OPINION | 2022: The year we struck back

To meet the challenges of the global climate crisis, we need bold ideas and to speak truth to power. That’s the idea behind Climate/Justice, a Planet Detroit opinion column written by Detroit-based environmental justice activist Michelle Martinez. Martinez writes not only as an activist but as a mother and fourth-generation Detroiter. Martinez will be donating all proceeds from this column to Black to the Land Coalition, and she urges readers to donate to the organization via CashApp at $blacktotheland. Follow all of Martinez’ columns here.

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Climate justice is becoming ever more important. It is the singular tie that binds all our lives to Earth, and her life-sustaining forces. Advocates for climate justice are pushing more and more for comprehensive solutions for humans and more-than-humans, making visible the harm that fossil fuel corporations and the politicians they pay cause. So how are we faring in 2022? 

Saving lives

As businesses, schools and workplaces loosen their protections on COVID-19 protocols and people begin to drop their masks, we surpassed one million deaths due to COVID-19 in the United States in 2022. We should all take a pause and remember those lives lost from COVID. 

It’s also a good reminder to keep us all safe by getting your vaccination booster and testing often through the holiday. This is especially important for our elders, babies, and those who struggle with conditions that make COVID especially dangerous. 

We also hang our heads for the lives lost in Uvalde and Buffalo this year. We must continue to fight for the lives of those impacted by gun violence by speaking out against the senseless loss, finding caring solutions for the survivors, and demanding more gun control laws.

Keeping one another safe is key to achieving climate justice. Valuing life– no matter where you come from, how much money you make, who you love, or your race—is key to reclaiming our common future. We’re “coming out” of this pandemic, gloves off and ready to roll.

Global catastrophe

Across the globe, people suffer from the dangerous realities and the growing threat of climate disasters. As 33 million people in Pakistan continue to seek refuge from catastrophic flooding, the country is now bracing to cope with the threat of crop failure and food shortages.  Pakistan, which only contributes 1% of global emissions, is calling for debt forgiveness and loss and damage reparation funds from the world’s biggest polluters.  A move that has US climate envoy John Kerry calling it a distraction.

In Puerto Rico, just days after mega-super star BadBunny released his video entitled “Apagon” (‘the shutoff’ in Spanish), the entire island lost power from a lack of infrastructure investment in a hurricane. Boricuas blamed the privatization of the public utility to a private corporation, Luma, resulting in massive rate hikes and worsening power outages; the privatization of the energy utility took place during a Detroit-style bankruptcy takeover in 2017. Artists, activists, and grandmothers alike are saying “Fuera Luma,” kicking them out.

Claiming our wins

Here at home, activists have been pushing for more than a decade for massive public investments to reduce pollution, and to invest in Black, Indigenous and poor communities who have been bearing the brunt of the fossil fuel industry’s bad behavior. Instead of the sweeping Green New Deal-style restructuring of the economy needed to halt climate change, we got the impotent Inflation Reduction Act.

Experts have scoured the bill calling out its good, bad, and ugly aspects. Throughout the process, climate justice advocates decried big giveaways to the fossil industry, leasing public lands, more drilling, and fast-tracking permit for more pipelines. 

The level of organizing of justice-focused activists signaled a big shift in the political landscape, which resulted in some carve-outs for environmental justice communities like investments in pollution reduction in ports, superfund cleanup, and block grants, though still little to no public housing or transit commitments. 

Despite Senator Manchin’s evil cajoling, in the end, we may have won the opportunity for emissions reductions– but fossil fuel corporations are still raking in billions of profits at the pump and on our utility bills at home and abroad.

On a different front, activists in Detroit are beating back the bullies in the fossil fuel industry, as DTE Energy was denied their ability to raise utility rates for millions of people in Michigan at the level they sought. 

In an unprecedented move, hundreds of people showed up at the Michigan Public Service Commission hearing and commented online, criticizing the utility for its unreasonable rate hike. With the highest rates in the Midwest, DTE was found to have shut off 80,000 people during the pandemic. In response to community pressure, the MPSC reduced the total rate hike from an 8.8% to a 0.75% increase.

Democracy matters

Beyond the risky and high-profile actions like the soup splattering on Van Gogh, everyday people are organizing for collective power— due to a huge push from young people, Black, Indigenous, rural and Latinx people across Michigan, for the first time in 40 years, Democrats took the State House, Senate, Governorship, Attorney General and Secretary of State. 

This election, Michiganders made it clear that we, not the government, should govern our bodies and that even in places like Northern Michigan and Macomb County, election deniers are not welcome.

As these new legislators take their seats in January, they will be tested: Will they side with the community and invest our public dollars in climate solutions that benefit working people? Or will the legislature be captured by corporate influence, and provide more giveaways for pipelines, and pollution?

We’ve got work to do

Shut down Line 5. Affordable, community-owned power. Clean water for all. Gun reform. Driver’s licenses for all. Public health. Food justice. Racial justice. We’ve got a long list of things that we’ve been demanding. And though federal law may not be productive in 2023 because Democrats lost the House, the State of Michigan has a lot of accounting to do for a lost decade of Snyder reforms. But that’s not a given.

What I see from my seat, people from Detroit to Islamabad, from San Juan to Traverse Bay, the community is taking their power back. What matters in 2023 is that more and more people start standing up, showing out, and doing their part—whatever that means for them—to beat back the bullies, and keep us safe.


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