore was not lost on participants. Speakers connected climate and environmental issues to transit equity, public health, and racial justice. Samuel Jordan of the Baltimore Transit Equity Coalition commented, “By completing the Red Line light rail project and replacing vehicles in the Baltimore Link bus fleet with no-harmful-emissions buses, public transportation will create jobs, help achieve air quality standards, reduce automobile congestion, shorten commutes, and limit the health risks of bad air in Baltimore.”
As Ellery closed out a powerful speech, the steady rainfall took its toll on our sound equipment and we had to close out the stage. But festival goers stuck around and continued to participate in the action village and in the art exhibits throughout the plaza.
Emily Schubert closed out the festival with her performance “Resist the Gloom.” She and her performers truly embodied the piece’s message as they braved increasingly heavy rain and playfully interacted with the audience, encouraging us to utilize “realistic optimism” in the face of climate change and other crises.
While the heavy rain definitely put a damper on the event, it also emphasized how Baltimore is already being impacted by the effects of climate change. The city has seen record-setting rainfall this year and is likely to face even more as Hurricane Florence approaches the East Coast later this week. The Festival for Change was part of a series of events that the Baltimore Peoples Climate Movement organized this summer and will continue into the fall that seek to connect the dots across issue areas and highlight how climate change affects Baltimore. To read recaps of the coalition’s other events this summer, check out these previousposts. And mark your calendars for the Baltimore Peoples Climate Movement’s upcoming events!
Get Out the Vote Pep Rally When: Saturday, 9/22 from 1:00pm – 3:00pm Where: UMB Community Engagement Center (870 W Baltimore St) What: Groups including Black Girls Vote, The No Boundaries Coalition, the Baltimore Peoples Climate Movement, Southwest Partnership, and more will come together to help prepare us all for the upcoming elections by sharing their amazing GOTV plans! Participants will have the opportunity to join a team that is right for them, and also have the opportunity to learn more about hosting a party to the polls. RSVP: RSVP here and invite all your friends!
Redefining Public Safety Town Hall When: Saturday, October 13, 12:00pm – 3:00pm Where: Douglas Memorial Community Church (1325 Madison Ave) What: Have you ever wondered what we could do to help our communities if we spent 25% of the police budget in other ways? Have you been incarcerated for a felony and now you think you can’t vote? (You can!) Do you know that prison labor has been used to clean up the BP oil spill, to fight wildfires, and to clear record amounts of snowfall possibly caused by climate change? Do you think it’s shameful that their is a $504 million surplus in Maryland’s budget, but our city students started school during a heat wave with no AC? Do you think that safety includes homes free of lead paint and pipes, free of mold, and free of rodents? Worried about how climate change will make these problems worse? Join Communities United and other members of the Baltimore Peoples Climate Movement for a town hall where we will educated ourselves and one another about these issues in the city, how they connect one another, and how solutions can create more climate-resilient communities RSVP: RSVP on Facebook and invite all your friends!
It’s been a busy summer with the Baltimore Peoples Climate Movement! This coalition of environmental and social justice groups has hosted a series of art builds, skills trainings, and town halls focused on building a just clean energy and economic future. All of these events are working to connect the dots between climate change and other critical issues in the city, while building a powerful climate justice movement to push for a fossil-fuel-free future that works for all of us. On September 8th, we’ll celebrate and continue building together at the Festival for Change: Climate, Jobs and Justice! This festival will feature activities, games for kids and adults, live music, DJs — and of course, opportunities to take local action for climate justice! September 8th is an international day of action, and the Festival for Change is Baltimore’s contribution to the movement for Climate, Jobs & Justice.
