A broader range of social justice causes

The thing about “the environment” is, we all live in it. We all depend on it for life. In that sense it’s not really political, and working to preserve it is not really political, because of the “all” bit.

But apparently activism to do that has become increasingly political.

When Aaron Mair ascended to the board presidency of the Sierra Club, he brought a new mission to the century-old environmental group: Where once it devoted itself solely to conservation issues, now it would embrace a much broader range of social justice causes.

That makes no sense to me. Social justice causes are fine, but conservation needs full attention all by itself.

Mair’s arrival accelerated then-executive director Michael Brune’s own progressive moves. Brune had taken over just a few years before from the Rainforest Action Network, a more activist, protest-oriented group. He took the Sierra Club in an overtly political direction, aligning it with the Democratic Party to create a “green line” of defense, as environmental groups called it, against Republican policies in Congress.

Under Mair and Brune, records show, the Sierra Club funneled its own funds into the groups Black Lives Matter and Showing Up for Racial Justice. In 2017, Brune threw the club’s support behind citizenship for children brought to the country illegally. In June 2021, Sierra Club backed reparations for Black Americans. It changed its definition of environment to the “environmental health of all communities, especially those communities that continue to endure deep trauma resulting from a legacy of colonialism, genocide, land theft, enslavement, racial terror, racial capitalism, structural discrimination, and exclusion.”

All true enough, but a change of subject. Social justice isn’t going to mean anything on a planet humans can’t live on.

Greenpeace USA is the latest major environmental organization riven with dissension. Interviews with 10 current and former staffers and documents obtained by POLITICO reveal an organization divided by tension between senior management and its younger workers over race and gender issues, culminating in a 2019 audit that blamed top-level management for creating a “culture of suffering and overworking” that was “guided by fear.”

“I have a lot of people ask me, ‘What happened to Greenpeace? Where’s Greenpeace? Where’s the campaigns? Where’s the expertise?,’” said Ivy Schlegel, who left a senior position after nearly 12 years with the organization last year. “I feel like we’re just watching Greenpeace crumble away.”

Indeed, in this new phase of environmentalism, Big Green organizations are extending themselves into labor rights, immigration, housing and democracy reform. Some groups are aiming to stir millions of latent Democratic voters across the country; to defeat state-level voter suppression initiatives; to make the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico states; to end the Senate filibuster and erode structural imbalances favoring red-leaning states.

But in the process they’re stamping global warming as a solely lefty issue, and that is not a clever plan.

One former staffer at Earthjustice, which does environmental law work, who was granted anonymity to discuss confidential interactions, said some funders have told the group to stick to what it knows. That person recalled battles with a member of the board of directors when Earthjustice tried to navigate statements on police brutality, where the group sided with “defund the police” activists who wanted to divert police budgets to mental health funding and community resources. Staff drove the shifts from the inside, the person said.

“For the most part, people funding Earthjustice signed up to protect the polar bears, not defund the police,” the person added.

Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen said in a statement that “Systemic racism and social injustice are at the root of the environmental problems we are trying to address,” and that when “we speak out on injustice, and we are explicit with our donors and supporters about why that is mission critical.”

Are they though? At the root, of all those environmental problems? I get they’re at the root of some of them, like where polluting industries are located and who checks the safety of the water supply, but I don’t think it’s true that they’re at the root of all of them, and especially not planet-heating because that’s going to catch up with everyone.

H/t Sackbut

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