More Highly Educated Resources and Renewable Energy
For many centuries, a darkly ironic conception of justice ruled in Dixie. "Just Us" referred to the accurate formulation that legal remedies and the assistance of police and other governmental agents was not only decidedly not available for African Americans and other people of color--and to a large extent, poor people as well, but also that the relations with courts and the 'long arm of the law' generally took place as hostility, exploitation, and viciously corrupt practice.
Historical context, as is so often the case in such matters, remains so centrally critical that without this background comprehension, little thinking that is useful is likely to result. Thus, if one wants to develop a potent pro-solar energy policy in an urban setting, but one is unaware of the institutionalized discrimination and White Supremacy--most would call it simple 'racism,' that prevails, one is almost certain to fail to enlist widespread community support for the effort among Black people.
The New Resource Wars is just one of dozens of volumes that makes this point recently, as writers such as David Pellow discusses in a lengthy review, "From 'Just Us' to Justice: Connecting the Environment, Community, and Academy." I have not seen much consciousness of this on JustMeans, though part of my purpose here has been to raise this issue, as I do in programmatic way in today's article.
Martin Luther King called C. Vann Woodward's The Strange Career of Jim Crow "the historical Bible of the civil rights movement," yet I imagine that very few JustMeans readers other than Jimbo would have heard of the volume, let alone having read it. The set of those who would connect this tome with energy and environment issues would contain at least one member, but probably only one member.
Anyone who watches films such as those that I have reviewed here, such as "Fuel", "Contaminated Forever", and so on, will come to grips with this sense of historical discrimination and injustice against groups that are poor or 'of color.' The organizational profiles that I have made a substantial part of my oeuvre have repeatedly hammered home the idea that environmental stewardship cannot happen except inasmuch as redress for such injustice is forthcoming.
The Louisiana Environmental Justice Community Organizations Coalition(LEJCOC) stands for this sort of historical recognition that governs the social orientation in the present, recognizing also that "to support and address the needs of environmental justice communities in Louisiana: including poverty, health, racism, crime, violence and other social-economic problems" requires the ability "to bring poor and environmentally-challenged communities in Louisiana to the table with governmental entities and industry ...."
Thus, just as the present pass for most folks must account for the way that an unjust past has yielded the difficulties of the present, so too any attempt to address environmental degradation and energy inefficiency must integrate those efforts into the real social context of the current moment. Offering to 'cure' the ills of others, without asking first what they think might be causing the deleterious effects that they are experiencing, not only will do not good, it evinces a disrespect and dismissal that practically guarantees political alienation.
JustMeans readers might be able to grasp this point by listening to a community leader talk about "Citizen's Perspectives on Environmental Problems. “Trying to deal with your asthma, trying to deal with the boils, or trying to deal because the doctor’s medicine will be so high you can’t afford it. Because it will stop you from eating, it will stop you from paying your bills. You have problems of poverty you have problems of senior citizens trying to provide. Because they are trying to survive in an expensive world in an expensive country. That’s going into a third world county because of health problems. And no one wants to look a the environment as some of the costs.”
What would this person's constituents respond if I told them, "Hey! Y'all just oughta go out and buy some solar panels for your house?" The response to any such intimation would be the same: cold fury at the obtuseness of the assertion. Whatever the path toward a sustainable business model, toward environmentally benign renewable energy sources, it can only begin by acknowledging and starting to eliminate the social inequities and disparities that continue to plague this nation, "going into a third world country," as it were.
This then inevitably turns into a question of power. Bruce Dixon, the insightful and forceful author of The Black Agenda Report, who writes extensively about environmental and social justice in his publication, contends that this land of ours is long overdue for a profound political shakeup.
"A new black political strategy would have to look beyond the next election cycle or two, and advocate policy positions, like the restoration of human rights over corporate ones... that cannot be accomplished in the next elections. It's not that hard. People all over the world form political parties to struggle for what they believe they need even when elections are illegal. ... What they have in those other places is something we lost with the slow death of the movement in the sixties and seventies, a culture of struggle for its own sake, whether the goals are achievable this year or next, this decade or the next. With such a spirit, anything is possible, even the politically impossible."
