Decision to Withdraw from Paris Agreement a “Step Backward”

Despite an enormous outpouring of public support from within the United States and abroad, today the Trump administration announced its decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. This action is reckless and irresponsible, but we are not deterred. Together with our partners, UUSC will continue to seek every opportunity to advocate for policies that combat the effects of climate change.

The decision is unsurprising, as Trump made repeated promises to do so during his presidential campaign last fall. However, we are deeply concerned that the United States has chosen to take a path out of line with the goals the entire world agreed to work towards together just two years ago. There are only two countries that did not support the landmark climate deal: Syria, which is in the midst of a devastating civil war and Nicaragua, which thought the Agreement too weak.

Leaving the Paris Agreement is a dangerous step backward and a grave injustice to the rest of the world, particularly to smaller countries in the Global South. The United States has an obligation to protect those that have made vulnerable by their carbon emissions. The Agreement was one way we, as a global community, sought both to assign responsibility where it is due and find solutions to issues that affect us all.

Today’s executive order reaffirms concerns that leadership on issues important to so many across the globe—climate change, economic justice, and human rights overall—can no longer come from the White House. In this moment, it is important to remember that there are individuals, groups, and communities dedicated to resisting policies that roll back our protections and continually working to create a better future in the face of harmful policies.

Our community partners in the South Pacific and Alaska are working to build protections in place to adapt to climate change and to safely relocate with dignity to protect their lives and their families from the harrowing impacts of sea level rise, coastal erosion, melting glaciers and natural disasters. Abandoning our responsibility by withdrawing from the Paris Agreement now is an added insult, as even that Agreement came too late for the many vulnerable communities already living with the realities of climate change.

UUSC will continue to work with and support these groups, finding and capitalizing on opportunities to effect positive change and build a sustainable future wherever possible.

 

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! This week’s wrap-up includes select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss: intersections between environmental justice and racial justice, the human story behind our current immigration policy, and Trump’s disappointing praise of Philippine President Duterte.

 

True Climate Justice Puts Communities of Color First, Audrea Lim, The Nation, May 22, 2017

Climate justice is insufficient if it doesn’t address racial injustice. When we look at the environmental problems caused by human activity, people of color are adversely affected at a much higher rate across the board. As Lim reports, “African Americans are exposed to 38 percent more polluted air than whites, and are 75 percent more likely to live in chemical-factory ‘fence-line zones’ than the U.S. average (Latinos are 60 percent more likely)” and “Heat-related deaths occur at a 150–200 percent higher rate among African Americans than among whites.”

How does this happen? When it comes to environmental health, decades of institutionalized racism have begotten economic disparities that put people of color at geographic disadvantages – a problem which will only become worse as the effects of climate change accelerate. This is precisely why UUSC sees environmental justice as a human rights issue.

The environmental movement has been around for decades, but the environmental justice movement is only now starting to take root in the form of intersectional protests at Standing Rock, support for community-owned renewable energy sources, and fairer environmental legislation.

This week, Salote Soqo, senior program leader for environmental justice & climate action, spoke at the Second Informal Thematic Session for Global Compact on Migration. Soqo made an explicit call for member states to recognize “that the experts of this approach are the communities that are most affected by these issues and who inherently hold the power to meaningfully address these problems with dignity.”

Deported to El Salvador, Trapped Between the Gangs and Trump, Danielle Marie Mackey, Pedro Armando Aparicio, and Leighton Akio Woodhouse, The Intercept, May 21, 2017

Jose Escobar lived in the United States for 17 years, ever since he and his mother immigrated from El Salvador to Texas to escape gang violence. He has a wife and children and was well-respected in Houston where he worked his way up from the bottom to running both a painting and a construction business. Now, the only way he can see his family is through the cameras that his wife had installed in their home while he lives in his aunt’s house in El Salvador, unable to leave the house alone for fear of violence, unable to return to Texas because of Trump’s backward immigration policy.

Escobar, who was permitted to stay in the United States by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents when he was a teenager, was deported in March when he went to his annual ICE checkup appointment – he was deported even though he did everything he was supposed to. Mackey, Aparicio, and Woodhouse share this heart-wrenching story of one individual, among the thousands who are being deported without criminal records under Trump’s immigration policy. It is important to remember that these are people, and while each has their own story, they face the same systemic injustice.

