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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Living on Earth Profile Series #23: Carl Anthony: Keeper of the Vision

Air Date: Week of

Carl Anthony became recognized as a coalition builder while working to improve environmental standards between business and citizens in northern California's inner cities. Now the President of the Earth Island Institute, Anthony is dedicated to a multicultural staff, and bringing more people from all walks of life into the environmental mainstream. Tara Siler has this profile.


NUNLEY: For decades the quality of life in America's cities has deteriorated. And the response of those who can afford it has been to move up by moving out. The results: urban blight, surrounded by suburban sprawl, at a high cost to human beings and the environment. So for a growing number of environmentalists the fate of our cities has become as much a concern as the fate of the wilderness. Among them is Carl Anthony, an architect, teacher, and activist who heads up the San Francisco based Earth Island Institute. He's convinced that to achieve a sustainable society, environmentalism itself needs to be reinvented to address issues of race, class, and urban life. As part of our series of reports on 25 leading figures in environmental change, Tara Siler has this profile of Carl Anthony.

WOMAN: How long has this been going?

SILER: At a meeting at the Earth Island Institute, Carl Anthony and his staff are discussing the agenda of an upcoming meeting by San Francisco's Environmental Commission. Mr. Anthony, usually intense but jovial, throws his hands in the air in frustration and leans back in his chair.

ANTHONY: And these people just keep forgetting the poverty part of it. You know, it just -- anyway, don't get me started on that.

SILER: Carl Anthony's passions are consumed by the inner city and its environment. Crime, drugs, and environmental hazards have made much of urban America a dangerous place to live. But Mr. Anthony says the reaction by more affluent people to flee the city won't solve the problems. He says it's primarily people of color who bear the brunt of these social and environmental hazards, and they can't afford to flee even if they want to. And so Mr. Anthony has taken on the task of creating healthier human environments within the inner city. He says if we don't address these basic issues people will continue to abandon the city, leading to more suburban sprawl, dependence on cars, and depressed downtowns.

ANTHONY: The work that we do thoroughly embraces commitments to protect biodiversity and the biological resources that life depends on. Our view is that the only way to protect them is to make sure that questions of social justice are incorporated from the very beginning in developing strategies.

SILER: Mr. Anthony's dedication to developing an environmental agenda that's relevant to the lives of inner city communities first began when he was getting his masters in architecture in New York in the 1960s.

ANTHONY: We tried to build parks in Harlem, and we found ourselves confronted with neighborhoods and communities that were more concerned about rats and roaches and the fact that they didn't have hot water in their apartments. And we were saying gee whiz, wouldn't it be really great to have a park out here. And it was like, you know, it was a language that was totally incoherent.

SILER: Among the lessons Mr. Anthony gleaned from his Harlem experience is that communities have to be involved in addressing the issues that affect them. That philosophy is now embodied at the Earth Island's Urban Habitat Project, which Mr. Anthony cofounded. Here, he and his staff work on issues such as public transportation, land use, military conversion, and creating community gardens in poor neighborhoods.

(Machinery running)

SILER: This industrial cooling system is the sound of Mr. Anthony's success. In 1991 Bayer Corporation wanted to enlarge its pharmaceutical research and production facility in Berkeley. The company was the city's second largest employer, and the proposal meant hundreds of more jobs. But this traditionally liberal, academic town feared that such an expansion could pose environmental problems, such as chemical spills into the nearby San Francisco Bay or even an explosion during an earthquake. As chair of the Berkeley City Planning Commission, Mr. Anthony literally convened hundreds of community meetings. Ultimately, the company agreed to state of the art environmental controls and an ongoing social investment program in the city. Loni Hancock, Berkeley's mayor at the time, says Mr. Anthony's dedication to the environment and the community helped make consensus possible.

HANCOCK: And I have to say when I looked out over the audience the night that we finally signed and saw both the business community in Berkeley, neighborhood activists, people from the company standing and clapping as we approved the agreement, you knew this was a real example of being able to pull the community behind a very important venture that will play a large role in the economic stability of the city for years to come.

SILER: California Congressman Ron Dellums was so impressed with this agreement he asked Carl Anthony to head up the East Bay Area's efforts to create new environmentally friendly jobs for thousands of defense workers left unemployed from base closures. There's now a factory at the Alameda Naval Base producing parts for electric and natural gas automobiles, and there are plans for a Native American cultural center at another base.

(Man talking softly at meeting)

SILER: Nearly all of those working here at Urban Habitat are people of color who refer to Mr. Anthony as the keeper of the vision. One of Mr. Anthony's central goals is to bring more people like himself into the leadership of the environmental movement.

MAN: The fact of the matter, we've been out there trying to get more people of color involved in these things. So I think we need to be, acknowledge the value of having people who have come through our process becoming effective in the world and also carrying our name.

SILER: This dedication to multiculturalism is what David Brower first noticed about Mr. Anthony. Brower, the Bay Area's grandfather of environmentalism, founded the Earth Island Institute and hand-picked Mr. Anthony to take his place as its president. Brower calls Mr. Anthony a godsend to the environmental movement.

BROWER: He's my Martin Luther King, and people are going to hear more about Carl before they're through.

SILER: This spring Carl Anthony will be at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, a place Mr. Anthony says jokingly is usually reserved for deposed heads of state. That's partly true, but it's also a place for people with bright futures. For Living on Earth, I'm Tara Siler in San Francisco.



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