Democracy-in-action of this sort might assume many guises. One of them would be the provision of the facts and strategies and ideas that can support progressive development. One such authoritative clearinghouse is a neighbor of mine, the Clark-College-hosted Environmental Justice Resource Center.
Atlanta University Center is a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). While this suggests a topic essential to explore at some point, the bifurcation of higher education and its implications for social action for social justice, it merely inaugurates the focus for today's essay.
That such a treasure trove of information and tools for change should find a home at a Black college makes perfect sense. Since the decimation of Native Americans through all manner of environmental degradations, the burden of 'negative externalities' on people without means, especially people of color, is as obvious as the sun on a cloudless noontime hillside at the equator.
As one community leader summed up at an Association of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry meeting, “It is social. You have your poor people. Whenever you see these plants or farmers there is a lot of poor people living in those areas. Whether they’re black, they’re white, or they’re Hispanic it doesn’t matter...they’re poor.”
EJRC exists to provide technical assistance, information, and research support to such folks as this leader. The Center's founder and director, Dr. Robert Bullard, notes wryly that "(s)ome progress has been made in mainstreaming environmental protection as a civil rights and social justice issue." But he is quick to declare, as well, "Environmental injustice in people of color communities is as much or more prevalent today than 20 years ago."
He sums up the EJRC orientation to this dilemma: "We do not 'parachute' into any community uninvited. However, when called upon, we will do our best to serve those most in need of our assistance."
THE EFFORTS OF THE ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE RESOURCE CENTER
Clark College is, despite the prestige of Morehouse's School of Medicine, plausibly the soulful center of AUC. And, though he has seen his share of scuffles and dust-ups at the grassroots level of rough and tumble bare-knuckled politics, Dr. Bullard and the EJRC are arguably the soulful center of Clark.
As a people of color organization, he maintains, we subscribe to the 'Principles of Environmental Justice.' We strongly believe that people of color must speak for themselves and do for themselves." This tenet, that they do not seek hand outs, that they do not ask for salvation, that they maintain that only they can solve their own crises, and, in conjunction with folks from other communities, solve our collective crises, resounds with ecological good sense.
Charity is poison.
While many a dissertation could flow from the awesome outpouring of materials that EJRC makes available, today's note will merely list a few of the primary portals that the homepage makes available.
*The resources themselves consist of a truly comprehensive collection of books, reports, and articles, updated at least quarterly; it also contains a series of curriculum guides and an extensive annotated bibliography; moreover, both uncompiled and completed documentary videos are accessible here, as well as audio recordings and written transcriptions of testimony and oral history; finally, a directory and short biographies are available of important people in the history of environmental justice.
*"Learn About Environmental Justice" proffers links to foundation documents of environmental justice as a tradition, on the one hand; it also proffers more extensive materials about 'heroes and sheroes' of the EJ movement, along with providing access to "voices from the grassroots," a testament to the belief among EJ afficianados in bottom up leadership and the knowledge that we need to garner from communities.
*The homepage also links to ongoing projects--transportation in Georgia; a fight--networking with the Energy Justice Network--against landfills and incinerators; a Hurricane Katrina relief and resettlement engagement, and various ad hoc involvement that occurs on a case-by-case basis.
*The "Hot Topics" listing will not only cover the things that folks are hearing about in ways that reflect community and environmental-justice priorities--something clearly not the case with CNN and such, but it will also introduce the site trekker to all kinds of data and events that would otherwise escape attention; similarly, the "Reports" highlights on the Homepage itself are the most recent output of far flung agencies and organizations, that show up here before joining the materials in the extensive archives.
*Finally, for now, this is the most voluminous set of links that I have encountered, when at least a substantial majority of the ones that I clicked took me somewhere; network is tantamount to creating the future, which means that the EJRC is a must member of any 'business better' hotlist.
This topic area, among the most critical to address, will appear again in more detail. In any event, EJRC is a five star ride.
