North Carolina

Leilani Münter

Leilani Münter is a race car-driving environmental activist. Sounds unusual? It is, because she is one of a kind. After studying biology at the University of California, San Diego, this self-described “adrenaline junkie” discovered she had a knack for racing fast cars. That was the start of a new career for her, but she brought her environmental passions along for the ride.

Since her start in 2001, Leilani has had nine top 5 finishes in the male-dominated sport. Amidst competing, Leilani has been working to change the car racing industry from the inside out. In 2007, she became the first driver to neutralize her carbon footprint by adopting an acre of rainforest each time she races. In 2012 at Daytona, she spotlighted dolphin kills in Taiji, Japan with “The Cove” movie logo emblazoned on her car (she also gave away copies of the documentary to fans). Her overall goal is to green the entire enterprise by ensuring that racing stadiums are powered by renewable energy, race cars run on biofuels, and used tires are recycled. Leilani knows that some people think she’s crazy trying to change a practice that seems far from “green”, but this rallier firmly disbelieves in preaching to the choir.

Leilani says:

“If I stopped racing, I would not take a race car off the grid. I would just be replaced by another driver. Likely one that doesn’t go out of their way to take care of the environment, is not offsetting their carbon footprint with rainforest, and is not promoting green technologies at the racetrack. I would simply lose my ability to talk to 75 million race fans about green living and hopefully win some of them over.”*

After all, Leilani asserts, “That’s how you start creating change, by having a dialogue with people who don’t agree with you.“** And she certainly has a large audience to speak to- car racing is the #1 spectator sport in the US, and the second most watched sport on television. It is a fitting place to start showcasing sustainability in the 21st century (and a burgeoning one at that: in 2010, the Pocono Raceway installed a complete 25-acre solar farm and this year, NASCAR began using 15% biofuel in its cars). 

When Leilani is not advocating on the track, you can find her participating in dolphin hunt protests, lobbying Congress, or writing guest pieces for various green blogs. Food sustainability sits close to her heart, and Leilani, a vegetarian since age 6, wants people to consider their meal’s carbon footprint (she points out that “40% more greenhouse gas emissions come from raising animals for food than all the planes, trains, cars, SUVs, ships, and race cars in the world combined”). She also promotes the use of reusable shopping bags and energy efficient light bulbs and wants legislators to transition to supporting a green economy. Leilani says:

Green jobs in the form of renewable energy are waiting to be created, but we need Washington to act now to phase out the old fossil fuel economy, cut subsidies for oil and coal, and reward clean renewable energy that will create thousands of jobs here in the U.S. We need a smart grid to support electric cars, infrastructure for cars running on alternative fuels, and green buildings utilizing energy efficient systems and capturing solar and wind wherever we can and being able to send that energy captured back into the electrical grid.***

Leilani believes our continued reliance on oil poses national security issues and hopes to one day see gas stations being revamped as electric car charging stations. She knows the fight won’t be easy though…after all, she points out, “The top five oil companies spend $150 million every year on 750 full time lobbyists that live in DC working to get the laws written in their favor.”***

To learn more about Leilani (who was voted the #1 eco athlete in the world by Discovery’s Planet Green):

-visit her website (she even lists movie recommendations there!)
-read her essay “Why A Plant Based Diet Will Save the World“.
-*read the Discovery interview “Vegetarian Hippie Chick Leilani Münter Drives Change with Her Race Car“, 11/29/12.
-**read the CNN article “She’s Racing to Save the Environment“, 9/2/10.
-***read the Eco-Chick article “Heroines for the Planet: Race Car Driver & Environmental Activist Leilani Munter“, 7/1/11.

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Rogers-Eubanks Coalition

The Rogers-Eubanks Coalition is an environmental justice group formed in 2007 in response to a proposed solid waste transfer station in the Rogers-Eubanks community of North Carolina. The founding of the Coalition marked an effort to expand the membership and focus area of the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association (RENA), which formed in 1972 when the Town of Chapel Hill established a landfill in the Rogers-Eubanks community. The Coalition’s membership includes residents of Orange County, North Carolina; students and faculty from the University of North Carolina; and local faith-based organizations. The Coalition is led by Minister Robert Campbell.

Roger-Eubanks (in Chapel Hill/Carrboro, NC) has been a low-income, African-American, socially and culturally rich community for the past 150 years. In 1972, when Chapel Hill wanted to establish a landfill in the the Rogers-Eubanks neighborhood, the community at first resisted. However, after being promised a finite 10 year run with water/sewer systems, storm drains, curbs, gutters, sidewalks, a recreation center and greenspaces in return, the community agreed to temporarily host the dump. None of those promised services, however, ever materialized. In addition, although the local government originally agreed not to locate another landfill in the area, 2 municipal solid waste landfills, 2 industrial waste landfills, yard & hazardous waste collection sites, recycling & garbage drop-off centers and a Material Recovery landfill have all been implemented in the community since the Orange County Landfill’s opening.

The Coalition fights for affordable, safe drinking water, healthy communities, and environmental justice throughout North Carolina. Because parts of Rogers-Eubanks are not on a public water line, they are at greater risk for water contamination from leaked landfill toxins that can enter groundwater. In fact, a March 2010 study found that only 2 of 11 wells studied supplied drinking water that met EPA standards (the other 9 wells were contaminated). While the water contamination was found to be a result of mass septic system failures, the Coalition argues that were the community on public service lines like the rest of Chapel Hill, there wouldn’t be contamination problems.

In the United States, waste transfer sites are predominantly located in low-income and minority communities. Because of their disproportionate burden on these communities, they are often considered environmental injustices. In the Orange County Landfill case, the county has reaped profits at the expense of the health and quality of life of the Roger-Eubanks community. Effects of the landfill include regularly putrid air (known to smell like rotting animals) as well as illegal dumping in the hours when the landfill is closed. Although the current landfill contract ends in 2013, the county considered extending it to 2018 to incur further revenue. The Rogers-Eubanks Coalition, however, wants their landfills and waste sites permanently closed. At the very least, they want a percentage of the landfill’s tipping fees to go toward remediating its negative effects.

In 2009, the Rogers-Eubanks Coalition finally succeeded in getting their community off the table in future waste center sitings. Through their efforts organizing against the proposed solid waste transfer station, noting that it would bring more air pollution and traffic congestion into the area from commuting trucks (thus placing further burden upon the community that had already borne more than its fair share for the county), the Coalition successfully persuaded the county’s board of commissioners to search for an alternate waste transfer site. The commissioners agreed to delay choosing a permanent waste transfer station location until completing a 3-5 year thorough assessment on long-term waste strategies, including increased waste reduction. The commissioners also agreed that once the Orange County Landfill is full, the Rogers-Eubanks community will not be subjected to another dump.

After 38 years of local activism, the Rogers-Eubanks community finally won in its fight to lessen its exposure to trash sites. What I think can be learned from their process is that fighting against politics is an arduous endeavor. However, there are real potential wins. It took a long time, but the Coalition was tenacious and eventually they created enough momentum to change viewpoints. The Rogers-Eubanks Coalition definitely deserves our support and admiration.

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