October 25, 2014

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2012 in Retrospect: The Diversity of Climate Change & Environmentalism

Out of 158 environmental institutions, 33 percent of mainstream environmental organizations and 22 percent of government agencies have no people of color on staff.

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Editor's Note: Like last year, we've assembled an impressive lineup of thought leaders and experts who will examine the year that was, guide us on what might be ahead and offer their advice on how our business, social and environmental consciousness continues to converge, in our end of the year CSR & Sustainability 2012 series. They will spotlight achievements, highlight trends and activate the change makers among us. Consider this series a call to action.

Today's editorial is by Dr. Jude Smith Rachele, diversity management expert, co-founder and CEO of Abundant Sun, and director of Trill Farm’s Ethical Leaders program in the U.K.. Here we go:

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Is the popularized concept of climate change a red herring?

Arguably it’s just more spin to keep us away from discussing the serious and insidious root causes most likely to be responsible for the degradation of the natural environment upon which we are dependent and our humanity. The western culture’s fixation on greenhouse gases and carbon emissions may be a sign of the perpetuation of one of its greatest historic pathologies, the psychopathology of Imperialism.

Current climate change discussions can be seen as hokum.

This is not a blog in support of the skeptics out there saying the Earth’s climate is not changing as a consequence of human negligence. Au contraire. I’m worried that the concept of climate change has been reduced to carbon and gases—and completely eliminated the human aspect. My concern is that we focus only on things we can measure, and that we are not teaching young people enough about all the issues.

Forgive me, but my first concern is a human one.

It is widely accepted that the environmental catastrophes we are facing, or may face in the future, are down to the irresponsible behavior of human beings. Sure, some of it will have occurred naturally over time. However, much of it has sprung from a degradation of humanity, which has opened the door to the degradation of the non-human part of the natural environment.

I have been part of several discussions with environmentalists outraged over climate change. One diversitysuch event was in a major city of the U.K., where surprisingly I was the only non-Caucasian person in a packed theatre. The city used to be one of the most active slave ports during the time of legal slavery, and, looking around, I felt like not much had changed.

The Diversity of Environmentalism

I did some digging and found this to be truer than I had imagined. Stark figures from the Minority Environmental Leadership Development Initiative reveal that out of 158 environmental institutions, 33 percent of mainstream environmental organizations and 22 percent of government agencies had no people of color on staff at all. Not even a small percentage. That might be worse than Monsanto’s cultural diversity stats.

The science of man-made climate change is not a new one; it first appeared in 1958. Indigenous peoples felt a change in climate long before then. For longer than the environmental movement has been in existence, human beings had to find strategies to weather the storm of climate change.

These same mechanisms may still be at play today, even amongst environmentalists who are fervently committed to fighting climate change. To what extent do our current actions to address climate change replicate the very same annihilatory, predatory and discriminatory behavior, which landed us in the environmental mess we are in now?

The Average Environmentalist

Based upon personal experience, the average environmentalist is someone in a position of power and almost exclusively representative of Anglo-American-European culture. But it’s concerning that the environmental movement appears to be not only devoid of indigenous and minority ethnic presence, social equalitybut evolved into a replica of the same power and privilege, that led to today's environmental instability in the first place.

So does the environmental movement lack cultural diversity?

To answer that, we need to start speaking more openly and audibly to bridge gaps between environmental and human rights activists.

What we can do is simple.

Environmentalists need to take a long hard look at the lack of social equity in our culture while human rights activists must take a long hard look at their relationship with the Earth and not get so caught up by the myopia of equality and diversity management.

The Center for Diversity and the Environment, for example, has put together a curriculum to create an inclusive pool of environmental change agents. Their vision:

"A healthy, flourishing planet and society that sustainably and equitably meets the needs of all its inhabitants through an environmental movement that is diverse, inclusive, successful, vibrant, and relevant, taking into account the needs, perspectives, and voices of all."

Of all of the organizations that have participated in the Center's educational retreats, REI and The North Face seem to be only two private sector organizations. Digging further, I notice on the REI website, words like "stewardship" and an endorsement by a ‘Tiger Woods-looking young man.’ The cynic in me is compelled to think of the portrayed diversity as spin but even if it is, it is certainly a step in the right direction. 

As for The North Face website, which focuses on environmental sustainability in great length, it makes no mention of cultural diversity, not even in its careers section.

Whether we are talking about climate change or encouraging diversity, the Earth is a common denominator for all of us. And mixing a few more colors into green would be a great way forward.

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Read the rest of our series: 2012 in Retrospect: CSR and Sustainability News, Views & Trends

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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