Justice or Barbarism

By Michael Brune November 21, 2019

Every time I write about social justice, I hear from a few folks: What does this have to do with the Sierra Club? Aren’t we straying from our environmental mission when we oppose the border wall or show up for immigrant rights?

But the struggles to protect the environment and our communities can’t be separated. Remember the rallying cry of the first People’s Climate March? “To change everything, it takes everyone.” When we treat concerns about racial, immigrant, or gender justice as afterthoughts in our quest to explore, enjoy, and protect the planet, we lose a lot of people. But when we acknowledge that these issues are deeply connected, we can build a bigger, more powerful movement.

When it comes to climate change, the connections between social justice and environmental issues are obvious. Confronting the climate crisis demands that we change our society in profound and far-reaching ways. We can’t keep sacrificing people and places to create prosperity for the few. Instead, we have to build a new economy that prioritizes people over profit.

Change is coming, whether we like it or not. What is up to us is whether our response to the climate crisis changes society for the better or for the worse. 

Next November the US will face a turning point. Will we double down on the climate denial and bigotry coming out of the White House? Or will we choose a just transition to a green economy that prioritizes people and health above corporate profits?

We’re at a similar turning point with the climate crisis. Our choice is between climate justice and what Naomi Klein and others have called “climate barbarism.” Will the nations most responsible for the climate crisis close their borders and turn away climate refugees searching for safety? Or will we build a more humane society and weather the storm together?

We’ve already seen climate barbarism gain acceptance in the political margins. Rightwing ideologues on YouTube and Twitter are using the climate crisis to fan the flames of xenophobia, nationalism, and white supremacy, with horrific results. They have inspired mass murderers in El Paso, Texas, and Christchurch, New Zealand. But that’s only the most extreme and visible version of this ideology.

This kind of thinking has found its way into the political mainstream as well. In the late 1990s, anti-immigration activists attempted to take over the Sierra Club’s board. They wanted to “protect” the environment from people immigrating to the US. 

Twenty years later, climate refugees are being demonized by a similar mix of xenophobia and phony environmentalism. Instead of cracking down on the corporations causing climate change, the Trump administration is targeting those forced to leave their homes by violence and climate-driven drought and famine. Climate refugees at the US border have had their children stolen and their rights trampled. Indefensible barbarism has become federal policy.

Today the Sierra Club’s goal isn’t just to end climate change but to achieve climate justice. We support immigrant communities and a path to citizenship for all. We’ve launched litigation with the ACLU to stop Trump’s border wall, standing up for border communities and ecosystems. We’ve organized for the DREAM Act. And we’re working to change corporate trade policies that contribute to forced migration and environmental injustice.

So when bigots invoke “concern for the environment” as a reason to exclude immigrants from our communities — we push back. Because if we don’t push back against their dangerous and hateful ideology, it will only grow.

As more people awaken to the reality of the climate crisis and what it means for their own lives, our challenge will be to offer them hope and a way to create positive change. If we don’t, many will fall into despair and inaction. Or worse, turn to hatred and xenophobia.

We can’t build a wall to keep out climate change. But we can work toward a world where everyone, in every community, can feel safe — with access to family-sustaining jobs, affordable health care, clean air and water, and a stable climate.


Michael Brune is the executive director of the Sierra Club, the largest grassroots environmental organization in the United States. You can email him at michael.brune@sierraclub.org and follow him on Twitter (@bruneski) and Facebook.See more stories by this author

Climate Change Demands Action Now

In Hawaii, thousands of people across the islands went on strike from their schools, workplaces and their regular lives to join the climate fight in their neighborhood. We did it to show the political will for bold action on climate. On Sept. 20, we demonstrated for political leaders at every level of government here that we have their backs when they stand up to the giant, wealthy fossil fuel industry.

We know that it is now or never. Either we push now beyond the boundaries of what is normal and enter us all into a new age of climate solutions, justice and action, or we suffer the consequences of an unwinding climate.