Featuring local artists including DJ Isabelle Genie, Joy Postell, Dew More Baltimore, DJ Flow, President Davo, The Baltimore Twilighters, and Be Civil Battles and local climate leaders, including Dr. Rev. Heber Brown with the Black Church Food Security Network and Destiny Watford with United Workers, the festival will be a celebratory and fun-filled day of action! You’ll have a chance to tour a tiny home, engage in a solar demo, practice easy at-home gardening and composting, prepare for extreme weather — and more! The festival will also feature games and art activities, including Resilience Street — a cardboard neighborhood that you can help build — a test-your-knowledge recycling game, and climate justice cornhole! You don’t want to miss the Festival for Change: Climate, Jobs & Justice.Join us on September 8th and bring your family, friends, and neighbors!
Here’s a recap of what we’ve been up to the past month. To read about our events from earlier in the summer, click here! At the end of July, we hosted a teach-in called “Change Our City Charter” where attendees learned about the city’s charter and how you can use ballot initiatives to change the way city government works. Legal experts and community organizers from the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, Communities United, and United Workers shared their experience with current ballot initiatives and answered questions ranging from drafting the ballot question language to strategies for collecting enough petitions to get your question on the ballot (you need 10,000!)
We also hosted our first town hall in July, which focused on transit, housing, and health and how all of these issues connect to climate change. The town hall began with a panel discussion featuring transit, housing, and health advocates who responded to questions about how the issue they work on connects with and is exacerbated by climate change, what solutions they’re working toward, obstacles they face, and how they make their work relevant to the public at large. Panelists highlighted the inequities that Baltimoreans face daily in housing, transit, and infrastructure and how these inequities are amplified by climate change. Didn’t make the town hall? Watch the recording here!
After the panel discussion and Q&A, attendees broke out into small groups to discuss what they had just heard. Breakout groups responded to prompts about how these issues connect to / show up in their lives, what they learned about the connections between these issues, and what climate justice would look like in Baltimore. At the end of the event, attendees filled out pledge cards committing to different actions they can take locally for climate justice.
We kicked off August with two more art builds! Members of the Baltimore Peoples Climate Movement and community members gathered at Black Cherry Puppet Theater to create materials for the Festival for Change on September 8th. We made signs for different stations at the festival, a banner for the stage, climate justice cornhole, and a cardboard miniature village called “Resilience Street” that will be featured at the festival.
Last night, we hosted our second town hall. This one focused on building the New Energy & Economic Future and featured labor, climate, and grassroots leaders. Jim Strong from United Steelworkers, Reynard Parks from Navitas Solar, Kallan Benson from Zero Hour, and Nabeehah Azeez from Communities United dug into what it will take to build green industries in Maryland that protect our climate and health, provide clean, affordable power, and create family-sustaining jobs. Mustafa Ali, Senior VP of Climate, Environmental Justice & Community Revitalization for the Hip Hop Caucus, taped a special video welcome for the town hall. Then the panel wrestled with questions such as how to create more family-sustaining, union jobs within the clean energy sector, especially given that 90% of fossil fuel jobs are unionized and offer good pay with benefits. Throughout the evening, attendees in person and viewers from across the country (and the world!) who tuned into the livestream weighed in to answer poll questions and ask their own questions of the panelists. These questions enriched the conversation, particularly a question from someone who lives in the Maldives who challenged the panel to highlight wealth inequality as a significant barrier to climate justice.
Last year, over 600 Baltimoreans traveled to DC to stand with the Peoples Climate Movement in a powerful demonstration for jobs, justice, and climate action. Since then, we’ve brought the momentum to #BmoreClimateJust back home. Our city councilvoted to uphold the Paris Climate Agreement, stood up foroffshore wind, and passed landmark legislation to prohibit new crude oil terminals within city limits. And just last week, the city filed a lawsuit seeking to hold 26 fossil fuel companies financially responsible for damages from climate change, a move that wouldn’t have happened without the constant demand for climate action across the city. It’s been an exciting year – but there’s much more to do. Thankfully, the Baltimore Peoples Climate Movement, a coalition working for a just clean energy and economic future, has grown and strengthened since last year’s march. Over the summer and fall, we’re creating opportunities across the city for residents to develop advocacy skills, make art, and learn about how climate change impacts our daily lives. Then on September 8th, we’ll rally for local action on climate, jobs, and justice as the national Peoples Climate Movement stands up across the country. Mark your calendars now and stay tuned for more details for September 8th. In the meantime, join the Baltimore Peoples Climate Movement this summer for exciting skills trainings, art builds, and town halls!
