The Color of the Environmental Movement

  • Many hope that the future generations of envionmentalists and conservationalists will include more minorities. That's why the National Wildlife Federation now has a program to encourage youth and adult minorities to learn about and adopt careers in environmental fields. (Photo by Hans-G√ľnther Dreyer)

The environmental movement and conservation agencies tend to be very white. There are relatively few people of color involved in environmental activism or getting jobs in resource management. If one man has his way, that will change in the coming years. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

The environmental movement and conservation agencies tend to be very white. There are relatively few people of color involved in environmental activism or getting jobs in resource management. If one man has his way, that will change in the coming years. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


If you happen to go to a national conference of environmentalists, or conservation-minded organizations, you probably wouldn’t see a lot of black faces… or Latino… or Asian. Oh sure, a few sprinkled here and there, but mostly, it’s white folks.


But that’s beginning to change. Jerome Ringo is the chair-elect of the National Wildlife Federation. He will be the first African-American to head up a major environmental organization. He says times are changing.


“We are seeing a reversal of the trend. We’re not where we want to be with respect to minority involvement in conservation, but I can guarantee you we’re not where we were. Years ago when I got into the environmental movement, there were very, very few minorities involved.”


Ringo is working to keep the trend reversed. Through the National Wildlife Federation’s youth program, Earth Tomorrow, he’s encouraging young African-Americans and other minorities to learn about the environment and conservation.


And a few young people are listening. Kenneth Anderson is a college student, studying to be an ornithologist. He’s something of a rare bird himself. He grew up in the city – in Detroit – where he says a lot of his friends and neighbors are not all that interested in nature and the environment.


“Really, I mean I can understand why people wouldn’t because throughout most of their life, they’re in this urban setting away from as much wildlife or forests or anything like that so they don’t look at the environment as something of importance because in a way it’s already been taken away or hidden from them. So, that’s why you don’t have a lot of people of color or minorities involved in environmental fields.”


Being cut off from nature is only one obstacle. There are others. Kiana Miiller is a high school student in Detroit. She says a lot of kids are worrying about more pressing problems…


“People of color are in urban areas and urban areas have a lot of different problems like financial issues, stuff like that. So, environmental issues may not be number one on their priority list.”


Kiana Miller and Kenneth Anderson are among a handful of young people of color who are at a meeting to hear from activists and people working in wildlife management about getting involved in environmental issues… and getting jobs.


Like a lot of the kids, many of the speakers at this meeting grew up in the city. For example, Monica Terrell says she didn’t know anything about nature until someone took her on a camping trip when she was a kid. Now, she’s with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources working with state parks all over. She’s at this meeting recruiting.


“People of color and also women need to be made aware of the career opportunities. When you look at different fields, you usually look at people that you know who are already in those fields. You may have a father who is a doctor, a friend who is an attorney, teachers, plumbers, what have you. But we don’t have very many people of color and women who are already in those fields. And so, that’s why it’s so important for us to go out to recruit, select, hire these folks, mentor them, make sure they have a comfortable, successful experience in natural resource management fields.”


Getting the message of environmental involvement doesn’t stop at getting young people thinking about their options. The National Wildlife Federation’s Jerome Ringo says it also means getting grown-ups, especially the poor and people of color, to get active in their community when there are environmental problems. He says he first got involved in environmental activism because he knew of chemical releases that were being emitted from a refinery, and some of those chemicals could cause health problems for the people who live nearby – most of them low-income African-Americans.


“We have to readjust our priorities from just quality of life issues like where next month’s rent is coming from, how do we feed our family. Environmental issues have to be within our top priorities because, as I tell the people in ‘Cancer Alley,’ Louisiana, what good is next month’s rent if you’re dying of cancer? So, we’ve got to be more involved in those quality of life issues and make environmental/conservation issues one of those key issues in our lives.”


Ringo says whether it’s fighting pollution, or a desire to preserve a little of the remaining wilderness, people of color need to take hold of environmental and conservation issues, and make them their own.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

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New ‘Great Lakes Coalition’ Seeks Restoration Funds

  • A newly formed coalition to preserve the Great Lakes looks to Congress for support. (Photo by Brandon Bankston)

Philanthropist Peter Wege of the Wege Foundation recently announced a five million dollar grant to build widespread public support to help restore the Great Lakes. The money will be spent to form a group called the Great Lakes Coalition. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Kaomi Goetz reports:

Transcript

Philanthropist Peter Wege and the Wege Foundation recently announced a five million
dollar grant to help build widespread public support to help restore the Great Lakes. The
money will be spent to form a group called the Great Lakes Coalition. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Kaomi Goetz reports:


The Great Lakes Coalition was formed to help set a national agenda and to influence federal
policy. Its members include the National Wildlife Federation and the National Parks Conservation
Association, who are taking a leading role in the group. Coalition consultant Mark Van Putten says
the coalition’s aim is to make restoration of the region a national priority.


“Many of the members of Congress who will vote on Great Lakes restoration don’t come from the
region. Much of the American people don’t know the importance of the Great Lakes and this is a
grant that is designed to have broad public education and outreach to inform people around the
country.”


The coalition is modeled after one formed in the mid-80’s to restore the Florida Everglades.
In 2000, Congress passed a 30-year, eight billion dollar plan to restore the Everglades. The new
coalition hopes to secure similar support.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Kaomi Goetz.

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