City Care: Historical and Contemporary Lessons from Environmental Justice Coalition-Building


  • Elizabeth Grennan Browning Indiana University, Environmental Resilience Institute



environmental justice, environmental racism, civil rights, US environmental movement, coalition-building, vulnerability, climate change opinion


This article examines the historical roots of the challenges facing contemporary climate justice advocacy campaigns, and draws lessons from this history regarding how to more comprehensively address racial equity in resilience planning and environmentalist advocacy. As the modern US environmental movement gained momentum in the 1970s, fault lines developed between environmentalists and civil rights advocates. A key source of tension was debates over whether urban environments were deserving of the same kinds of environmental protections as more traditional and pristine forms of “nature.” African Americans’ prioritization of economic equity alongside legal equality also led to a critical dialogue about economic growth and the economic externalities of regulating industry and safeguarding the environment. This article draws on environmental justice and environmental history scholarship as integrated lenses for analyzing racialized debates during the early years of the modern American environmental movement. I trace how public deliberations played out regarding the first Earth Day in 1970, and the City Care Conference of 1979—the first national conference that brought together major environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and civil rights organizations such as the National Urban League to deliberate the linkages between racial equity and environmentalism. Finally, I connect these historical analyses to recent data from the Indiana University Environmental Resilience Institute’s Hoosier Life Survey in order to better understand contemporary racialized disparities of climate change vulnerability, and relatedly, of climate change opinion.