Meet Ugo Ejidoh, Fall MPH Intern (UAB)

Meet Ugo Ejidoh, Fall MPH Intern (UAB)

Meet Ugo Ejidoh, Fall MPH Intern (UAB)

What is your major at and why did you choose it? 

My major is in public health, and I have chosen it because of the growing concerns regarding global environmental issues and disease epidemics. Let me also add that I am a Nigerian trained pharmacist. I have realized that pharmacists’ role has gradually moved from the traditional function of just dispensing medication to more direct patient care and disease management practices, hence my reason for getting a master’s in public health.

Where do you go to high school?

I went to a Turkish high school in Nigeria named the Nigerian Turkish International College. I studied there from grade 7 through grade 12. In the Nigerian school system grade, 7-9 is referred to as Junior high school, and 10-12 is referred to as senior high school.

What do you hope to do after you graduate?

After completing my master’s degree in public health at UAB, I hope to get a job at a governmental agency or health care organization where I can put my knowledge to good use. After that, I plan to further my education to the Ph.D. level.

What is your dream job?

As a pharmacist and public health professional, my job intersects at a point, and so I would like to use both degrees to my advantage. Besides dispensing medications, I would like to be a medical counselor, an educator, and an environmental advocate.

What do you hope to learn while interning with Gasp?

Gasp is an organization that is concerned with advancing healthy air and promoting environmental justice. I believe that the organization’s mission is in line with some of my goals. I hope to learn how they strive to achieve their goals and hopefully use it to bring environmental justice to certain disadvantaged communities in Nigeria.

Why is our mission to reduce air pollution important to you?

I come from a country where people think it is normal to live in a polluted environment, so it is not just about the minority communities suffering disproportionately but also the whole country. As a child, whenever I went on vacation outside Africa, I always noticed that other countries’ atmosphere was clear. I would ask my parents why the atmosphere always looked dull back home, but they will laugh and say, “because this is a white man’s land.” Little did I know that reason for the hazy atmosphere was industrial pollution, generator fumes, uncontrolled bush burning, broken transportation systems, untarred roads, etc. I think it is safe to say that majority of the population in Nigeria is exposed to unhealthy air. My goal is to reduce air pollution in Nigeria through education, advocacy, and policy amendment.

What is your favorite food?

My favorite food is spaghetti. I enjoy it however it is being made.

What are your hobbies?

  • I love playing board games
  • I enjoy cooking sometimes
  • I love traveling

Who or what are your influences?

I like to have positive people around me because I am easily influenced by people or the things I watch on TV. I notice that I pick up a few habits after spending time with some of my close friends.

What are some other fun facts about yourself?

  • I speak a bit of Turkish, which I learned in high school.
  • My favorite color is white.
  • I have never tried eating a crab as much as I want to.
Michael Hansen

Michael Hansen

CEO

Michael has been with Gasp since April 2013 and now serves as the Executive Director. Previously, he was director of public relations for The Modern Brand Company where he managed communications for the Jefferson County Health Action Partnership’s Champions for Health campaign. Before joining The Modern Brand, Michael served as public relations and marketing coordinator at Birmingham Botanical Gardens.Michael has years of experience and extensive training in the areas of public health and environmental protection. He is a member of the board of directors for the Southeast Climate & Energy Network. Michael worked tirelessly for years to pass Birmingham’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance, which passed in 2017 and led to the creation of the Birmingham Human Rights Commission in 2019.

Contact Michael
[email protected] | 205.701.4270

Our Brains, Air Pollution and Hurricanes

Our Brains, Air Pollution and Hurricanes

Our Brains, Air Pollution and Hurricanes

After a morning of protesting Governor Ivey’s inaction on the contaminated 35th Ave Site in North Birmingham, we sped down I-65 towards home. As we drove, we talked about how well the protest had gone and wondered if our representatives would get it, how could they not in the first place? At the same time, Hurricane Laura, estimated to be the most severe Gulf storm since Katrina, was bearing down on Louisiana. “Climate change is terrible,” we said, knowing that as ocean water gets warmer, it will incubate stronger and stronger storms. If only people would start taking climate change more seriously; why does it have to take a catastrophe for us to realize that our lifestyles are not justifiable anymore? It wasn’t until then that I felt my foot on the gas pedal, and as the weight of the statement settled in, my hands gripped the steering wheel of the SUV a little tighter. “Yeah, climate change is terrible.”

