“Populist” conference calls for investing in “green economy”

WASHINGTON – Progressive activists from across the United States met here Apr. 18 to convene the Populism 2015 Conference around the theme of “Building a Movement for People and the Planet.”

The three-day gathering, organized by the Alliance for a Just Society, Campaign for America’s Future, National People’s Action and U.S. Action, focused on rebuilding America for the 21st century, creating jobs for all, raising wages, empowering workers and reversing inequality, eliminating institutionalized racism, guaranteeing women’s economic equality, providing a high-quality education to every child, enforcing fair taxes on corporations and the wealthy, fighting for democracy and curbing the power of “big money.”

This year’s conference also took on the priority of a “green economy.” As stated by the organizers: “In the upcoming fights around state clean power plans, we want to limit nuclear and fracked natural gas, increase renewable energy sources and energy efficiency in a way that builds opportunity and community wealth for low-income communities and communities of color, as well as win public and community control over the cost of energy, where it’s purchased and how it’s used – in short, what we call ‘energy democracy.”

An Apr. 19 workshop featured a group of panelists who spoke directly to the issue of a green economy – the need for creating such an economy not just for the future but now.

Cindy Weisner, an activist from the West Coast opened her remarks by saying, “The capitalist system is not only exploitative, but extractive.” He explained how corporations are disturbing the natural environment of poor people and communities of color through power plants, fracking and pollution. Most often, power plants are established and operate in communities where there are a large number of blacks and Latinos and where most people are living in poverty.

The Environmental Protection Agency has developed a plan to reduce pollution. This plan, which includes the reduction of carbon pollution by 30 percent by 2030, also allows states, however, flexibility to choose how they will make these reductions.

Unfortunately, the EPA plan considers nuclear power and natural gas as good alternatives, does not address environmental justice concerns and allows for “cap and trade” (a legal limit on the quantity of a certain type of chemical an economy can emit each year).

It was concluded at the conference that beyond a strong EPA, organizing for action to pressure large corporations is a necessary component of the movement it will take to protect the environment. Demands must be made on states, the conference concluded, to meet energy needs with renewable energy sources, to target affected communities with investments, and to tax polluters.

Photo: James Bradford