Local environmental groups rallying for Saturday’s People’s Climate March in Wilmington to protest expansion of Tesoro refinery

Local environmental groups are rallying behind the People’s Climate March happening Saturday in Wilmington, and organizers are adamant that although the event may be physically occurring at the other end of the 110 Freeway, it is of pressing concern for the San Gabriel Valley.

Citizens Climate Lobby (pasadenaccl.wordpress.com) and San Gabriel Mountains Forever (sangabrielmountains.org) are among the organizations joining SoCal 350 (socal350.org), Communities for a Better Environment (cbecal.org) and Coalition for a Safer Environment (facebook.com/CFASE) for Saturday’s event.

The central People’s Climate March in Washington, DC, is expected to attract the largest crowd and protests of the Trump administration’s loosening of environmental protections. Sister marches are being organized nationwide, including Southland marches in Wilmington, Irvine, Palmdale, Riverside and Victorville; and also in Africa, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and countries across Europe.

The Wilmington march is protesting a proposed expansion of the Tesoro oil refinery that would make it the largest refinery on the West Coast, bringing more oil trains, tanker ships and pipelines carrying Bakken shale oil — which would be processed and shipped out to generate more greenhouse gas emissions. Critics contend that the toxicity of refinery chemicals has been seriously underestimated. Alicia Rivera of Communities for a Better Environment, who has said the general public’s support is essential to stop the expansion, calls Wilmington “ground zero.”

“It’s not happening in Pasadena, but it’s our county,” says Arcadia resident Jim Waterhouse, who co-founded the Pasadena-Foothills chapter of the nonprofit Citizens Climate Lobby, which meets the second Saturday of each month at Neighborhood Church and has been reaching out to other chapters as well as regional groups like the Sierra Club about Saturday’s march.

“It’s really our backyard; everybody who lives in this huge basin is getting all of their goods right through that port,” says Waterhouse, whose great-grandfather, William Waterhouse, was the Republican mayor of Pasadena from 1905 to 1907. “The air quality is the worst in the United States at the Port of Los Angeles. The frontline people having to breathe this air and having their kids have nosebleeds and asthma rates that are through the roof — I figure we’re all responsible for that. We want our stuff with the big heavy carbon footprint from that port, and it’s nobody’s individual fault and everybody’s collective fault. We’ve gotta do something.”

“We are in a situation politically where people are kind of freaking out, like, ‘What are we going to do?’” says Silver Lake-based urban planner and writer Jack Eidt, a volunteer organizer who started working four years ago with a Pasadena-area environmental group that relocated to Echo Park and affiliated with grassroots SoCal 350 Climate Action. “The Trump administration has a whole slew of climate change deniers [overseeing] the fossil fuel and energy industries, so people are frantic to get involved.”

Citizen concerns have mounted with sufficient urgency that last Friday Congressman Adam Schiff held a well-attended town hall on climate change at Caltech’s Beckman Auditorium, where he was joined onstage by three environmental scientists. In his opening remarks, Schiff slammed President Trump’s appointment of notorious EPA adversary Scott Pruitt to head the agency; Pruitt’s name elicited boos from the audience. “Climate science is under attack, but we are committed to fighting back,” Schiff declared, citing bipartisan congressional support for investments in clean energy research and development. Public pressure, he said, is “essential to resisting this harmful anti-science agenda. This is going to be quite literally the fight of our lives because the health and safety of our climate depends on it.”

Last Saturday, more than 25 people participated in an Art Build at the Armory Center for the Arts, organized by the Artists’ Political Action Network. “It really was a collaborative community effort,” says photographer Trulee Hall of the workshop, where people creatively channeled their anger into signs to be carried Saturday. Similar gatherings have been taking place across the country.

Yet, paradoxically, Saturday’s march and its message may be getting drowned out by the by the sheer volume of recent marches, including the April 15 anti-Trump Tax March and last weekend’s March for Science.

“That was one of the reasons why we decided not to have another march downtown in Pershing Square,” Eidt says of the climate march. “We wanted to really go to the belly of the fossil fuel beast, which in the Los Angeles Harbor area is five petroleum refineries, two ports, massive freeways, a bunch of contamination, frontline communities suffering major problems in air quality and noise.”

Many volunteers feel themselves ping-ponging between elation and burnout. “It is good to see,” Waterhouse says of the thousands of people who have turned out at marches this year. “Too bad it’s taken such a huge attack on the environment to wake people up.”

Eidt was dismayed to hear people referring to last Saturday’s science march as “the climate march,” but says Saturday’s march in Wilmington will be different because it is going to “the source.”

“The intention is to teach a lot of people about what’s going on,” he says. “This will probably be the largest march ever in the LA Harbor area, focusing on these issues. … We’ve got permits to utilize Banning Park and march down through the streets around there through the neighborhoods and down PCH. I think we’re avoiding march fatigue and really challenging people: Let’s go deeper. … This march is bringing home the reality of the addiction to fossil fuel that will turn into climate change.” Shutting down the Tesoro refinery is not their goal, he notes; preventing approval of its expansion is.

Numerous issues intersect beneath the umbrella issue of climate change: biological diversity, air and water pollution, renewable energy, indigenous rights, wildlife and habitat protection, sustainable food production, water conservation, infrastructure sustainability, trade justice, biogenetics, national security, algae blooms, coral reef die-offs … The list goes on. That complexity explains climate change’s urgency and relevance for everyone — and also why it can seem confusingly abstract. Eidt says it’s “conceptual and intellectual,” and acknowledges that many people don’t understand its consequences.

“Climate change is such a slow-moving disaster that it challenges who we are as a species,” Waterhouse observes. “We’re not wired to recognize these slow-moving, largely invisible threats. We’re all intimately affected.”

The self-described “backyard gardener” references a 2012 UCLA study co-authored by Alex Hall (the director of Center for Climate Science, who joined Schiff onstage at Caltech Friday); funded by the Department of Energy and the Los Angeles Regional Collaborative for Climate Action and Sustainability, the study projected an increase in Los Angeles temperatures of 4 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2041. “We’re seeing the increasing number of triple-digit days,” Waterhouse says. “They’re definitely rising at what should be an alarming rate. But because they have been gradual, people don’t get alarmed.

“We don’t want to intentionally alarm people, but we don’t want them to gradually fall asleep like the proverbial frog in the pot that never jumps out.”

 The People’s Climate March begins at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 29, at Banning Park, 1331 Eubank Ave., Wilmington, and ends at 4 p.m. Marchers are urged to take the Metro or carpool. For more info, visit socal350.org, actionnetwork.org/events/peoples-climate-movement-los-angeles and peoplesclimate.org.