The environmental advocate should strive to be the social justice advocate's identical twin. That is not to say that they should be the same entity, but that environmentalism should proceed as though they come from the same egg.
Social justice and environmentalism are born together. They have the same DNA. At best, the environmentalist shares the blood and guts of the social justice activist: compassion (our race's highest function and most glorious capacity).
What gets called "environmentalism" is often associated with saving future generations from catastrophe, it's important to remember that many in the current generation are already suffering from present-day environmental and social catastrophes.
That is, the true challenge facing us is not just to preserve the planetary habitat that we depend on for our health, happiness and security, but to do so while ensuring a dignified quality of life for all peoples around the world and around the United States. We need to reduce our dependence on unsustainable resources, increase our development of renewable resources, and increase equality of access to resources in general.
To hell with the polar bears, I once wrote on this blog (though, of course I think they are wonderful). Caring about animals or the people of the future more than the children of today seems absurd. "Is a green economy only about reclaiming throwaway stuff," said Van Jones, co-founder and board president of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, "or is it also about reclaiming throwaway communities, throwaway people, throwaway children?"
Van Jones is a modern American hero for his ability to articulate and promote the natural alliance between environmentalists and advocates for social justice.
To quote Sun Magazine writer David Kupfer's recent synopsis of Jones' achievements:
"Recently Jones has been connecting two issues that have largely been seen as separate worlds: the abysmal conditions of U.S. inner cities and the need for a healthier planet. To stem global warming, Jones argues, the mainstream environmental movement must make itself relevant to low-income Americans; why should a single parent working two jobs care about greenhouse gases if there are far-more-immediate concerns at hand? Jones calls for the creation of a 'green-collar' job corps that will train urban youth of color to retrofit U.S. cities so that they are environmentally sustainable."
What follows are some excerpts of Kupfer's Q&A with Jones (thanks to No Impact Man reader Karin Sullivan for alerting me to it):
The stake people of color have in the environmental movement: "It’s the people of color who are
disproportionately affected by bad food, bad air, and bad water. People
of color are also disproportionately unable to escape the negative
consequences of global warming. Look at Hurricane Katrina. People of
color need equal protection from the worst environmental disasters and
equal access to the best environmental technologies..."
The call to arms needed to avert catastrophe: "...even now, during the presidential campaign, you don’t hear a full-throated call for the sort of World War II–level mobilization that it’s going to take to avert ecological catastrophe. If you look at the scientific data on global warming, you can see that we can’t avoid a wholesale disaster unless we put this country back to work — putting up solar panels, weatherizing buildings, and constructing wind farms on a massive scale...
...We can’t rely just on markets and technologies and
consumer behavior. That sort of eco-elitism is a dead end. Eco-populism
is a better model for dealing with these problems. We need a greater
faith in communities, government action, voters, and work."
Ensuring that sustainability benefits and is supported by all economic classes: "...you can’t have a sustainable economy when only 20 percent of the people can afford to pay for hybrids, solar panels, and organic cuisine, while the other 80 percent are still driving pollution-based vehicles to the same pollution-based jobs and struggling to make purchases at Wal-Mart...
"...As we move toward a sustainable economy, if we do not take care to minimize the pain and maximize the gain for the poor, they will join forces with the polluters to derail the green revolution...
"...It’s important from both a moral standpoint and a purely crass political point of view that we create a 'new-deal' coalition among green businesspeople, labor, the poor, and people of color. You unite groups by offering immediate, as well as long-term, benefits for each constituency. For poor people, that could take the form of job opportunities, better mass transportation, and free bus passes..."
Promoting successful environmental policies through the politics of inclusion: "Environmentalists sometimes don’t understand that what motivated them to get involved in political activism and change their lifestyle isn’t going to inspire everyone else. It’s not just a matter of their explaining louder and louder why everyone should be like them. That’s not the politics of inclusion; that’s the politics of elitism. The reality is that working people will support ecological solutions, but not for the same reasons that the eco-elites support them...
"...most low-income people and people of color I know had no interest in seeing [An Inconvenient Truth]. They already have enough problems. They don’t need new crises to worry about. Around here we say that the people who already have a lot of opportunities are the ones who need to hear about the crises. So if you have a house and a car and a college degree, then, yes, you should hear about global warming, or peak oil, or dying species.
"But poor and low-income people need to hear about opportunities. They need to hear about the expected reduction in asthma rates when we reduce greenhouse gases. They need to hear about the wealth and health benefits of moving to a sustainable economy. Otherwise you are just telling people who are already having a bad day that they should have a worse one."
The link between the huge U.S. prison population and environmentalism: "To me it’s no surprise that the country that has the world’s biggest pollution problem also has the most prisons. We’ve got a disposable mind-set: disposable products, disposable species, disposable people. We don’t see our sisters and brothers, much less all the animal species, as sacred. The failure to honor the sacred is at the root of both problems.
"Most of our prison-population growth has come from convictions on nonviolent drug offenses...Drug users need treatment, not jail time. We know how to take care of people who are in trouble with drugs, because we do it for rich kids. We should do the same thing for poor addicts, because it’s the right thing to do and we’d save money doing it."
To read the entire, excellent article, go here.
Photo Courtesy of Arnold Creek Productions.