In 2009, when Jeni and I started Three Degrees, global international climate policy was failing to achieve measures to mitigate climate harms and to support impacted communities to adapt. Jeni and I were examining the potential for other organizations, principles, areas of law, and political formations to help fill the gap of the failing international regime.
After organizing a diverse set of climate justice projects with students and faculty at universities, elected officials and activists at international workshops, journalists, and scenario planners and futurists alike, I’ve discovered that working at the community level is where I’m learning the most about climate justice work and how it is evolving in the context of global issues of disparity, hierarchies of power, local creativity and pursuit, particularized assemblies of unlikely suspects, and ethical and honest frameworks for cultural recognition of the multiple ways of life that reveal a more engaged philosophy about human existence and perseverance in 2016 .
What I am learning now through my work in Kivalina and in particular, as I’m asked to share our work in Kivalina with others, is that local institutions for change are already in place. Responses, adaptations, and alliances for climate justice must align and assemble around existing systems, forming a vast network of lines and connections rather than a discrete object with a functional purpose defined as policy. On a more global level, institutions have, for a long time, been too centralized/apolitical to affect change positively. Assembling networks among impacted communities, academics, funders, specialists, designers, artists, and media is the kind of institution that needs composing. With the ArtPlace grant, I believe Three Degrees Warmer is working toward this mission.
As part of ArtPlace, I’ve been asked to serve on a panel in April focusing on design and architecture as disciplines for creative placemaking. While I am trained as a lawyer—not a designer nor an architect, I think back to the days when Jeni and I started Three Degrees. We started the project to build an architecture and framework that would support us and others to do climate justice work in the world. The work of Three Degrees Warmer is an architecture of the scaffolding that holds people and relationships up. These are formworks that people build themselves, at their own pace, with materials that are available to them. Where the shake and sway means it might be working. (Photo from Shanghai, 2009.)
Three Degrees Warmer, in partnership with Our Children’s Trust and its national network of legal supporters, filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court last month. Today, we learned that the Supreme Court declined to hear the case. Here is the note I received from Our Children’s Trust Climate Law Fellow, Nate Bellinger, sharing the news. With the New York Time‘s breaking story exposing the collusion of Attorneys General with the energy industry to curtail needed changes to our national energy policies, it is critical to enlist lawyers that will fight this breach of trust in the law.
Dear Supporters, Hours ago, we received notice from the U.S. Supreme Court that it decided not to hear our young people’s case seeking protection of essential natural resources for the benefit of future generations. Of course, we are gravely disappointed, but we are also realistic. The Supreme Court decides to hear only 75-80 of the 10,000 worthy cases it receives each year, and only 3 of the 119 cases it reviewed in its last conference. In our case, we suspect the court wants a deeper split between the Circuits than currently exists between the 8th, 9th, and 10th Circuit decisions favoring our position, and the D.C. Circuit decision.
With yesterday’s front page New York Times article uncovering the massive and funded big energy lobby focused on defeating all efforts that implement responsible climate policy, the nature of the opposition we all face in trying to advance science-based climate recovery at all levels of government is huge. Our Children’s Trust has been building new federal cases to secure science-based climate recovery policy nationally, and to return to the Supreme Court if necessary.
We will expand our efforts to enforce individual states’ responsibilities to preserve the atmosphere for the benefit of future generations, and will advance select global and local efforts to do the same. Piecemeal legislative and executive actions not based on nature’s laws will simply never get us where we need to be. We need judicial declarations that government must act systemically to stabilize our climate.
We are so grateful for your support as a “friend of the Court” in this case. We hope to have your continued support as we respond promptly to the strong resistance we face and keep the pressure on the courts so science-based climate recovery is implemented comprehensively and quickly, and before it is too late.
Thank you. We will alert you to our next steps at the federal level in the very near future and welcome your support.
On November 6, 2014, Three Degrees Warmer partnered with Our Children’s Trust to file an amicus brief with the Supreme Court yesterday arguing the national importance of a federal public trust doctrine climate change case.
In the brief, amicus parties argue that “[t]he questions presented in this case are of exceptional national importance and of great interest to these amici curiae. The D.C. Circuit held that the public trust doctrine does not apply to the federal government. Such a ruling disregards the federal government’s trust obligation to protect essential national resources for present and future generations and prevents Article III courts from requiring the political branches to fulfill their trust obligations. This outcome is alarming in any context but especially in the context of global climate change.
