Why Won’t the Working Class Go Green?

Here in LA traffic jams have become a sort of a tradition on the first week in May. That is, worse traffic jams than usual. Immigrants and laborers stream on the streets to demonstrate for their “rights”, blocking downtown traffic for hours. It poses no problem, of course, for people like me who travel by bicycle, but all of those crowds lead one to start thinking about immigrants and the working class in general .

I can sympathize with immigrants rights. My own people were poor Irish farmers who worked like dogs for the first hundred years they were here before finally breaking into the middle class. I am not sure how much help they should get from the government; we did not get any help at all and we did alright. That is a civil rights issue, however, and this blog is about transportation policy.

There is one observation I can make about working class immigrants which is apropos to my topic: they tend to be completely apathetic about the environment. I need to make a disclaimer. All of the statements I am about to make are based on completely anecdotal evidence. I have a feeling, however, that the statistics would bear me out.

During the week I usually spend the night in the town of La Habra, California. It is not a place I would ever have chosen to live, except that it happens to be where my office is located. It is a solidly working class town with a majority Hispanic population. Most of the town was designed in the 1950’s which means that the whole town is functionally obsolete. In other words, it is almost an exact carbon copy of every other working class neighborhood in Southern California.

The inhabitants of La Habra are completely and totally oblivious to environmental concerns. Every restaurant serves drinks in Styrofoam cups. No business has bike racks: most of them have “No Bicycles” signs prominently displayed. Everyone drives the biggest SUVs they can afford. Bringing your own bags to the grocery store is likely to get you stared at blankly. Riding in the slow lane of any of the major streets causes people to scream profanity at you and tell you to “get on the sidewalk where you belong.”

As bad as the situation is, the really sad thing is that none of the population sees anything wrong. Its as if they just have not been paying attention to the news for the last twenty years. In La Habra (and all of the other towns like it) it is still 1989.

The middle class in North America is already changing their lifestyles, but the working class is not with the program at all. Considering that there is now more of them than their is of us, it is becoming imperative that we get through to them. How do we do this? Environmental ads on ESPN? Spanish language flyers? Maybe critical mass bike rides down La Habra boulevard? I have no idea.

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