The Front Line of Climate Justice


Last December in Copenhagen, corporate heads of state failed to make the necessary agreements to save us from ourselves by agreeing to cap greenhouse gas emissions.  If we learned anything from the recent national healthcare reform debate, it's that we can’t count on the U.S. Congress either given the tens of millions of dollars and the army of high powered lobbyists hammering away at would-be climate change legislation.

This is why it’s important for states to continue to be leaders in reversing the catastrophic course we are treading. In New Mexico, we have undertaken just such an effort.


On March 1, the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board (EIB) heard public comment for and against a petition to cap greenhouse gas emissions to 25% below 1990 levels—the minimum action the global scientific community has recommended taking to mitigate the impacts of global climate change.  Successfully adopted, the petition, submitted by the NM-based New Energy Economy and over eighteen other co-petitioners, including the SouthWest Organizing Project, would make New Mexico the leader in the nation when it comes to regulating greenhouse gasses.  This science-based cap on global warming emissions highlights what needs to be done to address our climate crises and would be a national model. 

Those who spoke in favor of the petition in front of the EIB represented lifelong residents of the Four Corners area in northwestern New Mexico—one of the most heavily polluted areas in the country--who spoke of noxious fumes and the devastating impacts of the oil, gas and coal industries on their health, land and animals.  Young people talked about their future.  A pregnant mother talked about her soon-to-be-born son.  Faith leaders, renewable energy producers, advocacy organizations, doctors, scientists and local government officials all came forward in favor of capping greenhouse emissions.  The room was packed—standing room only!

It was beautiful.

And then came the parade of polluters.  PNM, the major electric utility company in New Mexico led the way as grand marshal.  They were followed by suits representing the energy, mining, oil, gas, coal, agribusiness and other manufacturing industries, and of course, their shareholders.  Also in the parade were the various chambers of commerce and of course the new kids on the block, the ‘teabaggers.’ They cited all the usual “if we do this the sky will fall” arguments.  They argued the matter should be decided by our state legislature or by the congress at the national level or at the international level—as though the long political process necessary to overcome the massive propaganda campaigns they wage is time we can afford. .  We’ve heard it all before.

It got ugly.

We cannot hold ourselves, our health, the health of our communities, the health of future generations nor the health of our economy hostage to the narrow and greedy interests of the parade of polluters.  States, counties and cities can lead the way toward climate justice and I hope New Mexico becomes the first.

Robby Rodriguez is the Executive Director of the SouthWest Organizing Project, a grassroots community organizing group founded in 1980 to realize racial and gender equality and social and economic justice based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Since 1997, he has helped to organize New Mexico communities to achieve social change in various capacities with SWOP.