The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Environmental Racism

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Environmental racism is very important to understand if we are going to make progress in the fight against climate change. The solution, environmental justice, is an important part of the struggle to improve and maintain a clean and healthy environment, especially for those who have conventionally lived and/or worked closest to the sources of pollution.


What is Environmental Racism?

This term refers to environmental policies, practices, or directives that affect or disadvantage (whether intended or unintended) individuals, groups, or communities based on race or colour.

A well-known instance of environmental racism is referred to as Cancer Alley. Cancer Alley is an area along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, which contains numerous industrial plants. In 1987, residents who were primarily African-American and low income noticed the abundance of cancer cases within their community.

Another instance concerns the members of the Aamjiwnaang Nation who live near Chemical Valley. They report increased rates of asthma, reproductive effects, learning disabilities, and cancer.

There are so many more examples of environmental racism such as Flint, Michigan and it happens in India, Bangladesh, and China where textile plants pollute the surrounding areas and neighbourhoods around their factories.


What is Environmental Justice?

This is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, colour, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.

Some examples of environmental justice include implementing policies that ensure good air quality, good water quality, proper waste management, environmental clean-up laws, and annual environmental assessments by the government to ensure standards are being met.


How Does Environmental Injustice Happen?

Environmental injustice is systemic, which means that it affects the government system (and certain groups in society) as a whole. It occurs with and without the conscious effort of governmental bodies.

It is also related to socioeconomic status because upper and middle-class citizens often have the money and the political power to protect their own interests and neighbourhoods so they rarely find themselves next to hazardous waste facilities. On the other hand, working-class citizens who do not have access to the same opportunities are usually forced to live in neighbourhoods that are close to landfills, industrial complexes, and other environmentally-dangerous sites.

It should be noted that when an individual faces more than one type of oppression (e.g. racism and sexism), their experience becomes increasingly different and more complicated. To be a woman in a capitalist, patriarchal world is hard but we are slowly making progress towards a more equitable society. To be a person of colour in a colonial, capitalist world is also hard. When these two oppressed experiences intersect, they create the reality of someone who is faced with a lifetime of challenges.


How to Help Fight Environmental Racism

  • Educate yourself on environmentalism and intersectionality

  • Read books, watch Ted Talks, watch documentaries- learn everything!

  • Share your knowledge with others

  • Sign petitions that advocate for policy changes

  • Support local businesses owned by people of colour


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