Lake Charles, Louisiana. USA – September 6, 2020: Hurricane Laura. Destruction from strong winds. Upside down RV and a pile of rubbish by the road

It’s easy for us to call hurricanes emergencies. We are good at sending the National Guard, raising money in our churches, keeping up with the news, and when we see images of shredded houses and devastated families, our hearts actually break. We can grasp that this event had real costs for real people. But do we actually think about climate change as an emergency in the same way? Was my heart breaking for all the drives I took between my home in Virginia to my college in Chicago? All my Amazon Prime packages? All the bananas I ate from Colombia? All the time I spend on my laptop even now? Maybe a little, but no, it’s hard for me to always think about my daily life in terms of the big scheme of things, even though I am studying Environmental Science at college!

Considering our history, I think that that makes a lot of sense. Our ancestors spent most of their time worrying about where their next meal was coming from. Planning for a meal in the next 100 years, simply wasn’t on the table. But frankly, in our time, our survival may well depend on that ability. Living as if climate change were a real emergency, and demanding policy changes that will protect ourselves not just tomorrow but in 100 years, is the psychological challenge of our era.

In the same way, I think we also have to call the contamination of the 35th Ave Superfund Site a real emergency. It’s hard to imagine the slow damage inside lungs by invisible pollutant particles, let alone wrap my mind around the magnitude of over 100 years of industry in North Birmingham when I am only 22. What makes it harder is that because I don’t live there, I don’t see these costs the way I see images of a hurricane-torn Louisiana. I promise you Governor Ivey hasn’t seen it, and you may not have either. But the residents of Harriman Park, Collegeville and Fairmont are paying the real costs of poor pollution enforcement and political corruption right now.

We need to rise to the challenge of our time, knowing the limits of our minds, to do everything we can to help ourselves grasp the real costs of inaction. We need to start calling climate change, and the 35th Ave contamination, emergencies so we can start acting like they are. Our survival, together, depends on it.

Erin Rhodes

Erin Rhodes

Intern, HNGR

Erin has moved to Birmingham for the semester to volunteer with Gasp as an Environmental Justice Intern through Wheaton College’s Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR) program. You can read more about Erin here.

Email Erin

Meet Madison Cumby, Fall Legal Intern (Samford)

Meet Madison Cumby, Fall Legal Intern (Samford)

Meet Madison Cumby, Fall Legal Intern (Samford)

What is your major at and why did you choose it? (for college students)           

Before starting law school, I earned my B.S. in Environmental Science with a concentration in Policy from Samford University. I graduated in May 2018.  I am now a 3L at Cumberland School of law. I will graduate in May 2021.

What do you hope to do after you graduate?

I hope to enter into a Federal Clerkship after graduation.       

What is your dream job?

I’m still trying to figure that out.

What do you hope to learn while interning with Gasp?

I hope to learn more about Environmental Law from the perspective of advocating on behalf of the environment. I hope to gain a greater understanding of environmental issue and concerns in Alabama.

Why is our mission to reduce air pollution important to you?

Air pollution poses a large number of known and unknown risks to the health of communities with poor air quality as well as the harm that it causes to the plants and animals that live in the area. I am concerned about the damage that would be caused if air quality is not more closely monitored and improved.

What is your favorite food?

Mexican

What are your hobbies?

Archery, dog shows, baking, reading, and hiking

What are some other fun facts about yourself?

I grew up in Los Angeles, CA

Kirsten Bryant

Kirsten Bryant

Deputy Director, Outreach

Kirsten has been part of the organization since its inception. After a year of volunteering to help establish Gasp, Kirsten accepted the role of executive director in 2009. It is Kirsten’s hope that future generations will inherit a healthy Alabama where clean air and water are valued and protected.

