MHP   |  April 22, 2012

Environmental justice and equality

Leading environmental equality activist Majora Carter joins the Melissa Harris-Perry show, along with Beth Terry, author of "Plastic Free," to share their contributions toward promoting environmental justice on the local level to help spur action in legislation.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

HARRIS-PERRY: to you think about the most desire dire consequences of polluting our environment , what comes to mind? Isn't that image from an inconvenient truth of the stranded, arctic polar bear ? Or maybe you thought with hoer about the great pacific garbage patch , that the island of plastic floating in the middle of the north pacific ? Perhaps, though you never actually seen it, you conj nap an image of a picture of hole in the ozone hovering ominously over Antarctica . And so, let me ask you to think a little bit closer to home, about asthmatic children inhaling toxic fumes in cities right here in the United States . About the woman living next to a refinery in Mississippi who keeps suffering miscarriages. About communities of people forced to live next to piles of refuse and pollutants, the rest of us can barely stand to have in our homes for a few days. I would ask you to consider another climate worth changing. The one in which we behave of those some Americans are more worthy than others in living in an environment of the safe and healthy for themselves and their children. Joining me at the table, someone who hasn't just thought about that, but has accomplished a lot on behalf of that cause. Majora Carter , just president of the Majora Carter Group . And also back with us Raul Reyes of NBC Latino . I totally love you too Raul but I'm I'm really excited on earth day to have Majora Carter in my table that this feels like always right with the world or all of us with the world or something. And so, you know, I'm obviously enthusiastic about your work, Majora , because I've known it and followed it for so long. But you know, take a moment and kind tell nerd land about the work that you do and specifically if could you know, in our conversation in nerd land, we talk about the environment and environmentalism and, you know, earth days on to the 1970s , mostly around sort of wild life preservation. But I kept saying no, I want to do E.J. I want to do environmental justice in people like what? Tell us what environmental justice , environmental equity is about.

MAJORA CARTER, PRESIDENT, MAJORA CARTER GROUP: Right. Environmental justice is a principle that no community should have to bear brand of lots of environmental burdens and not enjoy some of the environmental benefits. And right now, unfortunately, where will you find the environmentally in just communities as broken down along race of class life. So, where you find the parks and trees, where you will find the toxic pollutants something to that nature that very different places. The kind of work that I have been doing, really pushing, is called environmental equality. And environmental equality is the manifestation that no one, that everyone should have the absolute right to not have to move out of their neighborhood in order to live in a better one.

HARRIS-PERRY: I love that idea that like justice should find us or and equality should find us where we are. We shouldn't have to go chasing after it because this is assumption obviously that is not equal. So, Raul , I actually kind of thinking about putting together this conversation. You know, I think that there is sometimes in the assumption that there that core communities , urban communities , Latino and African - Americans , they don't care much about the earth, right. They are not hiking or worth. And yet, we know that the environmental issues impact these communities in most power play.

REYES: I know. Environmental justice is very closely tight to communities of color. I mean, I agree with you. There's a myth that the people mostly interested in equality of the green movement are upper, middle class more affluent people. But, you know, I never come hit to know that some statistics show, according to senate for American progress, 65 percent of people of communities of color lived within the air quality does not met federal standards, 66 percent of communities of color people lived or work near a refinery, chemical, plant, another toxic sites. And we do tend to be over represented in agriculture and the service industries where you work with chemical, pesticides, sprays. And also, to dangers materials. So, this is an issue that affects us because many African-Americans , Latinos , Asians , all people of color were on the front lines of the environmental problems and that the degradation in, you know, in the environment sorts very important.

HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, we think of it as an stereotype. It's not just that at some community have trees and lawns, but that often you have Latino yard workers, people who are doing that sort work, who are standing behind the leaf blower , right. If you stand behind the leaf blower , you are getting the gas and oil fumes, right? Or we have, you know, young people in the city who are living in places with very low air quality , we have the issue of asthma. So, talk to me then. It's one thing to say, we should have environmental justice . We should have environmental equality. How should we have it? What does it take to move from inequality to equality?