THE ORIGINS OF ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
Central to the appeal of environmental justice as a concept is the fact of widespread disparity. Whether one examines heart disease, childhood onset diabetes, or almost any other specific indicator of health and well being; whether one takes a more global perspective and looks at life expectancy, infant mortality, or other whole life indicia; whether one adopts a more qualitative model and examines self-perception, feelings of empowerment, and so on, people of color and the poor are 'behind the eight ball' on the planet earth.
Thus, the intersection between, on the one side, movements for rights and power, and, on the other side, a groundswell of support for more holistic relations with nature and a reduction in toxicity is a perfectly natural congruence. Much more remains to discover in this realm, but this essay will reveal two important elements of this historical development. For an initial view of these matters, I highly recommend that readers refer to my earlier, more abbreviated discussion of environmental justice in my profile of the Energy Justice Network.
The addition of value in today's story deals first with the tendentious roots of the relations between White environmentalists and Black and other grassroots community activists. William Tucker suggested such a contrary connection in his article from thirty three years ago, "Environmentalism and the Leisure Class," in which he referred to Thorsten Veblen and other sources of social theory to seek to comprehend, essentially, why 'White people lack empathy.'
A University of Michigan EJ collection nearly as impressive as what Clark Atlanta has pulled together, assists readers in seeing this point even more easily. The web-monitor posts at the head of the home page, "'Until you talk about me having food, shelter, and clothes, I'm not listening to any appeals from environmentalists,' a Black woman shouted out in one of the Workshops at the 1976 UAW Conference at Black Lake, Michigan."
Like the UMWA could be if strategists from both directions could articulate the intersection correctly, the UAW has often, especially from the grassroots, led calls for simultaneously improving environmental caring and alleviating poverty.
|"In 1976, two students, a husband and wife team, from the Environmental Advocacy Program obtained jobs at the United Automobile Workers (UAW) Conservation Department in Detroit. They played a key role in organizing Working for Economic and Environmental Justice and Jobs, a conference that brought together over 350 union members, environmentalists, farmers, university professors, and members of the Urban League and Black community. These conferees spent four days in dialogue at the UAW camp at Black Lake, Michigan. This was the first time that a large group of people came together to discuss divergent views. Although the dialogue was tense, the participants left the conference with a greater appreciation and understanding of one another's social and/or environmental position."|
The last time that social progress seemed possible on a broad front in this country was when labor and civil rights leaders made cooperative outreach their agenda. The author above continues, "At the time, the students became employed at UAW. Workers were preoccupied with environmental blackmail as industrial managers threatened them with the loss of jobs if they didn't cooperate to fight environmental regulations. ... It was within this context that they helped to organize this historic conference of 1976.
This joining, 'tense' though it turned out to be, seeded later involvement that underlie the coming together of the first 'Leadership Summit,' in 1991, from which the mantle 'environmental justice' as a descriptor emerged. The folks at Michigan further offer underpinnings for that historic gathering.
"In 1987, while attending a meeting at the Federation of Southern Cooperative in Sumter County, Alabama, Bryant had an opportunity to visit the landfill at Emelle, the country's largest toxic landfill. The facility receives hazardous waste from 48 states and 3 foreign countries. Sumter County is approximately 70 percent Black and one of the poorest counties in the nation. It was on this trip that Wendell Paris, a community activist, gave Bryant a copy of the newly issued 1987 United Church of Christ Report on Race and Toxic Waste in the United States. The report stated that among a variety of indicators race was the best predictor of the location of hazardous waste facilities in the U.S. We were deeply moved by the United States General Accounting Office document and the United Church of Christ reports, and by the scholarly writings of Robert Bullard and Beverly Wright."
Not only do we see here precisely the sort of synergy that Vermont is promulgating now, but which we look for in vain in most cases, but we may also detect the multilayered intersections of social, economic, and technical matters that we have been learning are the only basis for potent political action. A historical understanding permits a powerful modeling in the present, perhaps.