Contact Kirsten
[email protected] | 205.701.4271

Love Thy Neighbor: Building Grassroots Power the Old-Fashioned Way

Love Thy Neighbor: Building Grassroots Power the Old-Fashioned Way

Love Thy Neighbor: Building Grassroots Power the Old-Fashioned Way

In early 2019, I joined with about 15 other climate activists in a series of meetings to study nonviolent direct action and movement theories of change with the goal of building a new approach to climate change at the scale of the crisis. Our work culminated in a January retreat in Washington, DC, where we finalized plans to launch this campaign in May. The retreat was the week after the first reported case of coronavirus in the United States. Little did we know that that virus would upend life as we knew it six weeks later.

The outcome of that project, I should mention, is a movement called Arm in Arm. The goal of Arm in Arm is to ignite a transformational era to end the climate crisis by centering racial and economic justice. Through months of rigorous research and debate, we developed a concept we call “disruptive humanitarianism,” which is this idea that we can do civil disobedience in a way that both highlights the injustices and absurdity of the status quo while also helping communities. We are using disruptive humanitarianism to build autonomous hubs throughout the United States with the hopes of mobilizing millions of Americans to engage in sustained nonviolent direct action.

The Arm in Arm frontloading team met throughout 2019 to study nonviolent movements and develop a model at the scale of the climate crisis

But, as I mentioned, coronavirus had other plans. The world as we knew it changed when, just six weeks later, the coronavirus brought our economy to a standstill. Conflicting reports about the coronavirus and the illness it caused (Covid-19) led to a whole lot of confusion. Months into this pandemic we still don’t know everything we need to know about the coronavirus, but we knew even less then.

If you’re anything like me, you remember those first few weeks vividly. Growing up in Memphis, I loved playing and watching basketball. So I suppose that’s why the first time I remember thinking, “oh wow, this is bad,” was when the NBA shut down mid-game on live TV. Schools, offices, and retail stores followed suit.

There was a real sense of confusion, which resulted in panic-buying and hoarding. (Remember when, for some reason, toilet paper was nowhere to be found?) Disinfectants, hand sanitizer, alcohol, and other items sold out in stores and online immediately. Grocery store shelves were wiped out.

Then the layoffs started — massive, unprecedented layoffs of millions of American workers.

As the world ground to a screeching halt and families began to shelter in place, systemic inequalities shone through more pronounced than ever. The people most vulnerable to Covid-19 — seniors, poor people, people of color, and people with underlying health conditions — struggled to get the personal protective equipment (PPE) they needed to keep themselves and their families safe.

Everyday people couldn’t get tested when they needed to, and when they did get tested the results often took days and even weeks to get back. Meanwhile, politicians and wealthy elites were able to get a PPE, rapid tests and health care pretty much on demand.

It was maddening.

The U.S. Congress eventually passed some relief bills aimed at aiding unemployed people, vulnerable groups, and struggling families and businesses. (Unfortunately, they also gave huge bailouts to mega corporations that didn’t need them — at least not as badly as we, the people. But that’s a topic for another day.)

It was in these early months that I texted my friend Keisha Brown who lives in Harriman Park in North Birmingham. We were checking in with each other and Keisha mentioned that folks in the community didn’t have what they needed … things like masks, disinfectants, hand sanitizer, soap, and healthy food. But before I get to that, I need to provide some context.

The view from Erwin Dairy Road looking south towards Collegeville, Fairmont and Harriman Park. Downtown Birmingham, in the background, is only a couple miles away.

Harriman Park is part of the 35th Avenue Superfund Site in North Birmingham. The EPA has been digging up contaminated soil in the community for the past six years, while several factories still pollute the air day-in and day-out. Keisha’s home is just a few yards away from Bluestone Coke, a cement plant, a concrete plant, an asphalt plant, a quarry, and other polluting facilities. The 35th Avenue Site also happens to have been caught up in a massive political corruption scandal involving a coal company, a law firm, and a former lawmaker.