CARTER: I have been working the past decade and a half on how do you create projects that improve the environmental as well as the economic quality of life for people who live in our communities ? And it also goes, and again, it's off on class lines . So, believe me, if you are living near a coal plant , a coal mining operation, and you know, chances are they are not particularly dark, but there still feeling the impacts of that. So, this is really important.

HARRIS-PERRY: A lot of Americans living in those sorts of community or indigenous people where we have local undesirable lands.

CARTER: But the full point is it, we can create new opportunities for local economic development . Things that actually provide opportunities for that kind of local job creation that doesn't continue to pollute the environment . Right now, I'm really interested in doing things like supporting and using real estate development as a platform for social, environmental, and economic engagement. Because I do believe, one, you can build very green buildings , but you can also create new opportunities to create mixed income housing and mixed used commercial development that actually provide opportunities for people to become less poor. So, that kind of structural development that expects people to move up and out of poverty by the creation of economic models that improves their quality of life is, that's a very huge goal that I'm really trying to work on right now.

HARRIS-PERRY: I want to talk more about this big policy stuff but also of the individual acts we can do. And also, like the earth and us, and how we manage both of those things on questions of earth day . So, you heard about the gender gap. We'll talk about the green gap, more on that after the break.

HARRIS-PERRY: I'm still here with Majora Carter and Raul Reyes . And we been talking about creating a local environmental impact through working to change public policy . Joining us now from San Francisco is someone who made going green an individual effort, Beth Terry is the creator of myplasticfreelife.com, which I was hanging out on this morning and also author of " Plastic Free." Thanks so much for joining us, Beth .

BETH TERRY, MYPLASTICFREELIFE.COM: Hi , Melissa . Hi , Majora . I'm such a fan of yours.

HARRIS-PERRY: A lot of green love going on in our land today. So, Beth . I want to talk you a little bit about your project. So again, just tell us what the plastic free life project is?

TERRY: Well, five years ago, I was just a regular person like anybody else, and I was using plastic on a daily basis, plastic grocery bags, plastic water bottles and throwing them away. And I wasn't really thinking anything about it, even though I kind a considered myself to be an environmentalist. And one night I was sitting at my computer and just browsing around, and I stumbled upon an article about the plastic pollution problem in the ocean, and I saw something that changed my life. And it was a photo of a dead albatross chick. It had -- its body was completely full of plastic and it was just the carcass, and all you could see was the bones and the body full of plastic , and it was plastic bottle caps, plastic toothbrush, plastic -- all the little tiny pieces of plastic that I use on a daily basis. And at that moment, I realized, oh, my God, my actions are having an impact on creatures that I hadn't even previously known existed. And that was the first time I knew something had to change in my life and it changed like that.

HARRIS-PERRY: So, I want to ask about that. Because part of what I thought was -- sort of an extremely useful part of sort of the initial move toward encouraging, particularly Americans , but around the world, to think about environmental issues, kind of across party lines and all of that, were wild life images, were the images of, as you point out here, the albatross or we just talked yesterday about the brown pelicans and the BP oil spill who have the oil on them. But I also wonder about how we then put like sort of a connection between the wild life piece and Majora and Raul , from the work we were just talking about around sort of humans and people and particularly young folks . So Majora , I just want I want you weigh in a little bit then I want to come back to you, Beth , about how do we connect these dots? It shouldn't be separate. But sometimes it feels like separate environmental movements.

CARTER: Well, they are considered separate right now. I mean, there are people and then there is the environment . And what we are trying to do is really bring them together so folks understand that there is only one place that we are a part of, we are the environment and vice versa. And I really see that the microcosm in terms of how we build our community . Like literally, our relationships are about real estate , might as well use it to create the kind of world we want to live in. And so, as we use real estate development as a platform for engagement, we should thinking about the impact that we're going to be having in terms of the social, environmental and economic impact that we are having. So, when I think of the kind of real estate developer that I want to be, it is literally about how do you build a community , how do you build a place where there's economic diversity, how do you build a community of different people of different economic levels living together? You know, creating the new kind of -- where you are thinking about manufacturing in the 21st century to find jobs. Like, for example, the dress that I'm wearing was created by actually a Bronx -born designer named Natalia Allen who uses rapid prototyping techniques as basically done in a single pass like the whole dress like this, using this amazing technology. And so, when I think of things like that, I think about how do we use opportunities like that in order to bring back the kind of holistic, local economies that we need that really do provide opportunities to improve the environment , improve economies and really help people feel more whole in their lives.

