During a recent CNPS Board meeting in Sacramento, I participated in a discussion on environmental justice. A quick search in Google defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” Environmental justice addresses the phenomenon of poor communities being habitually situated in neglected, if not polluted environments, where access to clean air and water is often difficult. If we look around the state, we find underserved communities often lack modern infrastructure, access to utilities and internet, and sanitary conditions. There is also a dearth of information about healthcare, diet, and exercise. The fact is that low income communities have become  marginalized because they have been denied the basic rights of clean air and water, community parks, open spaces, and educational resources.

Should CNPS have a concern for these issues? Does our advocacy for “all-things native plants” include environmental justice in its list of priorities? What do you think? At the top of the State CNPS webpage it reads, “We’re on a mission to save California’s native plants and places, using both head and heart. CNPS brings together science, education, conservation, and gardening to power the native plant movement.”

Personally, I think the strong connection between the native plant movement and the environmental justice movement is clear. A clean, pure, natural environment is everybody’s birthright, and a clean, pure, native plant environment is the essential ingredient for that to take place. As native plant lovers, we see the connection between a healthy environment and a healthy human existence; we see the relationship between clean, natural resources and quality of life. The work done by CNPS in native plant research and protection is known throughout the world for its environmental advocacy and conservation.

During the Board meeting, we talked about some simple approaches to being more “present” in the environmental justice conversation. CNPS’s commitment to maintaining plant diversity in this state (over 6,000 species of plants, a third of which are endemic), is a natural segue into a discussion about the diversity of the human family in California. We acknowledge that all species have intrinsic value and need to be secured. We give equal regard to poppies, redwoods, and bryophytes.

If environmental priorities are to manifest going forward, we need everybody at the table. We need the soccer moms, the plumbers, and the farm workers to join the biologists and the philanthropists, if there is to be equitable consensus on these issues. We need to listen to this conversation and participate in its discussion. We need to acknowledge this diversity and articulate its benefits. Awareness of these issues needs to spread across all communities, so there is real agreement on environmental integrity and fairness for all.

-Bill Waycott