Many of Keisha’s neighbors are very old and/or very sick, due in part to lifelong exposure to toxic pollution. In other words, places like Harriman Park are extremely susceptible to pandemics like this one.

We have been working with the North Birmingham community for about a decade trying to reduce the air pollution while helping to organize the community for what they want and need. Last year, our Climate & Environmental Justice Organizer Nina Morgan helped to develop a new program that we call the “Community Listening Sessions,” which is essentially just a community meeting to talk about hopes and dreams for the neighborhoods and how to get there. We serve food and fellowship. We laugh. We’re really honest with each other. (As Keisha says, “we keep it real.”) It really is all about listening, hence the name!

Our Community Listening Sessions are an opportunity to folks living in the 35th Avenue Superfund Site and their allies to put together a vision for a healthy, vibrant North Birmingham.

During these meetings, residents told us about their desires for a vibrant community with clean air, thriving small businesses, green spaces, and access to fresh food (among many things). When the coronavirus shut down our economy and threatened the health and well-being of the North Birmingham community, Keisha was quick to remind me that she and her neighbors had already told us what they want and need. Those needs had only become more urgent.

Luckily, we were able to bulk order some face masks and hand sanitizer online. We started collecting fresh produce (thanks to the federal Farmers to Families USDA program) as well as other grocery store items and necessities. Keisha got on the phone and called some neighbors and put together a distribution list. And we started delivering groceries, masks, and other necessities to folks in Harriman Park. After the first few distributions, we realized we could do this bigger and more efficiently. I suggested setting up a produce stand to let everyone come and pick out what they want instead of deciding for them. We identified a vacant lot in Harriman Park near Keisha’s home to set up shop.

The first North B’ham Pop-Up Market in May was tiny compared with today.

We reached out to Jones Valley Teaching Farm, churches, volunteers, and other partners to help us source products. Keisha got the word out to the community and we held the first North B’ham Pop-Up FREE Market in May in a vacant lot in Harriman Park. In July we expanded to Mt. Hebron Baptist Church in Acipco-Finley on the west side of North Birmingham. Each market is basically an impromptu grocery store where the main attraction is fresh, local produce and socially distant fellowship.

“The Pop-Up Market has been a blessing to hundreds of people, including unemployed people, senior citizens, and big families,” Keisha said. “You save an extra $200 or more on fresh produce and personal items!”

This project grew organically from texts and phone calls between two people checking on each other during a truly scary time. There’s something beautiful about finding solutions in old-fashioned organizing and community caring. And at the end of the day, this is what “loving thy neighbor” looks like. I also believe this is the kind of community organizing that North Birmingham needs to build the power necessary to overcome decades of environmental racism and political corruption.

This is disruptive humanitarianism in action.

The Pop-Up Market on August 8 at Mt. Hebron Baptist Church in Acipco-Finley

Below are just a few of the highlights from the past five months.

  • Jones Valley Teaching Farm has graciously provided more than 2,000 pounds of fresh, healthy produce.
  • Churches and volunteers helped us collect more than 3,000 pounds of canned goods and other non-perishable food items.
  • Volunteers from Bham Masks provided more than 1,200 homemade face masks.
  • Dozens of volunteers have helped sort donations, load cars, set up tables, and staff the Market each week.
  • Hundreds of families served and relationships strengthened.

We would like to keep this project going. If you’d like to support the North B’ham Pop-Up Market, please contact Michael Hansen. We need volunteers, financial support, and items for the market.

If you’re concerned with climate change and want to do something about it, I highly recommend you check out Arm in Arm. It’s not a project of GASP — but we do support it and hope you’ll join a local hub.

 

Keisha hands out coupons for a free dozen Nest Fresh Eggs

 

Keisha Brown and volunteers set up for the North B’ham Pop-Up Market in Harriman Park.

