Lauren Richter: …assis­tant pro­fes­sor of envi­ron­men­tal stud­ies here at RISD in HPSS and NCSS, and I will intro­duce our dia­logue ses­sion, Racial Capitalism, Designs for Energy Transition and the Green New Deal. We have three speak­ers. Myles Lennon is assis­tant pro­fes­sor of the envi­ron­ment and soci­ety and anthro­pol­o­gy at Brown. Shalanda Baker is pro­fes­sor of pub­lic pol­i­cy, law, and urban affairs at the School of Law at Northeastern University. And Jacqueline Patterson is direc­tor of the envi­ron­men­tal and cli­mate jus­tice pro­gram at the NAACP. Please join me in wel­com­ing our fan­tas­tic panel. 

Myles Lennon: Hi every­body. So first a huge thank you to Damian and Tina and RISD for hav­ing us here. It’s such a plea­sure to be back at this…maybe annu­al event. And it’s a spe­cial hon­or to share the stage with Jacqui and Shalanda. I’m some­times prone to hyper­bole but I’m inclined to think that Shalanda is prob­a­bly the pre­em­i­nent legal schol­ar of just tran­si­tions in the United States. [applause] Probably fair to say. And if any­one has been keep­ing half an eye open to the cli­mate jus­tice move­ment over the last few years you have cer­tain­ly seen or encoun­tered Jacqui in some capac­i­ty. She is ubiq­ui­tous. I have a feel­ing that she is also in Washington DC and Baltimore and Louisiana right now, as she sits here on the stage at the same time. Which is quite a feat. So, we should be real­ly hon­ored to hear from Jacqui, and to hear about all the great work at the NAACP with regard to envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice and just transitions. 

I also want to note, last year I’m pret­ty sure I was the only black par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Climate Futures sym­po­sium. And this year as you could see on the stage we’ve at least triple that fig­ure. Which is a real step in the right direc­tion. And all jokes aside, while I don’t want to endorse a crude pol­i­tics of rep­re­sen­ta­tion I do think that it’s real­ly impor­tant that we are fore­ground­ing the issues that we’ll be talk­ing about today in this broad­er dis­cus­sion about the Green New Deal and just tran­si­tions, as racial cap­i­tal­ism is not sim­ply inci­den­tal to or an impor­tant fea­ture of the Green New Deal and our broad­er sus­tain­abil­i­ty chal­lenges. Instead it must be cen­tral to how we’re think­ing about these challenges. 

And so, specif­i­cal­ly today we’re gonna have a dia­logue on the Green New Deal, just tran­si­tions, and racial cap­i­tal­ism. Some of you might be very famil­iar with the term racial cap­i­tal­ism. Others of you, this might be the first time that you’ve heard it. So I want to do a quick moment to sort of demys­ti­fy that term before actu­al­ly get­ting into the dia­logue. Do you guys want to set any inten­tions or any­thing for intro­duc­to­ry sake or? 

Shalanda Baker: Maybe once we do the…

Lennon: Once we open it up? Okay. Okay, so racial cap­i­tal­ism, very crude­ly and sim­plis­ti­cal­ly we can think of it as the extrac­tion of sur­plus val­ue from racially-marginalized bod­ies. But, I want to move out­side of that sort of nar­row def­i­n­i­tion and try to his­tori­cize the term to give some broad­er con­text. The term racial cap­i­tal­ism” actu­al­ly first emerged in Apartheid South Africa in the 1970s. And in that way, I think it’s instruc­tive to…in that it emerged from anti-apartheid activists who were think­ing about what a tran­si­tion to a post-apartheid move­ment would look like and how cap­i­tal­ism would or hope­ful­ly would­n’t fig­ure into that post-apartheid move­ment and in that way it demon­strates how racial cap­i­tal­ism is real­ly an adept term for think­ing about broad­er soci­etal tran­si­tions like the ones that we are try­ing to embark on with the Green New Deal. 

But racial cap­i­tal­ism as a term has real­ly gained promi­nence in the work of Cedric Robinson, who is a land­mark black Marxist. Ostensibly coined the term as we present­ly under­stand it at least in schol­ar­ly and activist worlds in 1983. And although he was a black Marxist and also coined the term the black rad­i­cal tra­di­tion,” he actu­al­ly con­cep­tu­al­ized racial cap­i­tal­ism as a way of push­ing back against, and offer­ing a dif­fer­ent frame for under­stand­ing how cap­i­tal­ism and anti-blackness go hand in hand, a dif­fer­ent frame than how it was often tra­di­tion­al­ly con­cep­tu­al­ized in left­ist, Marxist spaces. 

And the sort of tra­di­tion­al left­ist, Marxist under­stand­ing of the inte­gra­tions of cap­i­tal­ism and racism, or white suprema­cy, go some­thing like this. The set­tler colo­nial­ists, the Western impe­ri­al­ists, need­ed a broad ratio­nale for their extrac­tive and exploita­tive prac­tices and so, they cre­at­ed race. So they cre­at­ed indige­nous peo­ple. So they cre­at­ed the black race. And that social con­struc­tion in the time of colo­nial­ism was the basis of a broad­er racial appa­ra­tus that worked to legit­imize the inequal­i­ty of cap­i­tal­ism. That’s the sort of tra­di­tion­al left­ist understanding. 

Cedric Robinson took it a lot deep­er. He said no no no no. We need to look not at indus­tri­al cap­i­tal­ism, not at set­tler colo­nial­ism, not at the transat­lantic slave trade as the gen­e­sis of racial cap­i­tal­ism. We need to look before mod­ern cap­i­tal­ism as we under­stand it. We need to look to Western European feu­dal­ism. And the way he saw European feu­dal­ism oper­at­ing was through the racial­iza­tion of Slavs, of gyp­sies, of Roma, of Jews, of the Irish. And the ways in which those mar­gin­al­ized groups were racial­ized, were marked as an oth­er, was cen­tral to the accu­mu­la­tion and extrac­tion exe­cut­ed by feu­dal lords, such that the whole basis of feu­dal lords’ capac­i­ty to accu­mu­late cap­i­tal and wealth was the racial­iza­tion of these oth­er­ized groups. And in that way, the extrac­tive, exploita­tive log­ic that we see is foun­da­tion­al to con­tem­po­rary cap­i­tal­ism that was obvi­ous­ly informed as set­tler colo­nial­ism, Western impe­ri­al­ism, and indus­tri­al neolib­er­al post-industrial cap­i­tal­ism as we under­stand it today. That extrac­tive log­ic neces­si­tat­edneces­si­tat­ed a log­i­cal of racial­iza­tion, neces­si­tat­ed racial­ized oth­ers, such that racial­iza­tion and cap­i­tal­ism, or extrac­tion, went hand in hand. There was not a cap­i­tal­ism and then a racism. White suprema­cy neces­si­tat­ed cap­i­tal­ism and vice versa. 

