There’s no Hispanic air, no African American air, or white air, there’s just air. And if you breathe air, and most people I know do breath air, then that makes you part of the environment and if you are concerned about the quality of that air, I would consider you an environmentalist. And if you drink water, and most people I know drink water, and you are concerned about what’s in the water, then I would consider you an environmentalist. And you eat food, and again most people I know eat food, and you are concerned about what’s in the food, then I would consider you an environmentalist. If you answer two of the three, then I would say you are an environmentalist, you just might not know it.
—Dr. Robert Bullard
A City in Crisis
Jackson is a city in crisis. As noted in the “Jackson Rising: Building the City of the Future Today” statement of the administration of the late Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, “Jackson, like many urban centers, is struggling to overcome decades of economic divestment, deindustrialization, suburban flight, a declining tax base, chronic under and unemployment, poorly performing schools, and an antiquated and decaying infrastructure.” To this we must add that Jackson is also a city confronting numerous environmental racism challenges that constitute an ongoing health crisis and human rights violations for many of our city’s residents, particularly in our most impoverished neighborhoods.
Some of these chronic problems and human rights violations include the air quality in parts of South and West Jackson created in large part by the problematic design of the city’s highways and industrial areas, leading to chronic levels of asthma and other breathing and heart related issues. Our city is also home to numerous toxin-contaminated sites, many of which are “officially” recognized as “brown fields”. However, many more sites have not been adequately identified or ignored due to inadequate monitoring on the part of government as a result of insufficient resourcing. Many of the unrecognized sites are residential or are situated near residential areas or schools and pose developmental threats to our children and cancer stimulating threats in general.
Our city’s water management issues are becoming legendary. Not only is our water often not suitable to drink it threatens to become a consistent transmitter of communicable diseases. It must be overhauled soon in order to avert systemic health threats and its potential privatization, if we not be able to meet the consent decree deadlines imposed upon the City by the EPA. It should be noted that our water issues are long-standing and directly related to intentional neglect and institutional and systemic racism. The intentional neglect of the system started when the city transitioned from being majority white to majority Black, without any corresponding transfer of the city’s wealth and means of production. Then there are issues with illegal dumping and the overall management of the city’s waste, which is not only a problem of pollution and contamination, but also a major producer of carbon and methane gases, which are the primary contributors to climate change.
Jackson, sadly, is also one of the largest contributors to climate change in the state of Mississippi as a direct result of how it receives and consumes its energy, and as result of the major industries in and around the city that are dependent on trucking, railroad, and airfreight transportation that emit tremendous amounts of hydro-carbons that are poisoning our atmosphere.
A solution: The sustainable communities initiative
To improve the quality of life in our City and for the sake of our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren we can and must end the overlapping environmental, climatic and human rights crises confronting us. Cooperation Jackson believes that we can solve these crises by organizing our communities to execute a comprehensive program that will protect our environment, curb our carbon emissions, stimulate employment, and democratically transfer wealth and equity.
We call this comprehensive program a Just Transition program which is premised on ending our systemic dependence on the hydro-carbon industry and the capitalist driven need for endless growth on a planet with limited resources, while creating a new, democratic economy that is centered around sustainable methods of production and distribution that are more localized and cooperatively owned and controlled. Cooperation Jackson’s specific contribution to a Just Transition program is our Sustainable Communities Initiative. The Sustainable Communities Initiative has two primary components:
- Building an eco-village
- Just Transition policy reform
The Eco-Village component of the initiative focuses on building a sustainable live-work community in West Jackson. The Eco-Village will be situated upon and protected by a Community Land Trust (CLT) created by Cooperation Jackson and controlled by residents of West Jackson. The Eco-Village will provide affordable housing through cooperative housing and jobs through a number of integrated and interdependent cooperative enterprises that will be situated within the community, including urban farms, composting operations, childcare, solar-thermal installation and maintenance, security, arts and culture, and a grocery store. The eco- or ecological component of the community is centered on creating an integrated solar-thermal, recycling, and composting network in the community that will provide deeply affordable and sustainable energy and green jobs that will help fight ecological degradation and climate change. The exercise of collective land and home ownership and the provision of permanent affordability and tax controls will enable us to fight the encroachment of gentrification and displacement threatening the predominantly Black working class community of West Jackson.
The broader Just Transition component of the initiative focuses on instituting policies that curb ecological destruction and climate change and incentivize the creation of sustainable jobs and cooperative enterprises in our city. We are committed to helping the city realize the vision of the Lumumba administration of making Jackson the most “sustainable city” in the South (if not the country), by committing the city government to institute policies that will enable Jackson to become a Zero-emissions and Zero-waste city by 2025.
