Large corporations like Nestlé, General Mills, General Electric and Duke Energy have announced they’re taking on bigger roles in protecting the environment. This has been welcomed by many environmentalists; however, the New Republic’s Emily Atkin notes that many of these corporations also participate in much of the alleged environmental damage these corporations claim to be countering. Atkin joined Worldview to discuss the two articles she wrote on the subject.
On large corporations’ environmental-friendly policies
Emily Atkin: I think they do it because it’s just generally good for business. There has been a lot of polling and studies that have shown that in consumer-driven businesses, we like it when our companies are green and when they seem green. And not only do we like it when our companies seem green, we really don’t like it when they don’t seem green. There’s less research that shows that people buy things because they’re green, there is research that we will pay more when things are green, but there is a lot of research that shows that we will avoid things that are not green. So it sort of seems like a no brainer for these corporations not to say that Trump’s policy is bad, but to continue doing what is good for business. Meanwhile, some of these companies aren’t transparent about their own carbon emissions. One of these companies, Nestle, is pulling millions of gallons of water out of drought-stricken parts of California without paying water rights.
On the lack of multiracial representation
Atkin: This is a critical time for environmental policy, for the movement, and we need to be clear-eyed about what the messaging is going to be if we want to see policies to fight climate change stay in place, if we want to see policies to protect human health and the environment in general to remain in place. And I wrote this article about environmental justice and the environmental movement needing to pay more attention to environmental justice, which is the concept that environmental problems impact low-income black, Latino and indigenous lives more than white middle-class lives. As a journalist I get a lot of press releases in my email from environmental groups, and right after Trump’s executive order came out, I just noticed right off the bat that a lot of them were focusing on this executive order’s impact on our continued ability to fight climate change and using things like, ‘We’ll never be able to meet the two degree celsius target that we set under the Paris Climate Agreement,’ which is for most people, I think, a bunch of mumbo jumbo language, like it just doesn’t mean anything.
None of these press releases that I saw were focusing on how black children are twice as likely as white children to be hospitalized from asthma, four times as likely to die from it… the fact that this executive order starts to roll back regulations of methane, which is a main component of natural gas, which is what’s taken out of the ground when you’re doing fracking. Most fracking is next to majority either indigenous or Latino communities, low-income communities. Power plants are mostly next to low-income minority communities. Let’s focus on their health effects, let’s focus on indigenous communities that live next to fracking have higher rates of sexual violence from the man camps of fracking workers that work in those areas. There’s so much to talk about in terms of human impact that I don’t think we’re talking about, and I think it’s to our detriment in this really critical time for environmental and climate policy.
McDonnell: Why aren’t environmental groups focusing on marginalized communities?
Atkin: I don’t want to say that environmental groups aren’t paying attention to this at all. A lot of the biggest groups have made huge strides in incorporating environmental justice and incorporating the concerns of vulnerable communities in their work. I think some of the environmental groups endorsed Black Lives Matter and immigration rights after the election - they all signed a pledge saying that they are with social justice and civil rights groups, and a lot of these groups have big environmental justice wings. Unfortunately the environmental movement in itself has an unfortunate history of apathy towards black and Latino and indigenous lives and that’s because the green movement historically has been a white movement of white, middle-class people, despite the fact that the biggest environmental problems in this country don’t impact white middle-class people as much as they impact other classes of people. And you see that today within the leadership of environmental organizations and their memberships. I was talking to the environmental justice head of the NAACP for this article that I wrote about environmental justice and she pointed me to this 2014 study of environmental groups in general which showed that less than 13 percent of people who are hired at these green groups between 2010 and 2014 are people of color. Less than 12 percent of the leadership of these organizations are people of color. Most people who work in these big green groups aren’t from environmental justice communities. So sometimes you fail to see the concerns of those communities reflected in the priorities of the groups as a whole. In addition, the memberships of these groups are generally white middle-class, not people in environmental justice communities because the people in environmental justice communities are too busy worrying about other stuff to join and pay dues to green groups.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the ‘play’ button to listen to the entire interview.