President's Perspective


Denise Fairchild



Denise G. Fairchild

I never heard of Earth Day fifty years ago.  Back then (yes, I was around back then) I was a part of the Black power/civil rights movement as a student in a historically black university in the South.  My focus then was, and is now, on economic and social justice.  The environmental movement only came to my attention two years later.  The environmental movement blossomed with a barrage of environmental legislation including  the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act in 1970 and The Clean Water Act in ’72.   Environmentalism was the hot topic in my Ivy League urban planning graduate program.   I resented it. To me it was sucking national attention, people power and resources away from the unfinished work of civil and human rights. The rights of nature seemed a diversion from the more important problems of society.  I didn’t know then – nor did the environmentalist – that we were fighting the same problem.

I have changed in a half century as much, or perhaps even more, as the movement itself.  In the 80’s I was part of one the first environmental justice battles in the nation – a two-year campaign to defeat the LANCER incinerator project in South Los Angeles.   A decade later I moved from environmental activism to working with my neighbors in South LA building green and healthy homes and communities.  This morphed into workforce education, training and business programs to deliver the economic benefits of the green movement to our communities.  Today, I am focused on the transformative potential of the environmental/ climate justice movement.  It may be our best antidote to all other economic, social and physical maladies similarly rooted in a system of extraction and exploitation of human and natural resources.

If you don’t believe me, witness Covid-19.   Like climate shocks this global pandemic confirms the power of mother nature to get our attention.  The question is whether this “cease and desist” notice will move us to do things differently.  Covid-19 lays bare the health and economic consequences of a badly damaged public sector and a socialized market economy that only serves corporate interests.  Isn’t it time to abandon notions of wealth and instead find spiritual meaning and social value in the concept of abundance?  Is the quest for equity the right ask of a social and economic system that only values money? 

The Earth Day message today must be more than what it was a half century ago.  It is not just about saving the environment and addressing the climate problem.  Clearly, we must fight against the assault on our environmental protections that we are currently experiencing. But the fight is bigger now.  The Covid-19 pandemic makes clearer than ever that we need to begin to build a new culture.  One that not only protects the environment, but also builds community resilience  – social, economic and physical – against shocks and disruptions that are the new normal.  How do we build a sharing economy?  How do we get off fossil fuels and accelerate and scale a decentralized renewable energy infrastructure?  How do we green and shorten the supply chain for food and basic needs?  How do we protect our critical facilities, uplift our essential workers and care for society’s most vulnerable?  How do we ensure universal access to quality and affordable water, health and education? How do we free immigrants, the incarcerated and the poor from the chains of injustice?  These were not the issues of Earth Day in 1970.  The movement has evolved and so have we.  We now understand the inter-sectional work that is cut out for us.

Let’s use Earth Day to re-commit to creating resilient communities that are sustainable, fair and truly democratic.  Emerald Cities Collaborative is honored to work in partnership with so many of you who embrace this mission.  HAPPY EARTH DAY.

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