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Environmentalism and student activism.

Environmentalism. What does that term bring to mind? Highway beautification projects? Recycling paper and aluminum cans? Preserving endangered species like the spotted owl? A gigantic oil spill off the coast of Alaska? Depletion of the rain forests in the Amazon?

All of these concerns, and hundreds more, are at the heart of environmentalism. Yet the term refers to more than so many "pet issues" espoused by students of ecology.

Environmentalism is a social activist movement that has spread around the world. It is based on the premise that rational thinking people should not passively watch the Earth (and the life it sustains) be depleted of natural resources and be destroyed through wanton recklessness.

On the flip side, environmentalism challenges concerned citizens of the global village to actively support the policies and programs that protect the planet and all living species--especially Homo sapiens.

It is critically important that readers recognize that environmentalism is not a "white issue." African Americans and other people of color need to become more sensitive to what threatens their physical environment and their very lives. In particular, the subtle dangers of environmental racism need to be exposed and addressed in the classrooms and in the corporate board rooms of America.

This article focuses on the worldwide scope of environmentalism, the racial implications, and how college students can actively support the programs that promote environmental/social justice.

The Environment At Peril

Planet Earth is in trouble. Perils to the environment face the 5.4 billion inhabitants who share a common concern: survival.

A report by The World Resource Institute in collaboration with The United Nations Environment Programme, entitled World Resources 1992-93, summarizes the problem in this manner:

"The world faces a wide variety of critical environmental threats: degradation of soil, water, and marine resources essential to increased food production; widespread, health-threatening pollution, stratospheric ozone depletion; globalclimate change; and a loss of biodiversity."

Clearly, environmentalism is a global concern that links every nation, culture, religious and ethnic group. Furthermore, environmentalism's core issues are not just "academic." They are life-and-death matters linked to economic and political agendas.

Think of the food shortages and starvation in sub-Sahara Africa. Ecological devastation and poverty go hand-in-hand, certainly. But questionable political maneuverings in countries like Somalia compound the problem of resource allocation and deepening human misery.

Think of the nuclear disaster that occurred at Chernobyl. The after-effects of the radiation fallout throughout Russia (and around the world) are incalculable. Massive dangers to animal life, human life, and to the food chain will be felt for many generations to come. All this has occurred in an area of the world generally hard hit with economic deprivation, which is attributed to a failed political system.

Think of the massive fires associated with the torched oil wells in Kuwait during the Desert Storm conflict. More was at stake than just smoke-blackened skies and sooty sand dunes. The volatility of crude oil prices--and the very survival of the industrial West--hinged on containing that environmental threat.

Get the picture?

Environmentalism frames the questions that force us to ask what our priorities are as a nation--the so-called "leader of the free world"--and as an ethnic community. In particular, confronting environmental threats to our survival as a race should certainly be uppermost in political discussion and social action.

Environmental Racism

In an article entitled "Environmental Protection for the 1990s and Beyond," Prof. Milton Russell of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville commented on the subtle shifts in the focus of environmentalism since the widespread consciousness-raising associated with "Earth Day" on college campuses in 1970.

Then, environmental threats were largely perceptible to the senses: belching industrial smoke stacks, noxious auto emissions, raw sewage dumped into lakes and rivers, and so on. By contrast, the current dangers take on a different dimension. In his words:

"Now attention has shifted to toxic chemicals, some of which can pose subtle threats at concentrations almost mystically small, discernible only through advanced technology. And toxic chemicals are everywhere--in the ambient air, in the home, in the food chain, and in the water."

The old problems haven't been eliminated. But the new threats are alarmingly dangerous. Many of the chemicals linked with toxic pollution have been identified as carcinogenic (cancer causing), or otherwise are severely life-threatening.

People of color should be especially concerned about this danger, in as much as our neighborhoods (collectively speaking) are more likely to border hazardous waste sites.

This is the conclusion of a study carried out in the 1980s by the Commission for Racial Justice of the United Church of Christ.

The CRJ carefully examined the main demographic factors associated with the communities in closest promixity to the most dangerous hazardous waste sites in the United States.

In 1987, the commission concluded its study by issuing a ground-breaking report entitled: Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States--A National Report on the Racial and Socio-Economic Characteristics of Communities with Hazardous Waste Sites. Among the report's startling findings:

* 60 percent of African Americans and Hispanic Americans lived in communities near uncontrolled toxic waste sites.

* More than eight million Hispanic citizens lived in neighborhoods with at least one toxic waste site. Los Angeles had more Hispanics residing in communities with uncontrolled toxic waste sites than any other U.S. metropolitan area.

* Nearly half of all Asian/Pacific Islanders and Native Americans lived close to such sites.

* Overall, communities with the most hazardous waste facilities evidenced the highest composition of racial and ethnic populations.

According to the report, statistically speaking, the demographic factor that surfaced as the most significant variable was racial/ethnic affiliation.

Since that time, "environmental racism" has become a political slogan and rallying cry for those who recognize and combat the blatant social injustice implied by the term.

Those who actively oppose environmental racism point to the policies of government and industry which create and sustain the quagmire of problems spawning environmental/racial injustice.

