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How Climate Change Is Contributing to Skyrocketing Rates of Infectious Disease

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A catastrophic loss in biodiversity, reckless destruction of wildland and warming temperatures have allowed disease to explode. Ignoring the connection between climate change and pandemics would be “dangerous delusion,” one scientist said.

The scientists who study how diseases emerge in a changing environment knew this moment was coming. Climate change is making outbreaks of disease more common and more dangerous.

Over the past few decades, the number of emerging infectious diseases that spread to people — especially coronaviruses and other respiratory illnesses believed to have come from bats and birds — has skyrocketed. A new emerging disease surfaces five times a year. One study estimates that more than 3,200 strains of coronaviruses already exist among bats, awaiting an opportunity to jump to people.

The diseases may have always been there, buried deep in wild and remote places out of reach of people. But until now, the planet’s natural defense systems were better at fighting them off.

Today, climate warming is demolishing those defense systems, driving a catastrophic loss in biodiversity that, when coupled with reckless deforestation and aggressive conversion of wildland for economic development, pushes farms and people closer to the wild and opens the gates for the spread of disease.

Aaron Bernstein, the interim director for the C-Change Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said that ignoring how climate and rapid land development were putting disease-carrying animals in a squeeze was akin to playing Russian roulette.

“Nature is trying to tell us something,” Bernstein said.

Scientists have not suggested that climate played any direct role in causing the current COVID-19 outbreak. Though the virus is believed to have originated with the horseshoe bat, part of a genus that’s been roaming the forests of the planet for 40 million years and thrives in the remote jungles of south China, even that remains uncertain.

Scientists have, however, been studying the coronaviruses of southern China for years and warning that swift climate and environmental change there — in both loss of biodiversity and encroachment by civilization — was going to help new viruses jump to people.

There are three ways climate influences emerging diseases. Roughly 60% of new pathogens come from animals — including those pressured by diversity loss — and roughly one-third of those can be directly attributed to changes in human land use, meaning deforestation, the introduction of farming, development or resource extraction in otherwise natural settings. Vector-borne diseases — those carried by insects like mosquitoes and ticks and transferred in the blood of infected people — are also on the rise as warming weather and erratic precipitation vastly expand the geographic regions vulnerable to contagion. Climate is even bringing old viruses back from the dead, thawing zombie contagions like the anthrax released from a frozen reindeer in 2016, which can come down from the arctic and haunt us from the past.

Thus the COVID-19 pandemic, even as it unfolds in the form of an urgent crisis, is offering a larger lesson. It is demonstrating in real time the enormous and undeniable power that nature has over civilization and even over its politics. That alone may make the pandemic prologue for more far-reaching and disruptive changes to come. But it also makes clear that climate policy today is indivisible from efforts to prevent new infectious outbreaks, or, as Bernstein put it, the notion that climate and health and environmental policy might not be related is “a ​dangerous delusion.”


The warming of the climate is one of the principal drivers of the greatest — and fastest — loss of species diversity in the history of the planet, as shifting climate patterns force species to change habitats, push them into new regions or threaten their food and water supplies. What’s known as biodiversity is critical because the natural variety of plants and animals lends each species greater resiliency against threat and together offers a delicately balanced safety net for natural systems. As diversity wanes, the balance is upset, and remaining species are both more vulnerable to human influences and, according to a landmark 2010 study in the journal Nature, more likely to pass along powerful pathogens.

The casualties are amplified by civilization’s relentless push into forests and wild areas on the hunt for timber, cropland and other natural resources. Epidemiologists tracking the root of disease in South Asia have learned that even incremental and seemingly manageable injuries to local environments — say, the construction of a livestock farm adjacent to stressed natural forest — can add up to outsized consequences.

Around the world, according to the World Resources Institute, only 15% of the planet’s forests remain intact. The rest have been cut down, degraded or fragmented to the point that they disrupt the natural ecosystems that depend on them. As the forests die, and grasslands and wetlands are also destroyed, biodiversity sharply decreases further. The United Nations warns that the number of species on the planet has already dropped by 20% and that more than a million animal and plant species now face extinction.

