Climate change, pollution, cancer – environment is a justice issue

As far as Charity Hicks is concerned, climate change isn’t something coming in the future; it has arrived.

“It’s impacting,” says Hicks, policy director for the East Michigan Environmental Action Council. “It’s not just hot summer temps. It’s also the climate lows; it freezes people. Homeless people, senior citizens with dementia, they froze to death this winter.

"That’s climate chaos. The jet stream as we know it moderates our temperatures. It’s doing crazy stuff. The climate highs and the climate lows are already impacting the quality of life.”

EMEAC is the anchor organization for the Detroit Climate Justice Alliance, part of the national Climate Justice Alliance that grew out of a three year process of engagement between environmentalists, labor unions, food sovereignty/sustainable agriculture groups and other community-based organizations. It coalesced around the 2010 U.S. Social Forum in Detroit.

“The CJA is an attempt to mount a grassroots national campaign to affirm the quality of life and affirm the dignity of communities of color,” says Hicks. “The whole campaign calls for a transition to a climate resilient profile. We have politicians and scientists denying the existence of climate change. When you look at the loss of the glaciers, blue water in the Arctic, the permafrost lost. We know we are looking at a climate change scenario. The sea level rising threatens New York, Hong Kong, all these cities we love on the coast, because we like water, we will have to do climate mitigation work to survive.”

Hicks is a systemic thinker and while she sees the big picture globally, she can connect the big picture to issues in Michigan, Wayne County and Detroit. There are 65 Environmental Protection Agency high-priority superfund cleanup sites in the state. A Community Health Needs Assessment developed from 2006-2010 data compiled by the Center for Disease Control shows higher cancer death rates in Wayne County than statewide and national rates.

“Detroit has more than 240 facilities releasing toxic chemicals,” says Hicks.

Some of those toxic sites have been ceded to the city through abandonment and nonpayment of taxes. That’s a health, environmental and economic issue. It’s not the sort of thing most people think about when considering Detroit’s economic problems. But they are among the reasons business and developers chose other locations.

“The large factor is the overall drag on the economy that the large inventory of contaminated land has had on property values,” Guy Williams, president of Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, told the Free Press last August.

The great industrial boom that made Detroit, and Michigan, what it was a century ago has come back to bite us. And, as Hicks sees it, all as part of a bigger system that needs to change. Right down to the trash on the street. Climate change, environmental justice and food are all part of the same ball of wax.

“When I see food I also see energy, fossil fuels, water, pesticides, insecticides,” says Hicks. “Not just choice and the ability to pay. …Detroit’s energy grid is driven by the coal fired by DTE, some from Fermi, it’s dirty. We’re part of this blowing up of mountaintops in the coal country. Residential use of energy doesn’t even compare to industrial use.”

The Detroit CJA is composed of some 30 groups, such as the Detroit Food Justice Task Force, the People’s Water Board, Great Lakes Bioneers and others who work in different aspects of these issues. Hicks has taken it international, speaking at conferences in Tunisia, Brazil, Toronto and elsewhere. But, as they say, she keeps it real.

“Every day I walk my neighborhood near Seven Mile and Gratiot and pick up trash – Cheetos bags, blunt wrappers, liquor bottles,” says Hicks. “Every time I pick up litter I think about our people throwing it down. I feel sorry for the environment but I’m part of the solution. …Some of my neighbors call me the crazy African lady picking up trash. I pick up trash in Detroit. I like to celebrate solutions. We need to celebrate, call attention to it, and connect the dots.”

