Tag Archives: Earth Day

People of color and the planet, part I

“If you breathe air and drink water, this is about you.” – This Changes Everything

Almost all of my adult life, I’ve received the message that environmentalism isn’t for black people. Black people aren’t “outdoorsy.” (Don’t tell these folks!) We don’t camp (ahem) or hike or kayak, and we damn sure don’t mess with wildlife. And anyway, we don’t have time to worry about polar bears and glaciers when we can’t even walk home from the corner store without fearing for our lives.

But here’s the thing: Preserving the natural environment is critically important to black people — not just because we live on this planet with everyone else, but precisely because we are black.

Mainstream discourse causes us to think of “the environment” as some special, pristine place, far away from our day-to-day lives and immediate needs. This encourages us to believe that the only people who should concern themselves with environmental issues are people who have the luxury to focus on niche causes. In other words, white people.

In reality, our environment is directly connected to us. It is what we eat, drink, and breathe every day. What affects our air and water affects our health and well-being and our children’s ability to thrive.

In the United States, it is poor communities and communities of color that are most likely to experience the effects of pollution. Freeways are built through our neighborhoods, factories bury hazardous chemicals near our homes, and municipalities locate landfills in our backyards.

Often these polluting forces are brought with the promise of jobs, most of which are provided at the expense of our health — sometimes our very lives. More often than not, they are forced on us, because we do not have the money, political clout, or connections to stop them.

Natural disasters often disproportionately affect black people, both because we are more likely to be living in substandard housing and because the country as a whole just gives less of a damn about our well being.

On a global scale, the effects of climate change are not being distributed equally. The nations that will be most affected by climate change are in the global south, while the global north, which is largely responsible for the problem, sets emission targets that will protect its own people and then does nothing to meet even those.

So-called “developed” nations have built their wealth by appropriating resources from brown and black people across the world and by placing the disproportionate burden of their extractive, wasteful, greedy culture on those same people.

What this means is that we cannot truly improve the well-being of black and brown people without fundamentally changing the way we treat our environment. Rather than rejecting environmentalism as a hobby for people who already have everything, black folks should be at the very forefront of the movement to protect our planet and demand justice for its inhabitants.

This is not about buying recycled toilet paper or organic bed sheets. Certainly, individual choices have a role (though to be clear buying stuff is the exact opposite of what we need to be doing), but to counter the forces that are destroying us, we must build something bigger than our individual choices. We must come together as communities to protect our land and water. We must demand affordable, accessible transit service and safe places to walk and bike. We must insist on healthy, whole food grown sustainably. We must share with our neighbors.

We must refuse to accept rapacious corporations into our communities because they promise us a handful of jobs. Instead, we must insist that our young people be the first hired to build the sustainable, healthy, and safe communities of the future.

We no longer have the luxury of leaving environmentalism to others. As the tragedy in Flint makes painfully clear, our very lives depend on it.

Streetfilms celebrates Earth Day

Watch these 15 short films, and you’ll be feeling festive, too.

My favorite’s still the one about scraper bikes, thanks to my penchant for macked out vehicles. What’s yours?

Update: Sightline’s got an Earth Day video (well, a video slideshow) too. It’s worth watching just for the spectacular scenery (so many reasons to ride!)–oh, and the buses and trains.

Earth Day is still a great day to be a bus chick

One of the many reasons I ride:

A view of Tahoma, from a 39 stop in Seward Park

Still more reasons, from the American Public Transportation Association:

An individual switching to public transit can reduce his or her daily carbon emissions by 20 pounds; that’s more than 4,800 pounds in a year, a figure that is more than the combined carbon emissions reduction that comes from weathering your home and using energy efficient appliances and environmentally-friendly light bulbs.

If just one commuter of a household switches from driving to using public transportation, the household’s carbon footprint can be reduced by 10 percent. If a household gives up its second car altogether, a household can reduce carbon emissions up to 30 percent.

In case the future of the planet isn’t enough incentive: This Earth Day, lucky transit riders in DC were given free chocolate as a reward for their efforts. (Hey, Metro: Any chance this might happen in Seattle next year?)

If you prefer a little peace on earth with your carbon reduction (and chocolate!), check out this CSM editorial (thanks for the link, Pam!) about how the bus brings out our gentler side. I can’t say that all the bus rides I’ve taken have been so kind and gentle, but I definitely agree with the premise.

Happy Earth Day, everyone!

Upcoming events for transit types

Earth Day Expo
What: “…King County’s fifth-annual Earth Day Expo… to “learn easy ways to recycle, green-up your ride, volunteer for Earth-friendly activities, reduce your carbon footprint and make your home and garden more environmentally sound”
When: Tuesday, April 22, 10 AM- 2 PM
Where: Westlake Plaza
How much: Free!

Green My Ride
What: An “alternative transportation fair” to “learn how you can take the next step toward a greener ride”
When: Saturday, April 26, 9:30 AM – 3:30 PM
Where: Phinney Neighborhood Center
I’m going to give a short presentation about bus culture at noon and then spend the afternoon learning from all the alt-transpo experts who’ll be there.
How much: Free!

Sustainable West Seattle
What: A festival (a la Sustainable Ballard) “to educate and advocate for urban sustainability in our local community”
When: Sunday, May 4, 10 AM – 3:00 PM
Where: Wells Fargo lot, Alaska Junction
How much: Free!
I grew up in West Seattle, so I’ll be there, reppin’ one of my original buses, the 55. (I’ll also be participating on a panel about car-free living.) I might even drag my dad and baby brother, both West Seattle types, out for the occasion.

Towards Carfree Cities VIII
What: A conference that “brings together people from around the world who work to promote practical alternatives to car dependence”
When: June 16-20, 2008
Where: Portland. Oregon (You can take the train!)
How much: Check the registration rates on the conference site.
Stay tuned for more about this one.

This week in transit: bus-related news

Metro’s oldest driver is 80. He drives the 2.

Linda Thielke, spokeswoman for Metro, said Minard “has a pretty good driving record, with only minor accidents, really minor, like losing a side mirror.”

That’s more than I can say for the guy who drove my inbound 17 on Thursday night. That driver, who was nowhere near 80, was happy to share the details of his tickets and a recent accident (the reason he “doesn’t have to worry about working overtime”) with the passenger sitting in the seat adjacent to his. As if his erratic driving wasn’t reason enough to worry. (Source: Seattle Times)

• Starting late this spring, Community Transit will begin operating a double-decker bus, to “ease the crowds on commuter routes from Snohomish County to the Eastside and downtown Seattle.” I’d certainly like to ride on a double-decker bus (if only for the coolness factor), but I’ve always thought they seemed a bit unstable. How do they compare to the articulated buses that are so popular here? Are the double deckers more efficient, safer, or roomier? (Source: king5.com)

• Metro’s giving free rides on Earth Day.

Any time on Earth Day [Sunday, April 22nd], anywhere in King County, bus rides are free for everyone. There is no need to worry about transferring from Metro to Sound Transit, Community Transit or Pierce Transit bus service, either. All of those agencies are also marking Earth Day by offering free rides.

Like I said last year: Earth Day is a great day to be a bus chick. (Source: Transportation Today)