In April 2019, I spoke at the Climate Consciousness and Community Summit organized by Kosmos Journal. My bio on their agenda stated… We will hear from climate activist and 350 Philly spokesperson, Meenal Raval. Meenal owns Philly Electric Wheels, a company specializing in folding and electric bikes. She’s also a catalyst at the Ready for 100 campaign with the Southeastern PA Group of the Sierra Club, and coordinates Solarize Southeast PA. She also leads the Litter Free Philly campaign to eliminate single use plastics in our daily lives. Leading the No LNG campaign to resist PGW’s interest in a new fossil fuel project, she recently started a weekly radio show Philly Talks Climate and developed a climate action platform for Philadelphia’s 2019 elections. Meenal will speak about how we can hold our local governments accountable on climate. Below is the talk.
Hello! I’m Meenal Raval.
About 15 years ago, I spent a week in jail for civil disobedience. What did I miss in that time in almost solitary confinement? My family? Sure. A favorite food? Sure, prison food isn’t something to write home about! Thinking back, I was wearing an orange jumpsuit, in a cell with no windows, a constant fluorescent light, and the same slightly chilly temperature. What I really missed, it turned out, was the light and dark separating day from night; the variety of lighting as clouds roll by during the day; the differences in temperature and humidity over the many days; the sound of birds and the wind in the trees. It turns out that what I missed was… The Earth.
So here were are in 2019. When the majority of scientists are sounding a clarion call to stop extracting, transporting, and most importantly, burning fossil fuels. The symptoms are many – whether you look to the oceans, the air, the soil, other species or ourselves. The fossil fuel industry’s growth at any cost is truly like a cancerous growth. A cancerous growth that we must halt.
Many of us have done what we can in our own households. I live in an all-electric house with an all-electric car and bicycle, all powered by solar panels on the roof. I strive to return to vegetarianism. Some people grow their own food. But that doesn’t seem to be enough.
Last year, I went to Los Angeles to get trained in the Climate Reality Project with Al Gore. My biggest hesitation? Getting on an airplane and the resultant emissions!! Some people here know that one reason I didn’t fly to Standing Rock with them was the airplane emissions.
I’d like to share parts of a poem that composed for all 2,200 of us at that training, for Al Gore and The Climate Reality Project. It’s called Earthrise, by Amanda Gorman.
On Christmas Eve, 1964, astronaut Bill Anders
Snapped a photo of the earth
As Apollo 8 orbited the moon.
Those three guys
To see from their eyes
Our planet looked like an earthrise.
It was our world’s first glance at itself.
Climate change is the single greatest challenge of our time,
Of this, you’re certainly aware.
So I tell you this not to scare you,
But to prepare you, to dare you
To dream a different reality,
You don’t need to be a politician
To make it your mission to conserve, to protect,
To preserve that one and only home
That is ours.
There is no rehearsal. The time is
So, earth, pale blue dot
We will fail you not.
With every dawn we carry
the weight of the fate of this celestial body orbiting a star.
And as heavy as that weight sounded, it doesn’t hold us down,
But it keeps us grounded, steady, ready,
Because an environmental movement of this size
Is simply another form of an earthrise.
I returned to Philly. But have yet to present one of those famous Al Gore slideshows that I was trained for. What I did come back with was an urgency to solve this for our region.
Some people from that training I will always remember are former Vice President Al Gore, of course.
Also at that training was a college professor who has studied the world’s oceans and been consulted by Pope Francis on the climate crisis. Dr Ramanathan told us that the climate crisis is intergenerational, and therefore, the realm of religion and morals. Dr Ramanathan’s brief message about the climate crisis — It’s happening now, there’s an urgency, and we know how to solve it.
Armed with “We know how to solve it”, my confidence grew.
The Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, encouraged us to learn from LA’s climate plan and return home asking our local leaders… How do you and stuff get around? How do you stay comfortable? How do you turn on the lights? Basically, begin asking about the energy used by transportation, buildings and how we bring on clean power to the electric grid.
Also at that training was an energy analyst, Hal Harvey, who summarized how we tackle the climate crisis with the 4 zeros. We need a zero-carbon grid, zero-emission vehicles, net zero energy buildings, and zero-waste manufacturing.
