Lily-white enviro groups: Snail darters > minorities

by CalWatchdog Staff | March 26, 2013 11:00 am

March 26, 2013

sierra-club1By Chris Reed

So the Washington Post has a 1,500-word-plus analysis[1] of why leaders and members of environmental groups — starting with the biggest of all, the San Francisco-based Sierra Club — are “more like that of the Republican Party they so often criticize for its positions on the environment than that of the multiethnic Democratic Party they have thrown their support behind.”

But reporter Darryl Fears[2]‘ analysis is, well, vanilla. He focuses initially on the angle that outreach is lacking and that having diverse leaders and members is not a priority of the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Riverkeepers, etc.

What about the angle that cleaning up polluted minority communites in industrial areas is infinitely less of a priority for white enviros than protecting coastal view planes, gnatcatchers, snail darters, etc?

Greens pushed polluters into minority communities

That’s referenced, but only in paragraphs that offer telling detail but superficial insight:

“’We essentially have a racially segregated environmental movement,’ said Van Jones, co-founder of the nonprofit Rebuild the Dream[3] and a former adviser on green jobs to the Obama administration. ‘We’re too polite to say that. Instead, we say we have an environmental justice movement and a mainstream movement.’

“The Sierra Club, billed as the nation’s oldest and largest grass-roots environmental organization with 1.3 million members, was founded in 1892. Like groups that followed, such as the Nature Conservancy in 1915 and the National Wildlife Federation in 1936, they were largely white, upper- and middle-class, and focused on the protection of wilderness areas.

“Two decades later, Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, ‘Silent Spring,’ alerted Americans to the impact of pesticides and toxic pollution on the environment.

“Acting on Carson’s revelations, the mainstream environmental groups helped to push chemical warehouses, pesticide companies and coal-fired power plants from rural and exurban areas, and many polluters migrated to low-income urban areas where people of color live.

“In the 1980s, the Government Accountability Office, the United Church of Christ and the Commission for Racial Justice each issued reports that established a direct link between race and the location of toxic-waste sites, according to a study[4] on power plants and their proximity to minorities released in December by the NAACP. …

“Robert Bullard of Texas Southern University said that in 1980 all five of Houston’s landfills were in minority communities, as were six of the city’s eight incinerators. He said mainstream environmental groups he approached for help did not seem concerned.”

‘Environmental justice’ for plants and birds, not people

And why would that be? Why would those holding “mainstream environmental values” be so unconcerned about “environmental justice”? How could the suffering of humans seem less crucial than the suffering of flora and fauna?

Maybe because some humans don’t exactly trigger empathy among enviros.

Fears doesn’t go near the incendiary topic. But as I noted in a Dec. 31 article[5] for Cal Watchdog, the fact is white environmental groups’ indifference to the interests of minorities used to be a lot worse than indifference:

“The environmental movement for decades called for zero population growth[6] — seen as code for making minorities have fewer kids and for curbing illegal immigration. Now the rhetoric has shifted, but the history isn’t going away. Check out this Southern Poverty Law Center dossier on John Tanton, a Sierra Club activist[7] who led’s the club’s population committee in the early 1970s before it was revealed that he was a white nationalist.”

This matters. Greens pine for the way things used to be — in many, many ways.

I think that by any objective measure, “environmental justice” — fighting the history of sticking heavy polluters in minority communities — is more important than fretting about declining numbers of gnatcatchers and snail darters. But Democratic leaders defer to environmentalists, and enviros don’t agree. Save the obscure fishies! Bugs are people too!

As for poor minorities, well, let them eat cake.

  1. 1,500-word-plus analysis:
  2. Darryl Fears:
  3. Rebuild the Dream:
  4. study:
  5. Dec. 31 article:
  6. zero population growth:
  7. Sierra Club activist:

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