Green: Too White?

Question: Is green activism too limited to certain races and classes?

Alex Matthiessen: There’s no question about it, I think that the environmental movement in general has suffered from seeming to represent a pretty narrow segment of society and that’s not the case obviously, you know we’re out there fighting for clean water and for clean air and so on, we’re doing it for everybody, of all economic or income levels, of all races, of all religions and all political parties and so on, you know, there’s no discrimination in terms of the work that we’re doing but largely speaking the environmental movement over the last 30, 40 years has been dominated by middle to upper class, you know, white folks who have been, you know, leading the charge on this stuff and I think that’s unfortunate.

I mean I think there’s some kind of reasonable explanations for that but it’s unsustainable because it’s had a couple of effects. First of all, we’re failing to reach large segments of the population that are actually being even more hammered by environmental pollution than a lot of the kind of, you know, upper middle class folks who are part of these organizations. So they have even more at stake if you live in an urban area or a low income area whether it’s, you know, or a rural area and so on, a lot of times you’re more subjected to air, water pollution than other communities. I also think that we have not done a good job of appealing to folks as well and I think that that’s why we’ve tended to be vulnerable to the tree-hugger or the kind of elitist type of tag and I think that we’ve failed to do that, you know, luckily I think that that’s really changing.

First of all, a lot of environmental justice organizations are starting and are actually, you know, are thriving around the country, and you’ve got people like Majora who are doing terrific work and who are really becoming serious voices and influential players in this movement, but not just in this movement, but in political circles as well, and that’s vitally important and it’s long overdue, but I can’t say how thrilled I am that it’s happening now. Because the bottom line is this, if it’s just the environmentalists trying to do this work on their own, we’re not gonna do it, we’ve got to enlarge the tent to have it represent all sectors of society and we’ve got to include everybody, everybody has to see themselves as an environmentalist. We have to get away from the idea that’s a dirty word which is, you know, what unfortunately a lot of our opponents have successfully achieved is making environmentalism some kind of fringe activity. I think it’s becoming pretty apparent with climate change especially, but all the different environmental problems we have that this is no longer a fringe issue, this is front and central to how we’re going to do going forward, and not just in terms of our health but also economically and otherwise. So luckily I think the word is starting to catch on, and whether we want it to or not, this is becoming a world movement and it needs to.

Environmental activism is largely the province of the white upper-middle class. How can this change?

Compelling speakers do these 4 things every single time

The ability to speak clearly, succinctly, and powerfully is easier than you think

Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee rally at the Anaheim Convention Center on September 8, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Barbara Davidson/Getty Images)
Personal Growth

The ability to communicate effectively can make or break a person's assessment of your intelligence, competence, and authenticity.

Keep reading Show less

Antimicrobial resistance is a growing threat to good health and well-being

Antimicrobial resistance is growing worldwide, rendering many "work horse" medicines ineffective. Without intervention, drug-resistant pathogens could lead to millions of deaths by 2050. Thankfully, companies like Pfizer are taking action.

Image courtesy of Pfizer.
Sponsored
  • Antimicrobial-resistant pathogens are one of the largest threats to global health today.
  • As we get older, our immune systems age, increasing our risk of life threatening infections. Without reliable antibiotics, life expectancy could decline for the first time in modern history.
  • If antibiotics become ineffective, common infections could result in hospitalization or even death. Life-saving interventions like cancer treatments and organ transplantation would become more difficult, more often resulting in death. Routine procedures would become hard to perform.
  • Without intervention, resistant pathogens could result in 10 million annual deaths by 2050.
  • By taking a multi-faceted approach—inclusive of adherence to good stewardship, surveillance and responsible manufacturing practices, as well as an emphasis on prevention and treatment—companies like Pfizer are fighting to help curb the spread.
Keep reading Show less

Preserving truth: How to confront and correct fake news

Journalism got a big wake up call in 2016. Can we be optimistic about the future of media?

Videos
  • "[T]o have a democracy that thrives and actually that manages to stay alive at all, you need regular citizens being able to get good, solid information," says Craig Newmark.
  • The only constructive way to deal with fake news? Support trustworthy media. In 2018, Newmark was announced as a major donor of two new media organizations, The City, which will report on New York City-area stories which may have otherwise gone unreported, and The Markup, which will report on technology.
  • Greater transparency of fact-checking within media organizations could help confront and correct fake news. Organizations already exist to make media more trustworthy — are we using them? There's The Trust Project, International Fact-Checkers Network, and Tech & Check.
Keep reading Show less