And so, that is I think a real­ly impor­tant way… The his­tor­i­cal under­stand­ing that there was no cap­i­tal before racial­iza­tion is real­ly impor­tant for tend­ing to the extrac­tive fos­sil fuel lega­cies that we’re try­ing to unearth today with the Green New Deal and just tran­si­tion work in so many ways. And I will just do a tee­ny tiny sum­ma­ry. I think most peo­ple in this room are aware of how the fos­sil fuel and extrac­tive indus­tries have his­tor­i­cal­ly been based on and con­tin­ue to per­pet­u­ate white suprema­cy and the den­i­gra­tion of mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties. We can look to the Chevron refin­ery plant in Richmond, California. We can look to the petro­chem­i­cal indus­try across the Gulf. We could look to the Keystone and pro­posed Keystone XL pipelines in the Dakotas. We can to, in my com­mu­ni­ty in Queens, the largest fos­sil fuel pow­er sta­tion in the largest city of the United States being right across the street from the largest hous­ing projects. 

And in all of these sites, the den­i­gra­tion of peo­ple of col­or, of black and indige­nous peo­ple, was foun­da­tion­al to the extrac­tive lega­cies that we see. And that’s just in the United States, right. When we take a broad­er lens and look glob­al­ly, we see the same facets of racial cap­i­tal­ism oper­a­tive in the work­ings of fos­sil fuel industry.

And so, if we want to enact a just tran­si­tion and move toward anoth­er moment, deal­ing with racial cap­i­tal­ism can­not be a side game. It can­not be an impor­tant part of the agen­da. It needs to be the agen­da. And at least that I hope is sort of the basis of our dis­cus­sion today. 

And so with that sort of his­tor­i­cal back­drop, by way of intro­duc­tion I’m hop­ing that Shalanda and Jacqui, if you can tell us a lit­tle bit about your work and also, though, how this idea of racial cap­i­tal­ism is either salient to or rel­e­vant to the work that you do or the com­mu­ni­ties that you work with. 

Shalanda H. Baker: Good morn­ing every­body. We’re still awake. We’re still alive and well. I see a col­league, a cou­ple col­leagues here. Welcome. 

So, just to back up a lit­tle bit. So I’m a legal schol­ar. I have a joint appoint­ment, so I do work in the School of Public Policy at Northeastern as well. And my work is broad­ly sit­u­at­ed with­in an emerg­ing area of schol­ar­ship called ener­gy jus­tice. And so ener­gy jus­tice is trans­dis­ci­pli­nary. It’s pro­lif­er­at­ed main­ly in the UK, which is fas­ci­nat­ing, in terms of the schol­ars who’ve gen­er­at­ed the most knowl­edge around that and the most sort of arti­cles around that. 

Here in the US we’re…just now start­ing to wrap our arms around this term called ener­gy jus­tice. It’s root­ed in and builds upon envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice, which was a move­ment that start­ed in the 1990s…there’s an area of schol­ar­ship as well that’s sort of run­ning in tan­dem with envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice. And envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice was very much in response to the envi­ron­men­tal move­ment of the 1970s, right, which took sort of a race-blind, class-blind approach to pro­tect­ing the envi­ron­ment. And there were com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, main­ly in the south, who were sort of say­ing ‚“This envi­ron­men­tal move­ment does­n’t speak to us. It does­n’t speak to our unique expe­ri­ences.” And there were some land­mark reports in the late 80s that sort of illus­trat­ed the ways that com­mu­ni­ties of col­or were unique­ly burdened—particularly black com­mu­ni­ties were unique­ly bur­dened by devel­op­ment. So not just the ener­gy sys­tem but broad devel­op­ment in cer­tain pock­ets of the coun­try and even with­in cer­tain cities, where as Myles described, there were con­cen­tra­tions of harms. 

And so, the envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice move­ment real­ly did take root in the 1990s. We had sort of a high water mark in 1994 with President Clinton sign­ing Executive Order 12898, which real­ly said that look, in every gov­ern­ment that deci­sion that’s made we have to take into account con­sid­er­a­tions of envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice, which were real­ly look­ing at the sub­stan­tive or dis­trib­uted impacts of rules and laws, as well as the pro­ce­dur­al jus­tice aspects of how that law was made. And so that meant that every­one had to have a seat at the table. 

Climate jus­tice came along in the ear­ly 2000s, which was very much a recog­ni­tion that com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, island nations, main­ly folks in the Global South would be dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly harmed by cli­mate change when they did very lit­tle to con­tribute to the problem. 

So ener­gy jus­tice emerges from that rich his­to­ry. I want­ed to give that lit­tle con­text. Because ener­gy jus­tice is very con­cerned that our tran­si­tion away from fos­sil fuels will actu­al­ly repli­cate the injus­tices and inequal­i­ties of the fos­sil fuel sys­tem. And so I sort of acci­den­tal­ly found myself writ­ing in this space when I found myself in Oaxaca, Mexico—that’s a long sto­ry. But— And I’m hap­py to answer ques­tions about it. But essen­tial­ly, I lived in Oaxaca dur­ing a time that—after leav­ing legal prac­tice, and while I was there I met indige­nous peo­ples, farm­ers, who were fight­ing against large-scale wind ener­gy devel­op­ment. And so at that time there was­n’t real­ly a dis­course around how cli­mate change-based devel­op­ment could actu­al­ly repli­cate inequal­i­ty, and I got real­ly inter­est­ed in how indige­nous peo­ples were sim­i­lar­ly dis­pos­sessed, and dis­placed, and mar­gin­al­ized through so-called clean ener­gy devel­op­ment. And so that began my jour­ney, which was about ten years ago. I’ve been writ­ing about that since then. And that work led me to Hawaii, where I real­ized that we were actu­al­ly repli­cat­ing much of that injus­tice in the US. And now I’m ful­ly steeped in it. So, that’s just by way of intro­duc­tion back­ground on the prin­ci­ples that guide my work. 

Jacqui Patterson: So my name is Jacqui Patterson, I’m the senior direc­tor of the Environmental and Climate Justice Program at the NAACP. Our pro­gram start­ed ten years ago in October of 2009. And when it first start­ed it was start­ed out of this com­mis­sion to engage African Americans on cli­mate change that was facil­i­tat­ed by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. And because the NAACP was the only group in that com­mis­sion that had a base, in terms of our twelve hun­dred branch­es and chap­ters and half a mil­lion mem­bers, they decid­ed that they want to give a dif­fer­en­tial grant to the NAACP to be kind of the boots on the ground in terms of engag­ing African Americans on cli­mate change. 

And so I was brought in as the found­ing direc­tor of the pro­gram, and very ear­ly on was edu­cat­ing myself, because I came from a back­ground of doing work around inter­na­tion­al HIV and AIDS, and pub­lic health, and human rights, and eco­nom­ic jus­tice, but not nec­es­sar­i­ly from a back­ground of doing envi­ron­men­tal and cli­mate jus­tice. And so, some of the first things that struck me as I came on board was a report that I read in 2009 that was put out by the American Association of Blacks in Energy. And the sta­tis­tic has stuck with me that African Americans spend $41 bil­lion on ener­gy per year. That we have 1.1% of the jobs in the ener­gy sec­tor. And that we gaine less than 0.1% of the rev­enue from the ener­gy sec­tor. And that real­ly just told the sto­ry of what we talked about in terms of racial­ized cap­i­tal­ism for sure. 

