The environmental movement and the civil rights movement may seem to be unlikely bedfellows. However, the antipoverty and sustainability advocacy organization Green For All has made it a beautiful union. Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, the CEO of Green For All, articulates the need to join economics and the environment to heal the wounds of social injustice, lift vulnerable communities out of despair, and create green jobs that tackle our modern-day environmental crisis and cultivate economic equality.
Ellis-Lamkins notes a connection between health and safety issues and poverty, compounded by environmental damage. “It’s important not to undersell the problems we’re citing. We cannot ignore the facts.”
She ticks off examples: 68 percent of African American children live within 30 miles of a coal plant, and one in six of those kids suffer from asthma compared with one in 10 nationwide. Minority communities also suffer disproportionately when environmental disaster strikes, ranging from Hurricane Katrina, which brought the issue front and center, to the more recent Hurricane Sandy. To counter these ill effects, Ellis-Lamkins cheerfully insists that equitable solutions are not only technologically possible but eminently available. “Would you rather have fracking or solar panels in your backyard?” she asks. (Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a technology that releases natural gas held in rock formations deep within the earth.) “A green economy empowers; it does not impoverish.”
Green For All’s pioneering efforts aim to eradicate poverty by creating sustainable jobs that will support the clean energy movement. Ellis-Lamkins was instrumental in securing two key provisions to the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009: funding for job training and guaranteeing broad access to clean energy jobs. “It is a false choice to believe that we have to choose between environmental protection and jobs,” Ellis-Lamkins says. “Environmental justice determines social justice. There is no better solution. It’s as simple as that.”
When asked where her passion and optimism come from, Ellis-Lamkins lights up. “As a parent, my greatest desire is to help create a world where we can all work in community, where there are parks for our children to play in, where we are able to breathe the air that we live in, where we can go to work and our health and safety are not at stake.”
Originally published as "The New Environmental Ethics" in S&H's Sustainable You issue.