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Donna Sickels
Sun, 05/18/2014 - 9:49am
I agree with what this writer has to say and I believe that it should be everybody's thought to help clean up the pollution, be it trash on the streets to clean water, air, whatever.
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Sun, 05/18/2014 - 11:11pm
I disagree with what this author has to say. It seems to be on-behalf of, or mouthing the intentions of, Charity Hicks of the East Michigan Environmental Action Council. I disagree with what she has to say, if that is represented by this commentary. She says, 'Homeless people, senior citizens with dementia, they froze to death this winter.' All homeless people did not freeze this winter because of 'global warming.' All seniors did not freeze to death this winter because of 'climate change.' This is Propaganda. She is evoking pathetic dangerous imagery and demanding quick action based on a false premise. I think it represents a tactic of the progressive movement. In 1887 a Progressive published a book called 'Looking Backward' to say how socialized the author felt America would be in this millennia. I don't know if that launched the progressive movement, but the timing seems about right. Their tactics are progressive. A chip here, a chip there. I disagree with this movement and their propaganda tactics. Yes, the environment should be cleaner. But there are rational ways to do this. Selling our soul to the government, or larger and larger government, or the progressive movement is not the way. Pick up some trash, yes, I have done this. It can be daunting. Clean up environmental issues, yes. I have done this. There are far more economical means to do this than are being used, or proposed by these propagandists. I gave a man a bag of bacteria that loves to eat oil and grease, eight years before he want to court. I went to court with this same man already convicted of 15 counts of environmental violations. I was his Environmental Consultant. All 15 counts were dismissed. All 15 were false. There had been an hysteria. The DNR's own documents showed they had not told the truth. Their own test data showed the soil and water met their own criteria. The water and soil were not at toxic levels. It said the water met there drinking water standards. It was hysteria. They lied. They conspired. They were militant. They perjured, themselves. They convinced themselves this was 'Justice'. It was not. Just because someone evokes a dangerous image, does not mean they are representing Justice. Justice is the action a society takes when individuals or companies or governments, or a 'progressive movement', violate what natural law knows is right. I believe 'Social Justice' is a tactic of the progressive movement. It is not, I repeat, not Justice to declare something true that your own documents and test data and better judgement know is false. I have seen it. Others should look at what is being placed before them. 'Global Warming' when the south polar regions are year by year setting all time lowest in history, low temperatures; 134 F below zero. When the 'total ice-pack' for the world is highest ever. 'Climate Change' based on climate models that do not predict accurately what the climate is seen to do. The model says no hurricane hits the east-coast. The European model does predict Hurricane Sandy. Hurricane Sandy strikes the east-coast. The story goes on. The propagandists take credit for the damage, the dangerous environment. This climate model, 'Climate Change Model,' is flawed and does not predict what climate does. I disagree with the author and 'Charity Hicks' of the East Michigan Environmental Action Council.
Mon, 05/19/2014 - 4:55pm
So besides picking up litter, what is being proposed?
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Tue, 05/20/2014 - 9:33pm
Matt May 19, 2014 at 4:55 pm 'So besides picking up litter, what is being proposed?' I don't know if your question was for me, but here goes a little something from my viewpoint. I propose more simple solutions. Like giving a man a bag of fibers containing certain bacteria for free, and a little coaching in how to use it, for free. Local, state and federal levels could do this easily. This man and his wife had a business recycling metal and selling it to foundries. Oil and gasoline and grease were being spilled. He changed the way he did business. He no longer allowed those things onto his property and he cleaned up what he had. He used the bacteria to eat the grease in blackened soils. In three months there would be a clean area in the middle of a grease spot. In six months the yard was clean, and stayed clean. State testing, under a court order, proved it was all clean. Even the lead levels met their criteria. The water tests met drinking water standards. The soil tests met their soil standards. It did cost him a slight amount of labor to do this work, but he embraced it as a cost of doing business. The cost for local, state and federal levels? Zero. This owner asked me how I might handle lead, or other metals. I told him he could raise radishes. They absorb up to one percent of their dry weight in such metals taken from the soil. He could clean up any areas he wanted nearly for free, the same cost as the other cleaning he had done, if he had any areas to clean up. Now for global warming, or climate change. If carbon dioxide levels, or other greenhouse gas levels, are going up, that is one thing. But if there is no resultant change in long-term global temperatures, or total ice-pack levels, why do anything but monitor or plan for contingencies? Why the secret planning to destroy the coal industry in America? Or to eliminate the lead producing industry, in America? Or massive media, and public school programs to mobilize a generation to fear industry? Now if the models that predict global temperature changes, or weather patterns is in error, and does not predict temperature changes and weather patterns correctly? The thing to do is to correct the model...Right? The wrong thing to do is to mobilize world governments and public education to fix something that is not broke. ...Right? Here is a suggestion: All over the world the ratio of oxygen to nitrogen is the same in the atmosphere, to four decimal places. That type of organization in a gas is called a 'clatheter', or 'clatheter mozaic' I believe. It is just a way of saying there can be a ratio like the one oxygen and nitrogen have, that is stable, all over the planet, or in a very small sample. Is it possible that mankind could create such a ratio at some acceptable level for carbon dioxide? I believe that might be a simple solution.
