I became an environmentalist much later in life than I should have.

Born in San Francisco I grew up in Suisun, California, a small town of small, aging ranch-style houses on a slough that fed the Bay. It’s the kind of town that, usually if someone thinks they’ve heard of it, they’re actually thinking of somewhere else.

Shortly after we moved there, I developed asthma. My mother, who’d scraped and saved to move my sisters and I out of the city to a new life in the country, took me to the doctor. There, she learned that the move, the air in Suisun, was what caused my asthma – that a move she thought was a symbol of her success as a parent was actually, in some ways, a failure.

But it wasn’t an environmental issue to us. It was polluted air, yes, but it was light years from the environmental issues that led to protests at nuclear plants and the ubiquitous “Keep Tahoe Blue” bumper stickers that adorned expensive cars. Bad air was part of an affordable community. I learned how our economy provided paychecks and poisons in a package – and gave people little choice but to take the
bundled deal.

Over the years, we’ve seen people get less and less in the way of pay, and more and more in the way of pollution.  This has led to two crises in this country: the economy and the environment. As the CEO of Green For All, the work I do now is dedicated to ending that trend, to building an economy where mothers like mine don’t have to choose between a job and the health of their families.

What we have learned at Green For All is that in order to address the challenges of that raw, packaged deal we must develop new engines of economic strength and employment that limit our environmentally harmful activities while expanding our helpful ones. We’ve learned that we will only be able to transition to a clean energy economy if our policies address the needs of all Americans – from the coalminer in West Virginia to women like my mother. My intention is to share with readers of this blog the ways in which we’re fighting for that transition – and how you can help make it happen.

After all, unlike when I was a child, the connection between a damaged environment and damaged health is easy to spot, and the opportunity a green economy can provide to poor communities should not be in doubt. The first challenge, though, is to be explicit in identifying those connections and those opportunities.

It wasn’t until I joined Green For All that I recognized the moment I should have become an environmentalist: sitting in that doctor’s office while he looked at my cough. Our job is to make cause-and-effect like that clear – and to bring people to the environmental movement much, much sooner.


  1. […] my own. As I relayed in my introductory post here, I grew up in a community where “affordability” was a code word for low income and high […]

  2. Rod Adams
    Lynchburg, VA
    November 11, 2010, 8:24 pm

    Phaedra – I hope you realize that the “environmentalists” who fought nuclear energy were not doing your asthma any good. If the US had simply kept on building nuclear plants at the rate we achieved for two full decades between 1963 and 1983, we would have stopped burning coal by 2000 and we would be almost emission free in our grid today.

    Instead, the people who liked selling coal and gas to burn helped to elect representatives and presidents who supported their fuel businesses and gave enough contributions to groups like the NRDC and Sierra so that they are now advocates for natural gas.

    Nuclear energy is clean enough to run inside sealed submarines – it does not demand a tradeoff between prosperity and a clean environment.

    Rod Adams
    Publisher, Atomic Insights