A Critical Mass for Climate Justice – August 25th Katrina Anniversary Critical Mass

Katrina Critical Mass in Asheville

Virtually all of the rides went off without problems or conflicts with police, although in Portland, OR police dispersed the parade of cyclists into many small groups. In Asheville, NC more than 100 riders rode onto Interstate 26, one rider was arrestedJuggling signs reading “More Cars = More Climate Change = More Hurricanes” and “No more Katrinas!” riders spoke with drivers and pedestrians about the intersection of race, class and environmental issues. Sporting “gas-free” bicycles, the riders highlighted the connection between the oil industry and the ongoing hardship in the Gulf Coast.

“During Katrina, leaking oil refineries and petrochemical spills flooded residents’ yards,” said Brian Fleming, a climate change activist with Rising Tide North America, a group that helped organize the event. “Some of those same plants have been exposing people to toxic waste for years, leading to the creation of the infamous ‘Cancer Alley’ in southeastern Louisiana. We must recognize the role this industry has played in the Gulf Coast crisis and hold them accountable.”

The ride was organized as a collaborative effort between the national climate change action group Rising Tide North America and the “Critical Mass” cyclist group. The demand of the ride was for “climate justice” – that society’s poor and vulnerable should not suffer the consequences of climate change disproportionately.

“Katrina was a stark example of how the impacts of our society’s lifestyle fall hardest upon people of color and the poor,” said Emily Hornback, a Rising Tide member. “Exxon-Mobile topped $10 billion dollars in profit in 2005 while people in New Orleans and in the surrounding areas still struggle to clean out toxic, oily mud from what’s left of their homes. The oil elite profits from our reliance on fossil fuels while the vulnerable in our society suffer the consequences.”

“We aren’t here to just remind people about the ongoing suffering in the Gulf Coast,” said Anna Sloan, a Critical Mass rider in Chicago, “we are riding also to promote something positive: bikes as a sustainable alternative to oil.”

Activists chose August 25th, the date Katrina reached hurricane strength, to draw attention to recent studies linking global warming to increased hurricane intensity. A recent study by Kevin Trenberth and Dennis Shea of the National Center of Atmospheric Research found that global warming accounted for half of the extra hurricane-fueling warmth in the waters of the tropical North Atlantic in 2005. Natural cycles were found to be only a minor factor.

“The 2005 hurricane season made the effects of climate change real,” said Hornback. “We cannot ignore this problem anymore; we must take action now to address it or Katrina will just be the beginning.”

The riders also collected donations for the advocacy groups Critical Resistance, Plan B, People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Survivor’s Village, Common Ground Relief, and INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence.

Rising Tide North America works to support and encourage people and grassroots groups in taking action against the causes of climate change. www.RisingTideNorthAmerica.org.

Critical Mass is a worldwide movement of cyclists riding monthly to promote bicycling as an alternative to cars and to assert cyclists’ rights. www.critical-mass.org.

Participating cities:

  1. Arcata, California
  2. Asheville, North Carolina
  3. Boston, Massachusetts
  4. Blacksburg, Virginia
  5. Chicago, Illinois
  6. Colombia, South Carolina
  7. Edmonton, Alberta
  8. Fayetteville, Arkansas
  9. Fort Collins, Colorado
  10. Gothenburg, Sweden
  11. Grand Rapids, Michigan
  12. Hamiliton, Ontario
  13. Ithaca, New York
  14. Knoxville, Tennessee
  15. Lewiston, Maine
  16. London, Ontario
  17. Long Beach, California
  18. Los Angeles, California
  19. Mankato, Minnesota
  20. New York City, New York
  21. Olympia, Washington
  22. Ottawa, Ontario
  23. Pasadena, California
  24. Portland, Oregon
  25. San Diego, California
  26. San Francisco, California
  27. St. Catherines, Ontario
  28. St. Petersburg, Florida
  29. Tallahassee, Florida
  30. Toronto, Ontario
  31. Tulsa, Oklahoma
  32. Winnipeg, Manitoba
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