Community Extreme Heat Panel: A New Approach to Climate Organizing in San Antonio

By Greg Harman

Extreme Heat Panel

Sierra Club Beyond Coal Senior Campagin Representative Chrissy Mann contributing to the open mic post-panel discussion at Five Points Local in San Antonio, Texas 

It was billed as an opportunity to address “Extreme Heat: Survival Strategies for a Hotter San Antonio.” Breaking down the climate crisis to what city residents can feel deeply without an often assumed depth of understanding about the science behind climate change, the first of a series of coming events came together on Wednesday, Aug. 23, with music, poetry, and refreshments.  

The event was intended as a practical response to growing suffering due to rising temperatures and the urban heat island effect,where denuded, asphalt-rich sections of typically low-income and historically disempowered communities may be several times the temperature rise of surrounding parts of town.

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 the Development Director at American Indians in Texas, shared strategies of making use of native foods and herbs for adapting to a warmer world.

Meanwhile, Peter Bella, the former Natural Resources Director at the Alamo Area Council of Governments and current activist, connected these conversations with the impact of coal plants and other sources of fossil-fuel pollution driving ground-level ozone creation and the resulting health impacts.

At its root, the overall purpose of the gathering at Five Points Local, and gatherings to come, was dedicated to building stronger communities of common concern. The idea is that open dialogue and the arts, chiefly music and poetry, communicates in ways that an assemblage of facts and data cannot.

Extreme Heat Panel

San Antonio Poet Kamala Platt, reading from her book "Weedslovers: Ten Years in the Shadow of September"

“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 for 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.’"

Extreme Heat Panel

Bill Hurley with San Antonio's chapter of the Citizens' Climate Lobby during audience open mic post-panel discussion at Five Points Local in San Antonio, Texas

The evening 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, and a free-flowing discussion about organizing around the immense challenges forced on the world by global fossil fuel-driven development.

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 also yet to be determined if CPS Energy emission reductions will be required in that plan.

Future events are being planned for San Antonio that will tackle many of the themes likely to flow out of San Antonio’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. 

Are you a poet, artist, environmental activist, or all of the above that cares about their community and wishes to connect with others and drive change? To get involved with the planning of future gatherings, contact San Antonio resident and Clean Energy Organizer Greg Harman at