The Three Waves of Environmentalism
Environmentalism's 1st Wave: Conservation
But first, the bad news: no previous wave of US environmentalism ever broke with the racism or elitism of its day. In fact, earlier environmental movements often either ignored racial inequality or exacerbated it.
For example, consider the first wave of environmentalism: the “conservation” wave.
The true original conservationists were not John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt or David Brower. They were the Native Americans. The original Americans were geniuses at living in harmonic balance with their sister and brother species. Before the Europeans arrived, the entire continent was effectively a gigantic nature preserve. A squirrel could climb a tree at the Atlantic Ocean and move branch-to-branch-to-branch until she reached the Mississippi River. So many birds flew south for the winter that their beating wings were like thunder, and their numbers blotted out the sun.
Native Americans achieved this feat of conservation on a continent that was fully populated by humans. In fact, the leading indigenous civilizations achieved world-historic heights of political statesmanship by founding the Iroquois Federation, a model for the US founders.
Unfortunately, those same founders rejected the Indians’ example of environmental stewardship. Colonizers wiped out whole species to make pelts, felled forests and destroyed watersheds. Settlers almost exterminated the buffalo just for shooting sport.
The destruction of nature was so relentless, heedless and massive that some Europeans balked. They created the famed “conservation movement,” a slogan for which could well have been: “Okay, but let’s not pave EVERY-thing!”
Fortunately, the conservationists’ enjoyed some success; their worthy efforts continue to this day. But the first and best practitioners of “environmental conservation” were not white people. They were red people. And the mostly-white conservation movement still owes an incalculable debt to the physical and philosophical legacy of indigenous peoples. But it is a debt that conservation leaders apparently have no intention of ever repaying.
Case in point: today’s large conservation groups together have countless members, hundreds of millions of dollars and scores of professional lobbyists. But when Native Americans fight poverty, hostile federal bureaucracies and the impact of broken treaties, these massive groups are almost always missing in action. In that regard, Indian-killing Teddy Roosevelt set the enduring pattern for most conservationists’ racial politics: “Let’s preserve the land we stole.”
Environmentalism’s 2nd Wave: Regulation
In the 1960s, the second wave of environmentalism got under way. Sparked by Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, this wave could be called the “regulation” wave. It challenged the worst excesses of industrial-age pollution and toxics. Among other important successes, this wave produced the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the EPA and the first Earth Day in 1970.
But this wave, too, was affluent and lily white. As a result, it developed huge blind spots to toxic pollution concentrating in communities of poor and brown-skinned people. In fact, some people of color began to wonder if white polluters and white environmentalists were unconsciously collaborating. They were effectively steering the worst polluters and foulest dumps into Black, Latino, Asian and poor neighborhoods.
Finally, people of color people began speaking out. And in the 1980s, a new movement was born to combat what its leaders called “environmental racism.” Those leaders said: “Regulate pollution, yes — but do it with equity. Do it fairly. Don’t make black, brown and poor children bear a disproportionate burden of asthma and cancer.”
Two decades later, that so-called “environmental justice” movement continues to defend the poor and vulnerable. But it functions separately from so-called “mainstream” (white) environmentalism. That movement has never fully embraced the cause of environmentalists of color. In other words, since the 1980s, we have had an environmental movement that is segregated by race.
Given this history of racial apathy, exclusion and even hostility, is there any reason to expect much different from the latest upsurge of eco-activism?
Environmentalism's 3rd Wave: Investment
Well, in fact: there is. The reason for hope has to do with the very nature of the present wave. Simply put, this wave is qualitatively different from the previous ones.
The first wave was about preserving the natural bounty of the past. The second wave was about regulating the problems of the industrial present. But the new wave is different. It is about investing in solutions for the future: solar power, hybrid technology, bio-fuels, wind turbines, tidal power, fuel cells, energy conservation methods and more.
The green wave’s new products, services and technologies could also mean something important to struggling communities: the possibility of new green-collar jobs, a chance to improve community health and opportunities to build wealth in the green economy. If the mostly-white global warming activists join forces with people of color, the United States can avoid both eco-apocalypse and eco-apartheid — and achieve eco-equity.
Discussions of race, class and the environment today can go beyond how to atone for past hurts or distribute present harms. Today we can ask: how do we equitably carve up the benefits of a bright future?
And that kind of question gives a powerful incentive for people of color, labor leaders and low-income folks to come back to the environmental table. At the same time, for all their present momentum, the newly ascendant greens cannot meet their short-term objectives or their long-term goals — without the support of a much broader coalition.
April 30, 2007 Van Jones Conscious Choice Magazine
Van Jones is the former president of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, in Oakland, California (ellabakercenter.org) and former Environment Czar of the Obama administration, as well as a National Apollo Alliance steering committee member. He was the Founder for "Green For All" and "Dream Corps". He is currently a talk show host on CNN and news analyst.
Bioeconomics refers to the school of economics, stressing the fact that the human species is a part of the larger Biosystems of the planet. However, the new bioeconomics theory, is a paradigmatic shift in the development of the economy environment disciplines, Such as natural resource economics, environmental economics and ecological economics. The new paradigm shift is really an endeavor to make the invisible visible; in the case of bioeconomics, the aim is to “make visible” all the weaknesses of the socioeconomic activity based on the neoclassical theory and the competitive capitalist ideology.