The annual United Nations General Assembly underway through Sept. 30 has created the usual frenzy in New York City, yet somehow, the vibe is heightened this year. Yes, there are the usual protestors against various policies and policymakers from a multitude of countries, but the major spotlight this year is on the climate and environment. It is a topic of deep, deep passion for many no matter which side one takes.
While the outspoken young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg took to the stage to denounce world leaders about climate issues, there have been several additional satellite events at the U.N. that are taking the opportunity to create dialogue on the topic.
One such event entitled The Lion’s Share was produced on behalf of the United Nations Development Programme. This event focused on how the private sector — in particular the advertising industry — can help save and restore nature. The event marks the one-year anniversary of an initiative asking consumer brands that use animals in their advertisements to donate 0.5 percent to the Lions Share Fund. Proceeds are used to create greater awareness in developing countries about the ills of poaching and help restore the disappearing coral reefs, among others.
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On hand to make various statements were UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner, ecology experts and executives from participating organizations such as Nielsen and worldwide ad agency network BBDO. UNDP Goodwill Ambassador Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, best known for his portrayal as Jamie Lannister in the popular HBO series, “Game of Thrones,” made a special appearance.
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What is interesting to note, however, was that there was not one Black or Latino participant from the U.S. on the panel or asked to speak. It is quite curious given that one of the co-founders expressed his dismay at the speed and visibility with which the initiative is being adopted.
Such occurrences are only the most recent in the latest version of the Invisible Man (and woman). Somehow our voices are just simply not quite as visible or in-demand in such a vital area that impacts us all.
Indeed, this area of climate and environmental crisis is so vital that we have already seen CNN dedicate hours of a Democratic presidential debate solely to climate change. Each of the candidates has a firm position on this area of concern. President Donald Trump has been criticized for his position on climate change. Surely this narrative will only grow in volume as we approach November 2020.
Yet the messaging, images and more are rarely inclusive, and the danger is that such action, or lack of it, it creates division where a united force is paramount in problem-solving and where votes could be lost or won.
When one talks about the environment, it is actually Black people and people of color in this country who are most faced with the day-to-day immediacy rather than the distant affects of, for example, CO2. The recent Flint water crisis impacted Black people at a far greater rate than white.
Recent studies show that Black and neighborhoods of color are bypassed several times over for the planting of free trees in Philadelphia. There are many more incidents across the country to add.
Such behavior is what we call environmental racism. It borders on the ludicrous when one is confronted with such issues right in one’s own backyard and overlooked for help by the same people speaking over us rather than directly at us about caring for an atmosphere they cannot touch or a rhino they cannot see.
This is not to say that there are not worthy attempts at galvanizing interest from communities of color nor direct interest from members of such communities, but the strength and outcome is in question. The Hip Hop Caucus, directed by Rev. Lennox Yearwood, first gained prominence around the Barack Obama election. It started an initiative on climate change and hosted an edgy podcast on the subject.
Given that Black voters have been a loyal voting bloc in the U.S. and one that could be considered a nerve center of the body politic, their voices are key for all in the climate and environment space to track and within which to innovate in order to see lasting and rapid change. It just may be time for those running for office as well as those rattling swords to readjust their messaging so that victory can be had on a number of levels.