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Environment and Racism

Are the two connected?

By Isabel McLain
On November 7, 2012

The common misconception, especially on college campuses like Davidson, is that Environmentalism doesn't take economics or social justice into consideration when it proposes its "fantastical" solutions to the ecological crises. This misconception, however, is not entirely faulty. PaulRowland, executive director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), once said, "In the U.S., unlike much of the world, the organizing paradigm of sustainability [began] with an environmental orientation and then added on environmental justice and ecological economics. This is a historical root that has been difficult to shake." Indeed, the U.S should have started with a more holistic view of environmentalism that encompassed socially acceptable, environmentally sustainable, and economically viable methods.

            Environmental Justice is an emerging opportunity to promote environmental health as well as address social issues. The EPA defines Environmental Justice as "the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, sex, national origin, or income with respect to development, implementation of and maintenance of environmental protection policies." By fair treatment, the EPA suggests, "no group of people should bear a disproportionate amount of the negative environmental consequences." As of right now in America, there are many groups of people who are saddled with more environmental difficulties than others. Despite the idea that America is a "post-racial" society, it is often racial minorities and other marginalized groups that bear this extra burden while the white, upper and middle class majority lives life at a distance from the consequences of their industrial and consumer abuses of the environment. There are plenty of alarming facts to back up this claim. Indeed, African Americans are 79% more likely than whites to live in neighborhoods where industrial pollution poses the worst health detriments. In addition, the Commission for Racial Justice claims that about half of Native Americans live in areas that contain uncontrolled toxic waste. The United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice found through systematic study that "... race proved to be the most significant among variables tested in association with the location of commercial hazardous waste facilities." Mountain top removal has marginalized many communities in the Appalachian Mountains, destroying hometowns and inflicting huge health dangers. In a sense, by destroying these mountains, polluting the community's water supplies and air quality, the coal companies are permanently impoverishing these communities because there is almost no way to restore an economy there.

            The Environmental Justice Movement can be traced back to 1982 in Warren County here in North Carolina. During this time, the state had selected a site in a rural and impoverished community of mostly minorities to contain a hazardous waste landfill, which included 30,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated soil. In response to what they called "environmental racism," the mostly African American residents of this community protested with the help of many civil rights activists and environmental groups. Now today there are many organizations and outspoken leaders that speak for similar causes. One such group is Majora Carter's "Green the Ghetto" Movement, which has worked to provide a better living environment for people living in the Bronx, New York. Another leader of this movement is a man named Robert Bullard, who is well known for his environmental justice activism especially through his book called Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality. This movement is really growing, and there are many opportunities for Davidson students to join. If you have a desire to advocate for the environment as well as for social justice issues, I suggest that you look further into Environmental Justice groups in your area.

 

Sources:

Cutter, Susan L. "Race, class and environmental justice." Progress in Human Geography, Mar 1995; vol. 19: pp. 111-122

 

U.S Environmental Protection Agency. Environmental Justice. http://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/basics/index.html

 

Walsh, Dylan. "Taking Stock of Campus Sustainability." New York Times: Green Blogs. N.p., 23 Aug. 2011. Web. 04 Nov. 2012. <http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/23/taking-stock-of-campus-sustainability/>.


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