“We want to build a green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty,” Van Jones said in his best-selling book “The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems.”
“We want to create green pathways out of poverty and into great careers for American children. We want this ‘green wave’ to lift all boats. This country can save the polar bears and kids too.”
Jones could find a great starting place in South Los Angeles, and it may be happening at a local college.
As the nation turns its attention to Earth Day tomorrow, the country is looking to activists like Jones to explain how Blacks and Browns in minority communities can become part of a green revolution that hopes to sustain the environment and create jobs.
This is significant because many Hispanic and African Americans are disproportionately exposed to air pollution and other environmental risks, according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) studies. For example, a 1991 study cited by the EPA found that African Americans and Hispanics were more likely to be exposed to ground level ozone and several other air pollutants known to cause cancer, according to a General Accounting Office report on clean air rules.
In 1992, the EPA established an office to address environmental air pollution affecting racial minorities and low-income communities. Efforts to identify and address disproportionately high and adverse impacts on specific populations and communities are commonly referred to under the term “environmental justice.”
Justice is a term spoken frequently in the Black and Brown communities.
Environmental justice is something that a new building at Los Angeles Southwest Community College will hopefully address, said Jack E. Daniels III, Ph.D., president of the college.
The 44,142 square-foot facility located along Imperial Highway will house the Environmental Sciences and Technology Department, where students can receive training in alternative energy, including wind, solar and water technologies, as well as explorations in energy conservation and sustainability, according to information cited by the college. About 67 percent of the students at the school are African American and 32 percent are Hispanic, Daniels said.
“Green jobs realistically will take time. In the meantime, we’re decreasing our use of energy. It’s going to help the environment and the community. We can assist now in sustaining the planet. The whole issue of sustainability has been a focus of the community college district since 2001. In fact, the (Los Angles Community College District) has been a leader in the country in areas of sustainability.”
Southwest has evolved since 1967 from a campus of bungalows that served as classrooms to state-of-the-art buildings that are certified by the United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), says the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) district. Southwest is one of nine colleges that make up the district. The funds for the new buildings come from the $6 billion district construction program approved by Los Angeles voters.
“We are transforming more than a college campus. We are changing lives and a community,” Daniels said. “With the new School of Arts & Humanities and Career & Technical Education facilities coming online in 2012, we hope to inspire creativity and innovation, and expose our students to emerging alternative energy technologies that will be in high demand over the next few years.”
LEED created the Green Building Rating System in 1993 and is currently the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high performance green buildings.
“The [LEED] buildings are more energy efficient. The grounds have drought-resistant plants,” Daniels said. “There are solar panels generating the energy for the buildings.”
The buildings will be occupied in about 15 months, he added.
Environmentally friendly buildings are key components of the green revolution, but so are people and their behaviors, said Mike Meador, founder of California Greenworks Inc., a nonprofit organization whose charter is to improve urban communities in South Los Angeles. The motto for the organization is “Greening Communities One Neighborhood at a Time.”
“My take on Earth Day is that it’s not a holiday but a day we should recognize,” said Meador. “We only have one planet, and we share it with everybody.”
According to Meador, the sustainability of the environment is something that transcends racial lines.
“There is no race relations situation with the environment. We’re all impacted by those circumstances. In terms of the environmental movement, the environment crosses everyone’s path, because we all share the same planet together. For instance, we think about every day stewardship issues like recycling. If we are not cognizant of these behaviors, we can affect everyone. As a whole, we have not done enough to put in place other forms of energy. We rely on fossil fuels. I think we need to get back to basics. There needs to be green job opportunities.”
In his books, Jones calls for ensuring “that those communities that were locked out of the last century’s pollution-based economy will be locked into the new clean and green economy.
“We know we don’t have any throwaway species or resources, and we know that we don’t have any throwaway children or neighborhoods either. All of creation is precious and sacred. And we are all in this together.”
Meador agrees. “The environment crosses everyone’s path because we all share this planet together. We all drink the same water, breathe the same air, and live on the same land,” he said. “I know there are those who believe (in the Legislature) that saving the environment hampers business. But we have to be good stewards of the day-to-day care of the environment. But I know the fight is fierce (in Washington) over the environment.”
The environmental movement has become an issue of political polarization. Jones said in his book “…it is tempting to say that we don’t need a U.S. president who will fix everything; we just need one who will stop breaking everything. That alone would make a tremendous difference…”
Jones himself became a political casualty in the environmental debate. Not long after being appointed environmental adviser to the White House, Jones resigned in 2009 after his left-leaning politics resulted in Republican calls for his ouster. Jones is well-known in the environmental movement. He worked for the White House Council on Environmental Quality before his resignation.
Southwest professor of environmental science Alistaire Callender shied away from speaking directly on the political issues involved with creating a sustainable environment.
“Sometimes people don’t understand what the issues are,” Callender said. “When you explain the issues, their perspectives change. We’re all in this together. It doesn’t matter what side of the (political) spectrum you’re on.”
As far as job creation, one plan is for the college to develop a certificate program in environmental studies that trains students to conduct home energy audits. Beyond that, the college will be providing courses in environmental studies that can be transferred to schools offering four-year degrees in environmental science.
“We use a lot of resources in the United States. We’re less than 5 percent of the population, but we use 25 percent of the resources,” Callender said. And as other nations such as India develop and seek to use resources commensurate with their share of the population, the American way of using resources becomes increasingly unsustainable, he said.
Callender said he wants people to take a more holistic view of the environment beyond the creation of green jobs to the moral obligation of individual action that could help to sustain the environment.
The public must be encouraged to develop a personal relationship with the environment and think about how individual action can affect sustainability, Callender said.
