20071114 majora carter
Marjora Carter is the founder and leader of Sustainable South Bronx, a grass-roots organization dedicated to "environmental justice through innovative, economically sustainable projects that are informed by community needs." - 


Kai Ryssdal: The upsides to the consumer economy are pretty easy to see -- just take a look around at the luxuries most people in this country enjoy. But you don't have to go all the way to China to see the social downside, says commentator Majora Carter.

Majora Carter: I lead a group dedicated to the idea that no community should be saddled with more environmental burdens and fewer benefits than others. Unfortunately, it's an uphill struggle.

Take the community where I live and work: the South Bronx. It's a poor, Latino and black New York neighborhood, and it handles nearly 40 percent of the entire city's commercial waste. It also hosts a sewage treatment plant, a sewage sludge pelletizing plant, and four power plants.

The world's largest food distribution center is here, too. It's a multi-billion-dollar industry, but most of the good stuff is trucked in and out, en route to wealthier areas.

That business, along with all of the other industries I mentioned, brings 60,000 diesel trucks to the South Bronx each week. They're a big reason that one out of four South Bronx children has asthma. And why would someone living in a toxic neighborhood want to leave their home for a brisk walk? Our 27 percent obesity rate is high, even for this country, and diabetes comes with it.

But the problems don't stop here. A recent study out of Columbia University shows that proximity to fossil-fuel exhaust from sources like power plants and trucking causes brain damage in children. Statistically speaking, poor kids who do badly in school have a better chance at prison than higher education.

From my vantage point, poor neighborhoods are regional sacrifice zones created to support America's hyper-consumption society. But ultimately, these impacts come everyone's way in the form of global warming and, more odiously, the costs of imprisoning our young black and Latino men and women and their untapped potential.

It doesn't have to be this way. We could spend a fraction of those dollars training people for "green-collar" jobs that improve the environment and provide meaningful employment at the same time. This approach won't solve everything, but it's a critical step toward a sustainable economy.

Ryssdal: Majora Carter founded and still runs the nonprofit group Sustainable South Bronx.