Real climate solutions come in the form of local decisions and actions that directly reduce carbon emissions. For the Youth Climate Strike on Oahu, those real solutions included:

Meatless Mondays in all public schools

This program offers students in public school a vegetarian or vegan meal for breakfast and lunch every Monday. Estimates from the United Nations puts meat consumption at 14.5% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. If we can cut down on that source of emissions even just one day, we will make a huge contribution to the fight against climate change.

Cleaner energy on Oahu

Bill 25 is a Honolulu City and County bill to give residents lower energy maintenance costs while also encouraging the use of electric vehicles. This bill mandates that new single-family homes be constructed with solar water heaters instead of gas heaters, which will save homeowners money daily and also significantly reduce carbon emissions from residential housing.

Coal-free Hawaii by 2023

We want to see Hawaii’s last coal plant shut down by the end of 2022. The AES coal plant in Honolulu is the dirtiest source of energy in the islands. It produces 180 megawatts of energy and 660 thousand pounds of toxic gas every year. In addition, AES produces toxic coal ash that is dumped near homes in Nanakuli. AES is currently trying to increase their carbon emissions (which exacerbate climate change) and is using the carbon savings at other facilities to justify their increase. This facility should be shut down and all the workers retrained in high-quality jobs in the clean energy industry.

As an island community, we are at the forefront of the climate crisis. Without immediate and sweeping change to tackle this issue right now, Hawaii will definitely undermine the future for all keiki here. A future of worse hurricanes than we’ve ever seen, raging wildfires, and a dead ocean. Why make the keiki pay for the climate disasters caused by the carbon emissions of previous generations? Please do not stick us with that burden.

This reality is not a long time away, but with immediate, urgent action we can still prevent the worst of it. We have all the technological, political and cultural means of easing the climate crisis at this very moment in this state. The only factor left is the will to do it. I and all of my peers are looking to you now to help us manifest the political will to make these changes.

Call your state legislators and tell them you’d like them to support Meatless Mondays. Call your City Council member and tell them you support Bill 25. Call the state Health Department to deny AES an increase in carbon emissions.

When our kids see the news over the next decade about each new climate catastrophe, they will want to know that we did everything we could to stop it. Did we?


Kawika Pegram is the Hawaii state lead for the Youth Climate Strikes; he is a student at Waipahu High School.

Congrats to Josh Stanbro for becoming Honolulu’s Chief Resiliency Officer

Mayor Caldwell, in partnership with 100 Resilient Cities, appoints Joshua W. Stanbro to be Honolulu’s first Chief Resilience Officer

Stanbro will lead island-wide efforts to build holistic resilience to the social, physical and economic challenges that are an increasing part of the 21st century

100 Resilient Cities – Pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation – is dedicated to building resilience in cities around the world; Honolulu is a founding member of $164M effort

HONOLULU — Mayor Kirk Caldwell has appointed Joshua W. Stanbro to be Honolulu’s first Chief Resilience Officer. Stanbro will lead city and county-wide resilience building efforts to help O‘ahu prepare for, withstand, and bounce back from the ‘shocks’ – catastrophic events like hurricanes, fires, and floods – and ‘stresses’ – slow-moving disasters like water shortages, homelessness, and unemployment, which are increasingly part of 21st century life.

As Chief Resilience Officer, Stanbro will serve as part of Mayor Caldwell’s cabinet and oversee the development and implementation of a comprehensive Resilience Strategy for the city. He will also lead the new Office of Climate Change, Sustainability, and Resiliency, created by voters who approved a charter amendment in November 2016.

“Josh’s extensive knowledge of environmental issues, infrastructure, cultural land preservation, and community issues at federal, state, and city levels ensures he will be an effective advocate on issues surrounding climate change, resilience, and sustainability here on O‘ahu,” said Mayor Caldwell.