Losing species has, in certain cases, translated directly to a rise in infectious disease.

Peatland fires in Indonesia in 2018 used to clear forests for palm oil plantations. Deforestation is one of the largest drivers of the emergence of new infectious diseases. (Wahyudi/AFP via Getty Image)

Americans have been experiencing this phenomenon directly in recent years as migratory birds have become less diverse and the threat posed by West Nile encephalitis has spread. It turns out that the birds that host the disease happen to also be the tough ones that prevail amid a thinned population. Those survivors have supported higher infection rates in mosquitoes and more spread to people.

Similarly, a study published last month in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B found that as larger mammals suffer declines at the hands of hunters or loggers or shifting climate patterns, smaller species, including bats, rats and other rodents, are thriving, either because they are more resilient to the degraded environment or they are able to live better among people.

It is these small animals, the ones that manage to find food in garbage cans or build nests in the eaves of buildings, that are proving most adaptable to human interference and also happen to spread disease. Rodents alone accounted for more than 60% of all the diseases transmitted from animals to people, the researchers found.

Warmer temperatures and higher rainfall associated with climate change — coupled with the loss of predators — are bound to make the rodent problem worse, with calamitous implications. In 1999, for example, parts of Panama saw three times as much rainfall as usual. The rat population exploded, researchers found. And so did the viruses rats carry, along with the chances those viruses would jump to people. That same year, a fatal lung disease transmitted through the saliva, feces and urine of rats and mice called hantavirus pulmonary syndrome emerged in Panama for the first time, according to a report in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Take, for example, the 1999 Nipah outbreak in Malaysia — the true-life subject matter adapted for the film “Contagion.” Rapid clearcutting of the forests there to make way for palm plantations drove fruit bats to the edge of the trees. (Separate research also suggests that climate changes are shifting fruit bats’ food supply.) They found places to roost, as it happens, alongside a hog farm. As the bats gorged themselves on fruit, they dropped pieces of food from the branches, along with their urine, into the pigsties, where at least one pig is believed to have eaten some. When the pig was slaughtered and brought to market, an outbreak is believed to have been spread by the man who handled the meat. More than 100 people died.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that fully three-quarters of all new viruses have emerged from animals. Even the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa is believed to have begun when a boy dug into a tree stump that happened to be the roost of bats carrying the virus.

As Christine Johnson, the associate director of the One Health Institute, an interdisciplinary epidemiological program at the University of California, Davis, puts it, global health policymakers have a responsibility to understand how climate, habitat and land use changes lead to disease. Almost every major epidemic we know of over the past couple of decades — SARS, COVID-19, Ebola and Nipah virus — jumped to people from wildlife enduring extreme climate and habitat strain, and still, “we’re naive to them,” she said. “That puts us in a dangerous place.”


Once new diseases are let loose in our environment, changing temperatures and precipitation are also changing how those diseases spread — and not for the better. Warming climates increase the range within which a disease can find a home, especially those transmitted by “vectors,” mosquitoes and ticks that carry a pathogen from its primary host to its new victim.

A 2008 study in the journal Nature found nearly one-third of emerging infectious diseases over the past 10 years were vector-borne, and that the jumps matched unusual changes in the climate. Especially in cases where insects like infection-bearing mosquitoes are chasing warmer temperatures, the study said, “climate change may drive the emergence of diseases.”

A mosquito in a laboratory of the Friedrich-Loeffler Institute in Germany. Scientists say at least 500 million more people, including 55 million more Americans, will be susceptible to mosquito-borne diseases as the climate warms. (Steffen Kugler/Getty Images)

Ticks and mosquitoes now thrive in places they’d never ventured before. As tropical species move northward, they are bringing dangerous pathogens with them. The Zika virus or Chikungunya, a mosquito-spread virus that manifests in intense joint pain, were once unseen in the United States, but both were transmitted locally, not brought home by travelers, in southern Texas and Florida in recent years.