Whether through benign neglect or deliberate policy-making, individuals in positions of power have allowed these problems to escalate to mammoth proportions.

Quite simply, the logical end of environmental racism is genocide.

This conclusion is argued convincingly in an article entitled "From Toxic Racism to Environmental Justice," written by Karl Grossman, a journalism professor at SUNY-Old Westbury.

From a historical perspective, the article documents (among other things) the linkage of environmental racism to occupational dangers, birth defects, and subservient employment practices involving African Americans and other people of color in the United States.

The article discusses:

* African Americans who predominantly make up "Cancer Alley," the 80-mile area between Baton Rouge and New Orleans replete with over 100 oil refineries and petrochemical plants;

* Native-American communities in Oklahoma close to a nuclear plant whose residents have experienced gruesome birth defects (newborns with no eyes, brain tumors);

* African Americans who, beaten with ax handles, were forced to work in West Virginia coal mines and who later dropped dead from lung disease; and

* "Submissive" Asian women now working in electronics plants in Silicon Valley with high levels of toxic chemicals.

From coast to coast, border to border, the evidence mounts that environmental hazards threaten the fundamental survival of millions of people of color.

Recognizing the problem doesn't guarantee a solution. In the words of one spokesperson quoted in the article: "We don't have the complexion for protection."

Student Activism

Given the severity and complexity of the problems described, what can African-American collegians do individually and collectively to champion the cause of environmental justice? Here are three suggestions:

1. Get educated.

Fully understanding the issues and disseminating accurate information are the first roles that concerned African-American students can play.

Fortunately, numerous organizations across the land are devoted to educating citizens and promoting environmental awareness on many issues.

Some of the more well-recognized organizations include: Environmental Action, Environmental Task Force, Human Environment Center, National Wildlife Federation, the League of Conservation Voters, the National Audubon Society, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, and Friends of the Earth.

These and similar groups promulgate research, educational forums, and publications in support of environmentalism.

2. Get involved.

Student activists of color may choose to align themselves with organizations that specifically relate environmental concerns to the struggles of people of color.

Over the past decade, historic civil rights groups have become more involved in environmental issues; notably, the NAACP and the Urban League.

Other grassroots groups have joined the environmental movement in targeting specific threats to people of color. Among them:

* West Harlem Environmental Action, in New York.

* Native Americans for a Clean Environment (NACE), in Talequah, OK.

* Asian Immigrant Women Advocates, in Oakland, CA.

* Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice, in seven states.

* The Rainbow Coalition, headed by the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

* Blacks Against Nukes, in Washington, DC.

These groups would welcome the time and energy that college students could offer as volunteers to the cause. Furthermore, any special skills such as research, writing, and computerized information processing would be especially valued.

3. Get others involved.

To be most effective, environmentalism needs to motivate persons to move from personal advocacy to group activism. If you are inspired to support the fight for environmental justice, what about others whom you know?

Does your campus have an active environmental organization? Is it committed to action along with academic rhetoric? Does your ethnic studies program offer courses on race and the environment? Does your college (or African-American student association) regularly invite speakers who address the issues that spotlight the danger of environmental genocide?

If answers to these questions are negative, then there is plenty of work to do to raise the consciousness of fellow students, faculty, and college administrators.

Environmental Careers

Perhaps the ultimate commitment to environmentalism is choosing a lifelong career that advances the cause of ecological preservation and worldwide environmental justice.

The possibilities for career choice are almost limitless. The North American Association for Environmental Education (P.O. Box 400, Troy, OH 45373) publishes a list of over 300 colleges and universities with academic programs linked to environmental education.

These programs are largely interdisciplinary. Integrated course work draws upon the resources of many academic departments: engineering and other sciences, education, public administration, business management, economics, law, political science, communications, etc.

Some schools offer a baccalaureate environmental studies major. Others offer "environmental-impact" courses that supplement curricula designed for, say, pre-law or urban studies majors.

Actual career choices fall into several distinct categories of academic preparation.

Life Sciences: Majors may be biology, chemistry, ecology, zoology, biophysics, or other life sciences.

Environmental Health: Academic concentration may focus on environmental medicine, health physics, industrial hygiene, environmental sanitation, etc.

Engineering: Majors in civil engineering, chemical engineering, nuclear engineering, or environmental engineering are most common.

Natural Resources and Conservation: Course work can take many different academic emphases--agricultural science, forestry, fishery science, wildlife conservation, soil conservation, etc.

Land Use and Urban Planning: Academic concentrations cover the fields of architecture, landscape architecture, geography urban planning, and so on.

To be sure, there is some overlapping of these academic fields; and the professions which graduates enter typically draw upon the methodologies and research findings of many diverse disciplines.

Have you thought of working as a nuclear health physicist, environmental engineer, medical geographer, conservation biologist, industrial hygienist, or urban planner? These and dozens of other professions offer opportunities for persons committed to environmentalism to apply academic training to personal concern for bettering the world in which we live.

The legal field: Law is another profession that provides in-depth training and research skills useful for persons who choose a career that will dovetail with environmental activism.