 

Michael Hansen

Michael Hansen

CEO

Michael has been with Gasp since April 2013 and now serves as the Executive Director. Previously, he was director of public relations for The Modern Brand Company where he managed communications for the Jefferson County Health Action Partnership’s Champions for Health campaign. Before joining The Modern Brand, Michael served as public relations and marketing coordinator at Birmingham Botanical Gardens.Michael has years of experience and extensive training in the areas of public health and environmental protection. He is a member of the board of directors for the Southeast Climate & Energy Network. Michael worked tirelessly for years to pass Birmingham’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance, which passed in 2017 and led to the creation of the Birmingham Human Rights Commission in 2019.

Contact Michael
[email protected] | 205.701.4270

Meet Erin Rhodes, Fall Intern

Meet Erin Rhodes, Fall Intern

Meet Erin Rhodes, Fall Intern

Erin has moved to Birmingham for the semester to volunteer with Gasp as an Environmental Justice Intern through Wheaton College’s Human Needs and Global Resources (HNGR) program. Welcome to Birmingham, Erin!

What is your major and why did you choose it?
I study Environmental Science with a certificate in Human Needs and Global Resources at Wheaton College, a liberal arts school in the Chicago area. I have always been interested in many disciplines, so was drawn to the interdisciplinary nature of Environmental Science that includes both natural systems (Ecology, Chemistry, Geology) and the social side of how we interact with our environment (History, Politics, Ethics, Anthropology). Keeping in mind our place in relation to the earth grounds my study of how to promote human flourishing.

What do you hope to do after you graduate?
After I graduate this year, I hope to work with an organization like GASP that links environmental issues with community engagement. I want to have my own garden, get to know my neighbors, and spend a lot of time outdoors.

What is your dream job?
Oof, what a question. My dreamiest dream is to be part of an intentional community that has a hospitality or education outreach program. Cooking, teaching, living with others, learning about the place I’m living, all the great stuff.

What do you hope to learn while interning with Gasp?
I am excited to see how communities are resisting environmental injustices through organized action.

Why is our mission to reduce air pollution important to you?
It is so important to call attention to the injustice that corporations and consumers benefit from the toxification of other people’s air. I am particularly moved because air is so personal – becoming part of your breath and always surrounding you.

What is your favorite food?
Fresh peaches, sauteed zucchini, curried lentils with good rice, pumpkin muffins.

What are your hobbies?
Singing! Hiking, biking and gardening. Drinking tea, journaling, reading poetry, and baking.

Who or what are your influences?

My parents, mentors, friends, and professors but also authors:

  • Wendell Berry (poet, novelist, essayist)
  • Jared Diamond (historical geographer)
  • Richard Foster (theologian)
  • Jayakumar Christian (theologian)
  • Gustavo Gutierrez (theologian) and
  • Mary Oliver (poet)

What are some other fun facts about yourself?

  • I have a twin sister who is almost 6 ft tall! (I am 5’6”)
  • I speak Thai but can’t read
  • My favorite animals are cows
  • My superpower is finding four leaf clovers
  • I haven’t paid for a haircut in 5 years
Kirsten Bryant

Kirsten Bryant

Deputy Director, Outreach

Kirsten has been part of the organization since its inception. After a year of volunteering to help establish Gasp, Kirsten accepted the role of executive director in 2009. It is Kirsten’s hope that future generations will inherit a healthy Alabama where clean air and water are valued and protected.

Contact Kirsten
[email protected] | 205.701.4271

Groups Ask PSC to Reconsider Alabama Power’s Unprecedented Fossil Fuel Expansion

Groups Ask PSC to Reconsider Alabama Power’s Unprecedented Fossil Fuel Expansion

Groups Ask PSC to Reconsider Alabama Power’s Unprecedented Fossil Fuel Expansion

Gasp and Energy Alabama have formally asked the Alabama Public Service Commission to reconsider its June decision to approve the single largest capacity increase ever proposed by Alabama Power, including including almost 1,900 MW of fracked gas generation. We requested a rehearing to consider updated testimony in light of economic forecasts showing lessened electric demand due to the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19).