Thu, 05/22/2014 - 12:11pm
No Leon comment wasn't directed at you, my point being that this entire article amounted to a pile of empty pointless useless glop! C for Mi must be very desperate for content . You and Duane have more patience to bother putting together a response.
Mon, 05/19/2014 - 5:17pm
Leon, I don't think you understand some concepts about climate change. I'm not an expert but I do have a Master's degree in geoscience. I taught geology, meteorology and climatology for the last 14 years before I retired last year at 72. You have an opinion about climate change and that is all it is, an opinion. Let me use an analogy. Let's say you had a physical exam with 10 doctors. Nine said they had concerns about your health and one said you may be ok but he is not sure. Which group would you believe? Except in the study of climate change, 97 out of a 100 think we have a problem. The Earth will survive but it might become more difficult for humans.
Mon, 05/19/2014 - 11:12pm
Byron, I respect your academic credentials, my concern is that you like Mr. Gabriel are listening for what you want to hear. It appears Mr. Hulett is questioning the claims in the article (something Mr. Gabriel seemed to have failed to do). "Homeless people, senior citizens with dementia, they froze to death this winter." Do you believe as suggested that they died due to 'climate change', do you believe that such deaths have risen as 'climate change' has developed? That would suggest that either none were freezing to death a hundred years ago or that there are more deaths to freezing today then 100 years ago. Without showing such data it raises questions of credibility. I would think a 'scientist' would be concerns with claims that offered no proof. I have my own concerns about the articles veracity with many of the claims and lack of data, it does suggest it is more in keeping with poltical practices than with scientific practices. Mr. Gabriel interject the idea of 'environmental justice', "If you live nearby a sight like this, chances are environmental justice is not an abstract concept.", and yet fails to describe what it means. He wants us to believe it is real and yet offers no criteria for us to use to recognize it. Again that sounds like the practices use with poltical campaigns, but hear we havte no "Truth Squad" assess his accuracy. The temptation is to hear what you are listening for, but I would think someone with 'scieintific' training would be more interested in verification of claims.
Joellen Gilchrist
Tue, 05/27/2014 - 2:09pm
Who is Mr. Gabriel?
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Tue, 05/20/2014 - 7:54pm
Byron May 19, 2014 at 5:17 pm Hi, do you mind if we expand this dialog a little? I'm impressed with your credentials, but possibly not in the way you might expect at first glance. I'm sure you are a nice person with a nice family and all that. I hope you will not take a simple discussion here too seriously in the scheme of things, if I choose to step on toes, and shine the light of truth on some 'sacred cows'. You seem to be well rehearsed and to have prepared yourself well to consider this issue. Hopefully you can be persuasive enough here to change my opinion of this subject. Do we feel we agree on what the 'subject' is? 'Leon, I don’t think you understand some concepts about climate change.' Do you mind stating specifically which concepts you are taking about? We can then discuss the specifics in more detail. As you know, I consider much of this issue to be simply a well financed and organized propaganda campaign with the basic intention of decreasing the influence and power of the American Constitution and increasing the influence of power of what I have called 'a progressive movement.' You may have another name for such a consolidation of power in the world. 'I’m not an expert but I do have a Master’s degree in geoscience. I taught geology, meteorology and climatology for the last 14 years before I retired last year at 72.' I am 67 and am a Professional Engineer in Michigan. I have about 45 years of experience in various Engineering fields, Aerospace, Space, Petrochemical, Manufacturing, Simulation, and my own Consulting business, including 5 or so in Environmental Engineering at a Professional level. I helped a friend with his court case when he had been convicted of 15 counts of Environmental violations and was being held in contempt of court. I helped him shine the light of truth on the false information presented by the prosecution and the case was dismissed, all 15 counts. 'You have an opinion about climate change and that is all it is, an opinion.' We agree on this. But let's call it my viewpoint. What is your viewpoint? 'Let me use an analogy. Let’s say you had a physical exam with 10 doctors. Nine said they had concerns about your health and one said you may be ok but he is not sure. Which group would you believe?' I have actually had this experience. But I have chosen to inform myself of my health issues and I ask no one to take responsibility for my health. I would use the information from all 10, and my own research, to inform my own opinion. 'Except in the study of climate change, 97 out of a 100 think we have a problem. The Earth will survive but it might become more difficult for humans.' You and I have some experiences in this field, and in life. If I were to cite a group of scientists under Stalin where 97 out of 100 agreed with Stalin's viewpoint. You might just laugh. But I did something like this on the subject of eduction for a superintendent of schools. I showed him where the author of a certain book, used to inform Michigan educational standards, said that his views were so closely aligned with Stalin's that nothing in his writings had to be purged by Stalin's censors. If your 97 of 100 were closely aligned with a prevailing political agenda with extensive funding and the power to censure their work closely, the result would be the same. Would it not? I did cite world all-time lowest temperatures in Antarctica this last year. Do you dispute such information? I did cite highest ever total ice-cover for the world. This data is a little less reliable, but do you dispute this datum? Let me also cite a recent movie on climate change, I believe it is called 'Chasing Ice'. The author starts the movie by saying it is not science that changes minds, but he believes the images of melting ice and dying animals might affect the heart. He was not appealing to reason in his movie.
