Environment

Practicing 'Thrival' Not Survival: A Radical Response to Climate Change

We can use the coming crises as the wake up call we need to change our communities and not just survive, but thrive.
"Recent studies predict that the polar ice caps will be melting in less than five years," the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) reporter's consonants sliced the early morning air.

The US government under Bush has long been pretending there was no "real problem" of global warming, and up until recently the corporate U.S. media has been, for the most part, covertly supporting this dish of disinformation while independent and alternative media producers have been reporting the opposite. Now it is abundantly clear that not only did we have a problem but it would hit us much sooner than a vague number of years or even decades in the future. The latest reports from the BBC that, at least in the summer months, the poles will be all "black water" (a watery mush of dirt and melted ice) within less than five years terrified me to the core.

As a poor single mama and poverty scholar with POOR Magazine, my mind is always consumed with the struggle of poor children and families locally and globally. The BBC's report made me wonder about what will become of individuals and families like mine in a world where scarcity is becoming more and more of a reality.

Our access to stable and healthy sources of food, clean air, health care and housing are already at a crisis level, so when food and water become even scarcer due to the increase of global warming-related extreme weather like more massive flooding and fires, what will we do?

When our air becomes virtually unbreathable due to non-stop fires and inhumanly rising temperatures, (this is the worst fire season in California's history and temperatures in many places around the globe refuse to drop to under 105 degrees), what will children and elders who already have asthma and breathing problems do? And what about those who are already bearing the brunt of environmental racism and living in poor communities without access to proper medical care and with higher amounts of pollution or toxins in their communities?

A new study found that "blacks are more than twice as likely as whites to live in cities where the so-called heat island effect is expected to make temperature increases more severe," according to African Americans, Global Warming, and a Just Climate Policy for the U.S.. The report also stated that climate change is not only an environmental issue but a justice and human rights issue at the intersection of race and class.

Another report released by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) bluntly declared who would face the burden of climate change first. "It is the poorest of the poor in the world, and this includes poor people even in prosperous societies, who are going to be the worst hit," it said. Projected climate change-related exposures are likely to affect the health status of millions of poor people through increases in malnutrition, heat waves, floods, storms, fires and droughts; the increased frequency of cardio-respiratory diseases due to higher concentrations of ground level ozone related to climate change; and the migration of some infectious diseases because of changing temperatures.

In order to get through the coming crises of food, water, and climate changes, we need a new model of how to operate as a society. What can we do? As poor people, indigenous people, conscious people, all people, we need to recognize the scholarship of earth's survival and human "thrival" -- that has nothing to do with government or corporations.

"Thrival" strategies that those that are not based on western science but instead based on the lessons learned and practiced by indigenous communities for thousands of years. Such strategies include growing our own medicines and food, developing our own irrigation and water systems, and then unlike the cult of independence and consumerism so encouraged by western capitalist standards -- sharing the resources with each other in an effort to practice interdependence instead of independence. This is at the essence of real community.

As poor people already being criminalized for the sole act of being poor we must study the resistance movements of MOVE Africa over 20 years ago in Philadelphia who successfully moved off the grids of local and corporate municipalities including water, electricity and gas while living in the middle of a large urban city before the local mayor deemed their independence from corporate and civic municipalities a threat to capitalist, I mean, national security.

Other revolutionary examples of thrival strategies for poor people of color are Detroit's City of Hope and Detroit Summer -- two intergenerational, multi-cultural projects created in the heart of Detroit's poorest communities that has focused on creating self-sustainable arts, cultural and educational programs, as well as gardening and building projects off the grid. Or POOR Magazine's own HOMEFULNESS project which is a sweat-equity permanent co-housing model of art, farming and multi-colored (as opposed to only "green") equity community for homeless and formerly homeless families.

It is possible for us as humans to re-learn values from our indigenous ancestors, elders, histories and herstories and create and practice sustainable, interdependent life models in the face of this changing planet that lead us to "thrival" not just survival.

Lisa Gray-Garcia aka Tiny is the executive Director of POOR Magazine/PoorNewsNetwork. She is also the communications director for Justice Matters and the author of Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America. She is currently working on an international symposium on "thrival" for poor communities of color in the face of global climate change for 2010.
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