How have we let such a distorted picture take hold? Part of the blame lies with the media: Any time a story about the environment does not mention the work of urban activists, a journalist has missed an important part of the picture.
But the biggest part of the blame, and the biggest part of the solution, lies with us. As citizens and activists (and sometimes as senators), it isn’t always easy to connect the dots, but we can’t afford not to. We must remember that cities are ecosystems and that global climate change exacerbates local poverty.
There is an often-repeated quote by one of America’s first great naturalists, John Muir. “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” Muir died almost a century ago, but his words have never been more relevant.
When we talk about “the environment,” we’re talking about redwoods in Northern California, but we’re also talking about drinking water in East Baltimore. We’re talking about ice caps melting at the North Pole, but we’re also talking about levees breaking in New Orleans.
It is time for more community activists to be invited to connect the dots. Without environmental justice, social justice will never be complete.
John Kerry, who attended the very first Earth Day celebration in New York City in 1970, is a senator from Massachusetts and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.