Last week, Kai Wright questioned whether environmental justice was "enough" for black Americans, or should their green concerns be more rooted in jobs and economic sustainability:

When policymakers systematically clump bus depots and waste treatment plants in black neighborhoods, driving up childhood asthma rates, it's a civil rights concern. When slumlords refuse to strip lead paint, they're preying upon poor families. Black people have been trained, in recent decades, to get these connections.

But that largely defensive, health-based environmentalism is no longer enough—if it ever was.

Wright makes a good point here: Protesting health risks in terms of racial discrimination should be done in tandem with the pursuit of stronger economic security. Problem is, this is already the point of the environmental-justice movement, and has been for years. Employing people from poor neighborhoods and communities of color in work that beautifies and improves the health of their living spaces has been an essential part of environmental justice since the 1980s. (I reported on this issue in our special report on green jobs.)

The "green jobs" appeal may be a new thing for some progressive organizations, but it's nothing new to many environmental-justice collectives around the country. From Oakland to Sacramento, Chicago to Detroit, New York City to Newark, Atlanta to Memphis, New Orleans to Houston -- EJ organizations in these cities have long gone beyond pointing out disproportionate impacts of pollution on disadvantaged communities. With many EJ activists questioning the government's commitment to fix these problems, they've been proactive about addressing brownfield remediation, air/soil/water monitoring and waste mitigation themselves, and they've done so by employing as many people from the affected communities as possible.

Right now, the focus should really be on why green-jobs advocates like Van Jones have been emphasizing jobs for the poor less since entering the White House.

-- Brentin Mock

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