“The Sea is Rising and So Are We: A Climate Justice Handbook” invites all to learn how to build a sustainable world through personal choices and by advocating for policies. Pacifican Cynthia Kaufman calls this time the most urgent as she notes only nine good years remain before permanent damage is done, given the rate of sea level rise and warming temperatures, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The book offers background information and suggests solutions on a variety of fronts, including making energy choices other than burning fossil fuels and taking public transportation instead of driving. Kaufman tells how to build a successful movement and identifies the changes that are necessary.
Kaufman, a founding member of Pacifica’s Climate Committee eight years ago, developed a climate action plan for Pacifica. She frequently speaks at City Council meetings on climate action and social justice issues. She’s been involved in climate activism for 10 years. She says she knows how to create a sustainable society but it’s scary for some people.
“You are ready for action. After COVID-19 people are really turning to action. We only have nine years. People know this message is urgent. We can solve this problem if we all do the right thing,” she said.
Kaufman is director of Vasconcellos Institute for Democracy in Action where she teaches community organizing and philosophy at De Anza Community College. She wrote three other books on social change. She’s active in social justice movements including Central American solidarity, union organizing, police accountability, tenants’ rights, transit justice and climate change. She publishes social justice topics in “Common Dreams.” She earned her doctorate and master’s in philosophy from University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a bachelor’s degree in development studies from the University of California, Berkeley.
IPCC directs all to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 or the damage will be irreversible, she said, motivating her to write this book. Her work is not about despair. Instead it’s about working together toward using electrical and solar options. As she explains in the book, finding alternatives to burning fossil fuels is important, but the oil industry has a strong political voice. Using electric and wind power and finding more sustainable forms of agriculture are themes explained in the book.
“Everything is affordable. What’s holding us back is political. Engineering and science have done a good job. Now it’s up to the public,” she said.
Investing in public transportation is important, as well.
“In Europe there are great systems for public transportation,” she said.
Locally, everyone can get involved by making personal choices or advocating for policy changes, she writes. As a Pacifica Climate Committee member, she is trying to get officials in San Mateo County to divest from the fossil fuel industry stocks in pension plans.
When she is not working or thinking about climate action issues, she likes to cook, hike and garden.
The book is dedicated to all the brave and passionate people who are working to build a just and sustainable future. She writes how Pacifica changed for the better instead of becoming a freeway interchange due to political activism in the 1980s. She appreciates a more recent change, when Mori Point was taken over by Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is now a thriving home to wildlife and enjoyed by residents. That happened because of persistent social activism, she notes.
What is necessary to sustain a healthy atmosphere? Solutions are coming from investors in green energy and sustainable practices and from politicians working on mandatory regulations, yet fossil fuel companies are still actively protecting their stake in the marketplace. This book intends to ramp up the transition to a sustainable society, she writes in the forward.
She writes about her De Anza students in Chapter 5 of the book, “Advice for Action.” Her community organizing class decided they wanted a bus pass system, but they had to put up with bad bus service in the beginning. Because the students made the decision to ride that bus every day, the service saw the higher number of riders and eventually offered an express bus right to the college. The bus service gave the students an annual bus pass for $15 instead of the $700 it would normally cost.
“I teach students how to become community organizers and then take a job path in the nonprofit sector. This program is unusual. There are only 15 of them around the country,” she said. “I am very proud of them. They have jobs in the South Bay and interesting careers.”
The book’s chapters focus on everything from climate trends to policy tools. The final chapter, self-care, describes ways to curate a media feed and build empathy.
“This is urgent. We cannot wait. We need to work really hard. It’s going to take policy changes and personal changes,” she said.