Community Profile Part 1: Protecting the Atlantic Coast from Offshore Drilling

by Mary Sweeters

November 30, 2017

This is the first in a series highlighting individuals in coastal US communities who are working to protect their coasts and the climate from offshore oil drilling.

In October, the Greenpeace ship, Arctic Sunrise, toured the East Coast of the US, stopping in several cities to highlight the threats to our communities, coasts, and climate from offshore oil drilling and plastic pollution. One of the stops was Norfolk, VA, which is under threat from renewed efforts by the Trump Administration and some members of Congress to open up the Atlantic Coast to seismic blasting and offshore drilling. There, I spoke with Quan Baker, an organizer with Chesapeake Climate Action (CCAN).

Quan Baker, resident of Norfolk, VA. Quan is the Hampton Roads organizer with Chesapeake Climate Action Center.

Greenpeace: Tell us about yourself.

Quan Baker: I was born and raised in Norfolk, Va. I am the second oldest of 16 siblings. So needless to say, but I’ve always been a responsible person. I attended Granby High, where I was the president of the global activist’s club, which brought awareness of global humanitarian issues to our school. However, upon graduating, I decided that I would make a career out of one of my biggest hobbies, cooking. It was a hobby my grandmother and I shared. So I attended Johnson and Wales University to study baking/pastry arts and business management. Once I finished all of my culinary classes I became homesick and returned home to finish studying business management.

GP: What motivated you to work on climate change?

QB: When finishing my studies at home, I stopped at a table by a local Sierra Club organizer who alerted me to all the local climate change issues we were facing in Hampton Roads. By this time, I had already become conscious of a lot of the social and environmental issues going on around the country. Being a native of Norfolk, the intersectionality of the many environmental, social, and economic issues we face became abundantly clear. I learned of coal ash dumping and coal dust pollution. I realized the majority of coal trains ran across minority or low-income communities, communities where a lot of my family and friends reside. I learned of coastal flooding, which impacts everyone, rich or poor, living in Hampton Roads. I also learned of the two major pipelines – the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP)  and Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) – and of proposed offshore drilling off the Virginia coast. Once you’ve researched enough on climate change, it’s easy to see that all of these dirty fossil fuel projects would only increase the effects of coastal flooding putting Hampton Roads at further risk of being displaced and losing our homes. Learning of all these issues in my own community spurred me to act on climate in order to keep my home safe.

GP: What does Chesapeake Climate Action (CCAN) do? What’s your role there? 

QB: CCAN is a grassroots organization that fights for climate justice in the Chesapeake Bay Region (MD, D.C., & VA). My role as the Hampton Roads organizer at CCAN is to spread awareness of the issues and build up a base of CCAN supporters who are also passionate about solving climate change issues in our community.

GP: What does climate change mean for your community?

QB: For my community, climate change is a threat to our livelihoods. Being on the coast, we are already seeing and feeling the effects of coastal flooding. If we keep going with the status quo and maintaining a fossil fuel infrastructure, then we risk losing of our homes and entire communities. Climate change is real in my community. It’s here and it’s something that has yet to be taken as seriously as it should.

GP: What do you think about the Trump administration’s efforts to expand offshore oil drilling, including in the Atlantic? What could this mean for Virginia communities?

QB: I think Trump’s efforts to expand offshore drilling is exactly something we should expect the Trump administration would do and it just adds to the fight for environmental justice we face here in Virginia. It’s clear that the Trump administration only cares about increasing profits for the fossil fuel industry and is fine with putting the lives of people and their habitats at risk. All communities in Virginia would be affected by the addition of more fossil fuel projects that would keep our economy locked on a fossil fuel infrastructure.

GP: What gives you hope in the fight to protect the coast, your community, and the climate?

QB: My main goal in the fight for environmental justice is to inform all communities about the issues we face here in Virginia. A lot of residents are unaware of the threats we face to our own personal health, finances, and modern conveniences in addition to the hazardous environmental impacts. I hope that my area will become aware and motivated to fight back against these big companies that just push their agendas through our legislature. I would love to see Virginia move into a just transition from an extractive economy to one that considers the welfare of the people and land.

Want to do something right now to support the communities fighting to protect the coasts from offshore oil drilling? Sign this petition to oppose the SECURE Act, a destructive bill that would hand over our public lands and waters to the oil and gas industry with less public input and lower safety standards.

Mary Sweeters

By Mary Sweeters

Mary Sweeters is a Climate and Energy Campaigner with Greenpeace USA. She works to fight the undue influence of the oil industry in solidarity with communities affected by oil extraction, pollution, and climate change, and to advocate for a just transition to a clean energy economy. She is from Sonoma, California.

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