Our Zero-emissions program calls for the following:
- Weatherization and energy efficiency retrofitting. We want to push the City of Jackson to retrofit and weatherize all of the buildings that it owns and operates, so that they conserve heat in the winter and naturally cool the facility in the summer. We also want the City to incentivize this type of retrofitting in the private and non-profit sectors of the economy with grants, low-interest loans, tax-credits, etc.
- Solar-thermal energy production. We want to encourage the City of Jackson to place solar panels on all of the buildings and facilities it possesses that have the capacity to host the equipment. We also want to encourage the City to install solar-thermal converters in all of the facilities it possesses that have the capacity to regulate its energy use via this technology. We also want to encourage the City to incentivize private and non- profit sector solar-thermal energy conversion and production and enable residents and businesses to supply excess energy to the main power grid to aid the energy company eliminate its dependence on fossil fuels.
- Zero-emissions fleet. We want to push the City of Jackson to gradually replace its entire operating fleeting, including all police vehicles, with electric vehicles. We also want to encourage the City to incentivize the purchasing of electric cars and to create publicly owned and operated electric fueling stations throughout the city to accommodate this transition.
- Expanded and sustainable public transportation. We want to push the City of Jackson to gradually acquire a fully electric public transportation fleet and to expand its public transportation vehicles, routes and hours to accommodate more efficient and accessible transportation throughout the city and metro-region.
Our Zero-waste program calls for the following:
- Comprehensive recycling. We want to encourage the City of Jackson to create a comprehensive recycling program, that includes mass public education, and a system of inducements and rewards for residents, businesses and civil institutions in the city to recycle all that can be recycled to reduce the burden on the city’s landfill site(s) and to create more private and public sectors jobs in waste management and recycling.
- Comprehensive composting. We want to encourage the City of Jackson to create a comprehensive composting program that gathers all of the organic refuse produced by households, businesses and civil institutions and include the requisite public education necessary to encourage individuals, families, businesses and institutions to participate and to adhere to all of the necessary sanitary standards.
- Comprehensive oil reuse. We want to encourage the City of Jackson to create a comprehensive cooking oil gathering program that calls for all restaurants and food service businesses and institutions producing mass amounts of used cooking oils for their food production such as schools, colleges, universities, and hospitals to recycle these materials so that they may be reused for other energy and production needs and help eliminate the need for their extended production and disposal at public expense.
- Local food production. We want to encourage the City of Jackson to create a Local Food and Production Charter, to encourage and incentivize local food production and distribution, to create more jobs and reduce carbon emissions by eliminating the need for extended transportation systems and refrigeration. The incentive program should focus exclusively on supporting producers who reside in Jackson and are drawn from historically discriminated and capital deprived communities.
As these points illustrate, there are viable and attainable solutions that we can implement now that will help our city work its way out of its health, human rights, environmental, and climate change contributing crisis. We want to encourage everyone in Jackson to support us in advancing this cause by becoming a member or supporter of Cooperation Jackson, and helping us build and execute the Sustainable Communities Initiative in order to develop our collective power and advance a just transition to a new economy and social horizon.
James Farmer accurately captures the situation face the City of Jackson and the rest of humanity on the matter of ecological sustainability:
If we do not save the environment, then whatever we do in civil rights, or in a war against poverty, then whatever we do will be of no meaning because then we will have the equality of extinction.
This article first appeared on the Cooperation Jackson website: http://www.cooperationjackson.org/blog/2015/11/10/the-jackson-just-transition-plan
- See “Jackson Rising Statement” at https://jacksonrising.wordpress.com/local/jackson-rising-statement/. ↵
- See “Climate Change Health Threats in Mississippi” at http://www.nrdc.org/health/climate/ms.asp#airpollution. ↵
- For information on identified Brownfield sites in Jackson, MS, see http://www.homefacts.com/environmentalhazards/superfunds/Mississippi/Hinds-County/Jackson.html. ↵
- See one of the most critical articles on the EPA consent decree, “EPA decree will cost Jackson Big Money” http://www.jacksonfreepress.com/news/2012/sep/06/epa-decree-will-cost-jackson-big-money/. ↵
- See “Jackson recycling facilities close” http://www.msnewsnow.com/story/23097894/2-jackson-recycling-facilities-close. ↵
- See White House “Fact Sheet: What Climate Change means for Mississippi and the Southeast and the Caribbean” http://www.agprofessional.com/news/mississippi-river-mayors-send-delegation-un-climate-change-meeting. ↵