How have things been going so far? This month, we hosted a Protest Health & Safety training to learn how to stay healthy and safe at protests and political actions. The training, run by the Baltimore Street Medic Collective, included tips on what to wear/bring to an action; an overview of situational awareness; information about jail support and how to prepare in case of arrest; an overview of common ailments such as hypothermia, hyperthermia, and dehydration; tips on how to take care of yourself in the case of police weapons; and information about aftercare, trauma, and wellness strategies.
As several members of our coalition witnessed or personally experienced heat exhaustion and other illnesses at last year’s Peoples Climate March in DC, this training provided critical information for our team and our larger community to stay safe and take care of one another during future actions. Also during this training, the Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition taught us how to identify and respond to an opioid overdose, providing life-saving training to our members and training participants. We also hosted two art builds in July! During the weekend of July 14-15, members of the Baltimore Peoples Climate Movement and residents learned how to make stencils, screenprint and make banners for upcoming actions including the Zero Hour Youth Climate March and ongoing local campaigns. The art builds were hosted at Black Cherry Puppet Theater, which was full all weekend of folks of different ages, skill levels, and backgrounds who were able to learn new skills, share those skills with others, engage in conversation, and build community. Over the course of the weekend, we painted four banners, screenprinted 20 fabric signs, 10 t-shirts, and over 50 posters and taught a team how to assemble fabric banner signs.
Then during Artscape, we worked with young leaders from Baltimore Beyond Plastic to host an art build to make banners and flags for the #ThisIsZeroHour Youth Climate March. Together with the young people who stopped by our tent throughout the day, we painted four banners and over 20 fabric flags for the Baltimore contingent of the Youth Climate March to bring with them to Washington, DC the next day.
As you can see, we’ve already been busy with our first skills training and art builds — I hope that you’ll join us for our upcoming events! More information and RSVP below: Change Our City Charter: A Teach-In When: Tuesday, July 24, 7:00 – 8:30pm Where: Impact Hub (10 E North Ave, Baltimore, MD) What: Join this training on Baltimore City’s charter and learn how you can use ballot initiatives to change the way city government works. Hear from legal experts and community organizers about current ballot initiative efforts and how you can use this tool to rewrite the city charter. Gain practical skills and learn how to put your ideas on the ballot! There will be snacks and refreshments provided. RSVP: RSVP here and spread the word to your Facebook friends here!
Transit, Housing & Health Town Hall When: Saturday, July 28, 11:00am – 1:00pm Where: Real News Network (231 N. Holliday St, Baltimore, MD) What: Does your community have too many vacant homes and not enough affordable housing? Do you ride public transportation – or try to, but the bus doesn’t come? Or the metro shuts down unexpectedly? Have this year’s storms and extreme weather flooded your home or created mold? Miss the Red Line and the jobs it would have brought? Has your child missed school because of asthma? Worried about how climate change will make these problems worse? Join us for a town hall where we will educate ourselves and one another about these issues in the city, how they connect to one another, and how solutions can create more climate-resilient communities. RSVP: RSVP on Facebook and invite all your friends!
Make Art for a Just, Clean Energy & Economic Future When: Wednesday, August 15, 6:00 – 9:00pm & Saturday, August 18 from noon-4pm. Where: Black Cherry Puppet Theater (1115 Hollins St, Baltimore, MD) What: What does climate justice mean to you? Do you have asthma? Rely on public transit? Are there vacants in your neighborhood? Develop your creative skills and build community at these art builds while deepening your knowledge about local efforts for climate justice in Baltimore. All materials will be provided. RSVP: RSVP for August 15 here and for August 18 here – and invite all your friends!