And so, going from that to see­ing all of my col­leagues talked about in terms of the fact that we are on the front­lines of ener­gy and jus­tice in terms of the dis­pro­por­tion­ate expo­sure to pol­lu­tion? and yet see­ing how in this kind of market-based econ­o­my that we are com­plete­ly left out of that mar­ket, just real­ly says every­thing. We’re left out of that mar­ket except for being com­modi­ties in that mar­ket. And so that real­ly fueled a lot of the pas­sion that I have around focus­ing around ener­gy jus­tice and why so much of our pro­gram has been focused on ener­gy justice. 

From there I start­ed to see also even that gov­ern­ments— We worked a lot in the in the south in Mississippi and Alabama and so forth. And when we talk about kind of tax­a­tion with­out rep­re­sen­ta­tion, we worked with the rur­al elec­tric coops there, and were just struck by the fact that we have kind of a mod­ern day Apartheid when it comes to rur­al elec­tric­i­ty coops, which is how a lot of folks in those areas get their elec­tric­i­ty, where for the most part these rur­al elec­tric coops are in pri­mar­i­ly African American juris­dic­tions where the entire boards of direc­tors for the rur­al elec­tric coops are white American. 

So that just struck me in terms of who’s making—you know, not only are we not gain­ing rev­enue, that we’re being dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly impact­ed by how we’re cre­at­ing ener­gy. But then we’re also pay­ing out—and in places like Mississippi and Alabama, out of the whole nation, peo­ple pay the high­est pro­por­tion of their income towards ener­gy. So they have the high­est lev­el of ener­gy bur­den pro­por­tion­ate to the rest of the coun­try, and yet they’re in a place where—by def­i­n­i­tion rur­al elec­tric coops are owned by those mem­bers. But yet they don’t even know that they have own­er­ship and don’t know that they have rights. And don’t know that the prof­its, if there’s any excess­es that are in the bud­get of a rur­al elec­tric coop at the end of the year they should be going back to the com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers. Don’t know that the folks are actu­al­ly amass­ing that mon­ey and putting it towards oth­er things instead of return­ing it to these often very impov­er­ished com­mu­ni­ty members. 

And so those kind of dynam­ics, and there’s so many oth­er exam­ples of sim­i­lar, that real­ly points to the very points that you were talk­ing about and both of you were talk­ing about in the begin­ning, and why it dri­ves us in see­ing this as very square­ly a civ­il and human rights issue. So, thank you.

Lennon: Thank you, thank. So, I do want to dig deep into some of the conun­drums and prob­lem­at­ics pre­sent­ed by racial cap­i­tal­ism as it relates to our work. But I thought it’d be help­ful to just start off on a lit­tle more of an opti­mistic note or on a high note. I’m won­der­ing, in very broad brush­strokes, what would com­prise your visions for a Green New Deal that tends to racial cap­i­tal­ism? What are the build­ing blocks, what are the key frame­work pieces that we should be think­ing about or mov­ing towards with a Green New Deal that atten­u­ates or address­es racial capitalism?

Patterson: So one thing I would def­i­nite­ly say is, with the Green New Deal being cen­tered around a lot of the kind of pow­er and gov­er­nance being in the state basi­cal­ly? that I think one of the first things that we need to do is to actu­al­ly restore democ­ra­cy so that we are the state [some­one in audi­ence yells, Woo!”] in a way that— Yeah, thank you. And so— [brief applause] So I think in order for us to even have any hope of it being what it should be that we need to you know, reverse Citizens United, we need to get mon­ey out of pol­i­tics in gen­er­al, we need to real­ly have a true democ­ra­cy, a true rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al democ­ra­cy, so that I think has to be a pre­req­ui­site for any notion of mov­ing suc­cess­ful­ly for­ward. So that’s the first thing I would say. 

Baker: I love your opti­mistic tone. I’m actu­al­ly real­ly grate­ful for the premise of this con­fer­ence. You know, I think when the Green New Deal dropped, there was a lot of opti­mism around it, and then a lot of skep­ti­cism, right. And so, I’m grate­ful that we’re still hav­ing this con­ver­sa­tion, that it has become some­thing that’s real­is­tic for the 2020 Democratic pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, at least on the Democratic side. 

You know, I think the first and fore­most thing that I would pro­mote in a Green New Deal approach is that peo­ple of col­or, women, indige­nous peo­ple, should be at the front in lead­ing the design of what­ev­er ener­gy sys­tem looks like, and the dis­trib­u­tive con­se­quences of that, right. So you know, one of the con­tro­ver­sial aspects of the Green New Deal actu­al­ly orig­i­nat­ed from the move­ment itself. And I think it sort of speaks to some of these ideas of own­er­ship and who would own this tran­si­tion, who would own the ideas in it. I mean, com­mu­ni­ties of col­or have been talk­ing about the ideas that are embed­ded in the Green New Deal for—since the envi­ron­ment jus­tice move­ment, right, and since the very begin­ning of this dis­cus­sion around the dis­trib­u­tive con­se­quences of our cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem. And so I think mak­ing sure that their voic­es are at the table is key. And not only mak­ing sure that they’re at the table but that they’re lead­ing. I think that’s real­ly essen­tial to this. 

I want to pick up on some­thing that also was men­tioned in the first pan­el around the obfus­ca­tion of the social jus­tice issues with­in a tech­ni­cal and finan­cial frame. You know, Jacqui you men­tioned that when you came into ener­gy you were sort of…you did­n’t fully—you weren’t ful­ly versed. And I think there are a lot of tech­ni­cal terms, there are a lot of sort of—there’s a lot of mask­ing that hap­pens. But at the end of the day, ener­gy is very much about dis­trib­ut­ing and order­ing our soci­ety, dis­trib­ut­ing ben­e­fits and goods and bads, and order­ing our soci­ety in so many ways. And so I think once we sort of unmask that and move beyond the tech­ni­cal and finan­cial, we’ll real­ly get into I think a good conversation.

