Honor the Earth, Tara Houska, attorney, National Campaigns Director
Honor the Earth, Tara Houska, attorney, National Campaigns Director

Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” book in 1962 ushered in wider discussion about pollutants, which turned into a focus on clean air and water. Since then, environmental rights activism has branched into multiple issues. How reflective are Minnesota’s environmental groups of the diversity of communities — their needs, their voices? This compilation offers perspectives on how organizations are attempting to create a tapestry of viewpoints in environmental action work.

Honor the Earth, Tara Houska, attorney, National Campaigns Director: 

The politics of resources, access, and classism are an unfortunate reality within the environmental movement. Top-down funding and organizing strategy has largely left those most impacted fighting injustice without backing or platform. There is, however, an ongoing shift within the movement toward saving our finite cultural and natural resources side by side. I hope to see the “big greens” [heavily staffed, well-funded organizations] stand in solidarity and truly support impacted communities.

The resistance against the Dakota Access Pipeline in particular
showed the power of indigenous-led organizing. Indigenous
communities are most impacted by climate change, and are some of
the most poverty-stricken peoples in North America. We told our
own narrative, and made history leading one of the most significant
resistance efforts in decades. At Honor the Earth, we are led by
indigenous women and our organization supports indigenous
movements across Turtle Island [the Native American name for
North America].

Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Gretel Lee, first-year attorney and Robina Institute legal fellow:

One of the most devastating aspects of
climate change is that its effects continue to
fall upon the backs of the people who have
already traditionally carried heavy burdens for
generations. Furthermore, these communities
have historically not been present when the
important decisions are made. In the United States and in Minnesota,
the law is set up in a way to allow access to and input from the public
on high-profile symbols of industry and commerce that heavily
affect the environment, such as power plants, mines, pipelines, and
highways. When everyone is not adequately represented, the fallout
from such decisions may land in an imbalanced manner. Advocacy
and environmental groups have an important role to ensure equal
participation for all communities — and bridging the gap when the
distance between the affected communities and the budget proposal,
court filing, or microphone is too great.

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy stands
watch to make sure that government and industry follow the
law,. All environmental work is environmental justice work. The
environment itself affects everyone, and thus it is imperative that
everyone have a say in its protection, and by extension, their own.

Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy, Nicole Rom, Executive Director:

We understand that climate change is a
highly complex issue and that just and equitable
solutions cannot be found if we proceed with
the climate science and policy lens alone. As
a predominantly white organization that has
historically engaged a predominantly white
audience, Climate Generation is taking steps
to address our own institutional racism through staff training,
ongoing discussion, and integration of equity principles across
our organization. Our work is grounded in the belief that to build
resilient and just communities, it is imperative that people work
together towards solutions that address the many intersecting issues
creating disparities.

Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light, Julia Nerbonne, Executive Director:

Whiteness requires individual people and
individual organizations to be “the best” —
the best at business, the smartest at research,
the most committed to ending racism. While
there are good things that come from this,
“besting” creates a critical blind place for
white organizations. How can we be the best
at replacing white supremacy when ending whiteness requires an
ending to the “I’ve got to be best” story?

At Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light, we strive to name the
roots of our collective success, making space for others to share in
both the co-creation and the outcomes. Instead of branding projects
as our own, we work in partnership.

For example, we have taken a lead in convening the “Just Solar
Coalition.” Rather than claiming it as our own, we have let the
work evolve and be owned by the collective. Because of this we
have developed rich working relationships with the NAACP,
the Department of Corrections, the Red Lake Nation, minority
businesses, and others. We hire strong leaders who bring in others
from their communities to spearhead the work.

Sierra Club North Star Chapter
Margaret Levin, State Director, and Karen Monahan, Senior Organizing Representative:

Environmental issues
are rooted in racial and
economic injustice. Our
country was colonized on
racial, economic and environmental inequality. In order for us to
create sustainable solutions, we must address the systemic roots that
created the problem in the first place.

Many environmental organizations are formed and operate from
the same lens as the larger system we are governed by. The Sierra
Club North Star Chapter is working to transform ourselves into
an inclusive, racially diverse organization based on core values of
equity and justice. To succeed will require thoughtful and decisive
changes to our structure, culture, norms and leadership, and the
engagement of our members and volunteers.

We are all interconnected to each other and the
planet. In order to bring balance and harmony
to our interconnectedness, we must address our
complicity and privilege when it comes to ending
racism and injustice on our planet.

We are looking outward, to strengthen relationships with new
partners; to show up respectfully in solidarity; and to do our part to
achieve a just, equitable, and sustainable world.