More than 30 community members attended a panel discussion in Kroon Hall on Monday focused on assessing the progress made to diversify the environmental movement.
Sponsored by the Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Committee at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, the panel was led by Emily Enderle FES ’07 on the ten-year anniversary of her book, “Diversity and the Future of the U.S. Environmental Movement.” The panel was composed of three other advocates for diversity in the environmental movement.
“Whose world are you trying to save?” asked Erika West, a director at inclusivity organization The Raben Group and one of the panelists. “Without people sitting in the room from varied backgrounds and communities, you’ll always be detached from the effects of your decisions.”
Enderle began the discussion by detailing her own experiences with the lack of diversity in both environmental policy and education. As an example, she described her work in the re-licensing of hydroelectric dams in California in the mid-2000s.
“In terms of who actually made the decisions in D.C., it often came down to a group of white men, which didn’t reflect the interests of the people affected,” Enderle said.
Her experience earning a graduate degree at Yale further exposed her to the institutional barriers that would inspire her book. While she said it was impressive to see that 30 percent of the graduate student body came from other countries, she was dismayed there were no faculty of color and only one woman working in the school at the time.
Following Enderle’s introduction, environmental diversity activist Marcelo Bonta described a similar experience in the workplace after graduating from Yale.
“I had my dream job working for an organization protecting biodiversity and endangered species, but the work environment became a nightmare,” he said. “Out of the entire national conservation staff, I was the only member who was of color.”
Bonta said his experience was not unique among people of color, and that the lack of diversity in the organization made him feel unwelcome and eventually caused him to leave.
Americans from racial and ethnic minorities support environmental causes at a significantly higher rate than white Americans do, Bonta noted, despite the fact that white people are in the majority on the boards of many environmental nonprofits and foundations.
Next, panelist Erika West spoke of her experience working with NGOs and foundations to increase diversity. A dearth in diversity contributed to the lack of environmental justice witnessed in recent current events, she said, such as the Flint water crisis and controversy over the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Adding what many attendees considered to be an unexpected conservative voice to the discussion, Reverend Mitchell Hescox spoke about leading the Evangelical Environmental Network, the largest Christian environmental organization in the world. Hescox emphasized the importance of convincing more conservative Christians to protect the environment.
Hescox, who included Bible verses about humankind’s obligation to the environment in his speech, said the key to reaching out to disaffected conservatives is to stress the moral importance of environmental protection for future generations.
“You have to shift the discussion about protecting life from not just abortion, but rather actually protecting life at every stage of life,” he said.
The event brought environmentally concerned attendees from across the country. Maria Boccalandro, director of the Sustainable Communities Institute in Dallas, said the panel gave her useful insights to bring back to her organization.
“It was great to hear about how to get people of color involved, as well as how to reach out to conservative Christians, of which there are many in Texas,” she said.
At one point in his speech, the personal significance of the discussion became clear, as Bonta teared up while talking about his daughter’s career goals.
“Is the environmental movement ready for my daughter?” he said. “Is it ready for her if she wants to come? I don’t know. And what ultimately hurts most in the end is our planet.”
Alex Reedy | firstname.lastname@example.org