School walkouts driven by the Parkland tragedy are an inspiration to climate hawks. It is good to keep in mind that the Florida high school’s namesake, Marjory Stoneman Douglas , was an early environmental champion who was instrumental in the protection of the Everglades. She was also one of the first to connect environmental concerns to social concerns like civil rights and the woman’s movement. Environmental Justice has become more and more important to the climate movement, so it deserves more discussion.
What is environmental justice? From NRDC we find: Environmental justice really reflects the fundamental reality that vulnerable communities are all too often subject to the disproportionate burden of pollution and contamination. From Columbia we find: All people and communities have the right to equal environmental protection under the law, and the right to live, work and play in communities that are safe, healthy and free of life-threatening conditions. Environmental Racism is: Whether, by conscious design or institutional neglect, actions and decisions that result in the disproportionate exposure of people of color to environmental hazards and environmental health burdens.
But the roots of environmentalism are checkered, as noted in The New Yorker on Environmentalism's Racist History . For example, ”But Muir, who felt fraternity with four-legged “animal people” and even plants, was at best ambivalent about human brotherhood. Describing a thousand-mile walk from the Upper Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico, he reported the laziness of “Sambos.” Later he lamented the “dirty and irregular life” of Indians in the Merced River valley, near Yosemite. In “Our National Parks,” a 1901 essay collection written to promote parks tourism, he assured readers that, “As to Indians, most of them are dead or civilized into useless innocence.” This might have been incisive irony, but in the same paragraph Muir was more concerned with human perfidy toward bears (“Poor fellows, they have been poisoned, trapped, and shot at until they have lost confidence in brother man”) than with how Native Americans had been killed and driven from their homes.”
On the other hand, Mariah Tinger’s book Protecting the Planet gives more uplifting heroes:
Bob Marshall – demonstrated an amazing blend of caring about natural preservation and equal human rights for all. Notably, Marshall lived with a native Koyokuk tribe in Alaska and was inspired to write Arctic Village, a bestseller in 1933 – he donated half of his profits to the tribe. The “Bob” is a wilderness jewel in Northwestern Montana – 1.5 million acres of pristine lakes, crystal rivers and snow-capped mountains and evergreen valleys.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas – a columnist for a Florida newspaper, who wrote ferociously about racial inequality, feminism, and resource conservation. Helped establish rules to protect the Everglades (via her book The Everglades: River of Grass) and also opened the country’s eyes to appreciate the critical functions, flood control, water quality protection, aquifer recharge, and wildlife habitats provided by wetlands.
In the 1970s, the enviro movement was perceived as catering to wealthy white Americans. (Teddy Roosevelt did great things for the protection of public land in the U.S., but was brutal to Native Americans).
Roots start in 1982 in Warren County, North Carolina. With a predominantly black population, this mostly poor rural county was selected as a site for a polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) landfill, disposing of toxic carcinogens. Hundreds of people from the community marched in protest – more than 500 were arrested. The landfill was built, but it brought the issue of environmental racism to the forefont of the American public. Enviro campaigns were usually run by rich, white people advocating for the protecting of pristine natural resources while ignoring the condition of the poor and minority populations of the nation. The attitude was that natural resources were more important than ethnic or minority populations. Robert Bullard wrote Dumping in Dixie: race class and environmental quality to highlight these injustices.
Van Jones, in his book The Green Collar Economy says the green economy has the power to deliver new sources of work, wealth and health to low-income people – while honoring the earth. (Caulking gun and clipboard, then they rise to management. ) If you can do that you just wiped out a whole bunch of problems. We can make what is good for poor black kids also good for the polar bears and good for the country.
So, environmental justice is a rich topic to consider.
Because we recognize the necessity of personal accountability for our actions, because we accept responsibility for building a durable future and because we believe it is our patriotic duty as citizens to speak out, we must insist that the United States put a price on carbon.
Thanks for listening.