We were told that the most effective messengers are us. So, here I am. Ready to translate all of that for Southeastern PA.
The first thing that comes to mind…shockingly enough…is that we need to equip our leaders to lead on climate. This means we need to help the folks who currently hold office, and of course, every candidate. They aren’t necessarily experts in climate science nor in what needs to change.
Environmentalists are often frustrated with leaders NOT leading on climate. We need to have some compassion for people in politics. I’ve learned that they can respond only to things they need to address in the immediate term, even the well meaning ones.
Dianne Herrin, a friend who is now Mayor of nearby West Chester, said much the same at last month’s Climate Expo in Exton. She said she went into the job with all these things she wanted to achieve, but is busy dealing with so much else. She asked us to come remind her, and people like her, what they need to be doing about climate.
It is therefore incumbent on us to educate the people in politics, and bring them along. It’s our job to have them understand the consequences of their actions and the leadership they could take.
It seems like a huge task, right? With city planner Tanya Seaman, I began writing out the many steps a City could take. It’s evolved over the months, into a climate platform for Philadelphia. We did this to educate the candidates as well as the public, and have brought in ideas by various local groups.
For example, the Bicycle Coalition’s focus has been Vision Zero — zero traffic fatalities. We ended up integrating their ask into a section titled Just Transportation for All; which included electrification of public transit, infrastructure for electric vehicle charging and fair fares. Policies asked by 350 Philadelphia, Reclaim Philadelphia, and 5th Square.
The platform we developed has been shared with all City Council candidates as well as our incumbent Mayor. When we began writing out the many steps, we saw that it is just that…steps. It’s not one huge thing, but many different things that could be approached from many different angles, by experts in many fields — by departments already engaged in the work they do.
You could do this too, learning from other cities and towns. We’re asking the many candidates which of these ideas they could champion.
Tanya and I both remember a sustainability forum years ago at the Academy of Natural Sciences when Michael Nutter stood out from all the rest of the Mayoral candidates. He, of course, ended up becoming our Mayor. So this winter, we began talking about creating such a forum; this time with a focus on climate. We worked to develop questions for the candidates, and looped in other groups. This idea has come to life. There’s a forum next Wednesday evening, the 24th, at the same Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, which should position the at-large City Council candidates in front of an audience.
All of the things we propose for the world we want are good ideas, even without the climate crisis. But with a crisis ahead, we need to translate these policy ideas into action.
I began going to City Council meetings quite regularly. I learnt what the Caucus room was used for (planning the morning agenda), and what lobbying entailed (catching council members or their aides for a brief word about an issue). And found myself offering public testimony, weekly. The words seem to come between breakfast and the bus ride into town.
Though I remain frustrated at the lack of climate action in Philadelphia, I’ve found that I’m no longer angry at any one. I seem to feel that I need to do this, every day, as much as I can, for as long as I can. And that I need to remain available to help anyone I know working on climate solutions. There are so many hopeful stories to share. All else seems to fall by the wayside.
Having developed a climate platform, we realized our weekly news feed contained so many more hopeful stories! And that each possible solution needed to be explained.
We’ve therefore begun producing a weekly radio show on our local community radio station – PhillyCAM. Philly Talks Climate has had 7 shows to date. We’re developing this as a way to educate the public as well as our representatives, with regular features such as News You Can Use, and suggestions on how the listener can Engage with their local Elected Representatives. We also highlight a couple of local events where the listener can Connect with others concerned about the climate crisis. We know it’s going to take everyone; that we’re not going to solve this alone.
Our first show on Philly Talks Climate was an Energy Primer; explaining fossil fuels and emissions. The second show explained the Global School Strike for Climate and the demands from the youth. On the third show, we Introduced the Climate Platform we had developed. By show 4, we were ready to explain what a Commitment to Renewable Energy could look like. Realizing we hadn’t yet covered Energy Efficiency, that became show 5. Because the less energy you need, the less you need to invest in renewable energy. Thanks to many groups questioning a proposed fossil fuel project (PGW’s LNG facility), there’s to be a public hearing next week. A hearing about how we transition PGW away from selling fracked gas. So our sixth show was about imagining the Future of PGW. Yesterday’s show, our seventh, was about How We Get to Zero Waste, highlighting recent local and state legislation on this.
