From my experience, many individuals dismiss environmental climate change as a leading and urgent issue, not because they don’t believe it to be true or important, but because they believe there are more urgent issues at hand, for example, the fact that there are 45 million people “stuck below the poverty line” in the US (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/16/poverty-household-income_n_5828974.html) or the 795 million people who suffer from “chronic undernourishment” in the world (https://www.worldhunger.org/2015-world-hunger-and-poverty-facts-and-statistics/). However what many people fail to recognize is the pervasiveness of the current and potential effects of climate change and environmental degradation on all sectors of life, and that these are inseparable from global and local inequities. https://apen4ej.org/
The Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), located in Richmond and Oakland, California, does an excellent job of synthesizing the inequalities that exist politically, economically, and socially and their intrinsic relationship to the environment. The Asian/Pacific Islander population in the San Francisco Bay Area makes up an ever increasing 24% (http://www.bayareacensus.ca.gov/bayarea.htm). People often discount the struggle of the Asian American and Asian communities in America as they are often named the “model minority” and excluded from discourse around race and POC communities. However, there is a long history of racism and discrimination towards people of East Asian, Southeast Asian, South Asian, West Asian, and Pacific Islander descent that is still in effect today. This is especially true in the Bay Area, which has historically been a hub for API immigrants. (https://apen4ej.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Skilled-immigration-masks-APA-poverty.pdf)
Specifically organizing in the East Bay, APEN promotes an agenda that involves the API community, consisting of low income youths, immigrants, and refugees, to “develop an alternative agenda for environmental, social and economic justice” (https://apen4ej.org/who-we-are/mission-and-vision/). Their mission and vision statement clearly demonstrates a basic understanding that the social and economic welfare of the community is dependent on its access to a safe and healthy environment, and vice versa. One cannot occur without the other.
APEN implements a three-pronged approach consisting of civic engagement through electoral organizing, building membership and power through community organizing, and “advancing structural changes” through policy (https://apen4ej.org/what-we-do/policy/). In the “policy” page on the website, APEN sites the “economic environment” as having the greatest impact on the natural one. Within the current capitalist system, nationally and globally, money seems to control the political, the social, the environmental. This goes to show that it is impossible to consider environmental conditions and climate change in terms of science alone; it must be situated within current economic structures.
Starting in 1993 in Richmond, APEN originally worked with the Laotian refugee community (generally non-English speaking), living in proximity to the Chevron Refinery. Throughout their campaign APEN has won key victories to improve the air quality and general quality of life for this community. They won a community multilingual warning system in 2001, stopped Chevron Refinery’s expansion in 2010, and passed the Richmond General Plan in 2012 (https://apen4ej.org/what-we-do/organizing/Richmond/). APEN has transformed the Laotian immigrant community into a highly politicized group that uses grassroots organizing to fight for environmental justice. (https://apen4ej.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Lipo.Award_.pdf) This comes a surprising and unique case, many low income communities of color experience environmental injustice. (https://apen4ej.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/With-an-Eye-on-the-Future-Ethnic-Californians-Embrace-Environmentalism.pdf)
Later on in 2002, APEN expanded to Oakland, where they mainly worked for housing and workers’ rights within the APA community in Chinatown (https://apen4ej.org/what-we-do/organizing/Oakland/), where my grandmother lives. Although APEN functions within and across political lines, largely recognizing these borders in terms of its policy work, the fact that it has spread across the East Bay over time, demonstrates the recognition of very real political forces at work while simultaneously considering environmental effects that cross borders.
APEN’s political (and subsequently environmental) victories in the East Bay have not been won alone. APEN often collaborates and participates in coalitions spanning race and the environment. However APEN is one of few organizations that actually combines the two, functioning at an intersection that is often passed over. What’s interesting is that APEN, beginning in 1993, grew out of a national push to recognize environmental racism as an important and real trend. The First People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit of the Environmental Justice Platform convened in 1991 (https://www.ejnet.org/ej/). Since then there has been a greater push to pay attention to the intersection of race and the environment, however it is rare to find an organization that uses the environment to push a social agenda.