Environmental Justice/Racism

What is it?

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines “Environmental Justice” as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, sex, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”  This movement, sometimes referred to as ‘environmental racism’, was founded in the U.S. in the 1980s by the author and scholar, Robert Bullard.

Robert Bullard, founder of the modern Environmental Justice movement (photo: Marvin Joseph, The Washington Post)

Robert Bullard, founder of the modern Environmental Justice movement (photo: Marvin Joseph, The Washington Post)

What’s wrong?

Many communities around the world have been inequitably shouldered with environmental problems and hazards including pollution, industrial facilities, devastation and exploitation of natural resources, and crime. Often, those disproportionally imposed upon are people of low socioeconomic status and of nonwhite ancestry.  This imbalance and system of exploitation often occurs as wealthier countries such as the U.S., Canada, EU, China and Japan, control, dominate and pollute the natural resources of poorer and less powerful countries and peoples—taking, plundering and dumping on developing nations. 

Additionally, those in lower socioeconomic groups often do not have the means to escape working and living in dangerous and highly polluted environments. Poorer communities are often saddled with the most contaminated materials. They have least access to the economic and legal power to fight polluters or protect their environmental health rights.  

Food Justice is also part of the environmental justice movement.  Healthy food Low income communities often on fast food and unhealthy food for sale. Healthy fresh food is often not sold at all, or if sold at all, healthy and fresh foods are often out of the price range of lower income people. Economically disadvantaged communities are thus forced to eat fast food and less nutritious highly processed foods and drinks.

People become extremely sick when living in close proximity to environmental hazards. Oftentimes, so-called “disease-cluster” patterns will form in geographic regions where those living in a particular area will tend to develop a higher incidences of diseases associated with exposure to environmental hazards, such as asthma or cancer.

Residents of a small town on the outskirts of Jacksonville, Florida, rally for clean water. Smaller, less-privileged communities tend to be those most hard-hit by environmental injustices.

Residents of a small town on the outskirts of Jacksonville, Florida, rally for clean water. Smaller, less-privileged communities tend to be those most hard-hit by environmental injustices.

 What’s been done? 

The goal of this movement has been to bring about social transformation dedicated to meeting basic human needs and enhancing the quality of life of all people, regardless of age, sex; and especially, class and race.

By bringing litigation against those creating or perpetuating environmental hazards (like chemical companies and petroleum industries), environmental justice groups try to help those affected inspire legislation to help them and future generations. One example of this is the 1969 lawsuit that the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation filed on behalf of six migrant farm workers, which played a role in achieving the DDT ban in the United States.

In 1994, then president Bill Clinton signed an executive order that directed the federal government to address the environmental health threats to people living and working in unhealthy environments. Today, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Department of Health and Human Service (DOHHS) are dedicated to researching and identifying the environmental hazards that pose risks to humans. The EPA uses such information to develop laws to promote healthy environments for all people living in the United States. Across the world, similar regulatory agencies are working to ensure Environmental Justice. 

In 1994, then president Bill Clinton signed an executive order meant to help promote environmental justice in America. 

In 1994, then president Bill Clinton signed an executive order meant to help promote environmental justice in America. 

 What can you do?

-Support legislation that supports healthy, clean living and work environments for all people.

-Advocate for smart solutions to environmental problems.

 

 learn more here:

websites

Black Mesa Water Coalition

Natural Resources Defense Council on Environmental Justice

WE ACT for Environmental Justice

New York City Environmental Justice Alliance

Midwest Environmental Justice Organization

Clearwater on Environmental Justice

Women’s Earth Alliance

 

Books

All Our Relations Native Struggles for Land and Life by Winona LaDuke

Dumping on Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality by Robert Bullard.

The Quest for Environmental Justice: Human Rights and the Politics of Pollution by Robert Bullard

Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis by Vandana Shiva

 

Films

Bitter Seeds

American Outrage

Borderline Cases

Drowned Out

Drumbeat for the Mother Earth

Fire and Ice

Hearth of the Sky, Heart of the Earth

Homeland

In Our Own Backyards

Islands of the Sanctuary

Pilgrims and Tourists

The President’s Dilemma

Profit and Loss

Standing on Sacred Ground

Wind River