Wednesday, April 20th 2016
Just Transitions: A Moral Imperative
Mi Gente,

This year marks UpRose's 50th anniversary and my 20th year as the Executive Director. This journey of love has taught me much about community building and resistance. To date, our organization has successfully worked to double the amount of open space in Sunset Park, blocked the siting of a 520-megawatt power plant, trained hundreds of young people in climate justice leadership, facilitated community-based plans, and launched the Climate Justice Center. Through all of this, we have placed intergenerational indigenous leadership, community power, and environmental and social justice at the center of our work.
Receiving the Puerto Rican Women Legacy Award from Comite Noviembre
But today we are facing the most dramatic challenge ever: the dual crises of rising sea levels and  mounting inequality.
If we do not sharply change course, scientists now indicate that oceans may rise by upwards of six feet by the end of this century  [1] - within the plausible life expectancy of a baby born today. Brooklyn now stands as the most unaffordable county in the nation when considering median income versus median cost of a home [2] . Our children and grandchildren are now poised to inherit from us these twin crises that are spiraling out of control; low-income comm unities and communities of color are on the frontlines of this catastrophe.
These challenges demand a Just Transition, a  transformation of public policy that places renewable energy and a sustainable economy at the center of our priorities through the creation of local climate jobs. Consider the following circumstances we currently face: Our city's critical infrastructure is crumbling and requires immediate repair [3] . An increased frequency of climate-related disasters adds an unprecedented level of urgency to this. Many of our manufacturing zones contain underutilized potential. Working-class communities are in urgent need of dignified career-track job opportunities. As yet, we have failed to connect these dots. Today, industrial sectors that represent the spaces to build for a climate adaptable future are being quickly commercialized. Allowing the repurposing of an industrial sector that is crucial to building for a climate adaptable future, and which leads to community displacement, is immoral.
The Sunset Park community grew out of the working waterfront, which sustained generations of families with blue-collar jobs. These jobs provided dignified salaries, job security, benefits, and career advancement, all without the need for higher education. However, we are now seeing our manufacturing zones come under assault by a powerful and well-financed campaign to acquire and convert industrial properties for high-return uses that serve the tastes and desires of a privileged minority - the so-called 'creative class.' This is a radical campaign in its scope and one that operates under the banner of 'innovation.' Elitist and self-entitled at the core, this campaign charts our communities' destiny through boardroom meetings, investors' summits, lobbying functions, and public relations blitzes. They contend, disingenuously, that defenders of industrial jobs are clinging to "the days of smokestacks" and that innovation jobs are "not your grandfather's industry." Rather, we are urged to embrace creative "emerging markets" - design, tech, artisanry, marketing, making - as the only viable jobs of the future.
With Mark Ruffalo at the Solutions Project retreat
We disagree. The industrial sector should incentivize local economic development through serving the climate adaptation needs of the city and the region. The retrofitting of buildings for carbon neutrality; production of renewable energy infrastructure like solar, wind, and geothermal; expansion of mass surface transit; and manufacturing of efficient consumer goods - these emerging markets are the industries of any sensible and viable future. No smokestacks, not your grandfather's industry, these jobs comprise the true innovation economy and are central to our survival. Dr. King taught us that "a budget is a moral document." At this point, so too is our land use policy an expression of our morality. If we shift industrial land away from the needs of the working-class and the climate and towards the desires of a privileged creative class, New York City risks squandering a fleeting opportunity to implement true innovation. Every rezoning of manufacturing land takes us further from fulfilling this moral mandate. Instead, we need to be harnessing our manufacturing zones to drive the Just Transition that is required of us. This will demand tremendous political will from our public agencies and elected officials, and the courage to commit boldly and resolutely to prioritize the creation of climate jobs. And this demands a vision that puts a livable climate and sustainable economy first, a vision that places our communities on the forefront of opportunity and innovation.
Paz y Poder,
Elizabeth Yeampierre