Festival for Change: Climate, Jobs & Justice When: Saturday, September 8, noon – 4:00pm. Where: War Memorial Plaza, Baltimore, MD 21202 What: On September 8, thousands of rallies will be held in cities and towns around the world to demand our local leaders commit to building a fossil free world that works for all of us. Join us for a festival with art, performances, and opportunities to take action for climate justice in Baltimore! RSVP: RSVP on Action Network.
Over the past few months, CCAN worked with partners across Maryland to put on an art exhibition called “Wonders of the Wind,” which highlighted the beauty of wind power and the clean energy future. Nineteen artists created sculptures, paintings, and other original work inspired by the prospect of two offshore wind farms coming to our state. The exhibition opened in Ocean City – where the turbines will be installed – and closed in Baltimore – where the manufacturing and assembly will be based. So, why an art show? Last year, Maryland took a huge step toward becoming the East Coast hub for offshore wind when our state’s Public Service Commission approved two applications for large wind farms off our coast. These projects promise thousands of jobs and enough energy to power over 500,000 homes. Now, those projects must secure federal permits in order to move forward. This won’t be an easy fight. There has already been a steady stream of opposition to offshore wind, mainly focused on the aesthetic appearance of wind turbines. Some elected officials have even referred to the turbines as “visual pollution” — to which we say: what about actual pollution? As an artist and an advocate, I deeply value the power of art to share stories and increase awareness about the critical issues we face today. That’s why I was so excited to work with a coalition of artists and environmental and faith-based allies to organize the “Wonders of the Wind” exhibition to highlight the beauty of wind power and a more just, sustainable future in Maryland. We hosted receptions in Ocean City and Baltimore where attendees could view artwork, learn more about offshore wind from guest speakers, and even make pinwheels to take home with them as reminders of the wonders of the wind. Scroll down to see photos from these receptions and to view some of the artwork featured in the “Wonders of the Wind” exhibition.
Last week, a small but mighty group braved the bomb cyclone in DC to rally for rail safety outside the Canadian Embassy. We were there to stand in solidarity with the scapegoated rail workers currently on trial for the deadly 2013 crude oil train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. On July 6, 2013, a freight train carrying 72 tank cars of crude oil derailed in the small town of Lac-Megantic. Many of the town’s residents were gathered at a local bar for a birthday party when the runaway train barreled into downtown a little after 1:00 in the morning. When the train derailed at a sharp curve in the tracks, its highly flammable cargo exploded and wrought devastation, killing 47 people, orphaning 27 children, destroying 44 buildings, and leaving 160 people homeless. Over four years later, the criminal trials for this tragedy are about to conclude. Yet the wrong people are being blamed. The rail company that operated the ill-fated train, Montreal Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd. (MMA), is not being held accountable for its dangerous policies and poor safety regulations that made the derailment inevitable. Instead, rail workers Tom Harding and Richard Labrie each face one count of criminal negligence causing the death of 47 people in the Lac-Mégantic crash.