HARRIS-PERRY: So, Beth . I don't know anyone who is more likely to do that kind work than like -- I was listening and reading how you even take back the containers we get strawberries and blueberries and have them refill them. So, talk to me a little bit about the approach?

TERRY: Well, so upon making that discovery, I decided I was going to try to live without buying any new plastic . And I also decided to start collecting my plastic just to see what my actual plastic footprint was. In the beginning, I was still using a lot of plastic . Right now, just to show you, this is the amount of plastic I collected for 2011 .

HARRIS-PERRY: Wow.

TERRY: Which is just a regular grocery bag full. And so I have developed a lot of strategies and I write about them on my blog and have them in my book. But, going back to the issue of environmental justice . I just want to say that plastic is a real environmental justice issue, because plastic is made from fossil fuels, it made from oil and natural gas . And those petrochemical factories, like Majora was saying, are in the community of poor and minority people. And so they are getting impacted in that way, getting impacts because a lot of times poor people can't necessarily afford to buy things that are not plastic so they are ending up using plastic , which is toxic and then plastic recycling is fraught with all kinds of problems as well for disenfranchised people.

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. Raul , I feel like you want to jump in here.

REYES: Well. One thing that I think that's worth noting is that, I think too often people think that environmental justice and the interest of -- interests of business are separate. And the economy are separate and they are not. You know, when you look, for example, at green jobs , green jobs are terrific for lower income community and community of color because many green jobs don't require more than a high school diploma . So that gives people access to a job with a future. Green jobs more than average jobs in the workforce tend to lead to careers, not just low-wage, dead end jobs. And green jobs also outpace in terms of their growth. Outpace other jobs in the economy . So, green jobs are good business. It's not we are not you know, saying -- we need to rethink about this. But you know, business and environmental justice can go hand in hand and it's a win/win. People just need to realize it.

HARRIS-PERRY: The Republican party has pretty actively said the EPA kills jobs, right?

REYES: Right.

HARRIS-PERRY: So, it's not just sort of -- so, I think part of what's amazing here, is environmentalism could be bipartisan, big, broad umbrella, but it ends up feeling like --

CARTER: It's just been so politicized. We need to reconnect it with job creation and the environment . Then have you something that goes.

TERRY: Can I jump in here?

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, Beth . Please do jump in.

TERRY: I want to say in trying to live my own life personally without plastic and finding plastic free alternatives, I have discovered so many companies that are really trying to find a solution to the plastic problem and create alternatives to plastic things made out of glass, things made of stainless steel, all kinds of healthy products and those are creating jobs for people too, you know. So the choices that we make as individuals spur the economy in a green direction.

HARRIS-PERRY: Right. We want just generate those incentives. SO, I hear you saying, you know, there are businesses that are doing this. But it make sense that it is voluntary. What we want to start creating public policy to allow this.

REYES: Support green jobs .

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, right. The support green jobs and the support businesses --

CARTER: Who want to do that.

HARRIS-PERRY: Who want to move in this direction. I'm so excited.

TERRY: I think --

HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. go ahead, Beth . Please. Finish up for us.

TERRY: I think it has to be I think, we as individual, have to take personal responsibility. And then we also have to push our legislators for those laws. And then we also have to push companies and write to companies and, you know, tell them what we want.

HARRIS-PERRY: Beth , I really appreciate you joining us today. Majora Carter , I very much appreciate you joining us today. Raul , you have been hanging out with me for a little bit. But it's nice to spend earth day thinking about both our individual responsibilities and our collective responsibilities. Coming up, I'm going to offer a little reality check on America 's favorite reality show . And that's up, next.

HARRIS-PERRY: What if this morning I