Environmentalism and Student Activism

By Bruce, Calvin E. | Diversity Employers, March-April 1993 | Go to article overview

Environmentalism and Student Activism


Bruce, Calvin E., Diversity Employers


Environmentalism. What does that term bring to mind? Highway beautification projects? Recycling paper and aluminum cans? Preserving endangered species like the spotted owl? A gigantic oil spill off the coast of Alaska? Depletion of the rain forests in the Amazon?

All of these concerns, and hundreds more, are at the heart of environmentalism. Yet the term refers to more than so many "pet issues" espoused by students of ecology.

Environmentalism is a social activist movement that has spread around the world. It is based on the premise that rational thinking people should not passively watch the Earth (and the life it sustains) be depleted of natural resources and be destroyed through wanton recklessness.

On the flip side, environmentalism challenges concerned citizens of the global village to actively support the policies and programs that protect the planet and all living species--especially Homo sapiens.

It is critically important that readers recognize that environmentalism is not a "white issue." African Americans and other people of color need to become more sensitive to what threatens their physical environment and their very lives. In particular, the subtle dangers of environmental racism need to be exposed and addressed in the classrooms and in the corporate board rooms of America.

This article focuses on the worldwide scope of environmentalism, the racial implications, and how college students can actively support the programs that promote environmental/social justice.

The Environment At Peril

Planet Earth is in trouble. Perils to the environment face the 5.4 billion inhabitants who share a common concern: survival.

A report by The World Resource Institute in collaboration with The United Nations Environment Programme, entitled World Resources 1992-93, summarizes the problem in this manner:

"The world faces a wide variety of critical environmental threats: degradation of soil, water, and marine resources essential to increased food production; widespread, health-threatening pollution, stratospheric ozone depletion; globalclimate change; and a loss of biodiversity."

Clearly, environmentalism is a global concern that links every nation, culture, religious and ethnic group. Furthermore, environmentalism's core issues are not just "academic." They are life-and-death matters linked to economic and political agendas.

Think of the food shortages and starvation in sub-Sahara Africa. Ecological devastation and poverty go hand-in-hand, certainly. But questionable political maneuverings in countries like Somalia compound the problem of resource allocation and deepening human misery.

Think of the nuclear disaster that occurred at Chernobyl. The after-effects of the radiation fallout throughout Russia (and around the world) are incalculable. Massive dangers to animal life, human life, and to the food chain will be felt for many generations to come. All this has occurred in an area of the world generally hard hit with economic deprivation, which is attributed to a failed political system.

Think of the massive fires associated with the torched oil wells in Kuwait during the Desert Storm conflict. More was at stake than just smoke-blackened skies and sooty sand dunes. The volatility of crude oil prices--and the very survival of the industrial West--hinged on containing that environmental threat.

Get the picture?

Environmentalism frames the questions that force us to ask what our priorities are as a nation--the so-called "leader of the free world"--and as an ethnic community. In particular, confronting environmental threats to our survival as a race should certainly be uppermost in political discussion and social action.

Environmental Racism

In an article entitled "Environmental Protection for the 1990s and Beyond," Prof. Milton Russell of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville commented on the subtle shifts in the focus of environmentalism since the widespread consciousness-raising associated with "Earth Day" on college campuses in 1970. …

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