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You’ve probably heard of racism. But have you heard of environmental racism? Environmental racism is a pressing issue that disproportionately impacts communities of color, both in policy and practice. As the term suggests, it refers to discriminatory environmental policies that subject marginalized communities to harmful living conditions. The fight against this sinister form of injustice is heating up, with young activists advocating for an intersectional approach to address it. But before we can work to solve a problem, we need to understand it. So, let’s dive into 10 shocking examples of how environmental racism works, and how we can fight back.
1. Living Amongst Industry: A Silent Mental Health Crisis
While we acknowledge that living near landfills or toxic dump sites disrupts physical health, we often overlook the hidden mental health toll. For low-income Black communities living near hazardous waste sites, a 2007 Social Science Research study found significant impacts on their psychological well-being. This invisible fallout of environmental racism shouldn’t be underestimated—it’s time to demand that mental health impacts be factored into decisions about industry location.
2. Redlining’s Heatwave Legacy
Did you know that neighborhoods experiencing higher temperatures today were often subject to racist redlining practices decades ago? Banks and insurance companies systematically denied or limited loans and services to these communities of color. This history lives on in the form of urban heat islands: hotter areas with little green space. Isn’t it time we righted these wrongs?
3. A Silent Killer: Environmental Racism’s Deadly Toll
Environmental racism isn’t just uncomfortable—it’s deadly. Air pollution and extreme heat are killing inner-city residents at higher rates than almost all other causes, and climate change is set to exacerbate this. Enough is enough. We must prioritize and address this grim reality in our fight for racial justice.
4. Corporations’ Cost-Cutting Strategy: Polluting Communities of Color
Unbelievably, it’s cheaper for corporations to pollute communities of color than white communities. Fines for environmental violations are lower, which incentivizes continued Pollution, devaluation of homes, and worsening living conditions for residents of color. It’s time to demand equal penalties for corporations violating environmental laws. A study by Dorceta Taylor, professor at the Yale School of the Environment, found that fines for environmental law violations are lower in communities of color, particularly Black communities and poor communities.
5. The Hidden Racism in Environmental Conservation
Shockingly, some of the best-known environmental Conservation groups have racist founders or namesakes. Their contributions to the Conservation movement can’t erase their discriminatory beliefs or actions. We need to acknowledge this legacy and work to ensure that it does not cloud the future of Conservation. John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club, and John James Audubon, namesake of a prominent bird Conservation group, have been criticized for racist beliefs and practices.
Source: TEDx Talks/YouTube
6. The Diversity Gap in Climate Conservation
Many environmental, non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) that receive substantial funding are predominantly white. This lack of diversity affects the prioritization of issues faced by communities of color. More diversity in leadership will improve decision-making and ensure that all communities are considered in the fight against climate change.
7. Environmental Racism: Not Just A Low-Income Issue
Even middle-class, educated Black communities are more likely to live near hazardous waste sites than their white, working-class counterparts with low educational attainment. The 1978 court case Bean v. Southwestern Waste Management Corp. attests to this. Class is no shield from environmental racism, and we must raise our voices against this injustice.
8. Toxic Arrivals in Established Communities
In areas already predominantly inhabited by people of color, hazardous facilities often spring up. There seems to be a deliberate attempt to target these communities. This unethical practice needs to stop. According to sociologist Robert Bullard, during the 1970s in Houston, all city-owned landfills and 75% of the city-owned incinerators were in Black neighborhoods, which constituted only 25% of the population.
9. The High Cost of Utilities
Communities of color face high energy and utility costs. Inefficient housing leads to higher bills, and areas with large Black populations often have higher water rates. Simple changes like weather stripping and double-glazed windows can make a significant difference. It’s time to invest in these solutions. Research from the University of California, Berkeley’s Energy Institute at Haas found that controlling for year, income, household size, and city of residence, Black renters paid $273 more per year for energy than white renters between 2010 and 2017.
10. Global Impacts of U.S. Environmental Policies
Discriminatory environmental policies in the U.S. affect marginalized communities worldwide. Waste from developed countries is often dumped in the Global South, furthering the cycle of environmental injustice. We need to stand against this not just for our communities, but for communities around the world. According to a report only half of the waste found at a dump site in Ipoh, a city in Western Malaysia, originated in the country. The other half came from a variety of other countries, including the U.S., indicating the global impact of U.S. environmental policies.
It’s time to address environmental racism head-on. The fight against it begins with awareness, understanding, and action. You can get involved by supporting activist groups, lobbying for policy changes, or simply raising awareness about the issue. Remember, every action counts in the battle against environmental racism. Let’s work together to create a world where every community can breathe easily, live comfortably, and prosper in a safe environment.
- Petition: Help Protect Black Ranchers from Racism in Colorado
- Petition: Tell Lawmakers to Address Water Crisis in Jackson and the Racism That Caused It
- Petition: Stand with Chicago’s Hunger Strikers Against Environmental Racism
- John Oliver Addresses Horrifying Environmental Racism in the United States
- New NYC Proposal Championed By Environmental Activists Would Make it Hard for Large E-Commerce Brands to Set Up Warehouses
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