FAITH-BASED COMMUNITIES have been at the forefront of environmental justice work since the phrase first came into use. In 1987, the United Church of Christ’s Commission for Racial Justice published the report Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States. The report—the first of its kind—documented the connection between the siting of hazardous waste sites and the race of the communities where they were located.
For Aaron Mair—an epidemiological-spatial analyst with the New York State Department of Health—environmental justice organizing began in 1984 when he and his family moved to the Arbor Hill neighborhood of Albany, N.Y. The 80-percent-black neighborhood was home to an incinerator that resulted in two of his daughters having upper-respiratory health issues, according to Mair. The neighborhood’s toxic air prompted Mair to begin organizing his community to get the incinerator shut down.
In May 2015, Mair was elected as the first African-American president of the Sierra Club, a national environmental organization with more than 800,000 members. Raven Rakia, a freelance journalist and Grist fellow, interviewed Mair for Sojourners in February.
Raven Rakia: What’s the significance of your becoming the first black president of the Sierra Club?
Aaron Mair: I didn’t start out to make history with the Sierra Club. I started out to make history as an environmental justice activist by elevating the voice of communities of color with regard to equal treatment and protection under the law.
Director Darren Aronofsky says he is not religious, and that his Russell Crowe blockbuster movie “Noah” is the “least-biblical biblical film ever made.”
But the strong environmental message of his film — which makes Noah a hero as a God-inspired steward of the earth — firmly roots itself in Scripture, Aronofsky told an audience of religious environmentalists on Wednesday. Many of them hope the message of the movie, which has grossed more than $300 million since its release on March 28, spurs more people of faith to work against climate change.
In “Noah,” Aronofsky said, he hoped to capture the beauty of creation, and to dramatize God’s dramatic decision to destroy it because of human sin. Noah, he said, “is saving the animals. He is not looking for innocent [human] babies. It’s about saving the animals.”
The Sierra Club, BlueGreen Alliance and Greenpeace have come out in support comprehensive immigration reform measures. The groups believe the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States today could be supportive of future green initiatives. Politico reports:
“Right now, there are 11 million people who don’t have the tools, who can’t act without fear. They can’t vote. They can’t engage in the public process. They can’t advocate for clean energy without the threat of deportation,” Michael Brune, Sierra Club's executive director, [said]. “Nobody should live under those circumstances.”
Read more here.
If Congress passes immigration reform, much of the credit will be given to the broad and diverse voices that have lined up in support of fixing our nation’s broken immigration system. Both the labor and business community have been instrumental in moving legislation forward, while the evangelical community’s call to “welcome the stranger” has received significant attention by politicians and the media. The coalition of supporters continues to grow, as last week the Sierra Club, the oldest environmental organization in the country, announced its support for immigration reform.
Why would an environmental organization get involved with immigration reform? What could they possibly have at stake?
When our ideas about nature come primarily from Sierra Club calendars or selected snippets from Thoreau, an east coast earthquake and monster hurricane (in the same week) are powerful wake-up calls.
We modern urban dwellers and suburbanites like our nature contained and manageable: a nice hike in the woods; a pretty sunset on the drive home; a lush, green lawn (chemically-induced, alas)
Sometimes we like nature so much we decide to worship it -- or to make it the medium for our worship of God or the "higher power" we think might be up there, out there, presiding over it all. We've been wounded by organized religion, perhaps, disgusted by its hierarchies and hypocrisies. "I can worship God on a mountaintop," we decide. (Or -- conveniently, happily -- on the golf course).
Watch the video below of CNN's coverage of Jim Wallis and other faith leaders as they tour the Gulf Coast on a trip sponsored by the Sierra Club. (For live updates, follow @jimwallis on Twitter.)
A friend of mine recalls a dinner-table conversation one day when she was a schoolgirl. Her dad had come home unusually frustrated from his job as a city planner. "D#@*$% environmentalists!" he said over dinner. "Dad, I thought you were an environmentalist," she said. "Why are you so upset?"
"All day long," he answered, "environmentalists come to me with problems and complaints, and business people come to me with ideas and projects. Why can't the environmentalists be proactive [...]