“(To mark Earth Day) I would say stop using so much bottled water. It’s merely tap water that’s been filtered. We have been convinced that our tap water is bad. Just think about how much plastic we waste when we’re doing that. (The bottles) end up in the landfills or being dumped somewhere else. We’re using large amounts of material to make these bottles to carry around a product that we can get from the tap. Buy yourself a stainless steel container, and fill it with (tap) water.”
The political landscape and the environment can be a hotly contested issue, Meador said. Still, he is cautious about blaming either Republicans or Democrats for what ails the environment. He said he would rather focus more on creating those so-called “green collar” jobs that Jones championed.
To this end, Meador hopes to start a program called California Greenworks@works Environmental Resource and Development Program. The program is designed to create jobs in the green economy, he said. One of the “green jobs” people can be trained to do is energy audits of homes. For instance, the technician will check the air flows of the home and whether the air conditioning is working efficiently.
Meador said he is seeking about $3 million over five years from organizations like the EPA and other government entities like the county of Los Angeles to get such a “green jobs” training program started.
“We can work toward creating jobs. At least (people in South Los Angeles) will have the skills and training to compete (in the new green economy),” he said.
California Greenworks plans to host the sixth annual Los Angeles EarthFest Concert in the Park for the Environment & Expo Saturday. The event will include a concert in the park from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
This year’s festival includes a host of free activities for the entire family, each centered on relevant environmental topics. The concert features smooth Jazz performances from leading guitarist Paul Brown and saxophone sensation Jessy J and Blues Jazz artist Barbara Morrison. If you mention OurWeekly, the concert tickets will be $35. The event will be held at Kenneth Hahn Park 4100 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles.
For information on the event, call (323) 298-5077 or on the web at earthfestla.org.
California Greenworks partners with local community-based organizations and groups along with other nonprofit organizations. These partnerships allow the group to put programs and projects into action that make a difference in neighborhoods across South Los Angeles. Some of the recent efforts include restoration of waterways, engaging elementary school students on the importance of protecting the environment, and creating a community-based program that raises watershed pollution awareness. The group extends invitations on its website to “help to plant a tree, clean up a waterway, or lend a hand to restore a wildlife habitat.
This story will also appear on the web at www.intersectionssouthla.org.
Litter concerns everyone
Tips, suggestions on reducing your trash footprint
(Contributing Urban Media Foundation writers: Erdavria Simpson, Brandi Finney, LaFaye Mooer, Jerriel Biggles and Aaron King)
It is amazing that 94 percent of people identify litter as a major environmental problem, yet they still litter.
Carelessly discarded garbage affects every member of society; it causes harm to people and animals, damages our waterways, costs us money and suggests that we do not care for our environment. Fortunately, we can all do something to help prevent and reduce litter.
We live in a plastic convenience culture. Virtually every human being on this planet uses plastic materials every single day. Babies begin life by using some 210 million pounds of plastic diaper liners each year; we give them plastic milk bottles, plastic toys, and buy their food in plastic jars, paying with a plastic credit card.
Every year we eat and drink from some 34 billion newly manufactured bottles and containers. We buy products that consume plastic. In total, on average, households use hundreds of pounds of plastic annually.
What are the effects of litter?
Litter can cause a whole range of problems for everyone in the community. Litter discarded in streets and parks can travel through the storm water system to our bays and oceans, where it can cause harm to wildlife.
* Litter costs money. Removing litter from the environment costs everyone.
* Litter is a threat to public health. Litter attracts vermin and is a breeding ground for bacteria. Items such as broken glass and syringes can also be a health hazard in public places.
* Litter can be a fire hazard. Accumulated litter and carelessly discarded cigarette butts are potential fire hazards.
* Uncollected litter can attract more. Animals may get trapped or poisoned by litter in their habitats. Litter can end up in rivers and canals, polluting the water supply.
* Litter is a breeding ground for disease-causing insects and rodents.
* Trash collects into streams, and storm water drainage systems, flowing into local bays and estuaries.
* When you litter, animals come and eat the garbage, may get sick and even die.
* Littering is bad, because you are polluting the earth which can be bad for animals and fish. For example, if you throw a six pack plastic ring into the water, you are endangering the life of birds and ducks who might get caught up in the plastic and starve to death.
How to stop littering
It sounds so simple. Stop littering. The reality is that most people find it hard to give serious thought to this overwhelming problem, and littering is growing as an issue worldwide, every day. It’s easy to excuse it as someone else’s problem, but until we each, as individuals, make the effort to stop littering, the problem will not decrease. Follow the steps below to stop littering in your life.
* Make the effort to always find a trash can. Walking along the street and just finished your morning cup of store-bought coffee? It’s easy to toss it to the curb as you walk away, but hold on to it and dump it into the next trash can you see. The same goes for other trash including old chewing gum and cigarette butts.
* Call out the next friend you see littering. This isn’t to say you should make a huge scene, but maybe mention that you know of a trash can nearby, or that they should make the effort to find one. That might prompt them to make the effort themselves.
* Follow up your good habits by cleaning up after others. If you’re taking the dog for a walk and he begins to sniff at an old sandwich wrapper, instead of just leading him past it, take a moment to pick it up and drop it in the closest receptacle. Make sure you wash your hands when you get home.
* Keep in mind that the effect one plastic bag left on the ground can have on the environment can be staggering. It can trap and suffocate small wildlife or end up in a local river or stream and be ingested by water fowl and kill them. Not to mention the fact these bags take years and years to break down in landfills.
* Call your local city hall and find out what environmental clean-up groups exist in your area or, better yet, offer to start one yourself.