Environmental racism and Why we Need to Fight it?
Understanding Environmental racism
When discussing and observing systemic racism, we immediately align it with police brutality and criminal justice reform. Often overlooked is the effect of systemic racism on the environment and the communities within it. Communities of colour are more likely to suffer the repercussions of environmental hazards such as industrial pollution and toxic waste. Ultimately increasing their risk of exposure to illnesses linked with housing, polluted air and water. Understanding environmental racism must begin with acknowledging it as a form of systemic oppression.
What does Environmental Racism mean?
The term “environmental racism” was coined in 1982 by African American civil rights leader Benjamin Chavis. He describes it as “racial discrimination in environmental policy-making, the enforcement of regulations and laws, the deliberate targeting of communities of colour for toxic waste facilities, the official sanctioning of the life-threatening presence of poisons and pollutants in our communities, and the history of excluding people of colour from the leadership of the ecology movements”.
We can only achieve climate justice once we address environmental racism. Achieving climate justice means creating a community where cultural and biological diversity is respected and allowed to thrive. Realising environmental justice means all communities of varied backgrounds can ensure that their environment is safe and productive. The values, rules, regulations, policies and decisions to support sustainability must represent all communities. We must address environmental racism and understand that climate justice is the response to addressing this.
Another important term to be aware of when discussing environmental racism is intersectional environmentalism. Throughout the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd, black climate activist Leah Thomas defined this term as “an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet. It identifies how injustices happening to marginalised communities and the earth are interconnected. It brings injustices done to the most vulnerable communities, and the earth, to the forefront and does not minimise or silence social inequality. Intersectional environmentalism advocates for justice for people and the planet”. Intersectionality is critical and must be at the heart of the environmental movement.
We see marginalised communities at the forefront now, suffering the consequences of climate damage. This is prevalent across the US; several studies have indicated that Hispanic and Black communities are faced with higher quantities of toxic waste sites, landfills, air pollutants, lead poisoning and other industrial systems compared to white communities. An example of this is the 85 mile stretch of land across the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge that’s bound with oil refiners and petrochemical plants. Dubbed as the “Cancer Alley”, its residents are 50 times more likely to develop cancer than the average American. Those who live within the area are predominantly Black Americans.
Principles of Environmental justice.
Environmental group Greenaction is a body of leaders from urban, rural and indigenous communities who have set out multiple principles that they believe should be adopted to achieve environmental justice. Including supporting the sacredness of our earth, developing unity with our surroundings, the interdependence of all species, and the right to be free from natural devastation. Environmental justice also demands that public policy be rooted in mutual respect and justice for all communities, without any form of discrimination. To achieve reform within our environment, there must be regulations that ensure the right to ethical, balanced and responsible uses of land and renewable resources with the interest of a sustainable planet for our communities and all forms of life. Along with calls for universal security from nuclear testing, extraction, disposal and production of toxic and hazardous wastes and poisons and nuclear testing endanger our fundamental right to clean water, air, land and food. Environmental justice also affirms the right to economic, cultural, political and environmental self-determination of all people. We also must resist multinational corporations’ destructive operations and oppose repression, including military occupation and exploitation of peoples and cultures, lands, and other life forms. To achieve these principles, we must begin with the education of future and present generations, which centres heavily on social and environmental problems, from a diverse cultural perspective. Ultimately, these principles can start with us as individuals making more informed personal and consumer-driven choices with our environment at the core.
Roots of Environmental Racism.
The opportunities for environmental racism on a global scale have increased with the rapid increase of Globalization. Disadvantaged communities will continue to experience the worst of the climate crisis if we do not achieve environmental justice. Several causes determine environmental racism, including the notion of placing profits before people. This involves the view that discrimination occurs when cost-effectiveness becomes a priority. Many corporations place their facilities within environments where they ultimately end up exploiting the land alongside its people, all with the common goal of boosting profits. These communities often live near these sites and lack the means to move away, resulting in them being vulnerable to industrial hazards. Another cause of environmental racism is institutional discrimination determined by centuries of cultural and psychosocial circumstances. Many large corporations have taken advantage and manipulated the lower environmental standards of poorer countries and have minimised their operations in places with stringent regulations.
How can you help?
In conclusion, we can all contribute to creating a better environment for all, starting with making the conscious decision to re-evaluate our lifestyles with our planet’s health in mind. The environmental justice movement is imperative to raising awareness of vulnerable populations and their difficulties through public activism and academic studies. We can contribute to this movement by supporting grassroots initiatives and utilising our social media to spread the views and situations of those within our community. This can all begin with opening up our minds and perspectives to unlearn the ideas that hold us back from reimagining a better place to live within for ourselves and our neighbours.
We can also support those working to dismantle systems of oppression that have led us to where we see ourselves today. A great platform to support is Intersectional Environmentalist. The money donated goes towards building the community and topic pages to educate and support BIPOC writers for personal essays and future IE programming. Another terrific organisation is A Growing Culture, where their ethos is to work towards “advancing a culture of farmer autonomy and agroecological innovation”. We can all contribute to the change we hope to see, whether it is done through broadening our minds or donating to organisations doing the work to create a better world for all.