ST. LOUIS — August 12, 2012. Most grow up consumed with typical childhood problems such as making grades that keep our parents happy, forming friendships and trying to be as much like our peers as possible — but thanks to an influential grade school teacher, Boston area native and current St. Louis city resident Arielle Klagsbrun was introduced to a much bigger problem.
“When I was 10 my science teacher taught me about global warming and that was it,” Klagsburn said. “I saw what was going to happen in terms of chaos and I think we’re already starting to see that this summer. I knew I would try to spend my whole life making sure that chaos didn’t happen.”
Klagsbrun graduated from Washington University in University City, Mo. in May with a degree in environmental science and political science and for the last six weeks she’s worked as an organizer for the St. Louis based Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, an organization of moderate and low income people that work for economic and environmental justice.
Much has been written on this summer’s Midwestern heat wave that has hampered the regions’ agricultural productivity. Klagburn has seen firsthand how urban Midwesterners are impacted and also how the issues of environmental and economic justice are connected.
“This summer alone, the folks that are being most impacted by the high temperatures are the ones who can’t afford to pay their air conditioning bills and they have to choose between paying their air conditioning and their medical bills. These people are low income. It’s important that these they have a voice and a place to advocate for their concerns. Some of us can’t afford climate change.”
Klagburn said Ameren Missouri produces 85% of its energy from coal plants which she said was an expensive source of energy if the health and environmental costs are figured in.
“Climate change and high energy bills are related because when you’re very hot you have to turn on the air conditioning to prevent overheating,” Klagburn said. “Over 25 people have died in the St. Louis region during these heat waves from causes related to heat. They were people who didn’t have central air or only had window units.”
Klagburn and her fellow organizers at MORE began noticing concerned residents voicing their opinions on the heat wave in local media outlets and they were convinced that it was being caused by global warming. MORE saw the concern as an opportunity to spring to action. The organization is currently engaged in a campaign to both educate the public on global warming and fight it. They formed different committees to tackle the issue in different ways. One committee is working on direct action, one is working on education and a third is working on physically building alternative energy systems. Right now the campaign doesn’t have a name.
“It’s just a loose group of folks that are going to split up and do work throughout the city,” she said. “We’re a pretty diverse group. Some say they want to abolish capitalism and shut down corporations while others want to work with Peabody and make them a better company. There’s a huge range of opinions and a huge range of tactics that people are going to use.”
Calling attention to St. Louis coal corporations like Peabody Energy by engaging in direct confrontation is one of MORE’s more recent projects.
“Over the past six months we’ve been trying to call out Peabody Energy as a bad corporate citizen,” Klagsburn said. “Recently, about 40 of us who bought one share of Peabody stock and attended a shareholder meeting and called them out on not paying any of their state and federal taxes over the past couple of years.”
Jason Sibert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org