The topic of racial injustice has overtaken news networks and social media platforms as the uprising over George Floyd’s death grows into a powerful wave of the Black Lives Matter movement. Racism is a problem that still seems to challenge the United States’ ability to treat all humans equally, permeating classrooms, restaurants, stores, and neighborhoods alike. This ideology has become so invasive that it often impacts every aspect of a Black person’s life. Among the many injustices minorities face in America, the conditions of their surrounding environment seem to be overlooked time after time. Environmental racism is real, and it is time we push our leaders to take action. But before we do that, let’s explore what it is and why it’s so dangerous.
Environmental racism refers to the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards and toxins on people of color. In majority-minority communities, people are left without access to green space, fresh air, and clean water because policies, governments, and corporations decide to use their neighborhoods for undesirable land use and exploitation. While some say industrial facilities, highways, and demolitions are vital for growth, we need to understand that these communities won’t be able to experience that growth while held down by social disparities and health complications. The International Agency for Research on Cancer and Environmental Protection Agency studied toxic particulate matter in underserved areas only to determine that it was a contributor to several lung cancers, heart attacks, low birth weights, and high blood pressure. The long term exposure to these pollutants is associated with race, meaning highly segregated areas experience more particulate matter, often putting Black, working-class neighborhoods in danger.
Examples of environmental racism include the various polluting facilities along the Mississippi River. These facilities are highly concentrated in Black communities such as St. James Parish, Louisiana, also known as “Cancer Alley.” This moniker sadly arose from the risk of developing cancer is 700 times the national average. Environmental racism is also deeply entrenched in the Dakota Access Pipeline, which currently runs along the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, despite opposition. Originally, this pipeline was supposed to run through Bismarck, ND, which is 89% white; needless to say, it was later rerouted through Native land due to Bismarck residents’ protests.
Even with a clear pattern of racist development, corporations and politicians have taken little to no action to address this issue. Many companies argue their actions are done completely with good intentions, meaning more industries will lead to potential employers. This unknown possibility shouldn’t and can’t be used to justify the thousands and thousands of dollars these communities must pay in healthcare costs. On a federal level, the Environmental Protection Association (EPA)-which was created to regulate issues such as these–has also yet to take action. By dropping civil rights investigations and firing knowledgeable scientists, these agencies choose to side with industries whenever locals challenge polluters. This exact reason is also applicable to politicians as many are paid off by corporate lobbyists. When money enters the equation of the climate and our health, leaders seem to direct their attention to where they profit the most. The lack of care and lax enforcement have become the largest catalysts for environmental racism.
In the end, the fight for environmental justice should also be highlighted as a fight for racial justice. Given the lack of political, economic, and legal means, these communities need as much support as possible to fight the corrupt entities polluting their homes. Supporting climate justice organizations such as the Energy Justice Network and Energy Action Coalition, which prioritize ending corporate lobbying, are great places to start to get involved in this fight. To add, urging politicians to support the Green New Deal is important as one of its goals is to fight for the vulnerable communities exposed to these injustices. As the Sunrise Movement’s Abby Leedy once said, a wealthy few have pitted us against each other along race and class lines to prevent us from seeing our collective humanity and fighting back. We are all deserving of love and respect, so it is the climate movement’s duty to stand in solidarity and advocate for justice.
Srihita Adabala is a Next Generation Politics contributor for Environment and the 2020 Election from Nashville, TN. She is a 16-year-old organizer for the Sunrise Movement, a movement of young people fighting to stop climate change and create millions of food jobs. Srihita hopes to use her passion for activism and writing to make climate justice a priority across America and reclaim our democracy.