Lennon: Yeah, love that. Thank you. Well I want to start dig­ging into some of the more com­pli­cat­ed stuff. Because there’s a lot of com­pli­cat­ed stuff when we think about the Green New Deal, peri­od, let alone when we try to fore­ground ques­tions of racial cap­i­tal­ism. And specif­i­cal­ly I want to focus for sec­ond on the inter­con­nec­tions between bottom-up, grass­roots activism, and a state-led or state-centered vision for wide­spread exten­sive change. And as we know, the Green New Deal as a con­cept and as a polit­i­cal icon is very much a prod­uct of polit­i­cal orga­niz­ing on the ground. While it’s dif­fi­cult and con­tro­ver­sial to try to do a com­pre­hen­sive geneal­o­gy of the term, it real­ly as far as I can tell after the Friedman piece real­ly took form in the 2010 guber­na­to­r­i­al elec­tion in New York state, [some­thing yelled from the audi­ence] where the Green—that’s right, yeah, where the Green Party, on a grass­roots lev­el cham­pi­oned the idea of a Green New Deal sub­se­quent­ly in the 2014 elec­tion. And the envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice move­ment and the nascent cli­mate jus­tice move­ment, pock­ets of it, took up the term Green New Deal. And obvi­ous­ly it was tremen­dous­ly pop­u­lar­ized over the last year with the advent of the Sunrise move­ment. And so, movement-building, peo­ple on the ground orga­niz­ing, have been cen­tral to the rise of this concept. 

And yet, the vision put forth often when we think about a Green New Deal, cer­tain­ly in the con­gres­sion­al res­o­lu­tion, is very much state-centric. It’s very much focused on an expan­sive wel­fare state, and the abil­i­ty of gov­ern­ment to trans­form soci­ety. And I want to sug­gest that that rela­tion between grass­roots, bottom-up change and the vision of an expan­sive state becomes some­what prob­lem­at­ic when we start to look at things with regard to racial cap­i­tal­ism. And specif­i­cal­ly I want to linger for a sec­ond on the impor­tant work of envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice schol­ar Laura Pulido. If you don’t know her work, you should check it out. And you know, a cou­ple years ago, Laura Pulido did a real­ly quite crit­i­cal autop­sy, in so many words, of the envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice move­ment. Obviously, she’s a sup­port­er of the envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice move­ment and calls atten­tion to the suc­cess­es. But she also sug­gest­ed that the move­ment has failed in many respects, pre­cise­ly because it has failed to rec­og­nize that envi­ron­men­tal racism goes hand in hand with racial cap­i­tal­ism. And she sug­gest­ed that fail­ure to make that link­age lent itself to a pol­i­tics that put a lot of faith in the state. That said the state can ame­lio­rate a lot of the injus­tices that we see in our com­mu­ni­ty. The state is a real­ly impor­tant ally in the fight for justice. 

And part of why that’s prob­lem­at­ic the way she sort of sees these con­nec­tions is, the state has tra­di­tion­al­ly facil­i­tat­ed, or at least been com­pla­cent with, or com­plic­it with, tides of racial cap­i­tal­ism. And obvi­ous­ly we can look to the present admin­is­tra­tion if we’re look­ing on the fed­er­al lev­el for no short­age of instances of the ways in which gov­ern­ment can per­pet­u­ate racial capitalism. 

But look to the Obama admin­is­tra­tion as well. Obviously we can cel­e­brate the Clean Power Plan and the Paris cli­mate agree­ment. But just to take one exam­ple that comes to the top of my head, the Trans-Pacific part­ner­ship, TPP, which the Obama admin­is­tra­tion cham­pi­oned vir­u­lent­ly, would do all sorts of harm to com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, envi­ron­men­tal harm, and was a par­a­dig­mat­ic exam­ple of what racial cap­i­tal­ism looks like in a neolib­er­al era. Thankfully, the TPP has not been enact­ed. But I just say that to point to the sort of dif­fi­cul­ties with even if you have a lib­er­al demo­c­ra­t­ic state in pow­er, the state is not nec­es­sar­i­ly your friend, which is the point that Laura Pulido makes. And she sug­gests that an envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice move­ment needs to not only fight cor­po­rate pow­er, it needs to also take an adver­sar­i­al ori­en­ta­tion to the state. 

And that adver­sar­i­al ori­en­ta­tion is obvi­ous­ly some­what at odds with the vision for a Green New Deal, cham­pi­oned by the Sunrise move­ment, cham­pi­oned by many of us in this room. And so, I don’t think we need to think so black and white terms of is the state good or is the state bad, right. The state clear­ly is very impor­tant to bring­ing about wide­spread change. So the ques­tion that I have is not should we reject the state, should we get mar­ried to the state, but rather how do we tend to this conun­drum? What role should an expan­sive state have in our vision for the future and in our work for bring­ing about com­pre­hen­sive change? And in what ways should we con­tin­ue to be skep­ti­cal of the state and con­tin­ue to push back against the state as part of our move­ment politics? 

Baker: Anyone in the audi­ence? [laugh­ter] I’m kid­ding, I’m kid­ding. That’s such a huge question— 

Lennon: Huge. I know. It’s not fair. Well I start­ed with the vision.

Baker: —Myles.

Lennon: I know, it’s not fair. 

Baker: Um…

Lennon: Well I start­ed with the vision.

Baker: You did. That was a soft­ball. Um. So…I mean I think it was inter­est­ing that in your set-up you made a dis­tinc­tion between the state and cor­po­rate inter­ests, right. I mean, I don’t know that there is a dis­tinc­tion, at least in this day, and Jacqui you allud­ed to that as well. 

I mean I think…frontline com­mu­ni­ties, com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, island nations, are get­ting it from all sides. And so, the ques­tion is you know, short of a revolution…um, which I’m not opposed to, by the way…you know, there has to be some rela­tion­ship. And so I think we have to engage the state. I’m not sure… I mean, in an ide­al world this all works, right. Our Constitution the­o­ret­i­cal­ly works. I mean, the things that are unfold­ing today and over the last few weeks illus­trate that there are some flaws. You know, I think the orig­i­nal sin of slav­ery in this coun­try, and the dis­pos­ses­sion and geno­cide of indige­nous peo­ples in this coun­try sort of has marred us. And as a lawyer, I am con­stant­ly fight­ing against how much to change and up in the sys­tem ver­sus how much to work with­in the mar­gins. I sort of resolved myse—or resigned myself to con­tin­ue to work in the mar­gins because it is the sys­tem we have, but not hold out hope for this deep­er transformation. 

And you know, Jacqui you and I meant six, sev­en years ago. I think we were both start­ing this jour­ney to under­stand what ener­gy jus­tice was. I mean I think at that time ener­gy jus­tice as a frame, as a the­o­ret­i­cal frame, as an activist prac­tice, was­n’t yet ful­ly formed. Now we see things like ener­gy democ­ra­cy tak­ing hold, which is essen­tial­ly the idea that folks should own their own pow­er, right. And so I think in some ways, the con­structs that I’m work­ing with­in are kind of try­ing to work with the state, but also mak­ing more space for pub­lic own­er­ship of assets, you know, coop­er­a­tive own­er­ship of assets, which in many ways are old ideas. But I think if we had the type of state that we want­ed, we would say that there is a role to play. But I think we have to be vig­i­lant and keep our eyes on the oppor­tu­ni­ty for rev­o­lu­tion as we con­tin­ue to work with­in the mar­gins of the sys­tem that is already defined. So that’s kind of a lawyer­ly answer, I think. 

