Environmentalism: Why’s the green so white?

This is cross posted from:
There’s often a recognition by environmentalists that there needs to be more diversity in the movement. One of the first ideas that people excitedly bring up in practically every brainstorming session for a campaign is “Let’s reach out to the black churches, the cultural student groups, the minority communities!” This is usually about as far as things go. The message stays the same. The outreach is poor at best and usually nonexistent.

Then the opposition to a green initiative stands up and says, “This bill being pushed by the latte-drinking hippies will make [blank] more expensive.” The progressive community is split in two, and the bill stalls. Minorities are told they will be on the losing end of legislation sought by green groups. The tragedy is they are predominantly the casualties of environmental degradation and pollution.

Pollution sources are often conveniently placed in low income areas, where people stand the least chance of successfully opposing the project. Sixty-eight percent of black people live within 30 miles of a coal plant. Seventy-one percent live in counties that violate federal air pollution standards. In all 44 metropolitan areas in the country, blacks are more likely than whites to be exposed to higher concentrations of toxins in the air. Hispanic and black children have far higher rates of asthma-related emergency room visits than whites.

Hartford, Conn., a city with a large minority community, has the most trash incineration in the state, as well as eight waste facilities and four power plants. There are also the highest asthma rates in the country, with 41 percent of children and 48 percent of Latino children having the condition. In the entire country, children with asthma missed 12.8 million school days in 2003. Consider that minorities also have less access to health care, and it’s clear pollution damages these communities.

I’ll barely touch on global warming. More frequent heat waves and stronger storms, and greater spread of disease. Data from past heat waves show black heat-related mortality rates to be 50 percent higher than whites. Poor access to health care makes the spread of malaria and dengue fever into southern states a major issue. Anyone who witnessed Hurricane Katrina knows that lower income people have a much harder time getting out of the way of a disaster. I could draw dots all day for you to connect.

Catch your breath – if you’re fortunate enough to live in a community where the specter of asthma isn’t a constant worry. Read part two next Tuesday for how I think we should move forward.

Matt Dernoga is a junior government and politics major. He can be reached at mdernoga@umd.edu