Thursday, April 21, 2016

How Many More Earth Days Until The Earth Is Saved?

Friday is the 46th Earth Day and hundreds of thousands of people young and old will be doing something good for the Earth. That’s a good thing because every act of recycling, reusing and restoring helps. But honestly, it’ll take a lot more to make our Earth a healthy place.

Hurrah for Earth Day volunteers and weekend warriors but the big, big threats to our planet aren’t addressed by the kinds of incremental actions that supposedly lead to full scale activism. That’s a hard pill to swallow for us educators and activists but, honestly, aren’t 46 years time enough to show some major progress in creating an environmental constituency among the majority of our nation’s people?-- especially given the urgency of the problems?

I sat this week with a group of lively black kids about the age of my grandson who had just got out of the Baltimore’s National Aquarium and they shared with me all the things they saw and did with the kind of detail and enthusiasm that made me want to enlist them in my marine crusade. But what will happen next? They will move into adolescence and young adulthood where the future of Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean will join other interests and concerns in a grand hierarchy of being alive. How do we keep the flame burning once it is lit in the young?

I sat with scientists and environmental colleagues last week at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Vancouver, B.C., heartened that there was a strong mix of men and women participating but disheartened by the vast preponderance of Caucasian faces. Despite periodic hand wringing, the environmental movement continues to be white. How does environmentalism progress when the white population of this country becomes a minority in the next couple of decades?

I’m not sure how the information that comes out of the Ecosystem Conference will inform public policy and translate into the kinds of concerns that most people have when they think about their environment. In  our everyday lives, the environment comes down to public health, safety and access— our food, our water, streets, our parks and our beaches. In other words, environment and community need to go hand in hand to be relevant and meaningful.

The environmental movement need to become racially diverse if we are to progress beyond annual Earth Day events. The movement needs to speak directly to class differences and address issues meaningful to more than just educated, economically comfortable people. The movement needs to speak with many voices for each of us in the individuality of our ethnicity and our social standing. In doing so, it can speak to our individual responsibility for our environment. It can speak to the opportunities our environment provides us. It can speak to our legacy we leave for our children and their children.

Now let’s go pick up some trash, dig some weeds and plant a tree.

--Mike Sato

6 comments:

  1. Good article, Mike. While I understand your dismay at the lack of diversity here in the Pacific NW over environmental issues, it's up to any and all of us to move the needle on this topic. It's good to remember that the First Nations both in Canada and those here, are very much deeply involved in environmental protection. Across the US the midwest tribes have been fighting the XL Pipeline. In Arizona the tribes have been fighting the Grand Canyon mine. But we are still behind the eight ball. Not enough environmental justice has been integrated into the main issues that the communities of color have been involved with, mainly issues around economic and being free from police persecution. The tie in between their main issues and the environment, is one that is clear to see, when you look at Flint Michigan. The powers of that state clearly were willing to trade off the environment of the poor for cost savings. Would they have done that to their own neighborhoods? Unlikely. The environment is at the root of many of the other issues.

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    1. Tribes rightfully are major players not as an interest group but as sovereign nations. They don't count, in that sense, as providing diversity, not the way participation of other ethnic groups do. But the point is well taken that, ethnicity aside, class differences prevail as Leonard Pitts points out in "Sometimes, race is more distraction than explanation" http://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/sometimes-race-is-more-distraction-than-explanation/

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  2. Well I would "guess" maybe 20 to 25. By then things will probably be much different .. for better or worse.

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  3. Ah the lack of diversity in environmental groups. I know (says the white woman from an upper middle-class background, although not my current situation). I am always dismayed that environment seems to hardly be on the radar in the political debates, although these days it's those to the right of the spectrum trying to deny or downplay climate change. I think some groups like Sierra Club with their inner city outings program are trying. But the future....I am not optimistic.

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    1. It's human for folks to segregate themselves by class and complexion and values; in a homogeneous society, that determines its ethos. Today, we've become much more fragmented and it's harder to discern the dominant themes in our society's ethos. Hence the frustration when climate change advocacy conflicts with construction jobs and construction jobs conflict with public health. But I still believe that most people want the opportunity to make a decent living, are willing to take responsibility for their actions, and want a better future for their next generations. That doesn't solve the conflicts but puts the discussion in the context of us all being in the same boat aka Spaceship Earth. That's what it takes to discuss our issues as a community comprised of all classes, complexions and values. That's the role I think each one of us has: to come not as optimists or pessimists but as realists willing and open to make living together work. I think the same holds true for the environmental community as well: each one of us has a role to reach out and mentor others to create a more diverse community and more vibrant dialogue. Realistically speaking, we'll plow the same old furrow as a society and as a society until that happens.

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  4. Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I like your spin on these issues. Yes, Spaceship Earth. I think the rub is when there's a divergence of opinion about what the planet/humans can tolerate in terms of changes. Forward!

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