Monday, April 25, 2005

Earth Day 2005

Now that I am an environmental lawyer (long story short, I have been hired into my law firm's Real Estate, Land Use and Environmental Group), I have a few reflections on this past Earth Day.

When I first came to law school I was pretty burnt out on environmentalism. Yes, I recycled, yes, I had a compost pile, yes I took public transportation or rode my bike to work. But, as I saw it, the environmental movement was so white and middle class--it seemed like it was never going to get anything accomplished unless it reached out to the people. Why the hell should you care about a rainforest if you can't put food on the table?

In law school I was introduced to the concept of Environmental Justice through my new friends who belong to the Environmental Justice Advocates here at school. These folks taught me exactly why lower income and minority folks should give a shit about environmentalism--it's their/our neighborhoods that are the most heavily impacted by pollution. Come over to my place sometime and we can take a tour of the brownfields in North and Northeast Portland where I live.

Coincidentally with this new outlook of mine, the Catholic Bishops in the Northwest and British Columbia issued a pastoral letter on how it is imperative to understand that the social justice teachings of our church include stewardship of our environment, specifically for Northwesterners, the Columbia River Watershed. Taking this to heart, my parish embarked on a mission to increase awareness of environmental issues, and to make our church grounds more "green." But, most importantly, my church has begun to recognize the link between environmentalism and social justice. This is a very good thing.

Which brings me to last Thursday. In celebration of Earth Day, several of the environmental groups on campus sponsored a talk by Sierra Club Board Member and LC alum, Bernie Zaleha. Now, I have never really cared too much about the Sierra Club, but I was heartened by his talk. Mr. Zaleha, when questioned about what directions he thought the environmental movement should take answered, surprisingly, that environmentalists need to focus on environmental justice and reach out to religious communities and the voluntary simplicity movement (who he observed have long known that possessions do not bring you happiness). But, he noted, that as a leader of the Sierra Club, which is mostly white and affluent, he often feels conflicted about preaching such a message. My hope is that folks like Bernie Zaleha, do start a dialogue about such things. Who knows, he might even inspire someone like me to care.


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