Soon, they’ll be spreading further northward. According to a 2019 study in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, by 2050, disease-carrying mosquitoes will ultimately reach 500 million more people than they do today, including some 55 million more Americans. In 2013, dengue fever — an affliction affecting nearly 400 million people a year, but normally associated with the poorest regions of Africa — was transmitted locally in New York for the first time.

“The long-term risk from dengue may be much higher than COVID,” said Scott Weaver, the director of the Institute for Human Infections and Immunity at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. “It’s a disease of poor countries, so it doesn’t get the attention it deserves.”

The chain of events that ultimately leads to a pandemic can be long and subtle, steered by shifts in the ecosystem. The 1999 West Nile outbreak in the U.S., for example, came after climate-driven droughts dried up streams and rivers, leaving pools of stagnant water where mosquitoes bred unhindered. It turns out the loss of water also killed off their predators — dragonflies and frogs that depend on large watering holes were gone.

Coronaviruses like COVID-19 aren’t likely to be carried by insects — they don’t leave enough infected virus cells in the blood. But one in five other viruses transmitted from animals to people are vector-borne, said U.C. Davis’ Johnson, meaning it’s only a matter of time before other exotic animal-driven pathogens are driven from the forests of the global tropics to the United States or Canada or Europe because of the warming climate. “Climate is going to shift vulnerability to that,” Johnson said, “and I think some of these regions are not prepared.”

The changing climate won’t just affect how the diseases move about the planet, it will also shape how easily we get sick. According to a 2013 study in the journal PLOS Currents Influenza, warm winters were predictors of the most severe flu seasons in the following year. The brief respite in year one, it turns out, relaxed people’s natural defenses and reduced “herd immunity,” setting conditions for the virus to rage back with a vengeance.

Even harsh swings from hot to cold, or sudden storms — exactly the kinds of climate-induced patterns we’re already seeing — make people more likely to get sick. A study in the journal Environmental Research Letters linked the brutal 2017-18 flu season — which killed 79,000 people — to erratic temperature swings and extreme weather that winter, the same period in which a spate of floods and hurricanes devastated much of the country. If the climate crisis continues on its current trajectory, the authors wrote, respiratory infections like the flu will sharply increase. The chance of a flu epidemic in America’s most populated cities will increase by as much as 50% this century, and flu-related deaths in Europe could also jump by 50%.

“We’re on a very dangerous path right now,” said the University of Texas’ Weaver. Slow action on climate has made dramatic warming and large-scale environmental changes inevitable, he said, “and I think that increases in disease are going to come along with it.”


Twelve months before the first COVID-19 case was diagnosed, a group of epidemiologists working with a U.S. Agency for International Development project called PREDICT, or Pandemic Influenza and other Emerging Threats, was deep in the remote leafy jungle of southern China’s Yunnan province hunting for what it believed to be one of the greatest dangers to civilization: a wellspring of emerging viruses.

A decade of study there had identified a pattern of obscure illnesses affecting remote villagers who used bat guano as fertilizer and sometimes for medicine. Scientists traced dozens of unnamed, emerging viruses to caves inhabited by horseshoe bats. Any one of them might have triggered a global pandemic killing a million people. But luck — and mostly luck alone — had so far kept the viruses from leaping out of those remote communities and into the mainstream population.

The luck is likely to run out, as Yunnan is undergoing enormous change. Quaint subsistence farm plots were overtaken by hastily erected apartment towers and high-speed rail lines, as the province endured dizzying development fueled by decades of Chinese economic expansion. Cities’ footprints swelled, pushing back the forests. More people moved into rural places and the wildlife trade, common to such frontier regions, thrived. With every new person and every felled tree, the bats’ habitat shrank, putting the viruses they carried on a collision course with humanity. By late 2018, epidemiologists there were bracing for what they call “spillover,” or the failure to keep a virus locally contained as it jumped from the bats and villages of Yunnan into the wider world.

In late 2018, the Trump administration, as part of a sweeping effort to bring U.S. programs in China to a halt, abruptly shut down the research — and its efforts to intercept the spread of a new novel coronavirus along with it. “We got a cease and desist,” said Dennis Carroll, who founded the PREDICT program and has been instrumental in global work to address the risks from emerging viruses. By late 2019, USAID had cut the program’s global funding.

