Going ‘green’ is more than shopping at Whole Foods and driving a Prius
Environmentalism in the US today has come to simply mean buying the right products. What if you can’t afford them?
As environmentalism goes mainstream, corporations are marketing the word “green” as a panacea for the world’s climate crisis. Today the word describes a set of prescribed, mostly consumerist actions: buy local, organic and fresh; go vegan; eat in season; skip the elevator, take the stairs. “Green” has come to mean shopping at Whole Foods and possessing a Prius. Meanwhile, leading corporate polluters like BP and ExxonMobil place commercials on CNN advertising their “green” practices.
It should come as no surprise, then, that “green” lifestyles don’t resonate with low-income communities; being “green” involves a set of behaviors that are financially or culturally inaccessible to millions of Americans. This presents a major problem for the environmental movement. If it is going to be successful, environmentalism simply cannot afford to be demographically segregated or isolated from the pathos of economic disparity.
The environmental movement needs to do a better job of connecting issues of race, class, poverty and sustainability; in short, it has to become a broader social movement. And people of color need visibility in the movement. By that, I don’t mean Barack Obama presiding over environmental policy from the White House or Lisa Jackson heading the Environmental Protection Agency during Obama’s first term. I mean the recognition that sustainable survival practices in poor communities are just as significant as solar panels and LED lights. Ultimately this is where the citizenry of the planet can and must come together in order to move forward.