An Untapped Power


JAMES LAU — Presenting the report
Lau with Assemblymember Mike Eng. photos by Bill Wong

Common stereotyping pegs the typical environmentalist as a haphazardly groomed, Birkenstock-wearing, granola-munching, modern day hippie. In reality, these individuals come in all shapes, sizes, hairstyles and dietary habits; no singular demographic holds a monopoly on concern for the earth. An ecological mindset can be adopted by just about anyone — especially Asian Americans, it turns out.

According to a recent report, an exceptional number of Asian Americans in California self-identify as environmentalists. In fact, they do so at a much higher rate (83 percent) than the average resident of the state (52 percent). They tend to see air pollution, fossil fuel dependency, water supply sustainability and the proliferation of toxic chemicals as serious threats, while harboring particularly strong apprehension toward global warming. Furthermore, many favor governmental regulations that protect natural resources and back those ballot measures or candidates for office that demonstrate commitment in this vein.

These findings and more are detailed in “Asian American Environmentalists: An Untapped Power for Change in California,” published by the nonprofit California League of Conservation Voters Education Fund (CLCV Ed Fund). The report showcases polling data gathered from Asian American registered voters in early 2009; billed as the “first-ever environmental survey to extensively solicit the views of this growing population,” the poll collected responses from members of the Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Japanese and Korean communities. A total of 1,002 individuals were interviewed, predominantly in English, but also in Cantonese, Vietnamese or Korean when appropriate.

Citing their collective political influence, the report claims, “Asian Americans represent an untapped and largely ignored constituency, one that could provide the critical support needed to advance environmental reforms and programs.” To capitalize on this opportunity, the CLCV Ed Fund has put forth recommendations for better incorporating Asian Americans into ecological advocacy efforts.

Mainstream environmentalist campaigns are encouraged to bring messages directly to the places where Asian Americans spend their money or time (education-oriented groups, religious institutions or charities), target Asian American households with mailers promoting relevant ballot measures, and engage the ethnic media in communication strategies. As for organizations already serving these communities in unrelated capacities, the report suggests they offer programming explaining the environmental benefit of specific personal actions (such as home weatherization or graywater usage), and that they participate in the development of applicable policies (such as increases in transportation funding or incentives for solar panel installation).

Making these recommendations in person, CLCV Ed Fund Executive Director James Lau has appeared at community forums to publicize his organization’s report. He presented it last month at the offices of the nonprofit Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA) in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The event also featured remarks about Asian American environmentalism from San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, state Controller John Chiang, San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting, Asian Pacific Environmental Network Associate Director Miya Yoshitani, and CAA Executive Director Vincent Pan. Lau again discussed the report this month in Sacramento at a briefing attended by Capitol insiders, including assemblymembers Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park) and Mariko Yamada (D-Davis).

Thus far, the report has been enthusiastically received by both elected officials and environmental activists, who have shown a sense of optimism regarding Asian America’s potential to help forge a greener tomorrow. Whether or not this potential gets realized remains to be seen, but at least now there’s concrete proof of its widespread abundance.

For more information about “Asian American Environmentalists: An Untapped Power for Change in California,” contact the California League of Conservation Voters Education Fund at (323) 939-6790 or visit the organization online at

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