As the statistics roll in about the looming effects of climate change, our planet’s climate crisis is becoming more and more visible. It’s becoming difficult to ignore drastic changes in weather or agricultural patterns, and many people are experiencing undesirable lifestyle changes because of it. There are certain groups that experience the effects of environmental degradation more strongly than others, though, and it’s been happening long before the climate crisis was at the forefront of our minds. Factors such as race, class, gender, and ethnicity have an incredible impact on how people experience the effects of their changing environment.
A 1987 study performed by the United Church of Christ’s Commission for Racial Justice exposed statistics that showed that racial and ethnic minorities in the United States are disproportionately exposed to toxic substances. This seminal study set the Environmental Justice movement in motion, inspiring decades of activism and conversations that are still taking place today. So, what is Environmental Justice?
Environmental Justice calls for the just and equal distribution of environmental burden and benefit. Put plainly, the movement strives to create a world in which all are able to enjoy their natural world regardless of factors such as race or class. Similarly, they also seek to make sure that all people experience negative environmental effects such as toxic waste or climate change in equal proportions. Grist has an excellent video to explain this more visually:
A foundational acknowledgment of environmental justice advocates is that the world’s under-advantaged populations are disproportionately affected by environmental destruction and degradation. As such, people in developing countries, poor neighborhoods, or under oppressive schemes of racism and classism will be hit much harder than the white and wealthy.
A second strong principle of environmental justice is the acknowledgment that the benefits of over-consumption of the world’s resources are enjoyed primarily by privileged groups. So, the amount of demand for food, goods, and exploitive services is created largely by those who can afford it. They do not, however, experience the harsh effects that these demands result in, such as toxic waste deposits, food scarcity, and exploitative working conditions.
The Environmental Justice movement seeks to make these facts known and bring about meaningful change.