What Is Environmental Justice?

Wikipedia says the definition of Environmental Justice is:

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

While we have all done harm to the earth, the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community seems to be facing mother’s nature rath in a much more serious way. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, “on average, communities of color in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic breathe 66 percent more air pollution from vehicles than white residents.” In fact, Dr. Beverly Wright, CEO of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University states that if you are apart of a community of color, you:

  • Are more likely to breathe in polluted air.
  • Are more likely to live near coal plants.
  • Are more likely to live near toxic sites.

I am not a scientist nor am I honestly that great of a researcher, but I feel that this is an important thing to talk about. I am speaking to you as a white person who has white privilege and I do believe it’s my duty to speak up. The BIPOC community is being affected by climate change disproportionately and we must do something about this. What is the answer you ask? I am honestly not sure, but I do know that we should be talking about this and not just while it’s on trend.

In a TIME article titled We Can’t Solve the Climate Crisis Unless Black Lives Matter, Dr. Anaya Elizabeth Johnson (Marine Biologist and founder of Urban Ocean Lab), writes that in order to help with climate change, we must focus on the people who are being impacted the most – our BIPOC communities. These are the people who we should be elevating to help make change. She states that it is “people from their own communities who are best equipped to lead them.” Working on climate change is no small task and if do not work on purposefully welcoming and including the BIPOC communities, we will accomplish nothing.

Photo by Korie Cull on Unsplash

I write this blog because I love our planet and I want to be kinder to Mother Nature. I am no expert and this is merely a brief introduction. So, what now you ask? How can you make sure that you are working for the planet but also supporting and elevating the voices of the BIPOC community? For me, this means that I need to focus just as much on social justice as I do environmentalism. I mean why better the planet if we are not also bettering the lives of the people on it?

I am happy to have learned that New Hampshire has some policy/information in place in regards to Environmental Justice that I had not idea about. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) separates our country into regions in accordance with environmental justice and describes what each region is specifically committed to working on. New Hampshire is in Region 1.

EPA Region 1 is committed to ensuring that environmental justice is integrated into all of our programs, policies and activities in order to achieve environmental and public health improvements for communities in New England that may be disproportionately burdened by environmental harms and risks, such as minority, low-income and tribal communities.

To receive occasional announcements about funding opportunities, learning opportunities, conferences, and other environmental justice news, contact Marcus Holmes at holmes.marcus@epa.gov.

So, how can you help?

We can all do more to help on a daily basis:

  • Instead of buying a new piece of clothing at TJ Maxx or H&M, shop from a black-owned business instead. Do your research. Seek out those businesses and support them. Find a working list of New Hampshire black-owned businesses here. (Yankee Magazine also has a list of New England businesses here.)
  • Elevate voices that are not your own. Really start to take a look at your Instagram feed as well as other social media platforms. Who do you follow and why? I recently started doing this and I have found amazing new recipes as well as retail and education that I had no idea about. It was honestly a breath of fresh air.
  • Don’t ask a member of the BIPOC community what to do next. It is not their job to figure that out for you and it is added emotional labor that is unnecessary and unfair. If you are wondering about white privilege, purchase a book that has been written by a member of the BIPOC community about this subject.
  • Listen to the podcast It’s Been a Minute with Sam Sanders on NPR. Sam Sanders is smart, funny, and is a great host. He has wonderful guests and talks about race quite often. This podcast teaches me something different every time I listen and also gives me hope. Don’t be afraid to speak up – saying the wrong thing is better than saying nothing at all.

Check out these incredibly intelligent and interesting folks on Instagram who give a crap about our world: @wastefreemarie, @browngirl_green, @onegreatvegan, @ayanaeliza, @mikaelaloach, @jhanneu, @zerowastehabesha, and @ecolifechoices.

Leah Thomas, @greengirlleah, is the author of an article I was reading on Youth To The People – I feel like she coined intersectional environmentalism perfectly when she described it as

an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet.

Be good to the planet and each other. Be Anti-Racist.

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