UUSC continues to call for expanded sanctuary policies that will make our communities safer for all. While typical sanctuary city policies have focused on protections for undocumented immigrants, expanded sanctuary policies recognize that the current administration is jointly threatening the rights of a wide range of communities. Learn more about how we are working to create a safer, more just, welcoming, and sustainable world at loveresists.org.

Trump Praises Duterte for Philippine Drug Crackdown in Call Transcript, David E. Sanger and Maggie Haberman, The New York Times, May 23, 2017

On Tuesday, the transcript of President Trump’s April 29 call to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was leaked. According to transcripts obtained by the New York Times, Trump praised Duterte for doing “an unbelievable job on the drug problem” – essentially congratulating him on the “unbelievable job” of killing thousands of people without due process and incarcerating tens of thousands in less than a year.

Trump’s remarks break from the State Department’s condemnation of Duterte’s actions as a violation of human rights. The transcript also shows that Trump mentioned the location of two United States nuclear submarines in talks about North Korea, another instance in which Trump seems to have revealed pertinent information to foreign officials.

Our previous statement on President Duterte’s “drug war” bears repeating: Our partners in the Philippines, “some of whom are risking their lives to empower and protect their communities, deserve better than an American president who fawns over authoritarianism and condones state-sanctioned murder.”

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! This week’s wrap-up includes select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss: Highlights from the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia; updates on family detention; and the latest on climate-forced displacement. 

‘A miracle happened’: 300 rally for LGBT rights in St. Petersburg, Colin Stewart, Erasing 76 Crimes, May 18, 2017

May 17 marked the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (#IDAHOT or #IDAHOBIT). People all across the world celebrated by  wearing colorful clothes that signify the colors of the rainbow, going to rallies, and being vocal online about their support for and solidarity with the LGBTQI community

There were even celebrations in countries with extremely anti-LGBTQI laws. Colin Stewart shares one story about a rally in Russia, where law enforcement stops pro-LGBTQ protests and detains participants. But this year 300 took to the streets in St. Petersburg, and due to their persistence and some fortuitous timing, received police protection. Organizers of the protest shared their thoughts, “Our strategy is ‘constant dripping wears away a stone,’ and today a little chip of that stone fell off.” This is a marked change from the typical response to LGBTQI rallies and protests in Russia and is a testament to how community organizing and persistence can yield surprisingly happy results.

Immigrants in Detention Centers Are Often Hundreds of Miles From Legal Help, Patrick G. Lee, ProPublica, May 16, 2017

It’s almost impossible for immigrants to win their case to stay in the United States if they don’t have an attorney, no matter how strong their case. There are multiple system-level obstacles that immigrants face as they seek U.S. citizenship, and those barriers can be insurmountable if they are being held in detention centers.

In this article, Patrick Lee provides background and context to the reality of this situation. Because detained immigrants lack the right to an appointed attorney, they must either pay for a lawyer or find one who will take on their case pro bono. However, many lawyers won’t take these cases and many who do lack the necessary time and resources to take on more than a handful of clients from the thousands of immigrants currently in detention centers. On top of this, detention center locations often make lawyers geographically inaccessible, something which Amy Fischer, policy director of UUSC partner RAICES, calls a purposeful move by the federal government to inhibit immigrants’ access to legal resources.

Under President Trump, ICE is ramping up its immigration control policies – arresting more immigrants and making plans for more detention centers. UUSC and its partners, like RAICES, are working hard to ensure that immigrants have the necessary legal resources and protections to plead their case and build their lives in the United States.

Mulling the possibility of a “managed retreat” from climate change, Rachel Waldholz, Alaska Public Media, April 28, 2017

Media coverage and aid are much easier to come by for communities displaced when a natural disaster hits. But refugees who are forced to leave their homes due to the slow onset of climate change are often overlooked, even though rising sea levels, erosion, and other consequences of global warming are expected to disrupt thousands of communities over the course of the next several decades.

