MLK and Environmental Justice

Portrait at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, Washington, via Chris Tank/Creative Commons (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ctankcycles/4755593685/)

If Dr. Luther King, Jr. were alive today, he would be 84. That’s ten years younger than Pete Seeger, who still champions our waterways. It’s easy to imagine a 2014 with Dr. King walking among us, his eloquence, passion, and organizational genius bending “the arc of history” toward environmental justice.

We HarborLAB volunteers are honored to partner with WE ACT and the Bronx River Alliance, which carry this work forward in Harlem and the South Bronx. We ask you today to email us (harborlab@gmail.com) with additional ideas for water access and cleanups in lower-income areas, and other means of serving the community in 2014. We offer access and programs on both New York Harbor and the Neversink Reservoir. Please make this environmental justice brainstorming part of your “day of service.”

Environmental justice is the theme of several major gatherings this Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. One such host, Yale University’s Peabody Museum, explains:

“Environmental justice is based on the principle that all members of a society have the right to clean air, water, and soil, as well as a right to live in communities where they can raise their families and send their kids out to play in healthy and nurturing natural environments. Further, it embraces the notion that no one possesses the right to degrade and destroy the environment, whether the government at all levels, private industry, or individual citizens. Finally, environmental justice includes a guarantee of equal access to relief and the possibility of meaningful community participation in the decisions of government and industry.”

A fuller declaration of the principles of environmental justice is linked here.

This is a fitting extension of Dr. King’s legacy and vital to those for whom he labored and died. It might also be the engine of environmental progress. Why might campaigns for environmental justice drive the future environmental movement as a whole? They fix gimlet eyes on greenwashing. They press on even when weary because the moral urge is visceral — humans, like other animals, are wired to hunger for justice.

We have pushed the resilience of our planet’s ecosystem so far that habitat and human health are now felled by the same blows. The American ideal is that justice should be blind, but we know that for too long, and for too many aspects of life, color matters. The faces in NYC communities plagued by asthma, obesity, polluted water, and toxic soils are far more often brown than white. Environmental justice for all, however, will be blue and green. Let’s grow it and share it.

For more thoughts on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s gifts to the environmentalism, we suggest these essays:

LIveScience: “The Environmental Movement’s Debt to MLK

Grist: “Beautiful Struggle

Winter Solstice with Rachel Carson, 51 Years Ago

A beautiful winter solstice passage from the immortal correspondence between Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman.

A winter solstice passage from the immortal correspondence between Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman.

HarborLAB is amassing a small library of environmental science books to enrich students and volunteers. Our newest addition is Always, Rachel. This is the page revealed when we opened it for the first time. We’re happy to share this glimpse of the Winter Solstice fifty-one years ago. It was Rachel Carson’s penultimate Winter Solstice.

Rachel Carson is often credited with sparking the modern American environmental movement with her book, Silent Spring. Some forget that she was already an acclaimed nature writer with books and articles that grew out of her work as a federal marine biologist. One reader of The Sea Around Us, Dorothy Freeman, developed a powerful bond with Carson that would celebrate her rising recognition and endure through to her death from cancer in the spring of 1964. Both women destroyed many of their letters shortly before Carson’s death. The surviving correspondence is rich with insights into this leading 20th century communicator of environmental science. Freeman’s granddaughter rendered a great service to us all when she gathered them for this book, published in 1995.

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Skyline Unwind, 9/20

 

Photo by David Kistner of Green Apple Cleaners.

LIC East River waterfront towers, including TF Cornerstone and Rockrose developments. TF Cornerstone is a Founding Sponsor of HarborLAB and Rockrose is also a sponsor. Photo by David Kistner, CEO of HarborLAB sponsor Green Apple Cleaners.

Unwind from the week with a mellow skyline viewing paddle on our tandem kayak fleet. This paddle is for those who are interested in volunteering for HarborLAB and would like to get to know our volunteers, other potential volunteers, and about out programs.

In short, the theme of this and a few other upcoming paddles is:

RSVP both on Facebook and by emailing volunteer@harborlab.org under the subject “SKYLINE UNWIND 9/20” with a list of your skills (not only nautical or outdoorsy!). We also value educators, artists, bookkeepers and CPAs, lawyers, programmers, writers, mechanics, woodworkers, nurses, linguists, graphic designers, gardeners, and more!

If you can, fill, and sign this ADULT waiver ahead of time:

https://harborlab.org/waivers/

We’ll meet at Natural Frontier Market (12-01 Jackson Ave Queens, NY 11101) at 6PM (triangle table) and walk over to our launch (https://harborlab.org/location-and-directions/) for a short paddle to enjoy the skyline. We’ll go against a middling East River current (between 1-1.7 knots) and see how far we can get by hugging the Brooklyn waterfront. No pressure because there’s no destination. Then we’ll drift back, chatting and enjoying the view and catching the sunset as we return.

Please wear nylons and other quick drying materials, and bring a change of clothing.

Natural Frontier Market has snacks, drinks, sunblock, and other necessities, including a nice bathroom (there’s no bathroom at the launch). Please support this local business and its neighboring LIC restaurants, museums, and galleries.

East River sunset. Photo by Ray Tan.

East River sunset. Photo by Ray Tan.