USAID did not respond to a detailed list of questions from ProPublica.

The loss is immense. The researchers believed they were on the cusp of a breakthrough, racing to sequence the genes of the coronaviruses they’d extracted from the horseshoe bat and to begin work on vaccines. They’d campaigned for years for policymakers to fully consider what they’d learned about how land development and climate changes were driving the spread of disease, and they thought their research could literally provide governments a map to the hot spots most likely to spawn the next pandemic. They also hoped the genetic material they’d collected could lead to a vaccine not just for one lethal variation of COVID, but perhaps — like a missile defense shield for the biosphere — to address a whole family of viruses at once. (In fact, the gene work they were able to complete was used to test the efficacy of remdesivir, an experimental drug that early clinical trial data shows can help COVID-19 patients.)

Carroll said knowledge of the virus genomes had the potential “to totally transform how we think about future biomedical interventions before there’s an emergence.” His goal was to not just react to a pandemic, but to change the very definition of preparedness.

If PREDICT’s efforts in China had the remote potential to fend off the current COVID pandemic, though, it also offered an opportunity to study how climate and land development were driving disease.

But there has been little appetite for that inquiry among policymakers. PREDICT’s staff and advisers have pushed the U.S. government to consider how welding public health policy with environmental and climate science could help stem the spread of contagions. Climate change was featured in presentations that PREDICT staff made to Congress, according to U.C. Davis’ Johnson, who is now also the director of PREDICT, which received a temporary funding extension this spring. And until 2016, leadership of New York-based EcoHealth Alliance, the research group working under PREDICT funding in Yunnan, was invited several times to the White House to advise on global health policy.

Since Donald Trump was elected, the group hasn’t been invited back.

“It’s falling on deaf ears,” said Peter Daszak, EcoHealth Alliance’s president.

A White House spokesperson did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

What Daszak really wants — in addition to restored funding to continue his work — is the public and leaders to understand that it’s human behavior driving the rise in disease, just as it drives the climate crisis. In China’s forests, he looks past the destruction of trees and asks why they are being cut in the first place, and who is paying the cost. Metals for iPhones and palm oil for processed foods are among the products that come straight out of South Asian and African emerging disease hot spots.

“We turn a blind eye to the fact that our behavior is driving this,” he said. “We get cheap goods through Walmart, and then we pay for it forever through the rise in pandemics. It’s upside down.”

Source: ProPublica

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Truths or Consequences: Failing State or Shining Light?: The USA Role in the Twenty-first Century

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Note from the Publisher: In order to create the changes we want to see in the world, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the deep rooted systematic failures that corrode our abilities to truly thrive. Mobilized is proud to present our new slate of programming that takes a deep dive into the underworld of society so that we can shine a light on what’s not working so we can shine the light into systems, services and policies that we need for the optimal health and well-being of all life.  A special thanks to “The Other” Chuck Woolery for bringing this show to Mobilized and our special guest, “Monty G. Marshall.”

About Special Guest, Monty G. Marshall, Center for Systematic Peace
Dr. Monty G.  Marshall left the university system in 2010 after holding a position as both a Research Professor and Director of Research for the Center for Global Policy at George Mason University. He is now president of a private research enterprise: Societal-Systems Research, Inc. This private initiative will continue to produce the high quality information resources that form the foundation of the Center for Systemic Peace. Since 1998, he has been the director of the Polity IV project, which provides annual assessments of autocracy, democracy and regime transitions, and the Armed Conflict and Intervention (ACI) project, which monitors all forms of armed conflict and international influence structures. Also since 1998, Dr. Marshall has served as a senior consultant with the US Government’s Political Instability Task Force (PITF; formerly known as the State Failure Task Force). He has consulted frequently with the United Nations, US Agency for International Development, UK Department for International Development, the National Geographic Society, and many other national agencies and international organizations. Before taking his most recent academic posting at GMU, he was a Senior Research Associate at the Center for International Development and Conflict Management (CIDCM), University of Maryland, where he directed the Integrated Network for Societal Conflict Research (INSCR) program from 1998-2005. He is a co-founder and was principle author, editor and researcher for CIDCM’s Peace and Conflict series. He also co-authored the original Minorities at Risk data series (with Ted Gurr) and was a Co-Director of that project.