The choice to relocate is one that must be made by individual communities, but even but even they make that decision, there is often no financial support from local and national governments or NGOs, who have been slow to recognize the severity of climate-forced displacement. Robin Bronen, executive director of the Alaska Institute for Justice (AIJ), argues that the lack of funding is different from political will, which she feels does in fact exist. “There’s this urgent need to protect populations from climate change, but we don’t have the laws in place to facilitate it,” Bronen said. “[That] means that government agencies don’t have mandates or funding to make it possible to actually implement what everybody agrees is the best long-term adaptation strategy.”

UUSC partners with AIJ and other organizations working on climate-forced displacement across the globe to support their efforts to help communities facing destruction at the hands of rising sea levels and prepare themselves for relocation.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week’s Rights Reading highlights articles on sanctuary, sustainability, and the Paris Agreement.

White People, It’s Time to Prioritize Justice Over Civility, Tauriq Moosa, The Establishment, May 9, 2017

Photo of justice statue

One of the hallmarks of white privilege is the option to be uninformed on and indifferent towards issues of oppression. In the name of “civility” and a backwards sense of fairness, the media has been giving white supremacists a platform on television to express their hate speech. However, this show at fairness actually undermines the platform of people of color fighting for true equality, giving them less airtime and raising white supremacists’ “concerns” to the same level as the concerns of those who are actually oppressed. Whether it’s in an effort towards equal airtime or boosting viewership, the media and white moderates’ uninvolved attitude thus promotes a more passive sense of fairness than an active move towards justice.

Moosa makes a strong argument for how the disaffected white majority can be even more harmful than hate groups. Just because white supremacists can make themselves look presentable and can express their views in a civil manner does not make their rhetoric valid or worthy of a platform in mainstream media.

Not Just Cities: We Can Become a Sanctuary Nation, Robert Greenwald and Angel Padilla, The Nation, May 9, 2017

Trump has called for a crackdown on undocumented immigrants, pushing for law enforcement everywhere to report even the smallest of misdemeanors to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This is just one example of the alarming move towards the criminalization of marginalized communities that has been happening under the Trump administration.

“Sanctuary” is a term being used a lot lately, but it doesn’t just have to apply to cities. Communities all across the United States can engage in sanctuary practices to protect immigrants. There are many ways that individuals can get involved, such as coming together to push sanctuary laws, going with immigrants to ICE check-ins, staying vigilant and spreading the word about potential ICE raids, and working with grassroots organizations to advocate for immigrant rights.

UUSC recently called on Massachusetts to pass legislation that would would end “287(g) agreements” whereby local law enforcement personnel are authorized to perform a variety of federal immigration enforcement functions, including questioning people about their immigration status, arresting them for immigration violations, and place them in deportation proceedings. Read the press release here.

You can also read our Expanded Sanctuary blog series to learn more.

White House Advisors Postpone Paris Climate Deal Meeting, Andrew Restuccia, Politico, May 8, 2017

Yet again, Trump’s meeting with advisers to discuss the United States’ involvement in the Paris Agreement has been postponed. His advisers are in disagreement on this issue. Trump is expected to make a decision soon on whether the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, a potential step that is being condemned worldwide.

During his election campaign, Trump stated his intent to withdraw the U.S. from the climate deal. Already under his administration, we have seen an increase in policies and government appointments that favor big business interests over the safety of the environment and the public. Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement is a dangerous step in the wrong direction for environmental policy and foreign relations. UUSC is watching the White House closely for further developments. Read our latest statement on Trump’s “Energy Independence” Executive Order.

The Dark Side of Fashion We Never Talk About, Rachel Selvin, Refinery29, May 8, 2017

Do you know the environmental footprint for what you’re wearing right now? It’s probably larger than you think. The process to manufacture and distribute clothing requires a high amount of energy and resources. While often overlooked, the fashion industry is one of the leading contributors to environmental pollution and resource depletion in the world.

Selvin discusses pioneering new biotechnologies to cut down on the environmental cost of fashion, but it isn’t just manufacturers who need to think more sustainably. Consumers need to be conscience of what they’re really buying, and how much. Cutting down on how many new clothes you buy and making sure that that your clothing is sustainably sourced are two great ways to reduce your personal environmental footprint.

