A Call for Environmental Justice on a National Scale

The South Bronx holds 40% of NYC’s waste, 100% of the Bronx’s waste, four electrical power plants, a sewage treatment plant, a sewage pelletizing plant, and sees more than 60,000 trucks pass through daily. These statistics, presented by Sustainable South Bronx (SSBx) Founder and Majora Carter Group President Majora Carter at a recent talk at the Museum of the City of New York, brought to light for me the importance of thinking holistically when it comes to sustainable design.

“No community should harbor the burden of environmental waste while not getting any benefit from sustainability,” Carter argued, adding that if dumping grounds were placed in wealthy neighborhoods there would be no need to go green. Those communities would have found a way to keep their districts clean long ago.

By spreading both the wealth and the burden, the whole nation could potentially lower its emissions and perhaps improve the overall state of the environment. Currently, Carter is proposing to use the national grid to harvest sun and wind (“it is always sunny and windy somewhere in the nation”), and deliver green energy throughout the country, preferably via highways to avoid disrupting existing communities. I can see how remote towns would be directly connected with major cities; the coasts would be able to use inland resources usually unavailable to them, and vice versa. Instead of politics, nature could unify the U.S.

Whether it is with PlaNYC or the stimulus package, we need to start thinking beyond specific proposals and individual communities. Sustainable planning in a larger, global sense would create environmental justice — by improving the environment, creating jobs, and educating the nation — unparalleled to what we have seen before. Carter praised President Obama’s ideals, but claimed it is the responsibility of the nation to get involved with changing the world. She ended her talk with an Obama acronym that speaks beyond the man and to our future actions: “Officially Behaving as Magnificent Americans.”