Diversity and Tree-Hugging

I came across the website for the Fledging Birders Institute the other day, noticing that they’re preparing for a conference to promote diversity among birders. Here’s what they say in describing the reasons this is necessary:

As of 2009, more than 35 percent of Americans fall into “non-White” categories such as Hispanic, African-American,
Asian, and Native-American. Yet, even generous measures of demographics show that “non-Whites” comprise significantly less than 10 percent of the birding community. Clearly, birding
does not look like the rest of America. Such disproportionate homogeneity exacerbates already problematic threats to the sustainability of the birding community, the birds’ habitat, and, by extension, the birds themselves.

(From: http://www.fledgingbirders.org/CFABpurpose.html)

The FBI also runs a very successful program called the Fledging Birders Challenge, in which groups of kids cooperate to see how many species of birds they can find in their schoolyard or local community in a month. Isn’t that a great way to get kids interested in birds and conservation?

The diversity conference reminded me of a book I’ve been making my way through called Colors of Nature: Cultural Identity and the Natural World.  It’s a collection of essays by authors of various ethnic and cultural minorities about their perspectives on environmental and nature issues. One of the essays that really stuck with me is called “Confronting Environmental Racism in the Twenty-First Century,” by Robert Bullard. He argues that poorer communities — often those of minorities — are discriminated against in subtle ways like unequal enforcement of zoning and pollution laws. He gives some specific examples of instances where poor communities are taken advantage of by polluting corporations. But just when you start getting sick to your stomach from all that negativity, he gives the good news that some of these communities are beginning to fight back, oftentimes winning.

Every time I drive through the south end of Detroit on my way to Ohio, there’s a section where I have to hold my nose because the pollution is so bad. And while I’m driving through trying not to breathe, I look at the homes I’m passing. Those people breathe this air 24/7. And obviously, if you could afford not to live in a place like that, you wouldn’t. So this is a clear instance of the poor having to suffer worse living conditions than those with the means to live elsewhere.

Ok, to end this on a more positive note I want to tell you about one last essay from Colors of Nature. This one is by Nalini Nadkarni, a woman of mixed heritage (Indian/Hindu and Brooklyn/Jewish parents). She writes about the impact of trees on her life, from childhood through her professional career as an educator and researcher in forest ecology. She links trees to meditation through the shared process of breathing; trees “breathe in” carbon dioxide and “breathe out” oxygen. She says, “Knowing this, in those dark times, I could merely look out at the maple tree in our backyard and be reminded that I am connected to other living things.” I like that. As I write this in the shade of our large cottonwood tree, watching the birds flitting around on the freshly-filled feeders and birdbath, I’m comforted by the thought that the tree is giving all of us life-sustaining oxygen. And it makes that hard work look so easy.

Go out and hug a tree today, won’t you?

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3 Responses to Diversity and Tree-Hugging

  1. Hello Kim –

    For what it’s worth, I thought you may be interested in knowing that we are holding another Focus on Diversity: Changing the Face of American Birding Conference on October 13, 2012 at MINNESOTA VALLEY NWR in Bloomington, MN.

    You can find more info about it at http://www.fledgingbirders.org/CFAB.html

    We will be investigating WHY there is such disproportionate representation in outdoor pursuits- which is a multifaceted issue.

  2. So true. My wife is Hispanic and she works at an historically Black university. We have both noted the apparent lack of interest of minority populations in environmental issues. I think there needs to be, as you stated, much more emphasis on why clean air, clean water, etc., are especially important for minorities, since so much of our society’s waste seems to end up in poorer communities here or overseas. Nice article, Kim.

    • Kim says:

      Thanks Randy, glad you liked it. The only thing I don’t understand is the reasons for the apparent lack of interest. I worry about generalizing to any population. If only our society could become more integrated as a whole…then schools could be more integrated…then kids of every race and ethnic background could be exposed to environmental issues. It’s a long road if you look at it that way, so I think programs like this conference might be a faster way to get the ideas out there to targeted groups.

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