The federal government’s violation of its obligation to protect the atmospheric resource under the public trust doctrine is endangering human health, harming the economy, undermining our Nation’s food and water security, adversely impacting Native Nations and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities, threatening our national security, and creating challenges for state and local governments. When government fails to fulfill its trust obligations, citizens must be able to hold federal officials accountable to act in a manner consistent with their trust responsibilities. Because of what is at stake in this case, the questions presented deserve to be clearly addressed and resolved by this Court.” Read more here.
Read an open letter from the Human Rights Council to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Kivalina, Alaska – On March 4, the international Commission for Environmental Cooperation awarded funding to the Climate Foundation and Re-Locate to work with the Tribal and City Councils of Kivalina to develop a shovel ready project to provide biochar sanitation to the village. Kivalina, an Inupiat Eskimo community in the Northwest Arctic, is among seventeen other communities that received an award out of a total pool of 589 applicants.
The biochar project addresses sanitation as the most critical opportunity to improve public health in the village. Residential homes in Kivalina lack toilets and running water, and people use honey buckets (paint buckets lined with plastic trash bags and covered with portable seats) to store and haul human waste. Located on a barrier island, Kivalina is highly susceptible to erosion and the impacts of climate change. Plans to relocate the village have limited investment in basic water and sewer services.
Kivalina Tribal and City Councils are partnering with the Climate Foundation and Re-Locate to co-design a pilot project to address these issues. The project will include designs for community-scale waste management systems, dry toilets, and a biochar reactor that converts human solid waste into charcoal and substrate for fertilizer.
“This world will never run short of compassionate people who see the through their hearts the communities that struggle for what everyone sees as the simple things in life and for that, we are grateful,” said Janet Mitchell, Kivalina City Administrator. “While governments wait for some communities to relocate and refuse to fund projects because of that, others move forward to address little things that would make living conditions in rural communities better, and improve health and wellness.”
Stanley Hawley, Tribal Administrator for the Native Village of Kivalina, recognized that “[g]aining international attention to Kivalina’s human waste issue is no small feat. The Re-Locate Project deserves the highest credit for this achievement because historically, the village, regional, and State’s efforts to address the sanitation issues have become hampered by policy that restricts investment in communities with aspirations to move, resulting in high rates of infection from untreated sewage and solid waste. Although still in the planning stages, addressing the human waste issue in our village can finally realize some gains with this new development. We are thankful for the time, work and dedication that the Re-Locate Project put into addressing our village issues, and will extend our hand to the new partners.”
Partners will improve upon, engineer, and adapt Biochar Reactor technology developed for sub-Saharan Africa by the Climate Foundation to Arctic conditions. These reactors process human waste into energy, biochar briquettes, and useful raw materials. Biochar is free of biological pathogens and may help reduce the rates of communicable disease in villages currently using honey buckets. A winner of the Gates Foundation dry toilet challenge, the Climate Foundation will work with Kivalina leaders and Re-Locate to apply its success at developing innovative waste management technology around the world to benefit Kivalina and other Arctic village communities.
Other benefits include the entrepreneurial potential for biochar to be sold in the region and the system’s resilience to climate change. “Biochar reactors require no underground pipes, generate their own energy as a byproduct, and are easily transportable by shipping container to possible future village sites being planned in response to the impacts of climate change on Kivalina,” said Dr. Brian von Herzen, physicist, inventor, and founder of the Climate Foundation, a nonprofit with offices in Oregon and Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
Re-Locate, a transdisciplinary and global collective, will continue working with Kivalina’s City and Tribal Councils on this project, which it initiated two years ago. The collective is collaborating with Kivalina to support village relocation away from the threats of climate change. Re-Locate projects locate, make visible, and bring action to the political, social, and environmental issues underlying relocation. It will use the award to coordinate efforts to co-design the new waste management system with leaders and residents in Kivalina, government agencies, and expert consultants across the state of Alaska and around the world. International collaborators include Dr. Guenter Langergraber, who heads the Institute of Sanitary Engineering and Water Pollution Control at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna.
“Local relationships, roles, and responsibilities are critical to understand, visualize, and integrate into the design of any new waste management plan,” said Michael Gerace, founder and chief curator of Re-Locate. “Biochar systems and dry toilets play an important role, but the success of the technology depends on its effective integration with and support of the autonomously functioning practices that are operating in the village already.”
The Council of the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), composed of the highest-level environmental authorities from Canada, Mexico, and the United States, funded $1.2 million in grants under CEC’s North American Partnership for Environmental Community Action program to address environmental problems at the local level.
Read more about the award here.