George Middendorf, Joseph P. McCormick take readers through the same general landscape but give different details and show a slightly more institutional orientation in their thinking. Keeping these facts in mind, as we seek to build coalitions and consider various sorts of action, from the most direct to the most gently 'behind-the-scenes,' only makes sense. These are the roots of transformational possibility in energy and environment matters.
|"The environmental justice (EJ) Movement has been directly linked with the Civil Rights Movement. This can be most clearly seen in what is generally viewed as the first environmental justice case, Bean v. Southwestern Waste Management Corporation. Exemplifying many of the characteristics of the EJ movement as a whole, this case was filed in 1979 on behalf of a largely African American, Houston, TX neighborhood. Two distinct characteristics stand out. First, the major focus of the case was on the fact that siting of a waste dump constituted a 'locally unwanted land use' (or LULU). Second, the plaintiffs held that the siting violated their civil rights. Although the plaintiffs lost, the case remains a landmark in the environmental justice movement. The environmental justice focus on issues of the living and working place also harkens back to the environmental health issues raised by Alice Hamilton at the turn of the century—again emphasizing that those who do not attend to history are condemned to repeat it."|
The nauseating rejection at the hand of berobed judges is especially noteworthy here. To take such a route, we must find an organizing strategy that undercuts the procedural impediments to judicial decisions in our favor, such as the Daubert v. Dow Chemical case mentioned in the review of "Contaminated Forever."
Middendorf and McCormick go on to mention the iconic work carried out in Warren County, N.C., in 1982, one of dozens of hideous PCB cases that are still playing out, as poor and minority dumping grounds seek redress for assumptions of corporate impunity. A key conjunction shows up here, as the Black folks on the ground seek allies.
"Supported by the United Church of Christ’s Commission for Racial Justice, the community mounted a national protest. While the community, again, lost in their efforts to halt dumping, they drew attention from many national leaders, including the District of Columbia’s congressional delegate,Walter Fauntroy who requested a General Accounting Office investigation into waste site locations."
The authors keep guiding the reader.
|"The 1983 report, Siting of Hazardous Waste Landfills and Their Correlation with Racial and Economic Status of Surrounding Communities (also known as “the Fauntroy Report”), focusing on non-industrial landfills, reported three sites located in areas with majority Black populations in the southeastern US. A similar, but far more extensive report issued four years later, Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States, found race 'the most significant among variables tested in association with the location of commercial hazardous waste facilities.'”|
The actual culmination of Environmental Justice, in 1991, involved other institutional and reformist threads. That Ej now is the state-of-art standard for environmental matters at the Federal level, even as the problems that its use should address appear to worsen, ought to tell us that we have homework to do about the foundations of these efforts. Many controversies attended this birth, in any event, about which these correspondents hand out some modicum of clarity.
They conclude, "The environmental justice label sidestepped many of these issues and advocated for “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies" (EPA Office of Environmental Justice)."
And again, this is the SOP, but things seem to be like they always used to be. The lessons are present for us to learn, but we will have to dig them out in richer detail to garner a sense of how to move forward. We cannot tolerate much more of the line that is so common in this sort of assessment. "Unfortunately, they lost." Our victory represents the salvation of life on earth, in all probability.
THE CRITICAL ROLE OF ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
I cannot count the number of times that I've heard the chant, "No Justice? No Peace!!" I've also mouthed these cutting syllables myself innumerable times. They trip off the tongue.
Of course, for dedicated Nazis, so did the lines, "Deutschland, Deutschland, uber alles." The difference is that, for those who believe in democracy, and community, and interdependence, and husbandry, the former phrasing forms a bedrock for proper process, whereas the latter rant serves the proponents of empire and domination.
That basically wraps up the extent of this section for today. In the upcoming follow-up on this issue, the question of the central import of environmental justice in developing sustainable business will lead, and we will keep trying to tease out the historical materials that give us the greatest chance to garner policy and strategy benefits for the work that we are doing today. If anyone fails to see the centrality of environmental justice to any hope of effective progress on energy issues, then that person ought to be in touch. We need some additional classes together..
