Welcome to Climate Point, your weekly guide to climate, energy and environment news from around the Golden State and the country. In Palm Springs, Calif., I’m Mark Olalde.

In what could be a harbinger of things to come, melting permafrost inside the Arctic Circle in Russia caused a fuel tank to topple, spilling 21,000 tons of diesel over 135 square miles and into the Ambarnaya and Daldykan rivers. USA Today has the details of a catastrophe that speaks to both the causes and the effects of climate change globally.

Like we discussed last week, however, the quickly shifting climate won’t impact everyone equally …


If protesters can continue filling the streets, we can continue talking about the issues. In case you missed my conversation with Mustafa Santiago Ali of the National Wildlife Federation, you can catch up on his thoughts here. Ali talked about environmental racism in its many forms, but how does it manifest locally? To dive deeper, I called Gustavo Aguirre Jr. — the only person I’ve heard compare environmental justice to tres leches due to its layers — who is the Kern County director with the Central California Environmental Justice Network.

Kern is home to three-quarters of California’s oil and gas industry and massive agribusiness, so the pollution there is harsh. I grew up with debilitating allergies and asthma — it’s important to note that my family could afford to keep a parent home and keep me in filtered air conditioning when I got sick as a child — so of course I first encountered Kern during the almond harvest. I was only reporting there for a few days, yet breathing was nearly impossible. Needless to say, I was miserable, and in reflecting on environmental racism, my mind immediately returned to Kern where Aguirre explained that environmentalism and racial justice go hand-in-hand.

Here’s our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

CP: You’ve got environmental justice right there in the name. What’s the intersection of those issues, and why has CCEJN chosen to focus on both?

Aguirre: Really the vision of CCEJN was to make sure that the solutions that were being heard — the solutions that were being prescribed to people in power — were solutions that were coming from community groups. You have your “big greens” that really come to this from a top-down approach. … Oftentimes that excludes and unfortunately hurts local, small-scale organizing around where a lot of the fountains of emissions and discrimination and injustice come from. … Oftentimes the experts who are dealing with this day in and day out are the folks who live there. It was really creating a network of folks who are in the frontlines day-in and day-out, understanding what are the best solutions, taking into consideration the people who live there.

CP: So what does environmental justice look like at the ground…