Patterson: I would also agree and…well, although maybe I would say that I’m not only not opposed to rev­o­lu­tion I’m in favor of rev­o­lu­tion. Very much so, although NAACP might not really…cosign with that. And I do believe in order for us to tru­ly have lib­er­a­tion or for us to tru­ly have human rights and so forth that we can’t…the sys­tem isn’t going to allow for it, ful­ly. We’re only going to be able to tweak it, to make it you know, some­what sur­viv­able? but even sur­viv­ing for some folks isn’t pos­si­ble in this sys­tem. And so I do think that we absolute­ly have to change the sys­tem alto­geth­er.

But, as we say there’s also the mean­time. That’s the work that we’re doing. We’re work­ing towards that larg­er sys­tems change but also rec­og­niz­ing that we have to work with what we’ve got now to make it as sur­viv­able as pos­si­ble. But to tru­ly have what we need, par­tic­u­lar­ly if we’re advanc­ing mod­els that are so state-administered and state-controlled and state-government as the Green New Deal is, that we have to have a dif­fer­ent state. A very dif­fer­ent state.

Baker: I com­plete­ly agree. And I actu­al­ly just want­ed to lift up one of the ten­sions that’s in this work, right. Right now we have world lead­ers descend­ing on Marid to sort of con­tin­ue to ham­mer out a plan to com­bat glob­al cli­mate change. And one of the ten­sions in this move away from fos­sil fuels, and this rush to avert cat­a­stroph­ic cli­mate cri­sis is that equi­ty often gets left out of the dis­cus­sion. And, you know when I first read the Green New Deal, I…I won­dered if it went far enough? Because equi­ty is not about equal­i­ty, as many of you know. It’s not about mak­ing sure that we all start off on the same page. It’s look­ing back, and ensur­ing that those who have been harmed…and, I mean you could go back 200 years, right, 400 years, to think about some of the lega­cies of harm in this coun­try. They should be placed at the front, right. To receive the ben­e­fits of the new sys­tem. So, you know, that would be my only cri­tique of the Green New Deal, that I’m not sure it goes far enough in sort of that equi­ty piece. 

And we have this ten­sion, right. The peo­ple I talk to in the main­stream envi­ron­men­tal move­ment say, We’ve got to fix this like, yes­ter­day. We had to fix it twen­ty, thir­ty, forty years ago.” Equity? You know…caring about peo­ple of col­or, com­mu­ni­ties of col­or? You know, we’ll deal with that after the fact. We’ll make sure that it’s all nice and tied up in a bow after the fact. And the truth is, we won’t be able to avert cat­a­stroph­ic cli­mate change, unless we make sure that every­one comes with us. And so that’s the…we have the sort of set­up in terms of ten­sion, but the fal­la­cy of it is that we can’t do this unless every­body moves for­ward, and cer­tain peo­ple are actu­al­ly at the front of the line.

Lennon: Absolutely. And I can’t help but think that part of that process in cen­ter­ing peo­ple who’ve tra­di­tion­al­ly not been at the front of the line has to entail a more nuanced and broad­er under­stand­ing of the role of the state. We can­not sim­ply look to a sin­gle piece of fed­er­al leg­is­la­tion or to the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to be our sav­ior, but that does­n’t mean that the state can’t play a salient role in mak­ing sure that peo­ple who’ve tra­di­tion­al­ly not had a seat at the table are at the table and lead­ing the discussion. 

And I think that one way in which we go about sort of nuanc­ing the dis­cus­sion is rec­og­niz­ing that the state is not just the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. We have local gov­ern­ment. We have coun­ty boards of elec­tions. We have state util­i­ty com­mis­sions. We have obvi­ous­ly state gov­ern­ment. There’s gov­er­nance on a region­al lev­el. There are so many dif­fer­ent facets of gov­er­nance. And when we look broad­er, I think that that— When we look broad­er we also rec­og­nize that many of us actu­al­ly are lead­ing the fight. I mean, I think it’s prob­lem­at­ic to try to think of the state as a mono­lith. You talk to local leg­is­la­tors in munic­i­pal­i­ties all over the coun­try, and you find a lot of real­ly pro­gres­sive peo­ple, with activist back­grounds, who get it. Who under­stand the lim­i­ta­tions of their posi­tion. And who are doing every­thing they can to nav­i­gate that posi­tion. And we need to lift those peo­ple up because often those peo­ple are the peo­ple that come from our com­mu­ni­ties, and often when we are think­ing on a scale beyond just how are we going to cap­ture the Senate and the pres­i­den­cy, right. When we rec­og­nize that democ­ra­cy is uneven and it hap­pens in mul­ti­ple ways, and that the stakes of what we’re try­ing to address are so high, I think that that neces­si­tates a sort of broad­er vision for the state, which in no way pre­cludes broad-based action on a federal.

And Jacqui, I won­der if you could just talk a lit­tle bit about sort of your… Because with the NAACP you’re work­ing with com­mu­ni­ties all over the coun­try. And so you might be able to sort of offer some per­spec­tive of what the sort of broad fight looks like, but very local­ized and very par­tic­u­lar to the cir­cum­stances that our com­mu­ni­ties are deal­ing with.

Patterson: Yeah, no def­i­nite­ly. So, I mean we are see­ing as you say points of light in dif­fer­ent places, whether it’s in Portland and their pass­ing of the clean ener­gy ordi­nance or their even recent look­ing to move for­ward on a ban on facial recog­ni­tion for this for the city, which is unique. Or we see places like from Stockton, California to Jackson, Mississippi where peo­ple are look­ing at dif­fer­ent types of gov­er­nance. Right here in Rhode Island, where they actu­al­ly did a report last year called Lights Out in the Cold: Reforming Utility Shut-Off Policies as if Human Rights Matter.” And right here in Rhode Island they’re actu­al­ly look­ing at doing a moratorium—I know they if they have—on util­i­ty shut­offs. And so we’re see­ing where peo­ple are real­ly hav­ing inclu­sive gov­er­nance and advanc­ing pro­gres­sive pol­i­cy­mak­ing around ener­gy and oth­er­wise. So def­i­nite­ly there are— And our work with the NAACP is doing var­i­ous toolk­its and mod­el poli­cies and so forth that are lift­ing up the places where this great work is hap­pen­ing and then work­ing with oth­er gov­ern­ments where there’s inter­est but maybe not even knowl­edge or tem­plates of how to advance pro­gres­sive poli­cies and prac­tices, and help­ing them to know here here’s how these folks did. How can we cus­tomize this in your munic­i­pal­i­ty or otherwise. 