One central notion of this article is easy to see and state. Centralized and powerful resources need to play a role in transformative processes. In many ways, this truism is a self-criticism. While I have on many occasions utilized what EJRC makes available, I have yet to leave the comfy confines of my office and go to the source. Apparently, such a 'mountain going to Muhammad' is necessary since, thus far, I've been unable to get Dr. Bullard to return my calls.
Whatever the controversies and difficulties that have transpired over the course of a fiery career, EJRC manifests a legacy worthy of a Krishna, an MLK, and other equally luminous heroes of the human struggle for consciousness, freedom, and empowerment. In this vein, I can only encourage JustMeans readers to avail themselves of this truly magnificent collection of materials, and to find ways to network with the Center as that possibility becomes possible.
Another clear outcome of the journey that readers have taken today is that a desire to make a difference in energy and environmental spheres must acknowledge and comprehend the way that the developments of these areas of life have intersected with and emerged from the experiences of 'people of color,' 'crackers,' and all manner of historical 'minorities,' who, in sum, constitute a substantial majority of the planet's peoples.
One publication, a "Freedom Movement Bibliography" might in many ways serve as a starting point for considering matters of energy and environment, or for that matter, any way of approaching sustainable business, in relation to the decades long--some would say centuries long--battles of Black people to achieve justice.
A noisome piece of the puzzle of obtaining power is that particular knowledge is often almost impossible to obtain, even though information is ubiquitous. JSTOR, a 'not for profit' enterprise, wants to charge $38.00 for what could be a critically important component of a knowledge acquisition process. This is, if not unconscionable, highly problematic, especially for a grassroots journalist who does everything 'on his own dime,' as my dad was wont to say.
Nevertheless, as today's post witnesses the legacy of Malcolm X and Huey Newton and Bobby Seale and other martyrs for community power, and the story of Vermont, from earlier this week, tells of White Panthers who also reflect that heroic bequest, perhaps we may anticipate further upwellings and outpourings of spirit and commitment from people who cannot help but seek a path forward, because their survival depends on it.
Dr. Bullard, while straightforward about setbacks and continued patterns of inequity and oppression, somehow can also envision a potent upsurge just ahead. "We are seeing an increase in the number of grassroots people of color environmental and economic justice groups emerge across the U.S., Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico. This is also the case in the Caribbean, Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Transboundary and international collaborations are forming among nongovernmental organizations to address global human rights, environmental, and economic justice issues."
I invite JustMeans community members to join up, as it were. No doubt, Dr. Bullard would affirm this call, albeit he would also insist that we dig in where we are, even as we network across every boundary to stand for not only 'business better,' but for justice and the accomplishment of the human condition itself.
Whether or not one fully buys into Jimbo's big picture ideation, the general impact of the South, and of the history of slavery and injustice attendant on that impact, remain a potent force in the workings of the world. I might put it idiomatically. Until one is willing to deal with the issues this raises, things like 'racism' and discrimination and injustice will, like elephants at the table during a dinner party, deflect and diminish the substantive conversation.
As is often the case, one must first accept the responsibility of wrestling with the history of these matters. Clearly, the vast trove of materials at EJRC is a godsend in this regard. But has a consciousness of these items entered the 'middle class' communities that are 'feeling the pinch' of things just now? They are nowhere in the conversations ongoing in Tucker, Georgia, to that I can attest. And I would contend that, with very few exceptions outside of Vermont, they have not yet risen above the horizon of routine consciousness.
A 1977 lead article in Harper's Magazine, "Environmentalism and the Leisure Class," contended that almost entirely White and well-off supporters of mainline environmental organizations want to conserve and "protect...above all else social privilege." Today, we can see an echo of what William Tucker argued in that piece in the no-growth and slow-growth attitudes of Transition Towns of a certain stripe and from many proponents of caution about consumption in relation to Peak Oil.
The problem with such thinking is not just the assumptions about how certain socioeconomic developments come about. As well, the presumptions about how the past has turned into the present, as if we all started out on the same page, with a 'level playing field,' as if the whole complex world stew is like a suburban swimming pool where everyone gets to come in and take a dip, lead to what has to appear as a cavalier unconcern about people, like many of the folks in Michigan, who "are barely making it."
