How Can Greens Make Themselves Less White?

Naomi Schaefer Riley, Wall Street Journal, March 19, 2009

A few days after Barack Obama’s inauguration, the newly appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, gave an interview to Essence magazine. Ms. Jackson explained that she planned to “elevate the issue” of “environmental justice” during her tenure. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, environmental justice is the sweet spot where the green movement meets the racial grievance industry. As the Essence interviewer put it: “The practice of locating polluting industries in minority communities–and the consequent health impacts–is well documented. African Americans are almost 80 percent more likely than White Americans to live in neighborhoods near hazardous industrial pollution sites.”

The concept of environmental justice can be traced back to the early ’80s, according to Robert Bullard, the director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University. He cites a 1982 fight over a landfill in Warren County, N.C. Since then, the movement has blamed industrial plants across the country for skyrocketing asthma rates among inner-city blacks. But Mr. Bullard believes that environmental justice should also include a concern about the lack of public parks in inner cities and high childhood obesity rates among blacks (stemming from fewer supermarkets in their neighborhoods). He refers to those fights as “parks justice” and “food justice.” Talk about defining justice down.

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But some racial minorities apparently remain unconvinced. An article in the New York Times last week documented how green groups are having trouble attracting black and Hispanic supporters. Carl Pope, the executive director of the Sierra Club, noted that at a typical Sierra Club meeting–despite the organization’s best efforts–“the people are mostly white, largely over 40, almost all college educated, whose style is to argue with each other. . . . That may not be a welcoming environment.” Other green leaders quoted by the Times bemoaned their failure to draw a more rainbow-colored crowd, faulting themselves for not coming up with better outreach efforts. One diversity consultant complained that the dress code of environmental groups might be putting off minorities. “It’s the tyranny of the fleece,” he said.

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{snip} It may be mere condescension to assume that racial minorities don’t understand what’s at stake in such matters–that it is the outreach effort that is failing and not the message itself. It could well be that minorities understand all too well. “Environmentalism doesn’t appeal to minorities,” says Steven Milloy, the publisher of JunkScience.com, because “it doesn’t bring them anything.” He explains: “Environmentalists scare companies from building plants where people could use the jobs, and the plants go overseas instead.” In the late ’90s, for instance, the greens managed to run the Shintech company out of Convent, La., where it had planned to build a chemical plant that would have created more than 150 jobs. Though three-quarters of the black residents near the site wanted the facility, the company eventually backed out, tired of the harassment from the Clinton administration’s EPA.

Driving jobs away, particularly in today’s economy, is much more harmful to the health of racial minorities than any presumed “environmental” threat. As Mr. Milloy explains: “People who have jobs have health insurance and a higher standard of living.” As for what we might call “heat justice”: People with jobs also have more air-conditioning units, which can presumably prevent heat-related deaths.

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