Lennon: So I want to sort of build on this ques­tion­ing of how the state fig­ures into our broad visions. And I will bring it back to earth for a sec­ond, but I do want to think a lit­tle con­cep­tu­al­ly. You know, the vision for a Green New Deal that we see, and the res­o­lu­tion that many of us have called for in our sound­bites and in our broad actions is very much focused on a tra­di­tion­al Keynesian wel­fare state. A vision of the state that is focused on jobs guar­an­tees, on dis­tri­b­u­tion of wealth, on reg­u­la­tion. And on those as being tools of eco­nom­ic growth. Keynesianism obvi­ous­ly, it grew to promi­nence in the 1930s as a way of offer­ing an alter­na­tive to com­mu­nism, and a way of fight­ing com­mu­nism. The think­ing behind the broad, big state that the old New Deal brought us was how do we sta­bi­lize cap­i­tal­ist mar­kets to make com­mu­nism an unvi­able alter­na­tive? And that lega­cy, ves­tiges of that lega­cy, are a part of any broad vision for how the state should oper­ate, includ­ing the vision that we see in the Green New Deal. And we see in the Green New Deal there is the—in the res­o­lu­tion, there’s a focus on growth very explicitly. 

And so that presents a conun­drum for those of us who’re con­cerned about racial cap­i­tal­ism, in that cap­i­tal­ism is racial cap­i­tal­ism, right. Those are syn­ony­mous. This is a point that many have brought to the fore. And so when we name racial cap­i­tal­ism, we are not try­ing to the­o­rize some­thing sep­a­rate from cap­i­tal­ism, we’re try­ing to fore­ground the role of race and white suprema­cy in the work­ings of cap­i­tal­ism. And as such, if a Keynesian mod­el is nec­es­sar­i­ly about shoring up cap­i­tal­ism, and if we are cham­pi­oning a Keynesian mod­el as part of a broad Green New Deal vision, how do we deal with the fact that then nec­es­sar­i­ly is repro­duc­ing racial cap­i­tal­ism? And that is a real­ly real­ly tough ques­tions, so I don’t expect you guys to give the answer, but I think what would be help­ful is hear­ing from a legal pol­i­cy per­spec­tive and from an orga­niz­ing per­spec­tive, in what ways do we try to tend to the con­tra­dic­tions of cap­i­tal­ism, in what ways do we try to push back against cap­i­tal­ism while still rely­ing upon these tools of a vision that are based on a vision of the state that nec­es­sar­i­ly is invest­ed in repro­duc­ing cap­i­tal­ism, even if it’s a kinder cap­i­tal­ism if you will.

Baker: Again, audi­ence? No, kid­ding. We have one tak­er! No. So, I’m not doing domes­tic ener­gy pol­i­cy stuff I also teach inter­na­tion­al envi­ron­men­tal law. And we start that class by prob­lema­tiz­ing this idea of sus­tain­able devel­op­ment, right. Because it always requires growth, right. And it’s premised on this idea that we can con­tin­ue to grow as long as it’s sus­tain­able. And so…I mean, I find the idea of end­less eco­nom­ic growth pret­ty prob­lem­at­ic as well. I think in the domain of ener­gy pol­i­cy, and par­tic­u­lar­ly ener­gy jus­tice, I’m more con­cerned with wealth trans­fers. And ensur­ing that utilities…actually go away. And we have pub­lic pow­er, we have, again, coop­er­a­tives, even though in some ways they’re prob­lem­at­ic as well and have some ves­tiges of sort of…racism with­in their struc­ture. But we need to be look­ing at wealth. And we need to be look­ing at how it’s moved through the ener­gy sys­tem. Communities should be own­ing their own pow­er. If there are oppor­tu­ni­ties for wealth cre­ation, those should belong to com­mu­ni­ties themselves. 

And for some of you, you may be say­ing, Okay well how do you do that? I mean, is that even pos­si­ble in this cur­rent econ­o­my?” The answer is absolute­ly. You know, we are now with­in this real­ly unprece­dent­ed moment in our his­to­ry where by neces­si­ty we’re redesign­ing our entire ener­gy sys­tem. That neces­si­ty is cli­mate change, and when we see the wild­fires in California, you know, with every major weath­er event that hap­pens, cli­mate relat­ed event that hap­pens, util­i­ties buck­le, right. And they enter into the secre­cy of a bank­rupt­cy pro­ceed­ing, where those with cap­i­tal and pow­er then talk about how to fight over the scraps. And then they emerge as if new…sparkling, and shiny, from this bank­rupt­cy pro­ceed­ing and then con­tin­ue to go about the busi­ness of gen­er­at­ing wealth for shareholders. 

Which by the way is a legal con­struct. This is a reg­u­la­to­ry com­pact where we have guar­an­teed that util­i­ties received a rea­son­able return on invest­ment. And we did that in order to elec­tri­fy the rur­al parts of this coun­try, right. We did that out of the 1930s and 40s to make sure that peo­ple had access to pow­er. We’re now enter­ing a new par­a­digm where that’s no longer required. Where com­mu­ni­ties are say­ing, Look. The next Hurricane Sandy or Maria that comes through, I wan­na make sure I still have my lights on. I don’t want PG&E for exam­ple to do a pub­lic safe­ty pow­er shut­off because they own all the infra­struc­ture. I want to be able to con­trol what hap­pens on my block, in my city, in my lit­tle region.” And we’re start­ing to rethink the infra­struc­ture, out of neces­si­ty, because of cli­mate change. And in my world we’re start­ing to grap­ple over what that legal frame­work that holds up that phys­i­cal infra­struc­ture should be. 

And so this is absolute­ly an oppor­tu­ni­ty for redis­tri­b­u­tion of wealth, even as we sort of debate the real­ism of being able to grow indefinitely.

Lennon: Definitely. Shalanda can I ask— I’m curi­ous, you know, it’s always good to know your ene­my. And the idea of an investor-owned util­i­ty, as you brought up, is both anti­quat­ed and asi­nine—it’s crazy. Why should our basic liveli­hood be the basis of improv­ing share­hold­er val­ue? That makes…no sense. And so, what is the ratio­nale for investor-owned util­i­ties. What do they say?

Baker: Yeah. Well I mean, again this is a reg­u­la­to­ry com­pact. We need­ed to incen­tivize actors to go into the high­ly risky busi­ness of build­ing infra­struc­ture, elec­tric infra­struc­ture in this coun­try. So in many ways my hats are off to those you know, ear­ly risk-takers who went and did that. I mean there were a lot of rur­al elec­tric coops as well that received fed­er­al fund­ing and did that. I mean there were a lot of rur­al elec­tric coops that received fed­er­al fund­ing to do that work. 

