Environmental Justice Definition
The basic premise of environmental justice is to treat all people, regardless of their race, gender or socioeconomic status, equally when it comes to the creation and enforcement of environmental laws. The goal is to ensure that everyone has equal access to a clean and healthy work and living environment.
The environmental justice movement first gained traction during the Civil Rights Movement, when people from underrepresented and underserved communities raised concerns about public health inequities in their communities. One of the first notable environmental justice moments occurred in February 1968 during the Memphis Sanitation Strike. The strike advocated for increased pay and improved working conditions for sanitation workers in Memphis, TN.
Why Is Environmental Justice Important?
Environmental justice is important for many reasons, but chief among them is the fact that communities that are inundated with environmental hazards are more likely to get sick. Studies have shown that underrepresented communities throughout the U.S. are disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards and are more likely to live in regions with a significant amount of pollution. These environmental conditions have been linked to racial disparities in chronic health issues, including asthma, lead poisoning and clinical obesity in children and adults.
When people are denied equitable access to basic needs, such as clean air, water and living environment, their human rights are violated. Since environmental injustice disproportionately affects communities of color, fighting for environmental justice is a significant equity issue.
Environmental injustices also have profound economic impacts. For example, children and adults who develop health issues, such as asthma and lead poisoning, can experience limitations when it comes to their educational and professional potential.
Environmental justice is also essential to combat climate change more generally since climate change disproportionately affects vulnerable communities, which exacerbates existing inequalities. Environmental justice advocacy and policies can help mitigate the impact of environmental injustice in these communities.
Environmental Justice Issues
- Pollution: Polluting industries, waste sites, transportation corridors and other high-polluting entities are disproportionately placed in underserved and underrepresented communities. As a result, these communities are exposed to higher levels of air, water and soil pollution, which leads to health inequities.
- Clean water: Since people of color are inequitably exposed to environmental injustices, they are also more likely to experience issues with access to clean water.
- Food justice: Food justice is the fight to ensure equal access to nutritious, healthy and affordable foods. People of color are more likely to live in food deserts, which are areas where it is difficult to get access to healthy, nutritious or affordable foods.
There are many ways that people can support environmental justice efforts, the first of which is to learn more about the ways that environmental hazards disproportionately impact communities of color. By taking the time to learn more, people can gain the awareness and knowledge they need to identify cases of environmental racism and how to advocate for solutions. Another critical component of environmental justice advocacy is calling for equitable public policy change. It is important, for example, to fight for the reversal of placing hazardous waste sites and chemicals in communities of color.
Robert F. Smith, the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, strongly believes in the importance of working to achieve equity. Smith is working to improve environmental justice efforts through his work with Southern Communities Initiative. The Initiative, which Smith helped to bring to fruition, works to support racial equity efforts in six Southern U.S. communities that are home to the majority of Black Americans.
To learn more about this topic and other issues, follow Robert F. Smith on LinkedIn.