The Good Buy, UUSC’s online store, is a great option for buying sustainably sourced products, and you’ll also be helping to fund UUSC’s human rights efforts.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week, we are focusing on Climate Justice, as Climate Justice Month comes to an end.

How a Tiny Alaska Town Is Leading the Way on Climate Change, Joe McCarthy, Global Citizen, April 18, 2017

 School in Kivalina

“By 2100, as many as 13 million people living in coastal regions of the US and hundreds of millions more people throughout the world could be displaced by climate change.”

Kivalina, Alaska is a small village in Northwest Alaska, with a population of 420 indigenous people. Located 70 miles above the Arctic Circle, Kivalina is one of the most affected communities of climate change. The temperature increases have doubled in Alaska compared to the United States, and the Arctic Sea has evaporated by half in the last 35 years. In just 10 years, Kivalina will no longer be a place people can inhabit.

The people of Kivalina are mobilizing and planning. They are known to be self-reliant and have a lot of experience working with their communities and government. The article highlights more of the history of Kivalina and some of the work our partner, Alaska Institute for Justice is doing.

How a Warming Planet Drives Human Migration, Jessica Benko, The New York Times, April 19, 2017

There are obvious environmental consequences to climate change, but the effects are manifold. Climate change leads to droughts, floods, food and housing insecurity, and famine. This then leads to both political and economic insecurity. While there is no official legal definition for what it means to be a climate refugee, in 2010, it was estimated that 500 million people would need to evacuate their homes by 2015 due to climate change.

The evaporation of Lake Chad has led to 3.5 million already being displaced. In Syria, 1.5 million were forced into cities because of a three-year drought in 2006. Other areas, such as China, the Amazon Basin, and the Philippines have also experienced the detrimental effects of climate change, displacing and even taking lives.

On April 29, We March for the Future, Bill McKibben, The Nation, April 19, 2017

Climate justice is being threatened by the Trump administration, but the reality is, climate justice has been a decades-long battle with each administration. The current climate-justice movement is being led by communities, farmers, scientists, and indigenous people. Those that are marching march for a multitude of reasons: pipelines, the labor movement, fracking, solar panels to other sustainable measures.

The United States is facing setbacks with the current administration, but the rest of the world is showing hope. Solar panel prices have dropped, wind energy is being used, and other countries are investing in renewables. People continue to march, protest, and resist in other ways, defining what the new normal is.

Check out related blogs and articles for climate justice month

Three-part series on composting, The Good Buy, April 18, 2017

5 Ways to #Resist this Earth Day, Green Peace, April 18, 2017

Making a Deeper Commitment to Climate Justice Month, UUSC, April 19, 2017

Executive Order on Climate Policy Rolls Back Protections

After months of rumors, Trump released his “Energy Independence” Executive Order yesterday, directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to begin rolling back environmental protections and policies, including President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Under the Order, federal agencies are instructed to review “burdensome” regulations that prohibit the development of domestic energy production, particularly oil, coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy; it rescinds and revokes the Obama administration’s actions on energy and climate change; and it requires the head of the EPA to re-write the Clean Power Plan.

Although the order does not mention the Paris Agreement specifically, this intentional weakening of the Clean Power Plan—which provided a roadmap for how the nation would meet its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28%—will directly impact U.S. compliance with the Paris Agreement targets.

Additionally, the order instructs the Secretary of the Interior to take immediate steps to lift all moratoria on federal coal leasing, placing an imminent threat to our public lands.

Along with his earlier order to weaken the Clean Water Rule, his proposal to slash EPA funding and his attempts to roll back clean car standards, Trump’s actions fundamentally violate the rights of U.S. citizens to live in a safe and clean environment and destroys the sanctity between people and their natural surroundings. Our fossil-fuel driven, capitalist system has far reaching effects, it is changing our entire global atmosphere to the extent that it is forcibly displacing people from their lands and from their homes. UUSC strongly opposes any actions that do not work to combat the effects of climate change.

This executive order is shortsighted and irresponsible. UUSC, together with our partners, will take public action by applying political pressure on the White House at every possible turn. Join us at the People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C. on April 29 to demand environmental justice and climate action.