While the prosecution has focused on the number of hand brakes that engineer Harding applied on the train before parking it for the night, the Transportation Safety Board report on the disaster paints a more comprehensive picture. After reviewing the TSB report, a chemical engineer at the Université de Sherbrooke concluded, “the company has tolerated improper braking practices, did not provide appropriate braking practice and did not ensure the employees were properly trained and demonstrated that they understood the training.” What else do we know about the conditions that led to the derailment? The train was illegally overloaded, weighing 2,800 tonnes over the legal limit. There was a mechanical breakdown on the locomotive two days before the derailment, but MMA officials allowed the train to operate anyway. And the inspector of the locomotive had little experience, only having begun inspecting trains solo a few weeks before. Yet the policy that most rail safety advocates point to as the key culprit in this case is the inherently dangerous one-person crew practice imposed soon before the tragedy. To increase profits, rail companies like MMA have been decreasing crews from four, three, or two people to only one person. When MMA made this change, the only action the company took to protect that remaining one-person crew member was to require the installation of a mirror on the conductor’s side of the train. That’s right: a mirror was expected to replace a second and even third skilled worker. Though it is clear that lax regulations and unsafe railroad management policies led to the tragedy in Lac-Megantic, engineer Tom Harding and traffic controller Richard Labrie are facing exclusive blame for the incident. They face life in prison for a tragedy that their employer made inevitable by cutting corners. Further, if the workers are convicted of criminal negligence, the reckless policies and lack of regulatory oversight that caused the disaster will not be changed. The conditions that led to the tragedy in Lac-Megantic will remain the norm, continuing to put communities along rail lines in danger. In Baltimore, we have an opportunity to make real progress in the fight against dangerous crude oil trains. In October, 11 members of the City Council introduced an ordinance to zone out new crude oil terminals, which will limit dangerous crude-by-rail traffic in the city while protecting our climate from this polluting crude oil. Click here to learn more and take action with the CCAN Action Fund.
Local residents and advocates have been fighting explosive crude oil trains in Baltimore since 2014. From stopping a new crude oil terminal in 2015 to introducing a landmark piece of legislation zoning out all new and expanded crude oil terminals just last month, activists have made great strides in the fight to protect the city from bomb trains.
Watch the short documentary below to learn more about our campaign to stop bomb trains in Baltimore! Check it out! And after you watch, contact your Baltimore City Councilmember and urge them to support the Crude Oil Terminal Prohibition!
The video was made by Travis Edwards in conjunction with our partners at Clean Water Action and features South Baltimore community leaders Rodette Jones, Ann Robinson, and Keisha Allen.
As Lac-Megantic Trials Proceed, Baltimore City Council Considers Bill to Stop Bomb Trains
On July 6, 2013, a freight train carrying 72 tank cars of crude oil derailed in the small town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Many of the town’s residents were gathered at a local bar for a birthday party when the runaway train barreled into downtown. When the train derailed at a sharp curve in the tracks, its highly flammable cargo exploded and wrought devastation. The crude oil train explosion in Lac-Megantic killed 47 people, orphaned 27 children, destroyed 44 buildings, and left 160 people homeless. That train was carrying crude oil from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota. Since the fracking boom took off in 2008, there has been a dramatic increase in crude-by-rail shipments in North America. The Bakken crude oil that is transported on these trains is more toxic and explosive than conventional oil. It contains a higher concentration of flammable methane and toxic fracking chemicals. Making matters worse, most of the train cars carrying this oil are outdated DOT-111s that were not designed to carry volatile material like crude oil. When these train cars puncture, they explode. There have been dozens of crude oil train derailments over the past several years. While the incident in Lac-Megantic was by far the most devastating, communities across the continent have had to face oil spills, fires, and explosions due to crude oil trains. From Mosier, OR to Plainfield, IL to Lynchburg, VA, residents near rail lines live in danger. Bakken crude oil has traveled through the heart of Baltimore City throughout the fracking boom. Between 2013-2014, over 100 million gallons of crude oil were shipped out of the Fairfield Peninsula in South Baltimore. According to the environmental group Stand, 165,000 Baltimoreans live in the “blast zone” of a potential derailment and explosion. I’m one of those 165,000. Baltimore’s weak infrastructure is vulnerable, and we have had too many close calls with freight trains in the city. In 2001, a train derailed in the Howard Street