To succeed, environmentalism must focus on people, not just the planet. [Van Jones, Majora Carter, Simran Sethi, Environmental Justice. Videos.]

Via Merete Mueller
on Dec 11, 2008
get elephant's newsletter

When I was in High School, I opted out of taking environmental science because I thought it would be boring. What did a bunch of labs about natural resources and endangered species have to do with me? Instead I doubled up on History and English classes. I wanted to read about people, how they got through their everyday lives and created movements and change.

Now granted I’m a literary inclined gal, and there are plenty of people out there who get their kicks from studying soil samples. But I feel for those who don’t give a damn about environmental issues because they’re preoccupied with the people they love and their own daily lives, thinking about how they’re going to give their kids a great education, or how they’re going to retire, or pay the heating bills or find their one true love. (Come to think of it, this describes probably 95% of everyone I know, my parents and grandparents, my neighbors and friends from high school and college—I was one of them, too, before I started working for a magazine called elephant).

Thing is, vague environmental problems like disappearing species, depleted resources and toxic pollution directly effect the daily lives of everyone on this planet. And the environmental movement itself offers solutions to some of the basic problems of everyday life—the slumping economy, inner city and rural poverty, rising health care costs, obesity, crime, the fact that I live in a building of 12 apartments and know only one of my neighbors by name.

The environmental justice movement is bringing together social issues like race and class with environmental concerns like pollution and energy. It’s about people building stronger, safer, healthier communities and better lives for themselves and their families, while also creating sustainable futures. And that’s not just talk. It’s actually happening, thanks to organizations like this one, rebuilding neighborhoods in New Orleans and creating green jobs along the way. Or this one in West Virginia, fighting mountain top removal coal mining because the process poisons the local water supply and ups cancer rates. Or this organization in Massachusetts, that turned seven vacant lots into mini urban farms. Or this one in Arizona, fighting to keep nuclear waste and coal sludge off Navajo and Hopi reservation land.

Enough of my rambling. Let’s hear from the experts themselves:

Simran Sethi interviews Van Jones and Majora Carter, at Bioneers 2008:

Sundance Channel’s The Good Fight explores the disproportionate effects of pollution on LA’s low income communities:

A green roof is built in the Bronx:

Mountain top removal coal mining, up close:

Know of a great, local grassroots group working for social justice and environmental change? Well then, post its name and link below. And if you don’t know of a group in your area, you should google it. You may be surprised by the activism that you’ll find in your own backyard.


About Merete Mueller

Merete is a writer and filmmaker, and was once-upon-a-time the Managing Editor of elephant journal's print incarnation, from 2006-2008. Today, you can find her on Twitter @meretemueller and on her blog To The Bones. Her first documentary, "TINY: A Story About Living Small", about people who have downsized their lives into homes the size of a parking space, premiered at SXSW in March 2013.


6 Responses to “To succeed, environmentalism must focus on people, not just the planet. [Van Jones, Majora Carter, Simran Sethi, Environmental Justice. Videos.]”

  1. rusty says:

    heather, thanks for making environmental concerns more relevant!

  2. Christa Mueller says:

    Bill McKidden’s interview especiall brought home to me the importance of sustaining a sense of community. We can’t individually change the world, but we can certainly help to look after our own communities, which, in the end, would change the way we live in this society.

  3. leandro says:

    I thought the green roof building was quite impressive to watch.

  4. Dominique says:

    I remember thinking that things environmental didn’t have anything to do with me before too. Somtimes, I still feel the subject is too broad for me to have any kind of impact (which is super silly, I know). There is so much I care about in this world, I cannot help but wonder where Environmentalism fits in, but I know that it has to fit somehow. It needs to because, if we cannot start caring about these issues, there will much more to worry about in the future. But I really dig the blog you wrote and think it’s so important for people like you to spread the passion. Nicely done!

  5. lindsey says:

    A good synopsis of the entire picture which often gets lost. By the way, 4 of my favorite people are Majora Carter, Van Jones, Simran Sethi and Heather Mueller. Happiness.

  6. […] for pollutants including fine particles, soot and sulfur dioxide that include new targeted monitoring to protect children and other vulnerable people who live near highways or downwind of major sources of […]