Last year, Alabama Power filed a “Petition for a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity” with the Alabama Public Service Commission. That proposal initially sought to add nearly 2.4 gigawatts of new generating capacity — which would cost customers over $1.1 billion. Energy Alabama and Gasp, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, intervened in the docket to question Alabama Power’s lack of evidentiary support to build and buy such a significant amount of new gas resources. 

In March, just before Covid-19 brought the world as we know it to a halt, the Alabama Public Service Commission held a series of hearings on the petition. Witnesses for Gasp and Energy Alabama exposed exposed significant flaws in Alabama Power’s planning and justification processes. After those hearings concluded, we made several key points in our proposed order filed with the Commission:

  • Alabama Power failed to produce the evidence necessary to support its request to increase electric generation capacity by almost 20%. The utility had previously asserted it wouldn’t need new generation sources until 2035.
  • Without a showing of need, Alabama Power’s request amounts to an effort to build rate base and enrich shareholders at the expense of its customers, who will pay for expensive, unnecessary generation for decades.
  • Alabama Power’s own analysis showed that the proposed solar plus battery storage projects were the cheapest options for customers.

The pandemic and subsequent economic downtown have cast even more doubt on Alabama Power’s supposed need for new capacity. In early June, we filed additional information regarding anticipated economic effects of Covid-19, arguing that the economic downturn precipitated by the pandemic called into question the magnitude and timing of Alabama Power’s claims about needing additional power sources. Alabama Power relied on outdated projections from more than two years ago, well before the economic devastation wrought by Covid-19. We argue those projections can no longer serve as the basis for a making a $1.1+ billion investment with customer dollars. 

Despite all of that, the PSC in June unanimously voted to approve everything in Alabama Power’s proposal, including almost 1,900 MW of fracked gas generation, except Alabama Power’s proposed solar plus battery storage projects. The PSC said they were not well-suited to meet Alabama Power’s reliability needs, despite the overwhelming evidence that supported their approval. However, the Commission refused to ask for supplemental information from Alabama Power as to whether its petition was still warranted.

Alabama customers already pay some of the highest electric bills nationwide. (A recent report found that people in Birmingham have the highest energy burden in the nation.) Covid-19 has only worsened the plight of customers struggling to pay monthly bills. If they want to move forward with these monumental investments, Alabama Power should not be allowed to put the entire financial burden on customers. Utility shareholders should bear the risk that the projects may become stranded assets before the end of their useful lives.

We also hope the Commission will reconsider its denial of the solar-plus-storage projects, which were the most economic options according to Alabama Power’s own analysis. That was just the latest in a long line of anti-solar decisions from the Commission. In September, the Alabama Public Service Commission dismissed our challenge against Alabama Power’s discriminatory solar charge, instead approving an increase in the charge.

By denying Alabama Power’s proposed solar-plus-battery storage projects in this docket and then approving an increase to Alabama Power’s unjust solar fee on rooftop solar customers in another, the PSC continues to deny Alabamians the benefits of clean, renewable energy like solar. Alabama has less solar capacity than other states in the sunny South, and far fewer jobs as a result of the PSC’s decisions.

Michael Hansen

Michael Hansen

CEO

Michael has been with Gasp since April 2013 and now serves as the Executive Director. Previously, he was director of public relations for The Modern Brand Company where he managed communications for the Jefferson County Health Action Partnership’s Champions for Health campaign. Before joining The Modern Brand, Michael served as public relations and marketing coordinator at Birmingham Botanical Gardens.Michael has years of experience and extensive training in the areas of public health and environmental protection. He is a member of the board of directors for the Southeast Climate & Energy Network. Michael worked tirelessly for years to pass Birmingham’s Non-Discrimination Ordinance, which passed in 2017 and led to the creation of the Birmingham Human Rights Commission in 2019.

Contact Michael
[email protected] | 205.701.4270