The American Bar Association has published Careers in Natural Resources and Environmental Law. It's a helpful resource for anyone contemplating working for a law firm, private corporation, federal agency, or public interest organization that deals with the legal aspects of environmental protection.

The publication describes different career options, entry into the field, special concerns of women and minority students, the job search process, and earning potential of environmental attorneys. (The employer references listed in the appendices are invaluable for actual job hunting.)

A legal career can offer opportunities to monitor environmental compliance laws--as well as modify laws that will be conducive to promoting environmental justice.


Environmentalism spotlights the threats to planet Earth, its ecological systems, and to all human life. The problems are all the more serious for African Americans and other people of color, who tend to be in less-privileged positions to combat such threats.

Students who are concerned about environmental matters can actively involve themselves in educational programs and grassroots projects to remedy the problems. In so doing, they can help promote environmental justice worldwide.

Calvin Bruce is a frequent contributor to THE BLACK COLLEGIAN.

For more information, contact:

Student Environmental Action Coalition P.O. Box 1168 Chapel Hill, NC 27514-1168 (919) 967-4600

Environmental Careers Organization (formerly CEIP) 286 Congress Street Boston, MA 02210 (617) 426-4375

Greenpeace 1436 U Street, NW Washington, DC 20009 (212) 319-2502

Role Model Profile

James Pinkney III Environmental Scientist, Regional Environmental Compliance Officer National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Boulder, CO

As an environmental engineer for NOAA, Pinkney is responsible for providing professional, scientific, and technical assistance in the establishment and implementation of environmental programs at NOAA facilities--encompassing over 3000 employees at locations in 16 states.

He has eight years experience as an engineer/scientist with a diverse background in electronic physics and environmental science. He is a 1981 graduate of LaSalle College in electronic physics, a 1990 graduate in environmental science from the Colorado School of Mines, and a 1992 graduate in communications from Command General and Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Pinkney's long-term goal is to obtain a doctorate in environmental science and start an environmental firm with an international direction, mentoring people of color to explore and use their talents.

His advice to students: "Realize that the dominating thoughts of your mind eventually reproduce themselves in outward bodily motion. The thoughts will transform themselves into physical reality. You must concentrate your mind 30 minutes daily upon the person you intend to be by creating a mental picture of this person and transforming that picture into reality through commitment, dedication, and persistence. The greatest challenge you will ever face is your own potential."

Environmental Opportunities Directory

This directory provides information about university advanced degrees, environmental programs, as well as information on employers who aer hiring in this field. We encourage you to contact them for more information.

Ms. Kate Blake Graduate Advisor Energy and Resources Group University of California at Berkeley Bldg. T-4, Rm. 100 Berkeley, CA 94720

The energy and resources Group (ERG) at the University of California at Berkeley is a graduate studies program with an interdisciplinary faculty; it focuses on the interactive issues of energy, environment, development, and security. Its unique administrative structure combines the characteristics of a department and of a campus-wide network that brings together the disciplinary and professional knowledge required to understand and act upon these issues. About half of ERG's 50 graduate students are in the two-year professional Master's degree program, half in the Ph.D. program. Contact: Energy and Resources Group, Room 100, Building T-4; University of California; Berkeley CA 94720.

Mr. George W. Hinman, Chair Program in Environmental Science & Regional Planning Washington State University 305 Troy Hall Pullman, WA 99164-4430

The program, established in 1968, offers degrees, BS in Environmental Science, MS in Environmental Science, and MRP in Regional Planning (environmental planning emphasis). The Program offers a flexible curriculum with several areas of emphasis. Assistantships are available for minority students.

Dr. Ralph H. Kummler Professor & Chairman Hazardous Waste Management Program Dept. of Chemical Engineering Wayne State University 5050 Anthony Wayne Dr. Detroit, MI 48202

1. Graduate Certificate in Hazardous Waste Management leading to Certified Hazardous Materials Managers (CHMM) Accreditation.

2. Master of Science Degree Program in Hazardous Waste Management, the program is highly interdisciplinary and one of only five such programs in the U.S.

Ms. Mary Ware Personnel Manager Arkansas Forestry Commission P.O. Box 4523-Asher Station Little Rock, AR 72214

Foresters--Taking applications for Applicant Register. Contact Personnel Office, Arkansas Forestry Commission, at the above address or telehone (501) 664-2531.

Ms. Cathy G. Mills, SHPR Senior Personnel Manager Florida Department of Environmental Regulation 2600 Blair Stone Road Twin Towers Building Tallahassee, FL 32399-2400

The Florida Department of Environmental Regulation is searching for talented and motivated individuals with engineering, scientific and/or environmental protection/regulation backgrounds to work with us in protecting, preserving, and restoring the air, water, and natural resources of the state.

Environmental Opportunities Index

Dr. Lester Holley Graduate Administrator Forestry - North Carolina State University 2022 B. Biltmore, NCSU Raleigh, NC 27695-8002
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Title Annotation:Annual Jobs Issue; includes role model profile and directory of organizations
Author:Bruce, Calvin E.
Publication:The Black Collegian
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:Commencement: saying goodbye to yesterday.
Next Article:Expanding the circle of inclusion for African Americans with disabilities.

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