Driving east out of San Francisco toward Stockton the expansive array of levees seems to flow into the landscape. It is a land of contradictions. Looking out to the Rio Vista wind farms the sky is clouded with dark smoke spewed from power plants, heavy with particulates awaiting the lungs of those it finds downwind. The perfectly square grids of cultivated green land stand in stark contrast to the brown late summer grasses blowing in the breeze. The meandering rivers of concrete sequestered water flow through a land that once was theirs; a land where Native Americans gathered tule and cattails, fish spawned, birds called to the sun and deer came to quench their thirst. The tidal marshland, now predominantly drained and rerouted, serves as a reminder that the water here in California has always flowed to power.
Having exited the freeway, we drove up the bank of a levee, bordered to the left by the Sacramento River and to the right, many feet lower, by production agriculture land. As the large tour bus, our group traveled in sauntered along we passed many small towns, marked only by the occasional auto repair shop and signs that read “Protect Freedom. Remove Obama.” Ah, the sweet feeling of home sweet rural California home. Two-lane metal counterweighted draw bridges transected the river at various intervals, I assumed facilitating travel and the movement of agricultural materials. The monotony of precision cultivated land continued out the bus windows, it is always so easy to get lost in the pattern of it all.
This is the same terrain that I have called home since I was five, having grown up only an hour to the northwest in an eerily similar small agricultural town. The monotony of rows, aligned no matter which way you gaze, brings back memories of childhood. Contrasted verdant crops and desiccated brown grasses remind me of my small face stuck out the car window. It has been the oddest of experiences to live in San Francisco, 45 miles from home, for the last few weeks and to learn about CA while visiting various locations (cities, farms, organizations, industrial sites, etc) in the area. I have never before had the opportunity to look at things and places I know with a “foreign” lens. It is amazing what you see, and don’t see, when you look in different ways. Suffice to say positionality, in all its complications, matters.
My study abroad program began here in CA and I will subsequently travel with 28 other students from all over the country, as well as one fellow and one professor, to Vietnam, Morocco, and Bolivia studying climate change and the comparative politics of food, water, and energy. We have spent the weeks thus far establishing a climate justice framework and a socio-environmental context; learning about California and the Bay area, listening to experts talk to us about all kinds of topics and traveling to various site visits.
We have focused on the intersectionality of identity and questions around power and privilege. Reflecting deeply on what counts as nature and whose nature counts. We leave for Vietnam early this week and I am excited, and nervous, as is to be expected. In the past two overwhelming first weeks, I have learned many things, most important of which is perhaps that I will not find all the answers I seek in the coming months, but instead, I will learn to ask better questions.
“In the climate justice movement, an analysis of intersectionality helps explain why we cannot simply fight for a greener, cleaner version of this current system by reducing emissions, stopping deforestation and shifting to renewable energies like wind and solar. The collapse of our ecosystems and disasters like hurricanes and oil spills have always impacted certain people more than others. Usually, it’s also those very communities who have less access to resources –– such as reliable housing –– that would help them survive the economic devastation that comes with ecological collapse. (…)”–Henia Belalia
“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives” –Audre Lorde