THE BLOG
01/26/2016 06:46 pm ET Updated Jan 26, 2017

Celebrating Diversity Through Environmental Conservation

This week we commemorated the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who strove for equity of law and equal opportunities for African American men and women across the United States. The principles for which he advocated may be applied across to women and to members of other ethnic, racial, and sexual minority groups. Dreaming of peace and security within the institutional framework under which we exist -- the law -- should not be unrealistic. For members of more privileged populations this has been less of an issue, but there still are important populations of American democracy who struggle with access to equal opportunities and protection under the law.

While there have been a variety of additions and enhancement to US economic and social policy since Women's suffrage in the 1920s and the rise of civil rights activism for ethnic and racial minorities beginning in the 1950s, there still are a number of items that must be addressed so that the foundations on which historically disadvantaged groups may be established more consistently. Social and economic policy took a somewhat sharp conservative turn in the 1980s, and with it slowed down the environmental policy-making progress typified in the 1970s. During this time, despite the advances, environmental conservation was missing in social and economic policies. Social and economic issues, while provided as reasons for various environmental policies like the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, mostly paid lip service to social and economic issues.

Despite this, there have been some sound adjustments to social and economic policies over the past 20 years. There are still some fairly significant issues that that must be addressed, such as fair pay and appropriate taxing, but we cannot ignore the interwoven complexities posed by environmental issues. And, as we design or redesign environmental policy, we would do very well to include the needs of communities traditionally marginalized by dominant society. As participants in democracy, we are endowed with certain rights and liberties with which faulty environmental policies may infringe. We often see this happen in neighborhoods, communities, and municipalities where its residents live in poverty.

As we continue to address and mitigate various economic and social issues afflicting our fellow American citizens, we need to think more holistically. Because we have an economic system based on our natural resources, many economic policies should have an environmental component. Our social institutions exist in relation to one another and to both our economic system and the ecosystem, so the natural environment should be a consideration in the development of social policy as well. Including the environment into social and economic policies and understanding these intricacies will help us to build healthier communities, respect diverse cultures and peoples, and promote meaningful economic development.