Dr. Marshall’s current research focuses on systems analyses of societal conflict processes and the impact of global influence networks on local conflict dynamics. His theory and evidence detailing the problem of political violence within the context of societal and systemic development processes and the diffusion of insecurity in protracted conflict regions are reported in Third World War: System, Process and Conflict Dynamics. Other recent publications include the Global Report annual series (2007-present) and Peace and Conflict biennial series (2001-2005); other recent publications are available here. Dr. Marshall holds degrees in political science from the University of Colorado, University of Maryland and the University of Iowa; he held a prestigious University of Iowa fellowship from 1990 to 1993. He began his professional career teaching courses full-time at the University of South Florida, 1994-1997.

About the Series
In this era of truth decay this program will focus on the “Truths” that “WE hold” “to be self-evident.” The fundamental truths derived from “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God”*  Drawing distinctions between such fundamental principles as:  inalienable human rights to life, liberty and health, no child should die before their parents,  preserving one’s freedoms and security requires virtue and responsibility and alternative principles humans invented like; ‘peace through strength’  ‘market forces or technology will solve the problem’. ‘national sovereignty’‘democracy’

*(Introduced in the Declaration of Independence.  A title that should have been the “Declaration of separation” given that independence exists nowhere in the known universe, but only as an illusion within our mind.  An illusion that is responsible for most of the death, suffering, and environmental destruction up till now.)

Produced by “The Other ” Chuck Woolery and Jeff Van Treese
Executive Producer is Steven Jay

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The Undertow: The Corrosion of Corruption: Cleaning up the Chaos with Heidi Cuda

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Note from the Publisher: In order to create the changes we want to see in the world, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the deep rooted systematic failures that corrode our abilities to truly thrive. Mobilized is proud to present our new slate of programming that takes a deep dive into the underworld of society so that we can shine a light on what’s not working so we can shine the light into systems, services and policies that we need for the optimal health and well-being of all life.  A special thanks to Mark Metz for hosting “The Undertow” and our first special guest, investigative journalist, Heidi Cuda.

 

Progressive change in every field is hampered by the confluence of comprised government officials, malign corporate interests, and transnational organized crime. In a word: Corruption. Referred to as The Iron Triangle by Robert Mueller in his 2011 speech to the FBI, this shadowy undertow on the common good is an invisible economy fueled by human suffering diametrically opposed to progress on climate change, human rights, or social justice.

Heidi Cuda is an expert journalist who has been tracking this dark phenomenon for over 20 years. In this essential conversation, you will grasp the scale of the problem and the latest exciting developments to clean up the playing field around the world. Learn how you can help make progress against corruption in your own community for the common good of humanity.

Heidi Siegmund Cuda is an Emmy award-winning investigative producer, broadcast journalist, author, columnist, music critic, screenwriter and free press activist. After 15 years as an investigative producer for Fox 11 News Los Angeles, she resigned to pursue TV development, screenwriting and social justice activism.

Known for her long-form work in the music world such as Crazy Fool, about Bradley Nowell of Sublime; The Ice Opinion, with Ice T; and Definition of Down, with Darlene Ortiz, she is rapidly becoming one of foremost voices on corruption, dis-information, and the battle against autocracy.

Current co-host of the RADICALIZED podcast and US politics reporter for The Byline Times. “It’s Komprocated” a 240-page compilation of her political writings from 2016 to early 2019 is available at Ko-Fi.

Links:

 
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How Our Grassroots Energy Projects Are Taking Back Power From Utility Companies

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From solar power that cuts NYC energy bills and powers streetlights in Detroit to affordable high-speed internet throughout the United States, grassroots utilities projects are delivering on their promises to underserved communities of color.

By Aric Sleeper, – US, United States –

As power outages caused by extreme weather events become more intense and frequent, the efforts by federal, state and local legislators to abate human-caused climate change may seem futile to those on the front lines, who are left sweating or freezing in their homes after the power goes out unexpectedly and at the worst time possible.

