Exec. links environmentalism, justice

by Lindsay Brewer | 11/22/09 11:00pm

The environmental movement is deeply rooted in notions of ethical responsibility and the development of strong communities, Peter Forbes '83, the co-founder and executive director of The Center for Whole Communities, said in his Friday lecture, "Social Justice and Environmentalism: Bridging the Gap." Although environmental protection and social justice are often approached separately, neither can be fully solved until they are considered together, Forbes said during the lecture, held in the Rockefeller Center.

Forbes termed this new approach to environmentalism "Conservation 2.0" and branded it as an alternative to the current system of environmental and ethical activism.

"To heal the Earth today, one must be concerned with the human heart and soul," Forbes said.

Forbes identified 2042 and 2050 as two important years, as they mark the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's target year for an 80-percent cut in carbon emissions based on 1990 levels and the year that the United States Census Bureau predicted that minorities will outnumber white Americans, respectively.

Any plan to solve environmental problems must be holistic enough to concern people who are primarily invested in social justice problems and must appeal to the interests of those from different socioeconomic classes, Forbes said.

Even individuals who do not identify with the mainstream environmental movement are inherently invested in its outcome, Forbes said.

Forbes cited many people he has worked with, including a local gardener from Harlem, N.Y., who make significant contributions that often go unnoticed by mainstream environmentalists. The gardener Forbes referenced enlisted the help of her fellow community members to transform vacant lots behind her apartment building into a "five-star" garden, Forbes said.

These people "don't see themselves in the work of conservation, and they would never call themselves environmentalists," Forbes said.

The Center for Whole Communities handpicks a culturally diverse group of leaders in the fields of environmentalism and social justice to spend seven days at Knoll Farm in Waitsfield, Vt., sharing stories and developing techniques to cooperate and expand their organizations.

Program participants leave with an "understanding of how race, power and privilege has hindered sustainability," Forbes said. Forbes encourages the program's participants to "forget their mission statements and remember their hearts, the source of their courage."

Forbes encouraged Dartmouth environmental and social justice organizations to work together to develop new ways to expand the cultural and ethnic diversity of their memberships.

Forbes said that College President Jim Yong Kim has publicly recognized the interconnected nature of environmentalism and social justice and the need to tackle the two issues together.

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