Why are green leaders white?
Alas, even among those conscientious, environmentally responsible greens, color - and sex - matter. I guess when it comes to saving the planet, nothing less than full on, in your face diversity in the leadership ranks of the movement will work.
Otherwise, why bother to save the earth in the first place, right?
Just the other day, the National Wildlife Federation announced its new president – a white male "whiz kid". Last month, the Climate Reality Project, founded by Al Gore, replaced its female chief executive with a white man. Last November, the National Parks and Conservation Association replaced its veteran leader with another white male. The Union of Concerned Scientists is due to announce its new leader as early as next week. Spoiler alert: it's not going to be a woman.
Public opinion research in the US suggests women, Latinos, African-Americans, Asians and Native Americans are more concerned – and more directly affected – by climate change than other populations. Doesn't it make sense to include those who are most at risk in decisions about how we fight the defining challenge of our time?
Now take a look at the top executives at eight of the top 10 groups devoted to fighting that fight:
Sierra Club? White male.
Nature Conservancy? White male.
League of Conservation Voters? White male.
World Wildlife Fund? White male.
Environmental Defense Fund? White male.
Friends of the Earth? White male.
National Audubon Society? White male.
Nature Conservancy? White male.
Check your privilege, greenies.
White males are evidently incapable of representing the interests of those who some believe are "directly affected" by environmental concerns. Does possessing a penis disqualify someone from serving? Does a vagina give someone a better understanding of the scientific issues surrounding environmentalism? Does the amount of melanin in someone's skin make them a better fundraiser?
Weighty questions, no? Of course, the answer is...YES!
"The community should challenge itself in the same way that it challenges corporate America to change the business-as-usual trend," Kalee Kreider, a former environmental advisor to Al Gore, wrote me in an email. "It's well past time for the environmental movement to look more like America and the world."
That gap between activists and Americans has resulted in some bad decisions. In 2009, with Obama in the White House and Democrats controlling both houses of Congress, Big Green took a roll on the once-in-a-generation chance of trying to pass climate change legislation. Their strategy? Engage in a series of clubby, back-room negotiations with the chief executives of oil and utility companies to reach a deal that achieved some carbon cuts – while limiting the costs to big business. The insider deal suffered a spectacular collapse.
Then there's the messaging. Environmental groups are only now beginning to wake up to the idea that bombarding the public with graphs and statistics is not, on its own, going to persuade people that climate change has anything to do with their own lives.
Meanwhile, beyond Washington, and beyond the male-dominated preserves of Big Green, women activists are just getting on with the job – without that White House access or the expensive consultants paid for by the biggest of big donors.
The rank silliness of wanting a leadership that "looks like America" would be pathetic if it weren't so typical. No thought at all to who might do the best job regardless of sex or color. This is a side issue to making sure that people of color and women - no matter their qualifications or competency - be slotted into leadership positions so one interest group or another can claim victory - and fundraise off of it.
I really, really hope the greens get bogged down in this nonsense. Paying more attention to the racial and sexual makeup of their leaders rather than what those leaders can accomplish will mean that nothing much will get done.
That's a boon to sensible environmentalism.