Environmentalists Try To Connect Ferguson And ‘Climate Crisis’

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Frequently criticized for being insufficiently diverse, environmentalists are trying to draw parallels between the crisis erupting in Ferguson, Missouri and global warming.

“It was not hard for me to make the connection between the tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri, and the catalyst for my work to stop the climate crisis,” writes Deirdre Smith, strategic partnership coordinator for the environmental group 350.org.

Smith ties the “institutional neglect of vulnerable communities in crisis” into the environmental movement’s war against fossil fuels, which she claims hit minority communities the hardest.

“To me, the connection between militarized state violence, racism, and climate change was common-sense and intuitive,” she said. “If extreme weather is about droughts, floods, hurricanes, and wildfires, the way people get treated in the wake of disaster is about power.”

Smith’s article comes in the wake of a recent report that found the environmental movement is dominated by white males. This report found a lack of racial diversity and a huge gender gap when it came to leadership roles and collaboration.

“Despite the growth in the ethnic minority population in the U.S., the percentage of minorities on the boards or general staff of environmental organizations does not exceed 16 percent in the three types of institutions studied,” reads a recent study from the University of Michigan.

“Once hired in environmental organizations, ethnic minorities are concentrated in the lower ranks,” the study continued. “As a result, ethnic minorities occupy less than 12 percent of the leadership positions in the environmental organizations studied.”

The environmental movement has long been criticized by minority activists for its lack of racial diversity. Notably, former White House green jobs czar Van Jones told Grist last year that the environmental movement should embrace minorities to enhance their reach.

“The events in Ferguson offer an important moment if you’re a climate organizer, looking around the room, wondering where the ‘people of color’ are,” Smith wrote. “It’s a time to to dig deep and ask yourself if you really care why — and if you are committed to the deep work, solidarity, and learning that it will take to bring more ‘diversity’ to our movement. Personally, I think the climate movement is up to this necessary challenge.”

350.org is a major environmental group that gained notoriety opposing the Keystone XL pipeline and Canadian oil sands development. Its founder and president, Bill McKibben, was one of several activists arrested in 2011 protesting the pipeline.

The group has gotten millions in funding from various sources over the years. According to a Senate report, over the past few years the group has “separately collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Park Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, Tides Foundation, Marisla Foundation, ClimateWorks Foundation and Rockefeller Family Foundation.”

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