I just read this letter in the Bermuda Sun site, and I’ve decided to reproduce it in its entirety here for discussion as I think it is very relevant. This issue is something I’ve wondered about for a while now, and I think Ms. Eddy goes some way to addressing what the problem is.
I’ve been of the opinion for some time now that the PLP could break the monolith that is White voting for the UBP if it were to directly appeal to the environmentalist groupings, and I had the impression that Alex Scott’s move on sustainable development could have done just that had it been handled properly. Unfortunately the hospital issue and then Southlands seems to have scuppered chances for that development for the immediate time-being. It has been said that the colour question would be the question of the 20th century, I think the main question for this century will be the environmental one. In order to resolve that question I do think its neccessary to continue solving the great question of the last century which is still unresolved in its entirety. In Bermuda, with our history of race, this is even more important.
Why are so few blacks environmentalists? Has anyone ever bothered to ask them?
In a TV news interview on January 29, Premier Brown said he does not see environmentalists involved in social issues.
Before reacting defensively and putting on the cloak of denial it would be constructive to explore the truth in his statement. First, listen carefully to what is meant by it. I think he is speaking for many blacks who see environmentalists as largely white people who represent white or elitist interests.
It is a fact that the membership of environmental organizations are largely educated, white people and the only time we have seen (in recent times) whites take to the streets to protest have been for the environment and gay rights, both of which are regarded as luxury issues by the majority of blacks. Although some environmentalists may be among the socially conscious, as a group they are not so vocal about issues that are of highest importance to the black population.
Perceptions tend to rule how we value each other and so, what to do to change that? No doubt there is a wide range of belief systems among environmentalists and I would hazard a guess that some may not have a clue why there are not more black people (and white people for that matter) involved in environmental causes and how best to engage them. The clues are out there; they only need listening to.
Consistent with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the environment may become more important to people after their basic needs are met. My experience in petitioning to save Warwick Long Bay has been that the majority of ordinary blacks approached signed the petition and some gave vehement verbal support for keeping the beach as it is. But there were valid comments like “we always go along with their things; when will they come over to our side and understand our experience and point of view”, “my environment is Marsh Folly dump, when will the environmentalists address the smells that assails our noses on a regular basis?”
There is a perception that environmentalists are not PLP supporters, which could lead blacks who are loyal to the PLP to be silent on those issues. History plays a role: most blacks were forced in the past to live in congested surroundings and many have come to like the security of people around them and the cultural values that grew from it – a different experience from those who have always lived among trees and wide vistas.
There is a perception that environmentalists are extremists. In their defence, most are not and appreciate the need for growth. Others have said environmentalists are selective in what they fight to protect. Again, in their defence, threats to the environment are overwhelming: some take priority over others as the handful of volunteer workers and small resources cannot accommodate them all.
I cannot say it is true of all environmentalists but I know some, both black and white, who regard environmental work as social work in its most comprehensive and profoundest form and have chosen simple non-consumer lifestyles foregoing large salaries and perks that their talents and education would otherwise attract, to devote their lives to the often lonely and hard work of protecting the natural resources (without compensation) that we all depend on for our survival.
There is a perception that leaders of the environmental movement and Dr. Brown are at opposite ends of the pole. How about changing that and give our Premier credit for his positive achievements as a start? How about giving those who work tirelessly to protect the environment some gratitude? How about asking blacks directly what stands in the way of them becoming more involved in environmental issues? When will whites educate themselves about the black experience and address their fears around wealth sharing? How about the Premier meeting with environmentalists privately in an atmosphere of openness on both sides?
I think the underlying need of both sides is no different than in any other human conflict – “I want you to see and understand me”.