This is what the Green New Deal looks like in real life. What an inspiration to experience first hand the harmony of a cooperative, decentralized, warm group of socially and environmentally attuned people — nonprofits working with other nonprofits, transitioning the skyscapes and the landscape naturally with an energized, renewable pulse.
Reading and writing about the inflection points of change in renewable energy and energy efficiency, I find nothing makes it real enough until standing on a solar rooftop in NYC, glancing over a manifestation of renewable energy, of urban energy — in the form of those reflective beauties we call solar panels. Enjoying the beauty of the bright solar panels mixed with the wintry Manhattan Skyscape is a special experience.
Both organizations I met with in NYC — Solar One and WE ACT — had individuals reflecting the relaxed as well as energetic personalities necessary to make something work, really work. The groups had an easy harmony. I have a lot of nice things to say about New York in general, always, but being part of a moment with pragmatic New Yorkers and their successful environmental focus cooperatively manifesting is particularly refreshing. What strikes me on meeting these green New Yorkers is the collective intelligence in motion.
The nonprofit that Chris Dobens works for, We Act For Environmental Justice, contacted me to tour the newest site. I met with Chris along with his co-operative alliances in Harlem from Solar One, Michael Barry and Michael Weiss.
Harlem always feels like home to me, with that soft energy that moves swiftly — as only the Northeast moves. I think it’s the halos, that’s what it feels like. Powered by solar adds a new flavor to that atmosphere.
“In response to the community’s demand for clean and affordable energy as well as green jobs, WE ACT for Environmental Justice partnered with Solar One and the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board to create the Solar Uptown Now (S.U.N.) program, which is currently installing solar arrays on the rooftops of 11 HDFCs and other affordable housing buildings across Northern Manhattan. In doing so, the S.U.N. program is helping people who are disproportionately burdened by energy costs and the impacts of climate change to save money, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and achieve some degree of energy independence.”
I inquired into the beginnings of each organization, We Act and Solar One. Each of the nonprofits started small, initiated by that “let’s do something the right way” moment, a strong impetus to make the world better. Both nonprofits made that first undertaking and grew. And it seems to me that they are expanding and multidimensional at the same time. Growing longer arms — thanks to passionate socially attentive minds and muscles — they bring more education into the schools, informing next year’s workforce of stable opportunities.
It is one thing to improve the landscapes, and skyscapes, of Harlem and NYC, but there is so much soul to improving people’s incomes and livelihoods. There is so much more to technologically sound renewable growth than simply electrons. Improving the social infrastructure of the city is how we keep cities thriving as well as clean.
Solar One provided more numbers on the group. During 2017, the program trained:
- 596 Students
- 323 Entry Level Unemployed Individuals
- 195 Building Staff
- 78 Individuals at Rikers
The incarceration rate is ridiculously high in our country at this point in time — as never seen before. (Source:9 classes in cultural anthropology filled with lectures by Dr. Micahal Buonanno. This subject and was discussed in depth, alternating with a recitation of Epic Poems.)
Here is a group of people transitioning not only students to the workforce, unemployed people to the workforce, and residents of the buildings, but also those who have paid that elusive debt to society and are coming back to work, people who need training and employment to continue their rehabilitation. Solar One takes them to the next level of job training and social rehabilitation. “In 2017, Solar One helped prepare 78 individuals at Rikers Island for re-entry under The Fortune Society’s I-CAN program.” The successful transition upon release from prison makes for a safer society as well as a cleaner one.
In any scenario, this group reflected the kinder personality that comes with relaxed, palpable social intelligence. “WE ACT trained some of the workers who are now employed by Grid City to do these installations. At the community’s request, WE ACT added solar training to its existing Worker Training program, which provides unemployed and underemployed members of the community with the free training they need to get good jobs.
“WE ACT’s mission is to build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low-income residents participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices.”
As I look over Solar One’s brochure, I am reminded of my recent conversation with the award-winning photographer, filmmaker, mountaineer (the list goes on) James Balog. In spite of filming some of the most startling, irrefutable images of glaciers melting, mega-fires, and other signs of climate change on our planet, James finds hope, hope in The Human Element. Well, James, you will certainly find it in Chris Dobens, Michael Barry, Michael Weiss, and their upbeat energy — the things they do as well as the whole of the organizations they represent.
The ongoing positivity, the hope, can be seen looking through an older 2018 note from Solar One’s Christopher Collins, Executor Director. I include both his first and last paragraph of a letter in the 2017 Program Report. It is as useful now as it was last April.
“If there were ever a year that evoked the ancient Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times,” surely 2017 was that year. At the Federal level, you’d have to look back to the Bush Administration — when Solar One first got started–to find so much opposition to renewable energy, climate action, and environmental protection. But we didn’t give up then and we are certainly not giving up now.
“Many changes upheavals and challenges have been overcome along the way. Throughout them all, we have persevered, and now are set to offer even more help, guidance, inspiration, and opportunity to the widest variety of people across the city, state, and ultimately, the world. The stakes are no less than the future itself.” — Christopher Collins
I will end with a recent press release from WE ACT.
WE ACT FOR ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE RESPONDS TO
GREEN NEW DEAL RESOLUTION
Positive Step But Absence Of Timelines Identified As Hurdle To
Equity, Justice For Frontline, Vulnerable And Indigenous Peoples
WASHINGTON, DC – Today Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) released a congressional resolution in support of a Green New Deal. WE ACT for Environmental Justice Deputy Director and Director of Policy Initiatives Cecil Corbin-Mark issued the following statement:
“WE ACT acknowledges Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for their leadership in shifting the politics of how climate policy is shaped at the federal level. Their recognition of the importance of the role of those working on the frontline of environmental and climate justice in drafting the Green New Deal is to be supported and applauded.
We are encouraged to see frontline, vulnerable communities and indigenous Peoples reflected in the aspirations of this resolution. For more than 30 years, we have led in the mobilization of people of color and/or low incomes in building healthy communities in the myriad of ways reflected in this congressional resolution. WE ACT has forged our very own Green New Deal on the ground in Harlem and El Barrio with our Solar Uptown Now (SUN) campaign – which put 270 kilowatts of renewable energy on the roofs of affordable housing buildings in our communities and contributed to employment, lower energy bills and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. SUN demonstrates that a Green New Deal can provide a just transition to renewable energy that combats climate change, reduces pollution, lowers energy costs, and supports a “green” economy.
We must also acknowledge that while the Green New Deal is a positive step forward, it has challenges that include the omission of a timeline for ending our dependence on fossil fuels – which disproportionately pollute the air, water and soil where frontline, vulnerable and indigenous Peoples live, work and play. In addition, the resolution, through its language, appears to flirt with technological carbon sequestration methods that are unproven at the scale of the problem.
Our goal is to continue to work with Sen. Markey, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez and other members of Congress to responsibly achieve the aims of the Green New Deal and move away from a fossil fuels base while addressing questions of economic equity, racial justice, and democratic process.”
Images provided by Solar One
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