In such a scenario, emphasizing the need to 'slow growth' and to 'spend less,' or offering 'socially conscious shopping sites' as an answer to energy and environmental issues that are life threatening, is at best demeaning and lacking in compassion.
William Tucker put it like this, "The fundamental environmentalist assumption is that we can 'stop growth,' at least until the 'right' solution to our technological problems comes along.
This is foolishness. 'Stopping growth' simply means falling behind, with all the economic consequences. It is only the accumulation of social wealth from previously successful technologies that permits the implementation of new technologies."
Again, a big part of the error here is to remain stuck in a present-tense, self-centered point of view. History, and a rich interconnection of science and politics, society and technology, must come to rule our introspection and our policy choices.
On the other hand, many middle-of-the-road environmental groups do seem to have gotten a clue. Thus, Sierra Club is active in protesting the Savannah River Site across the water from the citizens of Burke County, Georgia who face the prospect of further impacts from new reactors at Plant Vogtle. This has become true across the board, as in working to clean up 'cancer alley' in LEJCOC territory along the Mississippi.
But the tendency is still to focus on reacting, on protesting, on complaint-based politics. A greater integration of social elements is important, and this synthesis of component pieces of social problems must continue to increase.
Still, the examination of issues from a historical perspective, taking into account background developments, has, as the saying goes, 'a long way to go.'
The subtitle of Al Gedick's The New Resource Wars is instructive--"Native and Environmental Struggles Against Multinational Corporations." It obviously suggests the many levels of aggregation which I have promoted in these articles here on JustMeans, encouraging a 'business better' approach that has a 'snowball's chance' to succeed.
Winona LaDuke, the truly magnificent Native American leader, who still bases herself in particular community in all that she does to span the globe, wrote the Foreword for the volume, entitling her essay, "A Society Based on Conquest Cannot Be Sustained." She writes, echoing Wendell Berry and Don Harris and many others, and proffering surcease to those of us who long for love to mix with justice, and forbearance to conjoin with redress and responsibility.
"Native people are at the center of a crossroads. Native communities possess the experience of sustainability, learned from years of observation, careful behavior, and strong community--evidence by thousands of years living in the same place, whispering the same prayers, and walking the same paths."
But these same communities are, predominantly, also targets, because in shunting them off to 'marginal lands' as a matter of convenience in the past, big firms now discover that these peoples sit atop 'precious' resources that are much coveted. She extols Gedick's volume and develops a powerful argument about reciprocity, consciousness, knowledge, and behavior. Her invitation to enjoy how we are capable of interacting is warm and joyous; her warning at the cost of ignoring reciprocity is stark.
|"Extinction is about peoples, as well as species. Extinction is the price of colonialism and conquest. ...Gedick's writing, (on the other hand invites us to learn and participate)in vigilantly defending land and people, and never wavering in (our) principles of honesty...increas(ing) not only our intellectual understanding but also our courage, for that is the substance of this resistance."|
A concluding statement by the Second National People of Color's Environmental Leadership Summit on Environmental Justice reflects Ms. LaDuke's wise counsel.
|"The environmental justice movement emerged in response to environmental inequities, threats to public health, unequal protection, differential enforcement, and disparate treatment received by the poor and people of color. Poverty and environmental degradation are intricately linked and take a heavy toll on billions of people in developing and industrialized countries alike. Any search for sustainable development must address the root causes of both poverty and pollution and seek solutions to this double threat. A large part of global security rests on a clear understanding of and diligent effort to accomplish just such solutions."|
Once more, I pray that my JustMeans readers can find a way to attend to these issues. Much more than 'business better' is at stake. And while sustainable business would be one plausible outcome of the approach that is necessary, the almost certain result of ignorance and unconcern will be the proverbial whirlwind, the 'wages of sin' writ large, brutally and dispassionately executed because we preferred to look the other way.