Barry Visel
Mon, 05/19/2014 - 7:28pm
"...climate change...has arrived." No arrived with Earth's creation and has been changing ever since, and will continue to change with or without us! Was the ice that covered our fair State just a few thousand years ago considered climate change?...of course. What we would have given for a little more CO2 in the atmosphere back then! We very much need a geologic time perspective on this debate...people don't seem to understand that climate has always been changing. How we adapt is the issue. We also need to understand that whether you believe in evolution or creationism, Man is a part of our natural environment, for better or for worse. BTW, I don't know how this article passed editorial's extremely shallow.
Tue, 05/20/2014 - 2:35pm
Barry and Duane (and to all others that do not believe in science). The statement that whether you believe in evolution or creationism, indicates the foundation of of your knowledge. Evolution is fact based and has been tested many times. Creationism is based in fiction. Even if you don't believe in climate change that is accelerated by humans, you should understand that ending our addiction to fossil fuels would be a win-win solution. Coal is a terrible source of fuel, not only from the extraction but the burning for energy. The strip mining of West Virginia, Kentucky and other states create an environmental disaster. How you you like northern Michigan be strip mined? The burning of coal release mercury which can be found in Lake Michigan fish and all the lakes near Lake Michigan. Be careful if you have a child or a pregnant woman. Cleaning up the water and atmosphere will create jobs and lead us to better sources of energy. P.S. The same can be said about oil.
Leon L. Hulett, PE
Tue, 05/20/2014 - 8:51pm
Byron May 20, 2014 at 2:35 pm What is the foundation of your knowledge? If Evolution explains life and is fact based, please tell me how you feel life started? What are your facts? Do you understand Evolution is a theory? Or do you 'believe' it is fact? 'Coal is a terrible source of fuel, not only from the extraction but the burning for energy. The strip mining of West Virginia, Kentucky and other states create an environmental disaster. How would you like northern Michigan to be strip mined?' It is being strip mined, and has been for a hundred years. Is this news to you? If we pass a law that costs us a billion dollars to reduce automotive emissions another tiny fraction. Is this something you would support? How do you compare that amount of pollution to China opening five new coal fired power plants each week? Just this last month the EPA has proactively closed down the last lead producing company in America by unilaterally requiring stack emission levels for lead to go down to .05 micrograms per cubic meter. How do you compare this proactive shutting down of an American industry to the lead of emissions for all those Chinese power plants? Isn't this out-sourcing production to others that are in fact producing vastly more emissions into the the world's atmosphere? The burning of coal release mercury which can be found in Lake Michigan fish and all the lakes near Lake Michigan. Be careful if you have a child or a pregnant woman. Cleaning up the water and atmosphere will create jobs and lead us to better sources of energy. P.S. The same can be said about oil.
Wed, 05/21/2014 - 2:00am
Byron, I am curious about your questioning of my belief in science. If you read my comments is there anywhere I challenged science? I was asking about proof, isn't that a foundation of science? I though the 'scieintific method' was about questions postulated theories asking for proof. As best I can tell there were theories but not proof offered with them. I believe in evolution which has had many examples. Creation is based in faith, but that does not prevent it from being a 'scientific theory'. We hear a great deal about the 'big bang' and even that gravity is the mechanism by which it happened. What I have yet to hear about is what existed before it and why gravity exists or what makes gravity work. What is gravity? I understand the impact gravity has on our physical world, but what is it? Gravity draws bodies together, but why? I believe that the climate today is different, and on average warmer than in my youth and warmer on average than in the 19th century. However, that does not mean people are freezing to death because of such temperature changes as Ms. Hicks claims. I agree that coal mining is nased on efficiencies and that without proper practices it can lead to extreme events. However, I would offer that coal and the energy it has provided had allowed us to improve our quality of life and longevity. I would even offer that from an energy release standpoint it is much better than wood burning. As for the health of pregnant women and their babies I would offer that many of those living into their 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 100s were all born prior to the improved coal burning system. Many were in homes that were heated by coal and yet they survived and I suspect are healthy inspire of you suggestions about their health. I do agree that mercury is a hazard and its release should be controlled, but I would not claim that mothers and their children will suffer because there are coal burning plants. The historic data suggests that even the dirtiest coal burning has not caused millions of people to live longer than any generations who came before them. I don't believe in waste, I do not believe in careless environemental insult, but I am not so closed in my thinking to ignore the value that many chemical operations and products provide a significant value to society and that as our knowledge grows we have better operations and cause less environmental insult. I would offer that the public conversation on 'climate change' is more about poltiics than it is about mitigating the impact or stabalizing conditions.