But my argu­ment is basi­cal­ly that today we don’t need that. I mean, we’re mov­ing away from that busi­ness mod­el. Now, much of the exper­tise, though, has been cap­tured by util­i­ties. You start­ed to talk about pub­lic util­i­ties, com­mis­sions, and reg­u­la­tion, which is…my wheel­house and like, fun. But you go to a pro­ceed­ing, right, on let’s say the sit­ing of major wind farm. So, you have a group of reg­u­la­tors, typ­i­cal­ly white folks, typ­i­cal­ly white men, right. Who may have some indus­try con­tacts, may have been in indus­try. And that pro­ceed­ing, the board, the com­mis­sion­ers are rely­ing on the data from the util­i­ty to deter­mine what deci­sions they’re mak­ing. You have com­mu­ni­ties who due to the advo­ca­cy and activism of com­mu­ni­ties for the last thir­ty, forty years have said, We’re at the table,” they often don’t have access to the same types of experts. Often the infor­ma­tion’s pro­pri­etary. Often they can’t run the same mod­els. And so you know, this is all a part of the sys­tem that we have designed. And I think we’re at this real­ly inter­est­ing inflec­tion point, where if only peo­ple knew just how much ener­gy struc­tures and orga­nizes their lives, they would be you know… I was gonna say light­ing fires but that’s a bad thing to say these days. They would be rais­ing hell, right. And so my work is real­ly to trans­late as well, to sort of indi­cate and high­light the ways that ener­gy does orga­nize our lives. And, the out­rage that peo­ple should feel if they just knew what was going on.

Lennon: And Jacqui before we get to you I just wan­na plug an endorse­ment. New York is—there’s actu­al­ly a piece of leg­is­la­tion cir­cu­lat­ing to pub­li­cize the investor-owned util­i­ties. So real­ly excit­ing work, and that is all I due to the incred­i­ble work of ener­gy democ­ra­cy activists on the ground, so you should check out that work. 

Patterson: Yeah so on that, I mean util­i­ty com­pa­nies’ CEOs on aver­age make $9.8 mil­lion a year while the aver­age work­er makes $33,840 a year. And we have a sit­u­a­tion where I mean, as we talked about in the Lights Out in the Cold report, where just last sum­mer a woman had her elec­tric­i­ty shut off for non-payment. She was a grand­moth­er depend­ing on oxy­gen on her res­pi­ra­tor. And when her son found out she was in arrears he paid the bills—this was in New Jersey, right, quite near­by. And he paid the bill, but three days lat­er that had­n’t caught up in the sys­tem so they shut off her elec­tric­i­ty and she died as a result. 

So peo­ple while peo­ple are mak­ing $9.8 mil­lion a year and fly­ing around in pri­vate jets you have peo­ple being shut off and pay­ing the price of pover­ty with their lives for not pay­ing a $60 bill. And this is an African American grand­moth­er of course. So this is the very epit­o­me of racial cap­i­tal­ism. And this is in a com­mu­ni­ty where of course they’re in the shad­ows of the coal-fired pow­er plants and pay­ing the price of who knows what—her COPD may have been tied to the very tox­ins that are in her air. And so these are the conun­drums that we’re facing. 

We’re putting out anoth­er tool called Resourcing Revolutionary Resistance and Resilience, and it is based on this notion— 

Lennon: Four Rs?

Patterson: Exactly. Four Rs, we love that. Alliteration. But it’s based on sto­ries like when Shalanda and I, we first did— We’ve been doing this series, we’ve done maybe fif­teen ener­gy jus­tice train­ings. And now as the NAACP we have an ener­gy jus­tice cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­gram. And we were pleased to have Shalanda for the inau­gur­al train­ing that we did in San Francisco in 2016 in June. 

And at that train­ing a woman stood up named Amy Mays who lived in Phoenix, Arizona, and she talked about how her elec­tric­i­ty had been shut off for non-payment. And she was able to pay it, it was shut off again. And then they start­ed putting on not only the fees for recon­nec­tion, but then she had to pay a deposit. And so, you’re already hav­ing enough prob­lem pay­ing your bill but then some­one actu­al­ly adds on a deposit to make it impos­si­ble for you to be able to get elec­tric­i­ty. And so she decid­ed that she was just going to use that mon­ey that— She bought a cool­er. She bought ice every day, put her cold goods in this cool­er. And she used that mon­ey that she would’ve put towards our elec­tric­i­ty bill and saved up month by month. And every time she had enough she bought anoth­er solar pan­el from online. Till she had a whole array. And then she used her jour­ney­man’s elec­tri­cian license, got up on her own roof, and installed her solar pan­els. And now she is off the grid and inde­pen­dent­ly cre­at­ing our own energy. 

And so for us I mean, she is the epit­o­me of where we want to move towards. Because as Shalanda says, we don’t need the util­i­ties, we can do this our­selves in order to actu­al­ly have a human rights and lib­er­a­to­ry sys­tem, we real­ly do need to be in con­trol of our sys­tem. And so whether we’re talk­ing about ener­gy, we’re talk­ing about food, we have com­mu­ni­ties that are more like­ly to get Doritos or Cheetos or taquitos than kale or quinoa or any­thing that’s approach­ing any­thing nutri­tious. So peo­ple are exist­ing on diets that are not only not good for you in terms of vit­a­mins, antiox­i­dants, and so forth, but foods that are active­ly bad for you in terms of being high in sodi­um and preser­v­a­tives and sug­ars and so forth. 

So I could name sys­tem after sys­tem and how deeply-flawed our exist­ing sys­tems are. And so for Resourcing Revolutionary Resistance and Resilience, the first four mod­ules talk about how do we sur­vive our exist­ing sys­tems and how do we make our cur­rent kind of financ­ing struc­tures and so forth more equi­table. But the fifth mod­ule lifts up how do we actu­al­ly own our own sys­tems. How do we actu­al­ly have sys­tems of sov­er­eign­ty, own­er­ship, con­trol, wealth rest­ing on our hands as com­mu­ni­ties. And so it’s real­ly talk­ing about coop­er­a­tive mod­els, ways that we own our own water sys­tems, ways that we own our own food sys­tems, ways that we elim­i­nate land­fills and incin­er­a­tors and have com­plete recov­ery, reuse, recy­cling and so forth, and less con­sumerism and less pro­duc­tion in the first place. And so in each and every sys­tem how do we move towards sov­er­eign­ty. And that’s the push that we’re mak­ing in terms of rev­o­lu­tion while still kind of tweak­ing and mak­ing the exist­ing sys­tem better. 

Baker: So, I remem­ber that per­son. And she was phe­nom­e­nal. But I don’t know if every­body heard where she was from. Arizona. One of the sun­ni­est place in the coun­try, right. And you men­tioned the util­i­ty indus­try, but there’s a more insid­i­ous force kind of oper­at­ing in the back­ground, finance by the Koch broth­ers: ALEC. I mean, they are try­ing to dis­man­tle access to rooftop solar, all over the coun­try, even in places where it has yet to take hold, like Louisiana and Kentucky. And they are using a play­book that basi­cal­ly says solar hurts poor peo­ple, and solar hurts black peo­ple. And so rather than cre­at­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for own­er­ship or access to finance, they’re just shut­ting it down alto­geth­er. Which means that all of the wealth stays in the hands of the util­i­ties. Which can be…you know, you could trace that back to again, all of the forces that sort of help too shape our system.

So again, that’s a fight that ordi­nary cit­i­zens should be engaged in. But often the data and the mar­shalling of the infor­ma­tion isn’t avail­able, right. Like it’s just not there for folks to engage. But I just want­ed to high­light that. Because in places like Arizona, and Hawaii where I used to live, that fight also went on. Our util­i­ty was say­ing, You know, the more solar we have on the grid, the more it’s going to hurt poor people.” 