Without intervention, these events will only become more recurrent. According to data provided by the National Centers for Environmental Information—which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and maintains and provides national geophysical data and information—there was an average of around three “weather and climate disasters” per year in the 1980s, compared to a staggering 22 extreme weather events in 2020.

The Biden administration’s participation in COP26, which took place in Glasgow from October 31 to November 13, 2021, was a step in the right direction to address climate change, compared to the previous administration, which derailed any progress made by the U.S. to address the current climate crisis. President Joe Biden, however, still did not go far enough at the international climate conference in terms of addressing environmental justice, systemic environmental racism and the disproportionate support for repairing the damage caused by extreme weather events in impoverished countries and underserved communities in the United States. The actions and projects needed to address these issues and bring about real change on the ground are, meanwhile, being championed by grassroots organizations led by women and people of color who are taking steps within their communities to move away from fossil fuels, power their neighborhoods with clean energy, and stay connected with community-created broadband infrastructure.

In New York City, Making Solar Power Affordable and Accessible Is About ‘More Than Just Putting Panels on Rooftops’

Working at the intersection of climate change and environmental justice in the heart of New York City is the Latino community-based nonprofit UPROSE. Founded in 1966, and based in the city’s largest maritime industrial district, the nonprofit organizes sustainable development projects and advocates for policies in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Sunset Park and throughout all five boroughs. Their Sunset Park Solar project, which “will be New York City’s first community solar project owned and operated by a cooperative for the benefit of local residents and businesses,” will save its participants about 15 percent on their monthly electric bill, once the solar system has been installed and is operational.

The road to the project’s completion has been long and challenging due to the slow-moving gears of the existing governmental processes, according to Summer Sandoval, energy democracy coordinator at UPROSE.

“Sunset Park Solar is about more than just putting panels on rooftops; it’s about creating a scalable and replicable community-led model for the development of solar projects that build long-term community wealth and exhibit a Just Transition,” Sandoval says. “This project builds on the traditional community solar model but is vastly different from anything that’s been done before, and it’s challenging to navigate our way through processes, financial models and incentive programs that weren’t built for projects like this.”

Sunset Park Solar would allow for about 200 subscribers to utilize renewable energy and would not require any of them to install solar panels on their homes or pay any upfront costs, as UPROSE and its partners in the project have already done the heavy lifting. The panels for this project will be installed on the Brooklyn Army Terminal rooftop and will provide 685 kilowatts of clean electricity. In addition to the tangible cost-saving benefits to residents, the project has shown that community-led clean energy projects are possible.

“Even before construction, this project has demonstrated that the climate solutions are coming from the people on the front lines, and hopefully decision-makers see that as well and invest their resources directly into those front-line communities,” says Sandoval.

A Bright Spot in Detroit With Solar Streetlights

In Highland Park, Michigan, a city that sits within the City of Detroit, the nonprofit Soulardarity has been fighting for energy democracy since 2012.

“The idea of energy democracy is essentially focused on ensuring that the people who are affected the most by the decisions in energy should be the ones with the greatest amount of say in the process,” says Soulardarity Program Director Rafael Mojica.

Energy costs for city residents have been skyrocketing for decades (and continue to do so). The rate hikes were largely at the hands of the investor-owned, state-regulated utility company, DTE Energy, which made an interesting demand when Highland Park residents could no longer afford to pay the maintenance bill for their streetlights.

“In 2011, DTE gave [an] ultimatum to the City of Highland Park that they [either] pay the debt associated with the streetlights’ maintenance costs or lose them, and unfortunately, the city was in no position to pay their debt, so DTE followed through and removed more than 1,000 streetlights from the city,” says Mojica. “They didn’t remove everything. They left the stumps as a reminder to the community of their presence.”

When like-minded community members, led by Highland Park resident Shimekia Nichols (who is now Soulardarity’s executive director), organized as a result of the streetlight removal, they formed Soulardarity to bring light back to the community. After gathering funds from local residents, the first solar-powered streetlight was erected in 2012 in the neighborhood known as Avalon Village in Highland Park.

