ECOSS has been advocating for a green economy in South Park and beyond since 1994. Our organization positioned itself a neighborhood that is charming, lively. The folks in our neighborhood are not necessarily representative of the faces you traditionally see in the environmental movement – and that was the point. Our mission and values are defined by the needs of our diverse constiuency, not by the trends of the movement or the mad rush to the dollar. We realized early on that to make “green” work in this neighborhood and in the industrial sector, we would have to make it timely, relevant, and culturally appropriate. When we say we are pioneers of the green economy, we mean it. The need for diversity in the environmental movement was discussed in today’s New York Times.
National environmental organizations have traditionally drawn their membership from the white and affluent, and have faced criticism for focusing more on protecting resources than protecting people.
But with a black president committed to environmental issues in the White House and a need to achieve broader public support for initiatives like federal legislation to address global warming, many environmentalists say they feel pressure to diversify the movement further, both in membership and at higher levels of leadership.
“Our groups are not as diverse as we’d like, but every one of the major groups has diversity as a top priority,” said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “There’s great commitment to making the environmental movement representative of what the country is.”
Are we seeing a second wave of environmentalism coming to the table?
If you’re going to be impacted by an issue, you bring the impacted people to the table,” said Mr. Moore, who is now executive director of the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice, a coalition of 60 groups.
Cara Pike, the author of a 2007 study commissioned by the environmental law group Earthjustice, said the research found that the “greenest Americans,” many of them members of environmental groups, were overwhelmingly white, over 45 and college-educated. “The focus of green groups has been to target the greenest Americans,” Ms. Pike said, “and as a result, we’ve left other people out of the equation.”
National polls show high environmental concern among minorities. A post-election poll for the National Wildlife Federation in November, for example, found increasing support among blacks and Latinos for candidates keen on addressing global warming. And surveys by the Public Policy Institute of California have found that minorities are sometimes even more concerned than white respondents about environmental issues like air pollution.
But until recently, social concerns did not appear to be “on the radar” of many large environmental organizations, said Julian Agyeman, chairman of the department of urban and environmental policy and planning at Tufts University and author of the 2005 book “Sustainable Communities and the Challenge of Environmental Justice.”
Even organizations like the Sierra Club, which has incorporated social justice work since the 1990s, concede that their diversity efforts have failed to gain traction. The organization’s executive director, Carl Pope, points at “cultural barriers” that in effect shut the door to nonwhites regardless of good intentions.
“If you go to a Sierra Club meeting, the people are mostly white, largely over 40, almost all college-educated, whose style is to argue with each other,” Mr. Pope said. “That may not be a welcoming environment.”
As a student of the environment, I learned that there are many different types of environmentalists, all focused on different, and often intersecting, factions of the larger “environment.” Several diverse strains of environmental activity are coming together and the community impacted by different environmental problems or issues are emerging as important, vital players in this new wave of environmentalism.
Van Jones…said that while environmental justice groups were focused on “equal protection from bad stuff,” groups like his wanted “equal access to good stuff” and to use green jobs to lift urban youths and others out of poverty.
“The more the green movement transforms into a movement for economic opportunity,” Mr. Jones said, “the more it will look like America.”