Yale Environment 180?
My oh my. We’ve been here so many times before. Where do I begin? In its July 25 Opinion: Assessing Obama’s Record on the Environment, Yale Environment 360 (hereinafter Yale Environment 180 for reasons I hope will become all too obvious) asked “a variety of environmental leaders, writers, and policy experts to answer the following questions: How would you assess President Obama’s record on energy and the environment? And what do you consider his major accomplishments and failures in these fields?”
First and foremost, how is it that in this day and age, Yale Environment 180, a publication of The Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (“internationally known for its excellence”) could interview 11 people (9 men and 2 women) and call this “a variety” when there was such a gender imbalance and not one person of color? The opinions given on President Obama’s record, had a true “variety” of people been polled, may well have been the same as the 11 chosen, although I sincerely doubt it. But, unfortunately, we are not given an opportunity to test this. Instead we get a reductionist focus, albeit erudite, on very specific scientific, economic and technical issues that one would expect from these particular experts. I can think of a gender-balanced variety of experts of color that might have been approached including Angela Glover Blackwell, Carl Anthony, June Manning-Thomas, Robert D. Bullard, Simran Sethi, Greg Watson, Juliet Ellis or David Pellow amongst others, who might have rounded out the specific comments with some broader, integrative, more nuanced and searching thoughts.
Second, and I think this relates directly to my first point, how come none of the experts mentioned the appointment of the first African American, Lisa Jackson, to serve as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, and Nobel Laureate Steven Chu to serve as Secretary of Energy and only the second Chinese American to be a member of a U.S. cabinet? These people issues are not insignificant, especially for those of us who have been arguing for the past 30 years for a balanced concept of environment which is not purely about scientific, economic and technical issues, critically important though these are, but includes the fundamental democratic issues of recognition, inclusion, representation and participation. On her EPA webpage Jackson says she “has made it a priority to expand outreach to communities that are historically under-represented in environmental action“. Absolutely. In doing this she also recognizes that it is these very same communities that are being first, and will be worst affected by climate change. Despite several mentions of climate change, this was something none of the 11 interviewees thought worthy of acknowledgement. In appointing her, President Obama has thus made a commitment to environmental justice and to civic environmentalism. Could he go further? Sure, but let’s acknowledge and support Jackson’s work.
Third, what about President Obama’s Partnership for Sustainable Communities? As my blog has always argued, we cannot divorce questions of environment from wider questions of sustainability. Recognizing this, in 2009, EPA was functionally partnered with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U. S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to help improve access to affordable housing, more transportation options, and lower transportation costs while protecting the environment in communities nationwide. Using a set of livability principles the Obama Administration has recognized the need for a just sustainability in arguing: “this partnership will coordinate federal housing, transportation, and other infrastructure investments to protect the environment, promote equitable development, and help to address the challenges of climate change”. None of the 11 interviewees mentioned this attempt at integrating traditional departmental silos to, in President Obama’s own words “create safer, greener, more livable communities”.
Come on Yale Environment 180. You can do better than this slipshod and highly problematic assessment. I challenge you to really become Yale Environment 360 by representing the whole spectrum of opinion on our President’s environmental record.
Great job Julian. You hit the nail on the head. One must wonder at what point do our environmental friends–not the pitbulls that want to dismantle environmental and health protections–realize that the U.S. is not monochromatic. Never was! I am disturbed that Yale 360 did not get it right a few days ago. Also, I am a bit disappointed that our eleven enviro friends who were interviewed slept it. Maybe your piece will be a “wake-up” call for them and our other enviro friends to connect all of the dots–realizing that we have been here before over the past three decades of environmental justice. Maybe in 2042 folks will wake up at 12:01am and realize that it’s a different world. Then, maybe not. Oh well. Let’s hope this elitist exclusionary madness will die out at some point in our country. Wish I could live long enough to see it happen. Peace.
Thanks for this. I do environmental justice research on a more local scale, so it was nice to get a glimpse into some of the national policy work happening through your post. I’ve just subscribed to your blog so I look forward to reading more. Congratulations also on your upcoming Food Justice book! I’ve been hearing about it from Alie over the last few years (we both graduated from UC Davis), and I’m looking forward to reading it when it is out.
Great response Dr. J! Hopefully Yale accepts the feedback this issue has generated and take steps to ensure that they are being more inclusive in the future.
This tickles me a bit because it reinforces the points i made last month at the Coastal Zone conference put on by NOAA, DOI, EPA etc…that the paucity of people of color represened has become the accepted norm, as in “this is the way it has always been, this is the way it will always be…” I pointed out that the white establishment — including the land management agencies that use our tax dollars to effectively impoverish us as they spend so little in and with our communities –literally cannot “see” us as part of the solution…we are the fodder and consumer of the “more enlightened” one’s efforts. Then i asked, should people who only appeal to others like themselves be referred to as “leaders” or part of a clique? When the whole movement of racially diverse Americans swirls out here, marginalized, unsupported..
180º, or zero, might be more like it! Thanks, Julian! The Yale opinion is just that, opinion, but it reflects so clearly the bias that has become so standard that most people just let it go. With friends like this, who needs enemies. Thanks again!
Great call Julian. It is a wonder why many main stream environmentalists still say “they”, people of color, are not interest in environmental issues. Defining the issue only in “White” terms and not being inclusive has made it seem like we are not interested. I hope that this will change by more people like Julian sounding the alarm when it whenever it is needed.
Oh, and an omission of Obama’s America’s Great Outdoor Memorandum and Conference in 2010 that brought together environmental leadership and government agencies from around the country, with the aim to connect more Americans meaningfully to nature and our public lands.
The resulting report was comprised of voices heard at listening sessions that included Americans young and old, of all hues, and socio-economic status. Unprecedented.
Let’s keep remembering and reminding!
Very insightful response Julian! I don’t want to use the world imperialism but it hints of that. Since most environmental atrocities affect the marginalized and disenfranchised, which happens to be disproportionately minority. One would think you would solicit the opinions of those in that category. Thanks for voicing the minority (sorry for the pun) opinion!
Thank you for posting this article Julian, the important thing is that we have care for the environment.