Hello Midwest Building Decarbonization Coalition, I hope October finds you well. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many of you over the past month, but if we haven’t met yet my name is Jacob Serfling and I’ll be serving as Co-Director of Building Policy and Technology from here in Des Moines, Iowa.
Trick or Treat!
Driving to school the other day, my children noticed a few early-birds already had Halloween decorations up. As I write this, I’m trying to remember what shelf all ours were crammed into. Surprisingly, this did actually prompt a reflection on achieving equitable decarbonization!
As I mentioned, my family and I live in Des Moines, but neither my wife nor I are originally from the area. When we first moved into central Iowa we had never heard of the local “Beggar’s Night” tradition in which trick-or-treating takes place the day before Halloween and kids might be asked to share a joke in exchange for treats. Allegedly this started decades ago to curb Halloween vandalism, but I’ve never seen that confirmed. At any rate, I am eternally grateful to the neighbor who made a point to let us know about all of this, sparing us from being caught unprepared on October 30th.
How does this relate to the more serious work of equitable building decarbonization? It comes down to understanding our communities, and bottom-up organizing. We could have moved in with our pre-conceived ideas about Halloween (Holiday Fun! Free Candy for Neighborhood Kids on October 31!), but only disappointed everyone and missed out building relationships. This area had their own traditions and we needed to plug into those, not the other way around. In doing so, not only did we get to be part of the fun, we learned some new tricks as well (I HIGHLY recommend having a string of elementary school kids come to your door armed with corny jokes).
And so it goes with achieving climate and energy justice as well. People in every neighborhood, city, and state all come with their own histories, concerns, and traditions. Does “building electrification” contribute to or sound like gentrification for this community? Have there been battles over utility rates or infrastructure that color how efforts to decarbonize are perceived? Has a unique situation resulted in organizational tactics or insights that hadn’t occurred to anyone else? Coming with a boilerplate list of best practices and no commitment to bottom-up organizing misses all of this. You risk having a big bowl of candy and no one at the door because you didn’t connect with who was already there.
We have an opportunity to wrestle with questions like this, and many more, at our upcoming Equity Summit in November. I hope you’ll save the dates for a three day meeting of the minds Wednesday, November 10 through Friday November 12. We’ll look at white supremacy culture in our movement, discuss relationships with different institutions and organizations, and share space as we do good, hard work in relationship with one another.
I hope to see you at the Summit and earlier for our other Coalition meetings. Have a great fall everyone! Enjoy the crisp Midwest weather, be curious about the communities in which you work, and maybe see if you can get a knock-knock joke out of a trick-or-treater in exchange for that Snickers.
Co-Director, Building Policy and Technology, Midwest Building Decarbonization Coalition
PS: What’s a skeleton’s favorite food? (Scroll to the comments for the answer.)