Environmental Injustice and Justice by Gener Abdon, Scarlett Alexander, and Lani Pangilinan
We stand upon a land that carries the footsteps of millennia of Kumeyaay people. They are a people whose traditional lifeways intertwine with a worldview of earth and sky in a community of living beings. This land is part of a relationship that has nourished, healed, protected and embraced the Kumeyaay people to the present day. It is part of a world view founded in the harmony of the cycles of the sky and balance in the forces of life. For the Kumeyaay, red and black represent the balance of those forces that provide for harmony within our bodies as well as the world around us.
As students, faculty, staff and alumni of San Diego State University we acknowledge this legacy from the Kumeyaay. We promote this balance in life as we pursue our goals of knowledge and understanding. We find inspiration in the Kumeyaay spirit to open our minds and hearts. It is the legacy of the red and black. It is the land of the Kumeyaay.
'eyay e’haan My heart is good.
What is Environmental Justice?
“Environmental justice is thought to occur when “(1) the burden of environmental hazards or degradation is shared equally across all demographic groups or communities, and (2) there is equal inclusion in decision making processes” about environmental policies and action steps (Nesmith & Smyth, 2015, p. 485). At the global level, wealthy nations are exploiting the natural resources of poor nations, depleting those resources and exacerbating the poverty in those nations. The degradation of the world's ecosystems is growing significantly worse, and the burdens of that degradation go increasingly to the most marginalized populations, poor people, people of color, older people, women, and children (Hetherington & Boddy, 2013). The people carrying the greatest burden of environmental degradation seldom have a seat at the table where environmental policies are developed (United Nations Human Rights, 2014).
This pattern of environmental injustice occurs in wealthy nations as well as poor nations. In the United States, there is considerable evidence that the toxic load of pollution from pesticides, fertilizers, and factories is generally heaviest in poor communities of color (Perkins, 2012), and considerable research establishes that such pollution is a risk factor for cancer and respiratory diseases. There is also clear evidence that hazardous waste facilities are more likely to be located in poor and minority communities (Perkins, King, & Varner, 2012). One research team found that brownfields—properties that are no longer operational because of the presence of hazardous substances—are much more likely to be located in poor and minority communities than in areas of higher socioeconomic status. They also found that brownfields are cleaned up much more slowly when they are located in communities with larger minority populations (Eckerd & Keeler, 2012). Similar patterns have been reported in the United Kingdom, Canada, the Netherlands, Scotland, Sweden, France, Germany, and Australia (Nesmith & Symth, 2015).
Since the 1980s, some activists in the environmental justice movement have referred to the situation discussed in the previous paragraph as environmental racism, a term used to refer to the process of placing environmental hazards in low-income or minority communities. In his book Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States, Carl Zimring (2016) suggests that although some of the environmental hazards are new, environmental racism is not new in the United States. He traces a history in which people of color have been assigned the dirty work of the country: doing the laundry, cleaning up human waste, and junk collecting. He also discusses the way that racial anxiety and concerns about urban health became intertwined in the major cities with the influx of African Americans and immigrants.
Social justice and environmental justice become more and more tightly entwined; in many communities it is not possible to promote social justice without working on issues of environmental justice. That is certainly true in the Coachella Valley of California where Dr. Elizabeth D Hutchison recently lived. At a community forum she attended in the eastern end of the valley, which is populated primarily by undocumented farm workers, community members reported that their greatest concerns are the lack of access to potable (drinkable) water; high levels of pesticides in the soil and groundwater; sewage sitting on top of the ground; and the impact of a nearby toxic waste treatment facility on soil, water, and air quality.”