I have been asked to testify on behalf of two bills before a committee of the Maryland Senate on Thursday January 31st,. 2008. Below is a copy of the substance of my remarks. Minority involvement in environmental conversations must be enhanced and encouraged.
I am pleased to be able to come before you this afternoon and speak on behalf of Senate bills 99 and 100. Today I am here as a citizen of Prince George’s County who spends much of the working hours of the week engaged in national, state and local environmental issues. As an industry representative to our Maryland Invasive Species Council, as a founding director and Past President of the Mid Atlantic Pest Plant Council, a Past President of my professional organization, the Maryland Nursery and Landscape Association; as well as Secretary of the National Invasive Species Council Advisory Committee which advises over forty federal agencies, I have a unique opportunity to see the breadth and width of the involvement of various groups and organizations currently engaged in environmental issues. I am here to tell you that it is white, and middle to upper class. That is not to say that there is no involvement by minorities in ecology or the environment, - far from it - but I find their voices and concerns muted and far from the fore front of conversation.
More importantly, we find ourselves making decisions which may be perceived as luxuries by those who face the immediacy of education, health and public safety choices, which, rather more than not, preclude a Prius in the day’s budget. Yet the environment is a concern of all Marylanders. Issues ranging from pesticide use to climate change directly impact health, whether in urban or rural settings. Clean affordable water is dependent on so-called free eco-services, which are not free and not infinite. Being able to find any water can be a challenge when confronted by wages which do not cover immediate daily needs.
As I travel across the United States I cannot help but notice that the world of the progressive environmental movement does not hear on a regular basis the views and concerns of those who must make hard choices constrained by income or by history. As I work on a technical sub committee, writing national sustainable landscape standards, standards which will affect all of us, I notice the absence of minorities. To paraphrase Dr. Patricia Limerick, ''If we save the planet and have a society of inequality, we will not have saved much.'' The environmental movement maintains that there is an interconnectivity inherent in everything, that all things are interrelated. Biological diversity is key to sustainability, so it would seem to follow that diversity of interest groups should be equally important and encouraged.
“People are either thinking about civil rights or they are thinking about climate change. Rarely are they thinking about both.” The two issues are linked according to Majora Carter who spoke at a panel on “green collar jobs” at the Center for American Progress. The two bills before you today, would extend the conversation about the future of our environment to currently underserved stakeholder groups. Reaching out and taking advantage of “green” collar jobs as well as professional opportunities in environmental science and service are, as I see it, a major benefit of this legislation. There is a “green” economy coming; we must make sure that all of Maryland is ready to take advantage of this financial tide. We must be sure that the coming investment in “green” does not unintentionally leave out a significant part of our society. We must provide opportunities not only for traditional investors but for those who, as of yet, have not been a force in the discussion of environmental concerns and matters.
Bringing the unique historic perspective of minorities to the conversation on land use and eco-services, climate change and preservation, parks and recreation, alternative energy sources, and quality of life, cannot not be ignored; we must not rely on a few interested and knowledgeable parties. The creation of a minority environmental center and trust would begin the outreach and inclusion of Marylanders who may not have heard or may not have been reached. Maryland’s strength like the strength of a functioning eco-system is found in diversity. This legislation begins to provide answers for our future.