Live Earth: Being Black, Brown and Green The Live Earth concerts attracted millions of viewers across the globe. But the environmentalist movement is not nearly as popular in communities of color. Norris McDonald, a black environmentalist, discusses his work to get African Americans more interested in the cause.
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Live Earth: Being Black, Brown and Green

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Live Earth: Being Black, Brown and Green

Live Earth: Being Black, Brown and Green

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I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. This weekend, Live Earth kicked off in cities around the globe - 24 hours of performances broadcast in just about every way possible. The goal: to get people pumped up about solving global warming. But just who was Live Earth for? The roster of stars was clearly intended to draw a diverse crowd: Akon, Kanye West, Alicia Keys. But is that enough to get people of color involved? And does it matter if they are?

Later, we'll hear from African musician Angelique Kidjo. She performed for Live Earth in Johannesburg. But first, we're joined by Norris McDonald, the president of African-American Environmentalist Association. He's trying to get African-Americans interested in the environmental movement, and he joins us here in the studio. Welcome.

Mr. NORRIS MCDONALD (President, African-American Environmentalist Association): Thank you for having, Ms. Martin.

MARTIN: Did you think that Live Earth was a successful event?

Mr. MCDONALD: It was an absolute successful event. It was a great, worldwide commercial for climate change.

MARTIN: Did you think that communities of color were represented adequately?

Mr. MCDONALD: No. If you looked at the crowd, it was pretty much Caucasian. But it was not necessarily directed towards the African-American community, even though there were some African-American performers there.

MARTIN: Who do you think it was for, then?

Mr. MCDONALD: It was basically to raise awareness about climate change. I understand what former vice president Al Gore was attempting, and I think he was successful at it. Now trying to include in some of the black acts was reaching out to the African-American community, but here, again, not necessarily in a style that would attract the black audience.

MARTIN: What would have, do you think? And does it matter if they are? I know there are two different questions. What is likely (unintelligible)?

Mr. MCDONALD: Well, you know, that's why we exist, the African-American Environmentalist Association, is to try to tailor these issues into a form that African-Americans will be interested in. Unfortunately, I think with the book and the film that Mr. Gore has done, it doesn't necessarily concentrate on the concerns of the African-American community. For instance, I would aim it more towards asthma. I would have the documentary in an emergency room, showing a child having an asthma attack. Global warming cooks up a more toxic smog - every urban area and suburban area in the United States is in non-compliance of the Clean Air Act. So if you tailored it that way, you might get more interest from the African-American community, because everybody knows someone who has asthma.

MARTIN: Does it matter, though, if people of color are engaged, as long the problem's getting solved? I mean, you could make an argument that, you know, everybody's got their priorities, and maybe the priorities of people of color are different.

Mr. MCDONALD: But the problem isn't being solved, and that is the problem. And I think some innovative solutions can come from the African-American community, because we are the most impacted. Most of the pollution sites are in our communities. When you add up the localized pollution sites that are already there and add in the air pollution that affects everybody, then we are more impacted than everybody else. That is part of the reason we formed the African-American Environmentalist Association, was to engage in practical solutions.

MARTIN: Some people would argue that the green movement is a luxury that people - and, you know, let's just dispense with the stereotype that all people of color are poor, because they're not. But for those who are, who are disproportionately economically disadvantaged, some people argue green is a luxury they can't afford. Hybrid cars - expensive. The latest appliances, most energy efficient - expensive. What do you say to that?

Mr. MCDONALD: Well, I think that there are opportunities in the African-American entrepreneurial community. We promote plug-in, fuel cell, hybrid electric vehicles. You know, the average black out in the suburbs - I live in the richest black - majority black county in the country. I don't think they're going to buy the Prius based on style, but if you put a fuel cell hybrid technology in a Navigator, they'll purchase it. So we should be out promoting those sorts of things as entrepreneurs.

MARTIN: Why do you think that the movement doesn't do those things now? If you - as you point out, that, you know, urban areas, there's a long sort of question about the fact that people - communities that are populated by people of color tend to be the ones where toxic sites tend to be formulated, or the most sort of noxious environmental elements tend to be located there. So why do you think there isn't more attention to these communities?

Mr. MCDONALD: Well, the mainstream environmental movement is segregated, and the environments there are relatively hostile. So they not only do not hire blacks, but then when they do they cannot retain them. I promote getting people to work in those organizations to try to make a difference. But the situation is so bad is that we have to address them aggressively, directly, and engage in practical solutions. And frankly, many of the situations they promote aren't necessarily beneficial to the black community.

MARTIN: Very, very briefly - what are some simple things that people can do to have an impact? Easy, simple things that people can do that are within reach of everybody?

Mr. MCDONALD: I think the biggest thing is to educate yourself on the issues, and then engage in public participation and try to influence policy.

MARTIN: Norris McDonald, thank you.

Mr. MCDONALD: Thank you for having me, Ms. Martin.

MARTIN: Norris McDonald is president of the African-American Environmentalist Association. He joined us here in the studio.

Next, a conversation with African musician Angelique Kidjo, who performed at Live Earth in Johannesburg. Norris, thank you.

Mr. MCDONALD: Thank you.

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