And the pub­lic util­i­ties com­mis­sion bought it. And they end­ed one of the most suc­cess­ful rooftop solar pro­grams in the coun­try. Not before one of the com­mis­sion­ers made sure that she was grand­fa­thered in under the old sys­tem. I mean this is like, crazi­ness. It’s absolute madness.

Patterson: Yeah and the very prof­its that are being amassed by these util­i­ty com­pa­nies are as we say going in to fund groups like ALEC, and ALEC is not only push­ing back against clean air, clean ener­gy and all of those poli­cies, but they’re also push­ing for­ward on vot­er sup­pres­sion, on school pri­va­ti­za­tion, prison pri­va­ti­za­tion, water pri­va­ti­za­tion. They even man­aged to get through in the NAACP sys­tem a pro­posed res­o­lu­tion on water pri­va­ti­za­tion where it was proposed—and it was sent to me too because we all the sub­ject mat­ter experts get to review in advance. And I read it and—

Lennon: Do you know if they’re a local chapter?

Patterson: It came through a local chap­ter. I will not name which one. And I read it and it was like safe and afford­able drink­ing water for all!” you know. That was lit­er­al­ly the name of the resolution. 

So I’m read­ing it and you know, yeah okay, Flint, uh huh. It was mak­ing all the ref­er­ences to the dif­fer­ent things. And then there was like, you know to real­ly have a sys­tem we need a com­bi­na­tion of pri­vate and pub­lic,” and then I start­ed to— Yeah, and I’m like wait what.

But this is how they do, they they sneak it in. And then I went and actu­al­ly looked back at the ALEC play­book and saw that it lit­er­al­ly was word for word from the ALEC play­book. And they had just done the same thing with a res­o­lu­tion around net meter­ing, around kind of dis­trib­uted gen­er­a­tion of solar, where anoth­er one of those poli­cies came straight out of the ALEC play­book and into the NAACP’s res­o­lu­tion process. And for­tu­nate­ly we were able to stop both of them before they advanced. But this is the insid­i­ous way—and we talked about this in our Fossil Fueled Foolery report that we put out on April 1st

Lennon: More alliteration.

Patterson: Yeah exact­ly. We love it. 

Lennon: So Damian’s doing all kinds of hand motions try­ing to sug­gest that we need to end. Can we get one more ques­tion? Okay. So, we had to— Oh, there’s a ques­tion, there’s also a Q— Okay. Should I shut up and open it up? Okay, peo­ple are like yeah, shut up. Okay. Should we take a ques­tion back there some?

Audience 1: I just had a ques­tion about the sov­er­eign­ty that you’re talk­ing about in terms of ener­gy resources, and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of enact­ing that. Because like, you give the exam­ple from Arizona where there’s a lot of sun. But there’ll be places which don’t have enough sun. We need a com­bi­na­tion of sun, wind, in order to sup­ply ener­gy and also need stor­age because of the peak times and oth­er times, and how pos­si­ble is ener­gy sov­er­eign­ty in that sit­u­a­tion? As well as is it sus­tain­able? Because if we’re putting pan­els on each roof, would it not be bet­ter to like, a cen­tral­ized loca­tion from which it’s being trans­ferred, and how does that work? Thank you so much.

Baker: Great ques­tion. And I love it because the stor­age ques­tion and the peak times issue comes up a lot. I’ll start with the idea of whether it’s pos­si­ble to have com­mu­ni­ty own­er­ship of those types of assets. Yes. I mean, we’ve seen Germany, we’ve seen it in Denmark. I mean, Scandinavia, and European countries. 

But the issue is real­ly whether the law will per­mit it. And how the law can facil­i­tate that type of own­er­ship struc­ture. The ques­tion between cen­tral­ized ver­sus local…so cen­tral­ized gen­er­a­tion ver­sus local dis­trib­uted ener­gy gen­er­a­tion, I think it is a com­plex one. What I would argue is that com­mu­ni­ties should be at the table of the design of the sys­tem. Because they have pref­er­ences. I mean yes there’s an engi­neer­ing ques­tion. NREL, National Renewable Energy Lab, released a study years ago say­ing that it’s possible—I mean, we are well under and it’s pos­si­ble to have solar pow­er, most of this coun­try. And so yes there are some issues with imple­men­ta­tion, but I think at the design stage we just have to have folks at the table to map out where they would want those types of resources. 

And we do have com­mu­ni­ty ener­gy leg­is­la­tion in I think thirty-six of the fifty states. But the dev­il’s in the details there. And deter­min­ing who’s actu­al­ly ben­e­fit­ing from these dif­fer­ent mod­els that sup­pos­ed­ly allow for com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment, much of that leg­is­la­tion was passed to allow for low-income com­mu­ni­ties, low-to-moderate income com­mu­ni­ties, to par­tic­i­pate in the solar rev­o­lu­tion. But what’s real­ly hap­pen­ing is that they’re cre­at­ing pre­mi­um prod­ucts that aren’t accessed, or the solar indus­try’s skim­ming so heav­i­ly off of the top that peo­ple aren’t real­iz­ing the same ben­e­fits on their bills that some­one with rooftop solar would gain.

Lennon: And util­i­ties also have a role in water­ing down and mak­ing very prob­lem­at­ic these community-shared solar pieces of leg­is­la­tion. In New York, the util­i­ties have real­ly dri­ven the effort to rede­fine how elec­tric­i­ty is priced through community-shared solar. And as a result they use an algo­rithm based on loca­tion­al mar­gin­al pric­ing that works to the ben­e­fit of the util­i­ties, such that elec­tric­i­ty prices are bet­ter in areas where the util­i­ty needs to shore up their own trans­mis­sion capac­i­ty. And that algo­rithm has destroyed community-shared solar projects in com­mu­ni­ties of col­or that rely upon a reli­able mar­ket price for elec­tric­i­ty. Any sort of vari­abil­i­ty real­ly hurts the capac­i­ty of com­mu­ni­ties to own. And so that that’s one way in which util­i­ties are at the table, they’re say­ing, Yeah! More renew­able ener­gy, more dis­trib­uted resources, we’re all about it. As long as it’s work­ing toward our bot­tom line,” and in the process shut­ting out communities. 

Okay. So we’re being— Damian has all kinds of hands. So I’m being told it’s the end. But it is real­ly just the begin­ning because this con­ver­sa­tion of racial cap­i­tal­ism needs to be a part of hope­ful­ly our pro­ceed­ings today, but mov­ing for­ward. We need to fore­ground these ques­tions and ideas and we’ve only just begun to skim the sur­face in this dis­cus­sion. So I hope con­tin­ue this dia­logue. I hope we dig a lot deep­er. Because there’s a lot more time packed with regard to how racial cap­i­tal­ism needs to fac­tor into our pro­ceed­ings for a Green New Deal. Thank you so much.

Further Reference

Climate Futures II event page