tunnel and caused the infamous fire and water main break that effectively shut down the city for a week. In 2013, a coal train exploded in Rosedale that broke windows, shook nearby buildings, and slowed traffic throughout the region. In 2014, the retaining wall on 26th St collapsed, sending parked cars, streetlights, and large chunks of sidewalk onto the CSX tracks below. And in 2016, a train carrying acetone derailed inside the Howard Street Tunnel. Thankfully, none of these incidents have resulted in the devastation and tragedy that Lac-Megantic faced. But crossing our fingers and hoping nothing bad ever happens is not a solution. As the price of oil has plummeted, there has been a dramatic decrease in crude-by-rail shipments across the country. We need to ensure that when the next oil boom kicks off, Baltimore doesn’t become the next Lac-Megantic. At last night’s City Council meeting, Councilmembers Mary Pat Clarke and Ed Reisinger introduced City Council Bill #17-0150 to prohibit the construction of new and the expansion of existing crude oil terminals in Baltimore City. This zoning ordinance will prevent an increase in crude oil train traffic in the city and send a strong signal that Baltimore does not want to be a hub for dangerous, polluting activity like crude oil train traffic. Instead, our city can be a leader in emerging clean energy industries like offshore wind manufacturing. This bill is also an opportunity for the Baltimore City Council to codify a piece of the Climate Resolution passed unanimously in June, which calls for the City to “limit the development and expansion of facilities that handle crude oil.” This bill is being considered in the midst of the criminal trials in the Lac-Megantic disaster. Though it is clear that lax regulations and unsafe railroad management policies contributed to the tragedy there in 2013, railroad workers are facing exclusive blame for the incident. If the workers are convicted of criminal negligence, the reckless policies and lack of regulatory oversight that caused the disaster will not be changed. The conditions that led to the tragedy in Lac-Megantic will remain the norm across North America, continuing to put communities along rail lines in danger. In Baltimore, we have an opportunity to make real progress in the fight against dangerous crude oil trains.Contact your City Councilmember and urge them to support the Crude Oil Terminal Prohibition (City Council Bill #17-0150) to protect Baltimore from becoming the next Lac-Megantic.
On June 1st, President Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement. This reckless decision signaled to the rest of the world that the U.S. is not a reliable leader and keeps us marching on a path toward climate chaos. Fortunately, young people, advocates, and local elected officials have stepped up around the country to spearhead climate action in the wake of the federal government’s abdication of leadership. Over 1,000 cities, counties, states, universities, and businesses have signed onto a letter declaring their commitment to the agreement. Mayor Catherine Pugh signed Baltimore onto the letter, and the City Council strengthened Baltimore’s commitment to climate action this week. On June 19th, the Baltimore City Council adopted a resolution upholding the commitments of the Paris Climate Agreement. Councilman Zeke Cohen of Baltimore’s 1st District engaged over fifteen partners, including the Maryland Environmental Health Network, Baltimore Beyond Plastic, and CCAN, to collaborate on the resolution. In addition to recognizing the significance of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and opposing the U.S.’s withdrawal from it, the resolution commits Baltimore City to specific actions that will work to prevent the worst impacts of climate change and address environmental injustices in the city.
The best part about this resolution is how intersectional and localized it is. Not only does it call for emissions reductions, the resolution also outlines how food deserts, energy affordability, zero waste strategies, sewage and stormwater infrastructure, community land trusts, equitable public transit, and more are all connected to climate change.
Critically, the resolution centers equity. It pledges to uphold practices that foster “a liveable, economical, equitable, and just energy future for all Baltimoreans regardless of age, race, income, or zip code” and acknowledges that, “climate change impacts are felt first and worst by vulnerable populations which exacerbates inequity.” It goes on to state, “we reject treating people and the planet as resources to be exploited.”
Before the City Council voted on the resolution on Monday night, the youth-led group Baltimore Beyond Plastic led a rally in support of the resolution. These young activists, who have been working tirelessly for a styrofoam ban in Maryland, refused to accept that Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement and worked closely with Councilman Cohen to ensure that the Council passed the strongest repudiation possible.
While this resolution is non-binding, it creates a blueprint for climate action in Baltimore. And since it passed unanimously, we can now hold every councilmember accountable to the actions outlined in the resolution (including limits on crude-by-rail infrastructure!) and work to pass legislation that will codify many of its stated commitments.