Going Green at the Grassroots: Bay Area community leaders, ethnic media, discuss global warming and green opportunities

By Malou Liwanag-Aguilar/Asianjournal.com

SAN FRANCISCO — Bay Area community leaders, together with Next 10, New America Media and members of the ethnic media, discussed the economic opportunities for going green, along with the continuing fight against global warming.

In a news briefing at the Natural Resources Defense Council last Feb. 21, F. Noel Perry, founder of Next 10, explained California’s role in “green” innovation and the significant impact it can make on the state’s economic and environmental health. With this, Next 10 launched the California Green Innovation Index to track the state’s green innovation as well as economic and environmental performances within the context of the landmark California Global Warming Solutions Act, or AB 32, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on September 27, 2006. This is to set up the first enforceable state-wide program in the US to cap all greenhouse gas emissions from major industries. It requires the state’s greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced to 1990 levels by 2020, roughly a 25 percent reduction under business as usual estimates.

Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and various high global warming potential (GWP) gases, including perfluorocarbons, hydrofluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).

“We want to address climate change, and emphasize that there are possibilities except that not many people know where there are,” said Perry. He also added that California has become a world leader in addressing global warming, stressing that the state is more energy-efficient and has lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to other states.

Green collar jobs

Part of the fight against global warming is opening “green” opportunities in terms of employment. Nwamaka Agbo of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, a strategy and action center based in Oakland, explained the organization’s “green college jobs campaign” and its goal of not only addressing the issue of unemployment, but to also be part of the environmental movement.

“If we can find an intersection to get everyone involved.But we must also respect issues in addition to climate change,” said Agbo. These issues include the reality that not all people can afford to be part of the movement. She also expressed the need to create green jobs for low-income families in the area.

The Ella Baker Center for Human Rights persuaded the city of Oakland to invest $250,000 in the Oakland Green Jobs Corps, a program that will provide young adults green opportunities out of poverty and build good careers. Aside from the center, the program is supported by IBEW 595 (Electrical Workers Union), The Sierra Club, Workforce Development Collaborative and dozens of other member organizations of the Oakland Apollo Alliance, a coalition of labor unions, environmentalists, community-based organizations and green businesses.

The Green Jobs Corps will be able to recruit participants and provide them with ongoing support, teach them skills, give them employment experience on city-funded renewable energy and efficiency projects, as well as help them to move from them from the program into independent employment.

For more information about the Green Jobs Corps and other ways to support the Ella Baker Center, please call (510) 428-3939.

Green restaurants

In the movement to going green and seeing the economic opportunities, Thimmakka, a California-based non-profit organization, and its founder, Ritu Primlani, have been working to institute market solutions as well as implement systemic measures to convert business establishments, like hotels and restaurants, to go green.

“Restaurants consume more energy per square foot than any other retail space,” said Primlani and added, “in California alone, they are responsible for 16% of the solid waste that goes to landfills.”

With this in mind, Thimmakka worked on giving establishments the tools and model to transform their business to a more eco-friendly and money-saving venture. The organization started its Thimmakka Certified Green Business (TCGB) program in 2002 and reaches out to restaurants and other businesses to promote environmentally-friendly practices, especially within hard-to-reach, ethnic communities. Starting with just three green restaurants in 2002, the numbers have now reached to 120 as of 2007, covering the San Francisco Bay Area, Miami and Vancouver.

Also, in the past five years, solid waste was redirected from landfills to recycling and composting, equivalent to 245 Boeing 737 jets, weighing 79 tons each. Water conservation amounting to 59 Olympic-sized swimming pools, plus other environmentally-saving factors like energy savings and CO2 prevention were also among other efforts.

Thimmakka can help make your business turn green with their highly-transferable model, as well as support you in employing and implementing the program to make it economically affordable and viable. For more inquiries or information about Thimmakka and how it can help you and your business, log on to http://www.thimmakka.org.

Cleaning the high tech zone

One of the most controversial yet ignored dangers in the Bay Area is Silicon Valley’s contribution not only in global warming, but to the overall health and safety of the residents. Raj Jayadev, editor of the Silicon Valley De-bug, talked about how the high tech zone has masked itself. “One of the lessons we learned is that what may seem clean and beautiful outside, may be masking itself,” he said and added, “No one saw the uglier side.”

Jayadev related the story of Froilan Chan-Liongco, a Filipino worker for Romic Environmental Technologies, a company in East Palo Alto that specializes in industrial recycling of liquid wastes like solvents, inks, acids and other dangerous chemicals used for producing computer parts. A welder for 16 years, Chan-Liongco received second and third degree burns on the lower part of his body due to an explosion at the facility. Chan-Liongco resigned from Romic because of the way the 7company handled the incident and found himself working with protesters he once ignored.

Residents of East Palo Alto fought with Romic for the past 15 years, claiming that the company has been polluting the community with toxic waste. Romic, on the other hand avoided closure, despite of multiple safety violations, by holding regulatory agencies at bay. The importation of toxic wastes into the community has contributed to a number of health issues, including the increasing risk of cancer and asthma.

The Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), slapped Romic with 28 violations from 1999 to 2004 — everything from mislabeling chemicals to storing them in unauthorized places — resulting in a 2005 settlement of $849,500 in penalties. Also, the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (CalOSHA), discovered 57 violations at the plant from 1988 to 2004, totaling $163,360 in fines. Romic’s DTSC permit expired in 1991, and despite some extensions, the company has been operation with a provisional permit for the last 11 years. With mounting pressure from the protesters, DTSC is finally investigating whether or not to approve Romic’s operating permit.

Part of Romic’s continued operations is connected to economics, since 97 percent of the community is comprised of people of color, immigrants and/or low-wage workers. “There is no political or economic power to resist,” said Jayadev.

Jayadev also expressed the importance of joining forces in the fight to clean-up the environment, a collective push to bring balance and take precautions as new industries come in. “There are opportunities for change,” he said and added, “We must remember that environmentalism is not a separate movement.”


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