As we have seen uprisings and protests from the Black Lives Matter movement generate momentum around the world, conversations surrounding race, injustice, and inequality have filled our lives. While these conversations are well overdue, what is important now is that they are happening. People are finally starting to open their eyes to just how pervasive inequality and prejudice is throughout the world on every level. One specific subject area that has been brought to the forefront of these conversation has been the link between the environment and social justice, specifically how BIPOC are disproportionately affected by the damaging effects of today’s Climate Crisis.
As discussed in the previous blog post about sea level rise, residents in developing nations on the coast are in the greatest danger as they have little protection and no choice but to flee from their homes. In addition to the threat of sea level rise on a global scale, communities of color in the United States are at the greatest risk to environmental dangers that continue to escalate as the state of our planet worsens. Throughout American history, people of color have been strategically placed into communities surrounded almost entirely by other people of color. They have been systemically financially disenfranchised and kept from accumulating wealth. Without the ability to create financial stability for one’s family, there is no generational wealth that will be passed down through the family, thus perpetuating the oppression of people of color. Wealthier and more privileged white neighborhoods have the political and financial power to decide how their neighborhood looks, they are able to keep coal power plants, landfills, and factories that generate toxic waste far from their community. Instead, this toxic waste is sent to communities of color. As a result, a majority of Black individuals are breathing heavily polluted air, drinking contaminated water, and are enduring the damaging effects of living near a landfill or a plant that creates toxic waste, which enters the water systems and the soil. A well-known example is Flint, Michigan, where the town of over 50% Black individuals suffered from extremely contaminated drinking water from upstream lead contamination. This concept that marginalized communities are disproportionately suffering the effects of climate change is known as environmental racism and has become very apparent in recent years, especially following the increasing momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement.
To combat environmental racism, systemic racism must be dismantled. Housing must be safer, healthier, and more accessible to BIPOC communities. Most importantly however, is that all members of any community, of all races, contribute to eliminating environmental racism by paying attention to the strategic placement of toxic waste facilities, landfills, factories, and coal-powered plants. In order for America and the rest of the world to achieve social justice, we must acknowledge the role of environmental justice, understand it, and make significant progress in eliminating it.