Global Warming Is Color-Blind

It’s time for the environmental movement to embrace diversity


| Mar.-Apr. 2008



Photo of Jennifer Oladipo

photo of Jennifer Oladipo

This article is part of a package on the new green justice movement. For more, read  Environmental Justice For All  and  The Temperature Transcends Race . 

In nearly two years of volunteering and working at an urban nature preserve, I have never seen another black woman come for a morning hike or a native-wildlife program.

The few I do encounter are teachers and chaperones with school groups, or aides assisting people with disabilities. When I commute by bus to the preserve, located in the middle of Louisville, Kentucky, I disembark with blacks and other minorities. Yet none of them ever seems to make it to the trails.

I might have assumed they simply weren’t interested, but then I saw that none of the center’s newsletters were mailed to areas of town predominantly populated by minorities, nor did any press releases go to popular minority radio stations or newspapers. Although the nature center seeks a stronger community presence and feels the same budget pinch as other small nonprofits, it has missed large swaths of the community with its message.

The terms environmentalist and minority conjure two distinct images in most people’s minds—a false dichotomy that threatens any chance of pulling the planet out of its current ecological tailspin. Some people think this country is on the precipice of a societal shift that will make environmental stewardship an integral part of our collective moral code. That is not going to happen, though, as long as we as a nation continue to think and act as if green automatically means white.

Assumptions about who values conservation cost the environmental movement both members and dollars. Religions, capitalists, and military recruiters learned ages ago to reach actively across the racial spectrum. In terms of winning over minorities, they have left environmentalism in the dust.