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By V.B. Price
When it comes to combating climate change, the Biden administration faces a not quite do-or-die four years ahead. The world continues to sizzle and flood and sicken unchecked, thanks to the fossil fuel lobby and local polluters around the globe and a cheering mob of flat earthers, free market alchemists and burn-em-at-the-stake anti-science fanatics.
How can Joe Biden and his climate czar John Kerry jump-start America’s anti-climate change focus after decades of felonious denial? How can the world’s ravaged localities, like the Mountain View neighborhood in Albuquerque’s South Valley, survive the onslaught of contamination from the pollution industrial complex and the public health disasters it creates? How can the world cut the release of greenhouse gases by 45% by 2030 and gain momentum to create a cleaner and sustainable global economy?
Some might say, it’s already way, way too late. Unconscionable propaganda by “merchants of doubt,” as they’ve been called, have completely stalled any real action to drop global CO2 emissions to livable levels. Climate change is in the here-and-now, in the forms of drought, superstorms, pandemics and growing diasporas of the environmentally stricken. Now most of what’s left to us is working furiously just to avoid worst-case scenarios.
John Kerry, in an interview last year with the climate newsletter Heated, spoke of “World War Zero,” saying “we’ve got to treat this like a war. We’ve got to start by saying the basic overall plan we can all agree on is we’ve got to get to net zero, low carbon, no carbon economy by 2045, 2050, or earlier. But right now no country in the world is getting the job done. The United States’ emissions are going up this year. Europe’s going up this year. Russia’s going up. China’s going up. And that’s completely, totally unacceptable.”
It is. But the big picture in this Zero War is made up of millions of skirmishes with agonizing real-world consequences in localities all over the planet. Take the unimaginable pollution assault about to be visited upon the already beleaguered Mountain View Neighborhood between Broadway and Second, and Rio Bravo and I-25.
According to the New Mexico Environmental Law Center representing the neighborhood, the City of Albuquerque’s Environmental Health Department just before Thanksgiving made what seems to me to be an utterly insensitive, monstrous assault on the public health of Mountain View. It issued a permit for a “hot mix asphalt batch plant” to be built near the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge at the southern end of Mountain View in agricultural land in unincorporated Bernalillo County. It’s a cruel and really savage attack on environmental justice in the area.
If the Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Air Quality Control Board doesn’t rescind the permit, a crucially important local battle in the Zero War will be lost, a National Wildlife Refuge will be despoiled, and residents of Mountain View will suffer even more outlandish and egregious acts of environmental injustice.
Mountain View already has two Superfund sites, all but one or two of metro Albuquerque’s nearly 40 smoke-stack polluting small manufacturing plants, a dozen or so brownfields, the major cluster of above ground petroleum storage tanks in the area, a long history of groundwater pollution and flow-through of nuclear waste from the Cold War and Sandia Labs. It was the site of feed lots and the horrible groundwater contamination and stench they cause. Rail yards were used to creosote railroad ties in the vicinity, causing seepage into the aquifer. Now, rail spurs intrude into the neighborhood, spurs upon which tankers and other container cars with unknown contents are parked. Over two thousand people live in the area, many of them with precarious incomes.
The area is one of the most environmentally blighted in the urban west. And its long efforts to take what pristine land was left near the river and turn it into a wildlife refuge, and a place for residents to find some solace, is about to be stymied by an asphalt plant! It’s a horror story too gruesome to be believed. But believe it, it’s happening.
World War Zero will never be won by just addressing massive global climate abstractions, as deeply important as they are. It also has to be won on the ground, in localities, almost house to house, and certainly neighborhood to neighborhood, if we hope to have a chance to keep the atmosphere from heating by 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by 2100 and narrowly dodging the bullet of an even greater climate catastrophe.
Allowing an asphalt plant in Mountain View may seem to some like an insignificant issue compared to winning “World War Zero.” But if we can’t stop this monstrosity, what does it say about the seriousness of our commitment to being a part of the monumental effort to end environmental injustice and be local champions of a clean economy that restores climate sanity to the world?
World War Zero has to begin at home. By permitting that asphalt plant in Mountain View, local government is contributing to the on-going superheating of our atmosphere. There’s a one-to-one connection. Governments of all sizes and jurisdictions are being called upon to fight War Zero against those who make a profit from pollution. I think it’s as simple as that. The more local pollution calamities we permit, the farther away the whole world gets from Zero greenhouse gas emissions. Zero means zero.