Sierra Club: The Big Problem With Environmentalism Is ‘Unsustainable Whiteness’

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Some environmentalists think their movement needs to deal with its “unsustainable whiteness” problem, according to a blog post shared by the Sierra Club.

Grist blogger Nikhil Swaminathan claimed the environmental movement has “mostly run by well-off white people concerned about conserving critters and our country’s natural beauty, not the health and welfare,” in a post Tuesday. The Sierra Club’s official Twitter account later shared the blog with followers Wednesday afternoon.

But critics say such worries only show these groups care more about progressive politics than protecting the planet.

“The main problem facing the modern environmental movement is unsustainable rhetoric,” Myron Ebell, director of energy and environment at the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute and Donald Trump’s former EPA transition head, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“By making ever more outlandish claims and predictions about global warming, the movement has discredited itself,” Ebell said.

The Sierra Club declined repeated requests for comment from TheDCNF about “unsustainable whiteness” in the green movement and what the organization planned to do about it.

Claims that environmentalism is racist and needs to embrace social justice by appointing “people of color” as leaders have become increasingly common in the modern green movement.

“Simply put, NGOs [non-government organization] and foundations in the green space are still overwhelmingly white at all levels, especially top leadership — and that’s limiting their effectiveness, especially in addressing issues that affect frontline communities,” Swaminathan wrote. “Still, nearly three-quarters of staffers are white. And the numbers indicate less inclusiveness as you move to higher rungs in those outfits: Only 15 percent of the leaders are people of color.”

“White privilege and racism within the broader environmental movement is existent and pervasive,” Aaron Mair, the Sierra Club’s first black president, told Grist. “The current is not maintainable — we’re becoming a brown nation. It’s not about a one-off. It’s about sustainability.”

“That’s where the internalized racism and oppression is, and if I can help shift that Mount Everest and change its direction,” Mair said. “It becomes harder for other environmental organizations to maintain their way.”

Social justice activists have criticized both Greenpeace and the Sierra Club for supporting the “white-hetero-patriarchal-imperial ideology which premises this continued climate colonialism.”

Greenpeace, another major environmental group, has also been repeatedly criticized on “social justice” grounds for excluding “people of color.” Criticism eventually forced Greenpeace to appoint a social justice-friendly executive director Kumi Naidoo.

Greenpeace also did not return requests for comment to TheDCNF.

Naidoo left the organization in late December, but attempted to make Greenpeace “more people centric” as well as part of the social and environmental justice movement.

Naidoo’s tenure oversaw many attempts by Greenpeace to reach out to social justice groups, including an actual apology to Inuit commercial seal hunters, whose business and culture environmentalists disrupted. He also oversaw the organization’s apology to activists and the country of Peru after Greenpeace irreparably damaged a Peruvian World Heritage Site in a publicity stunt in December 2014.

Under his tenure, Greenpeace refereed to attempts to address global warming through international negotiations as “climate apartheid,” a subtle form of racism.

Naidoo repeatedly claimed that social justice, women’s rights and human rights are interconnected with the environment and that Greenpeace should advocate for them all. He continued Greenpeace’s policies of vehement opposition to “corporate” environmentalism, such as nuclear power. He also received blame for Greenpeace’s recent period of financial disarray.

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