The 21st century environmental movement, which has gained significant steam since an Inconvenient Truth, has been largely a white, middle-class effort. That is now changing with the work of people like Van Jones and the Ella Baker Center.
The Center’s “Green For All” movement wants to make sure that the “green jobs” of the future benefit all sectors of society. One of their pilot projects, training solar installers in Northern California, shows some early, exciting progress. It’s a win-win-win in my book: solar projects go up, greenhouse gas emissions go down, and minority community members get jobs in one of the economy’s fastest-growing economic sectors.
Portland is a pretty white city, but even here, minority communities often bear the worst effects of environmental pollution. For example, asthma rates in NE Portland neighborhoods (located near I-5) are far higher than in other Portland neighborhoods. (NE Portland residents also have a harder time paying for asthma medications, which may be why nearly 15 percent of residents near I-5 reported breathing problems, as opposed to 8 percent of those in SW Portland near I-5 and the Ross Island Bridge.)
In April, Jones and many other environmental justice leaders will be in Memphis for The Dream Reborn conference, which I hope galvanizes us environmentalists even further. If we are going to build a new, green economy—and I believe we are—then we’ve got to make sure that no one gets left out.