Developing the radio show has been fun so far. I’d like to think we’re laying the groundwork for a shift in our region.
Your town must have a public access station too… take to the airwaves!
Though not quite about accountability, here’s what a successful meeting could look like… You’ll need to be ready to work when this happens!!
I’m talking about a meeting with a state rep we’d never met before. What it could look like when you meet a representative who understands the imperative to Lead on Climate.
A conversation about local companies building utility scale solar in other states led him to suggest a brownfield in his district for a solar farm. He wanted to meet with people from these companies.
When we explained community choice aggregation, a policy that allows local governments to pool their electricity to purchase and/or develop power on behalf of their residents, businesses, and municipal accounts, he asked what legislation was needed to allow this in PA. Since we didn’t know, we ended up tracking down the person who developed this model in the US, and connecting the two.
With a port in his district, he wants to get on the board of the port authority. We encouraged this, and shared what we knew about Green Ports.
When we mentioned divesting City pensions from fossil fuels; he offered to connect us with someone in the state treasurer’s office.
When we talked about the need to convince the unions about the needed transition, he knew which labor groups in his district needed convincing. We shared with him a report on family sustaining jobs in the energy efficiency sector.
Earlier this week, I was at a lecture at UPenn.
A mayor from Ecuador, Mauricio Rodas, kept us riveted talking about the first metro in Ecuador, one that he personally supervised, that was developed on time and on budget. A quote from him…
If we have sustainable development goals, then it helps with every decision going forward.
This means that if your town has decided to act on climate, every decision made will be climate-wise. If it’s a parking lot, there needs to be sidewalks and bike racks, and perhaps a bus stop. If there’s a new heating system put in, it needs to be electric. If the town needs a new vehicle, it too needs to be electric. So the goals, or resolutions, are key. And we need to be at public meetings, reminding local government about this.
At the same event, we heard from Gina McCarthy, formerly of the US EPA and Jeb Bush, formerly Governor of Florida. McCarthy’s advice was:
Think about what’s happening at the local level. Everything that’s really good at the federal level started years ago at the local level. It’s got to be grassroots. So talk about it — embrace it – A zero carbon future is better. Is just. So run towards that vision. It’s our common duty and our moral responsibility
Jeb Bush’s advice was surprisingly much the same:
The funding may come from the federal level, but the ideas & drive need to come from the local level.
You get the point.
So what’s happening at the local level? The Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign, that’s what. It’s a campaign getting town by town, city by city, across the US, demanding a transition to 100% renewable energy. It’s driven not by fears of the calamities that the climate crisis brings, but by a positive vision – of what we need to do, from right where we live.
To date, 119 local municipalities across the US have committed to power themselves with 100% renewable energy. 119 munis are Ready for 100. They’ve done so by setting a public resolution, each in their own words. The sustainable development goals that Mayor Rodas talked about.
But broadly, each resolution has been to transition to 100% renewable electricity by 2035 and 100% renewable heating and transportation by 2050. This was all done with local citizens showing up at local meetings, engaging their local representatives, and not going away.
Narberth’s resolution, passed last week, set a goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2030, and heating and transportation by 2040. So it’s what you want in your town.
In Southeast PA, 13 locales have signed these resolutions. The ones that signed first are busily taking the next steps – developing their baseline energy use, learning about their aggregate buying power, convincing the elected and other citizens about the need to invest in solar, in electric vehicle charging, and sharing the latest about available grant funding. Each group learning from the other.
The night Whitemarsh township passed a Ready for 100 resolution, it became real for one person. Interested only in recycling before, she now needed to understand how this could translate to her life, her household, and began asking about her transportation options; her heating options; and more. She needed to be able to talk about this with her neighbors. This is what resolution setting can do — for citizens as well as representatives.
Also, most of our local resolutions were passed unanimously. Telling me that our supervisors and commissioners are relieved that there’s a way to solve this crisis, and pleased that there’s so much public support around it too.
Also last week, Chicago passed a Ready for 100 resolution. We need to learn more about how they achieved this, and translate it for Philadelphia.
I’m learning that we need to stop looking for a leader, and to become that ourselves. We know enough. When we need help, I trust there will be someone to lend a hand. We need to bring up the climate crisis in every conversation, with everyone.