As the lead editor on Poverty & the Environment, I can say that the tough thing about putting together a series like this isn’t what goes into it; it’s what doesn’t go in — the great stories that wind up on the cutting room floor because you run out of time, or run out of money, or the journalist goes into labor a month early, or your awe-inspiring colleagues finally say, “we’d love to but we’ve already worked 96 hours this week.”
This chronic editorial dilemma was particularly acute with the current series. Given the subject matter, “embarrassment of riches” is exactly the wrong phrase, but it is certainly (and sadly) the case that there’s no shortage of important stories to be told about the relationship between environmental and economic injustice. (That’s one reason I encourage all of you to use this discussion forum to share your own ideas and experiences, as well as your reactions to what you read here.)
We at Grist owe our familiarity with these issues to a great many people who took the time, early on in this process, to talk to us about their work and their vision for this series. That input was so valuable that I want to post some of it here; where we have not been able to incorporate it into the rest of the series, we can at least share it directly with our readers.
Herewith, then, a very abbreviated list of heartfelt thank-yous, helpful advisors, and important ideas:
Thanks to Michelle Depass and Jeff Campbell of the Ford Foundation, whose dedication to the overlapping terrain of economic and environmental justice first got me thinking about a special Grist series on poverty. (Jeff also planted the seed for two of the stories that will appear later in this series — on the federal guest worker program and U.S. forestry practices, and on fire management policy and poverty.)
Thanks to Orson Aguilar of the Greenlining Institute, who asked: Why do we define some issues as environmental and not others? Why haven’t mainstream environmental groups changed their practices over time, given that environmental-justice groups have been raising the same issues year after year? And: Why do so many civil rights groups often ignore the environmental issues that are crucial to so many of their constituents?
Thanks to Don Chen of Smart Growth America, who called out the environmental movement (including Grist!) for clinging to “its own culture, own heroes, own strategies.” Appropriately enough, Don urged a less isolationist and more ecological approach to social and environmental justice. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should add that Don sits on the board of Grist, and will be contributing an opinion piece on regional equity to the series.)
Thanks to Angela Park of Diversity Matters, who emphasized the lesser-known side of two important coins: first, that poor people not only suffer the most from environmental degradation but also benefit the least from environmental improvements; and second, that not only does the mainstream media neglect poverty issues, it also “obsesses over affluence,” making it all too easy for people to forget the crisis of poverty in the United States.
Thanks to Cynthia Renfro at the Marguerite Casey Foundation, who encouraged us, above all, to make sure that our focus on class did not come at the expense of talking about race. Along with other advisors, Cynthia drew my attention to the all-important issue of ongoing residential segregation. Simply put, if we don’t live on the same land, we don’t feel the same responsibility to take care of it — or of those who live on it.
This list does not begin to do justice to the many people who helped make this poverty series happen. And, in all probability, the series will not do justice to our advisors’ passion and ideas; quite possibly nothing could, given the depth of that passion and the diversity of those ideas. But we are no less grateful for the guidance, and we hope — as a magazine, and as a movement — to keep doing better; and to keep doing good.