When we talk about environmental justice, organizations like Greenpeace or protests like #sHellNo might come to mind. Or at least that’s what comes to my mind. But with these conversations, we also need to be talking about environmental racism (which is the placement of marginalized communities, especially communities of color, in proximity to environmentally hazardous places or effects).
With what has been happening in Flint, Michigan for the last year, it’s so important to be having these conversations about race and environmental justice. Black Americans are significantly less likely than white Americans to be confident that their water is safe. The EPA office that is tasked with investigating civil rights abuses has been severely lagging in that area for years and communities of color all around the US have found their discrimination and civil rights claims denied.
And while it’s a perfect example of environmental racism, it’s not just in Flint where environmental racism plays out – in Los Angeles, people of color are more likely to live close to toxic release facilities and if Keystone XL were passed, it would have harmed the Houston community. Latino USA has an episode on environmental racism in San Diego on the poorer Latinos living in the neighborhood of Barrio Logan. And residents from the Chicago southside have been fighting for environmental justice in the area for decades but it’s taken an increase of white residents in the area to really get any action done.
All of this is very US centric but there are other things that should be considered as well – like how some of the e-waste from developed countries have been sent to and dumped in developing countries, causing a lot of environmental and health problems for the local population. And there’s also a growing international business of illegally exporting and smuggling waste from developed countries to poorer and developing nations – which only adds to infamous landfills like Nairobi’s Dandora Municipal Dump Site or Nigeria’s Lagos Dump.
When talking about environmental justice, we also need to be talking about how environmental issues impact marginalized communities, especially communities of color. And we need to be listening to impacted communities and individuals when they talk about these things long before white (and/or rich) people come into the picture.