This week Green 2.0, in partnership with New America Media, ran a conference on diversity in environmental organizations, companies, and lobbies. Speaking at this forum were some key players in the environmental movement including the director of The Sierra Club, representatives from Earth Justice, and the Pacific Gas and Eclectic Company. This was a seminar involving giants of the environment and energy industry intent on creating real change.
However, the first speakers and panels were all white guys, which, in a forum on diversity, raised a few eye brows.
Other speakers included Tomás Torres a representative from the EPA who spoke about the role of Latinos within that organization
and Peggy Sakia President and Executive Director of the philanthropy organization AAPIP. On the final panel Malik Yusef was also in attendance to talk about the importance of entertainers as advocates and had the quote of the day: “If we don’t turn up together, we’re gonna burn up together.”
Since it was held in San Francisco I didn’t attend, but with the aide of Twitter, the active #PledgeDiversityData, and other media I was able to keep up with the discussion despite being on the other side of the country and in a different time zone. Given that the purpose of this gathering was opening access and making environmental groups more inclusive, having it practically live streamed on Twitter was a great gesture of purpose. Internet access obviously won’t solve the issue entirely, but it’s an important first step that implies an end to closed door meetings.
Hank Williams, a leader in cloud technology and founder of Platform, was in attendance as well. Much of his conversation involved comparing the environmental industry’s lack of diversity to the tech industry and sharing the work he’s doing there to break down barriers. Both of these are recently emerging fields and what happens in one will dictate what happens in the other, much like what happens in the virtual world will impact the physical.
Beyond business and politics, the environment needs to be opened to a wider range of people because as it stands right now it’s shockingly limited. Sure, anyone can visit city, state, and national parks, but the time and money it takes to travel and invest into a serious out door activity, even hiking, is unattainable for many people in this country. Gear alone is outrageously priced. The great outdoors can’t really be all that great if it means that only a select few people can enjoy them. The question remains, how do we check privilege in environmentalism?
There are organizations like the Outdoors Empowered Network which promote what they call gear libraries for people, and specifically youth, to share and borrow equipment. And this is a fantastic idea, but there aren’t enough organizations like this in place. This is probably for good reason, there’s a huge overhead to collect the necessary gear to properly and safely outfit a single person, let alone a group of children. If these powerful organizations, like the EPA, are serious about committing themselves to diversity, then perhaps they should start opening up more grant opportunities specifically aimed at creating sharing centers like gear libraries.
While I agree with Torres that change at the top is important, I believe strong roots are equally as important. If we want to see change in the culture of environmentalism, a priority should be accessibility for youths of all backgrounds. But perhaps this is just my bias as an educator. One thing is for sure, if we’re serious about change the seminar Green 2.0 put on needs to be the first of many debates and conversations, not just between the big names, but between people everywhere who enjoy a good hike.