Sometimes I think I’m just too black to be green. What with my required international travel (to see the relatives) and my hereditary love of meat it seems being black and green are two incompatible states. There are other times when I almost feel too green to be black. Trying to convince friends and family of the urgency of global warming is like trying to persuade the BNP that immigration is a good thing. As Muzammal Hussain, founder of the London Islamic Network for the Environment says, it’s a constant “cultural commute”. But over the last few months I’ve realised that, while advocating for the use of alternative energies, environmentalists would do well to consider the renewable benefits that a more diverse green movement would bring to the table.
As someone who’s usually the only black face in a green crowd it’s obvious to me that the subtle prejudices of the environmental movement have a lot to do with their inability to convert the masses to their way of thinking. Worthy though their cause may be, environmentalists are fundamentally a microcosm of society, albeit an impassioned one, flaws and all. The movement needs to be more sensitive to difference and inclusive in its outreach, across race, religion and class.
There are good reasons for engaging Britain’s ethnic communities. With its size, diversity and global awareness, black and Asian Britons, many of whom have roots in two continents, are uniquely placed to contribute to the discourse in a meaningful way. Take Bangladesh, for example, a country exceptionally affected by the cruelties of a changing climate. The UK is home to the largest Bengali population outside of Bangladesh yet how much do activists connect with British Bengalis on the issues? Similarly, Africans abroad are a powerful collective. They contribute more to the continent’s development through individual remittances than international aid. And in much the same way that the diaspora can exert financial influence and pressure on individuals and governments they can also do the same on green issues. But they must be encouraged and empowered to do so by being brought in to the national debate. It never ceases to amaze me how easily minority groups with real and vested interests are not so much excluded as forgotten.
It’s not just in the developing world that the movement can benefit from the amplification of other voices. Here at home, there’s a massive incentive for environmentalists to embrace ethnic communities. Black and minority ethnic groups are a fast growing constituency and activists would do well to leverage the support of those who will soon make up, not just the future face of the UK but the future body of the movement.
It’s not that black Britons are disinterested in green issues but more that they don’t seem relevant to them. In this respect British environmentalism could learn a lot from America. In Obama’s post-racial US, the green debate is a consensus of equals. Advocates, both black and white, have managed to broaden the dialogue in to one of opportunity for all, proclaiming the benefits of a green economy and green jobs rather than harping on about intangibles like apocalypse now. Van Jones, Obama’s former special adviser for green jobs, founded the Green For All group, which has been successful in mobilising large numbers of minorities and urbanites behind a new social movement. This country needs a similar community who are willing to take on both the indifference of politicians and the might of the insular green movement while bringing new people in to the debate. It’s a win-win situation.