Reporting San Antonio

Bringing the arts into ‘Extreme Heat’ climate struggle

Chrissy Mann, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, addressing the Extreme Heat gathering at Five Points Local. Panelists, from left to right, are George Perez, Karla Aguilar, and Peter Bella. Image: Greg Harman

Breaking down the climate crisis to what city residents can feel deeply without an often assumed understanding of the science behind the rapid destabilization of the biosphere, the first of a series of coming monthly events came together on Wednesday, August 23, with music, poetry, food and drink.

“Extreme Heat: Survival Strategies for a Hotter San Antonio” concluded with a discussion of San Antonio’s proposed Climate Action Plan, which is being tasked to University of Texas at San Antonio with $500,000 from CPS Energy. It concluded with a free-flowing discussion on organizing around the immense challenges forced on the world by global fossil fuel-driven development.

Why the focus on heat?

Consider the following from a “climate vulnerability assessment” (PDF), a report commissioned by the City of San Antonio for its sustainability planning. It illustrates starkly the link between patterns of economic neglect and exposure to a disproportionate share of rising temperatures.

Screen Shot 2017-08-30 at 11.08.57 AM

Or consider this study from the Goddard Space Flight Center that found inner cities may experience temperatures average 13 to 17 degrees (F) higher than surrounding suburban areas. (Providence, R.I. proved to be 22 degrees warmer than surrounding countryside.)

NASA research has confirmed that urban heat islands “create more summer rain over and downwind of major cities, including Atlanta, Dallas, San Antonio and Nashville,” which may exacerbate flooding.

Urban heat island by day and night. Credit: U.S. EPA.

The extreme heat event was offered as practical response to growing suffering in urban San Antonio from the amplification of rising temperatures from global warming and the multiplied impacts of the heat island effect targeting denuded, asphalt-rich sections of typically low-income and historically disempowered communities.

Speaking to evolving efforts at the city’s health department, George Perez, an activist, counselor, and educator with San Antonio’s Metropolitan Health District, shared tips on recognizing heat stress and dehydration, particularly among at-risk populations, such as elders and children.

Karla Aguilar, a danzante and development director at American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions, shared strategies of making use of native foods and herbs for adapting to a warmer world.

Meanwhile, Peter Bella, former natural resources director at the Alamo Area Council of Governments and current activist, steered these conversations into talk of the impact of coal plants and other sources of fossil-fuel pollution driving ground-level ozone creation and resulting health impacts.

You can see some of the discussion here:

At its root, the gathering at Five Points Local was dedicated to building stronger communities of common concern. For this, open dialogue and the arts, chiefly music and poetry, communicated in ways that the assemblage of facts and data could not.

“The free flow of poetry and music is something new to my experience,” said Bella. “I think we have to have that kind of openness because the climate problems we face, when we look at the environmental challenges, they need not only the why … but they need the depth of feeling that comes with the gut feeling and gut understanding that causes us to respond, that causes us to make changes.”

With the floor opened up to discussion, musician Ruben Martinez, who plays under the name Tell the Tale, spoke out on his vision of changemaking in San Antonio.

“What can you and us and I as an individual do? Campaign, campaign, campaign,” Martinez said. “Imagine you’re trying to bring in votes at your work, at your church, at the library, at the bus stop.

“At my church, my pastor’s like, ‘Spread the love of Jesus.’ And I was like, ‘That’s good too.’ I love doing that. But spread awareness. Spread whatever acts that you do.”

The draft 2018 city budget now being negotiated includes $67,000 for a new staffer at the City Office of Sustainability, a position intended to guide development of the CAP. However, local organizers have been questioning how transparent and inclusive the CAP process will be. It is yet to be determined if CPS Energy emission reductions will be included in that plan. Critically, the City has taken no action to set a firm date to achieve net-zero greenhouse emissions.

Up the road in Austin, the council has upped its renewables pledge to 65 percent by 2027–and is studying the possibility of reaching 100 percent by 2030. By comparison, CPS Energy renewable goals have stalled out at a mere 20 percent by 2020.

Future events are being planned for San Antonio that will tackle many of the themes likely to flow out of the City’s Climate Action Plan, just now making its way through the budget planning process for 2018. These will inevitably include the extreme storms and flooding that have impacted Texas like no other state in the nation, Hurricane Harvey being just the latest example.

To get involved, contact San Antonio resident and Sierra Club Clean Energy Organizer Greg Harman at


An earlier version of this dispatch was previously published at the Lone Star Sierra Club blog.