The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday January 30th

The face of a green citizen

	<p>Holly Beilin</p>
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Holly Beilin

The environmental movement is one that affects everybody and should be a factor in decision-making in all sectors. However, there is a distasteful undercurrent running through the roots of the tree-hugger crusade, and it is one that this country has struggled long and hard with throughout history: prejudice.

The nonprofit Earthjustice commissioned a study in 2007, which found that the so-called “greenest Americans” were largely one color — white.They were classified based on membership in environmental groups, donations to related causes and overall knowledge about environmental issues.

And indeed, when looking at the makeup of many of the largest and most well-known environmental organizations, this does appear to be true. Their memberships and staffs tend to be unrepresentative of the true melting pot this country represents. If one looked at the biggest environmental advocacy groups in the U.S., eco-friendly would appear to be a trait dominated by — almost exclusively — white males.

However, this is a poor indicator of the true environmentalist demographics in this country. National polls show high environmental concerns among minority groups. Surveys by the Public Policy Institute of California, for example, have found that minorities are sometimes even more concerned than white respondents about environmental issues like air pollution.

Some minority activists claim that there has traditionally been bias against them among the established environmental base. In 1990, leaders of civil rights and minority groups wrote an open letter that accused the 10 biggest green groups of “racist” hiring practices. They set up their own organizations, such as the National Hispanic Environmental Council and the African American Environmentalist Association.

Although I’m glad these groups are being represented, this only reinforces the unfortunate demographic separation of the green movement.

But things are changing. National organizations like the Sierra Club are making a considerable effort to diversify their staff and member base. The federal government is setting a great example for the private sector: President Barack Obama’s environmental team includes an African-American EPA director, a Hispanic leader of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and an Asian energy secretary.

UNC, as a microcosm of society, needs to stay vigilant to be the exception to the rule when it comes to this prejudice. I’m glad that student government is committed to environmental issues. However, decisions should not be made by a handful of students. Representatives from all over campus should participate in our University’s environmental plans.

Though environmentalism was long ago labeled the “green” movement, the effort cannot restrict itself to one color or sector.

Environmentalists need to advocate for all Americans, regardless of color or creed, to achieve their goals.

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