Interview with environmentalist Majora Carter
It’s not always easy being green, but the rewards are well worth it. Just ask Majora Carter, who coined the phrase “Green the Ghetto” and runs the Majora Carter Group, a consulting company that helps provide sustainable solutions for climate change, urban renewal, and green leadership development. (You can also hear her on the award-winning public radio series, “The Promised Land” or hear some of her TED talks online—awesome!)
We snagged this busy green goddess for an interview, and she was more than happy to share her advice and experience for aspiring environmentalistas. Read what she had to say here:
Your work began with a $10,000 seed grant to improve the Hunts Point neighborhood of the Bronx, which later led to millions of dollars in city funding. What are your top tips for getting grants and/or funding for your project?
Majora: Despite the examples you mention here, I have not been very successful at fundraising. According to Isabelle Allende in a 2009 TED talk, women-led non-profits raise only one dollar for every 20 raised by non-profits led by men. So maybe the tip would be to put a man out in front of your organization!
However, when it comes to the bigger projects which I have been able to initiate that have gone on to attract bigger funding, I would say they have benefited because I made a point of identifying and communicating the mutual shared interests that a given project could address. Single purpose-projects will be less attractive to some people. Look for multiple benefits.
Sustainability and environmental justice are big parts of your vision. What do they mean, and how they are applied in terms of improving our neighborhoods and communities?
Majora: I think “environmental justice” is a dated term that has outlived its usefulness. It was an effective rally cry, and a good move by Dr Robert Bullard when he pioneered the research in this field about 25 years ago. But “justice” is defined differently by different people, and it often involves some sort of retribution or compensation—which is almost impossible to to agree on.
I do believe strongly in environmental equality. Everyone should have equal access to clean air, water, and soil. If there are toxins in any of those basic necessities for healthy life, they probably did not come from the people who will be faced with the health consequences. Statistically, we can see that poor people are far more likely to suffer environmentally compromised conditions. Freedom to breathe is just as important as freedom of speech. Equality is easier for more people to agree on, and it leads to most important aspect of sustainability: social/economic sustainability.
Your company helps promote the creation of green jobs. In your opinion, what are the growing fields and/or green jobs of the future for teens who might be interested in following an environmental career path?
Majora: Climate adaptation through green infrastructure. Like it or not, previous generations (and the current one as well) of adults have baked in an unstoppable amount of climate change—no matter what we do over the next 50 years, the temperature is going to go up. Jobs in green-infrastructure systems from building and maintenance to design and financing will all continue to grow for decades.
One of your taglines is “I believe you shouldn’t have to leave your neighborhood to live in a better one.” What are some green projects that teens can spearhead in their own neighborhoods and/or communities? How do you suggest they get started?
Majora: It all depends on what is going on or not going on in their area that they would like to see changed.
One of the simplest and most popular things I have ever done (more than once), is an anti dog poop campaign. The first time we did it was with spray-painted stencils on the sidewalks as part of a line/path to new local parks. Recently we brought the campaign back because I was noticing an increase in dog poo on the sidewalks (disgusting). We posted the signs up with contact info and a QR code so that people could be a part of improving this most basic part of their environment. Now folks from outside of our neighborhood call up to purchase the signs, and about as many are “stolen” and put up in other places—which is fine by me as long as people are using them to good effect.
You’ve been a speaker at TED and have appeared on many other high-profile platforms. What are your tips for teens who want their message to be heard?
Majora: Make sure you are doing something interesting, relevant, and doing it well. Don’t get up in front of people if you don’t have actual and valuable experiences to talk about. You may already have those experiences and stories, but don’t realize they are interesting to others; so it’s important to work with others on communications. Talk to your friends and to people you may not know about what you want to say. Observe their reactions.
Keep it short. Don’t assume people want to listen or are even interested in the facts. Find those entry points through story, and bring people into your world with shared ideals, not a wall of facts and warnings.
What changes would you like to make in your own neighborhood or surroundings? Share your ideas in the comments section!