The Dernogalizer

February 10, 2009

Column on Lack of Minorities in Environmental Groups

Filed under: Dernoga,Energy/Climate — Matt Dernoga @ 7:10 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

So I realized after about 15 minutes of trying to write 550 words about this that I needed twice as many to do it justice and not have it be very broad about everything. So this is the first part. There is one error the editors made, which is for the heat wave statistic, black mortality rates are 50% higher, not 5% as is below.

Environmentalism: Why’s the green so white?

Matt Dernoga

Issue date: 2/10/09 Section: Opinion

[To fully address the issue of minority participation in environmental initiatives, this column is the first in a two-part series.]

The environmental movement has a big problem. In every environmental group I’ve met or seen, the overwhelming majority of the members and meeting attendees are white. Why? Outdated communication on seemingly far-off problems that people cannot immediately see or feel.

Take people in polar bear suits. The polar ice caps are melting thousands of miles away. The planet is going to warm by a few degrees over the next 50 years! Support clean energy, and there will be green jobs for you. Nature and wildlife must be protected because it’s beautiful. It might cost money to be more sustainable and eco-friendly, but we need to protect our ecosystems. The only way all of this could sound less compelling is if it were followed by a wink.

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 cause 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



  1. […] Column on Lack of Minorities in Environmental Groups […]

    Pingback by Second part of Diversity Column « The Dernogalizer — February 18, 2009 @ 12:01 am | Reply

  2. […] with the two part series of columns regarding diversity and the environmental movement.  They are here, and here.  The link to the article on Lisa Jackson’s comments is right here.  I’m […]

    Pingback by EPA Chief: Environmental Justice « The Dernogalizer — May 10, 2009 @ 10:49 pm | Reply

  3. […] column about why minorities should care about passing environmental legislation, which can be found here, and here.  Brad Johnson of Wonk Room has a video of the Boxer-Alford fued, which can be found […]

    Pingback by NAACP Supports Climate Legislation « The Dernogalizer — July 17, 2009 @ 4:34 pm | Reply

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