Soulardarity’s mission isn’t only to illuminate their streets with solar energy but also to shine a spotlight on the failed model of electricity production that for-profit, investor-owned utility providers like DTE Energy represent.

“DTE increases the rates they charge customers on a regular basis, exacerbating financial distress [for] communities of color, and despite the profits they’re raking in, they’re not using it to reinvest in their infrastructure. As a result… [the communities in Highland Park] have a poor level of service,” says Mojica. He adds that in the summer of 2021, “for example, Southeast and mid-Michigan experienced a huge number of blackouts, which are in DTE’s service area.”

Mojica points to the rippling effects of frequent power outages, especially in the summer and winter months, which can lead to refrigerated groceries that cost hundreds of dollars going bad as a result of these outages or can lead to rising hotel costs that may cripple the budgets of poor families living from paycheck to paycheck.

Currently, Soulardarity has been sifting through the language of the latest budget bills to ensure they provide funding for renewable energy projects in communities like Highland Park. Specifically, Soulardarity is seeking funds from the Department of Energy’s Communities LEAP program, which provides “supportive services valued at up to $16 million for community-driven clean energy transitions.”

Soulardarity has also completed an analysis in partnership with the Union of Concerned Scientists to outline what a clean energy, net-zero future would look like in Highland Park in the future called Let Communities Choose.

“Ultimately, we want to break free from DTE, and in this analysis we found that it is doable,” says Mojica. “Not only that, but there are a number of community benefits that would come with the transition to renewable energy in the form of job creation and economic development, and our communities would be healthier and safer—basically, dramatically improving the quality of life for all community members.”

Internet Access for All American Communities as a Gateway to Democracy and Equity

While the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy sources like solar is essential to preventing further global warming and boosting local economies, power also comes in the form of information. When access to high-speed internet is controlled by corporations that operate in a similarly monopolistic manner as utility companies like DTE Energy, underserved communities suffer, especially during situations like the ongoing pandemic.

“If you aren’t fortunate enough to live in a place with affordable and reliable high-speed internet, you are essentially locked out of participating in modern society in so many ways, whether it’s distance learning, telemedicine, entertainment or even civic participation,” says Sean Gonsalves, senior reporter for the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative. “These problems really came to the fore during the pandemic.”

Currently, the high-speed internet market and broadband infrastructure, especially in rural communities, are inadequate, according to Gonsalves. When internet service providers are for-profit monopolies, large segments of the country either can’t afford reliable internet service, or don’t have access to high-speed broadband.

“When a community is reliant on outdated technology like DSL, they can’t even have a Zoom meeting, and good luck sending an email,” says Gonsalves. “In a healthy functioning market, people have choices, but when it comes to broadband, there aren’t options, which leads to high prices, poor customer service and bad coverage.”

To gain more reliable and affordable internet service, cities across the United States have formed their own municipal broadband networks to compete with the existing monopolies. Cities like Longmont, Colorado; Wilson, North Carolina; and Chattanooga, Tennessee, have transformed their economies and communities after organizing to create their own municipal broadband networks.

“The golden child is EPB in Chattanooga, which is a city-owned utility,” says Gonsalves. “Not every community can do what Chattanooga has, but in terms of benefits, the return on investment was $2.7 billion in the first 10 years of operation.” With federal legislation like the American Rescue Plan and Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act setting aside resources to increase and strengthen community broadband networks, Gonsalves and others at the Community Broadband Networks Initiative are hopeful that more communities will organize and take advantage of these opportunities and create their own broadband networks with the use of federal funding.

“The infrastructure bill represents a watershed moment in terms of the largest investment by the federal government in broadband ever,” says Gonsalves. “Even private investors are showing interest in community broadband, and now is the time for communities to start planning and pushing forward in an organized and strategic way.”

This article was produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute.


Aric Sleeper is an independent journalist whose work, which covers topics including labor, drug reform, food and more, has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and other publications local to California’s Central Coast. In addition to his role as a community reporter, he has served as a government analyst and bookseller.

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