Appointing a Chief Resilience Officer is an essential element of Honolulu’s resilience building partnership with 100 Resilient Cities – Pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation. The 100 Resilient Cities (100RC) organization is part of a $164M commitment by The Rockefeller Foundation to build urban resilience in 100 cities around the world. The position will be fully funded by 100RC for two years.

“I’m honored to lead this new Office and looking forward to working with Mayor Caldwell, the Honolulu City Council, and our communities to make O‘ahu stronger and safer,” said Stanbro. “I’m also proud that Honolulu was selected to be part of the 100 Resilient Cities initiative and that our voters overwhelmingly approved tackling head-on the tough climate change issues that threaten an island community. This is the right time for local governments to take a leadership role.”

Honolulu’s resilience initiative includes a unique focus on coastal and economic challenges in a city increasingly affected by climate change impacts and infrastructure issues, along with a clear eye toward other potential shocks the island may be exposed to. Disparities in access to housing and exposure to natural hazards threaten community cohesion and weaken Honolulu’s overall resilience. Stanbro will therefore be charged with fostering an island-wide dialogue about the most pressing vulnerabilities, helping the city to unite and build the collective capacity for change. O‘ahu voters clearly recognized these threats when they voted to establish an office dedicated to addressing these issues and focusing on fostering sustainability.

Hawai‘i Community Foundation CEO Kelvin Taketa lauded Stanbro’s work for the organization.

“For the past eight years, the Hawai‘i Community Foundation has been fortunate to have Josh Stanbro lead our environmental and sustainability programs,” said Taketa. “During his tenure, Josh has been an established thought leader for sustainability and an important collaborator for Hawai‘i’s nonprofit community. His commitment to bridge-building and collaboration make him an outstanding choice to lead the city’s new Office of Climate Change, Sustainability, and Resiliency. At HCF, we are proud of Josh’s many accomplishments and look forward to partnering with him, along with the Mayor and the city, to achieve greater change and make Honolulu a more resilient place for all of us.”

The Chief Resilience Officer is an innovative feature of 100RC’s resilience building program. Stanbro will work within city government to break down existing barriers at the local level, account for pre-existing resilience plans, and create partnerships, alliances and financing mechanisms that will address the resilience vulnerabilities of all city residents, particularly among low-income and vulnerable populations.

“Josh Stanbro joins a network of peers from cities across the globe that will share best practices and surface innovative thinking,” said Michael Berkowitz, President of 100 Resilient Cities. “Stanbro will become a global leader in resilience, and will be an asset for Honolulu and other cities around the world.”

Stanbro will receive personnel and technical support provided by 100RC; and utilize resilience building tools from 100RC’s Platform Partners in the private, public, academic, and NGO sectors.

About Joshua W. Stanbro
Josh Stanbro brings a wealth of sustainability experience and a track record of developing partnerships to his new role within the administration. He has served as a Program Director for the Hawai‘i Community Foundation since 2009, where he led the Hawai‘i Fresh Water Initiative and the Community Restoration Partnership. He previously served as Project Manager for The Trust for Public Land-Hawai‘i, where he completed the acquisition of over 25,000 acres of land for preservation in perpetuity. He has worked in various roles with Envision Hawai‘i, the Coastal/Estuarine Land Conservation Planning Advisory Group, the South Kona-Ka‘u Coastal Conservation Task Force, and the Hawai’i Forest Stewardship Committee. Stanbro earned a BA from Claremont McKenna College and his Juris Doctor from Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California at Berkeley. He spent a visiting semester at the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa where he earned a Cali Award in Native Hawaiian Rights.

About 100 Resilient Cities—Pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation
100 Resilient Cities – Pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation (100RC) helps cities around the world become more resilient to social, economic, and physical challenges that are a growing part of the 21st century. 100RC provides this assistance through: funding for a Chief Resilience Officer in each of our cities who will lead the resilience efforts; resources for drafting a resilience strategy; access to private sector, public sector, academic, and NGO resilience tools; and membership in a global network of peer cities to share best practices and challenges. For more information, visit: www.100ResilientCities.org.