The Nation

Does the Environment Impact Ethnic Groups Disproportionately? Does Anyone Care?


Are environmental causes a “Green Movement” or “White Movement”?

It was a question thoroughly addressed at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference panel Saturday morning that focused on minority groups’ participation in environmental activities, groups and journalism.

Moderator Ayana Meade, a freelance journalist and co-chair of SEJ’s newly formed Diversity Task Force, brought questions to the table raging from minority participation in environmental journalism to thoughts on the Environmental Protection Administration’s Lisa Jackson’s recent comments about environmental legislation.

Marcelo Bonta, founder and executive director of the Center for Diversity & the Environment, stated that there are many issues in play.

“The Green Movement a predominately made up and predominately lead white movement,” Bonta said. “Another way I see it is the intentional exclusive argument.”

Bonta explained that there is an interest to include all minorities and ethnicities, but the people in the industry of environmentalism have backgrounds in the environment, not including people and social justice.

“What we try to do is bridge the gap between the interest to include people and the how-to of including people of all backgrounds,” Bonta stated.

Steve Curwood, host and executive producer of “Living on Earth” on Public Radio International, took a look at history to understand this issue. Curwood referred to the water shortage in Mexico as an example.

“In history, during the American Revolution, the French helped us,” Curwood said. “In the Mexican Revolution, we took most of Mexico that had water, but didn’t want to take their people. Now, the water crisis in the southwest is huge.”

Curwood explained that it would not be until the issue of the human factor is addressed, it will be tough to improve inclusion of people in more specific categories such as the environmental movement.

Richard Gragg, an associate professor and chair of Florida A&M University’s Environment and Sustainability Council, brought a different perspective to the table.

“Just because people’s faces are not in the news doesn’t mean they don’t have an impact. The media, my friends, are not going out and finding those leaders.”

Marcelo Bonta

Paola Elorza, a meteorologist and environmental reporter for Univision’s WLTV in Miami, offered an Hispanic prospective. Elorza said Latinos have a hard time understanding “the concept of an environment institution.”

Relating to her childhood, the Chilean native explained that, in Latin America, the media and government campaign heavily on conservation of water and energy due to Third World economic distresses throughout history.

“We’re used to saving water. We don’t need an environment institution to tell use to save water and save energy. It’s a part of our culture as Latinos. We are used to conserving,” said Elorza about the Latin American mentality and a possible explanation for the lack of precipitation in environmental causes.

Panelists went on to discuss broader environmental topics such as minorities being the main groups affected by hazards, pollution and climatic destruction as well as the expanding leadership roles of minorities in important institutions and governmental agencies such the EPA.

Meade asked about the media’s role in engaging minorities in environmental journalism.  Panelist Steve Curwood summed up the thoughts in a concise and effective manner:

“Two word answer:  Hire us.”

More like this: Panel Discussions

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