The environmental justice movement is concerned with the ways that racism and socioeconomic inequality have disproportionately affected the environmental conditions in which low-income people and communities of color live and work. Proponents of environmental justice believe that all people have the right to equal environmental protection and the right to live, work, and learn in safe and healthy communities.
According to Lumen Learning, environmental racism refers to the ways in which people of color and people of low socioeconomic status disproportionately suffer the impacts of environmental hazards. This occurs because people with money, power, and influence can fight to keep environmental hazards out of their communities, but people with fewer resources are often unable to fight successfully to shield their communities from those dangers.
In many cases, governmental bodies have chosen to locate landfills, toxic waste storage facilities, and other sources of dangerous pollution in communities that are mostly inhabited by low-income people and ethnic minorities, rather than in middle- or upper-class white communities. Supporters of environmental justice believe that is evidence of environmental racism.
Long-Term Effects of Environmental Injustice
Exposure to polluted air, water, and soil can have wide-ranging consequences. People who live in communities that have suffered from environmental degradation may experience a variety of health problems, including asthma, neurological problems associated with lead paint, and other serious medical issues associated with chronic stress. In addition, they may not have access to health care and nutritious food because of poverty. The combination of environmental contamination and poverty can shorten the life spans of people who live in minority and low-income communities.
The effects of pollution can last for generations. Mothers who live in environmentally contaminated communities while they are pregnant may deliver premature or underweight babies. Children who are exposed to environmental toxins on a regular basis may have difficulties in school. That can make it difficult for them to find jobs later and can keep them trapped in a cycle of poverty.
Goals of the Environmental Justice Movement
At the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991, participants adopted a list of Principles of Environmental Justice. The 17 principles include public policy “based on mutual respect and justice for all peoples, free from any form of discrimination or bias”; respect for “the fundamental right to political, economic, cultural and environmental self-determination of all peoples”; and “the right to participate as equal partners at every level of decision-making, including needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement, and evaluation.” Participants also called for compensation and reparations for damages that victims of environmental injustice have suffered, in addition to access to quality health care.
Supporters of the environmental justice movement focus on the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all parties who may be impacted by laws and government policies, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. Fair treatment means that no group should be disproportionately affected by negative environmental effects, such as pollution. Instead, policies should be created so that all members of society share those impacts as equitably as possible.
Meaningful involvement means that all people who may be impacted by policy decisions should be given opportunities to voice their opinions and concerns and that leaders should take their input seriously when making decisions. Residents should be able to express their views at government meetings and hearings and should be able to vote for officials who share their views. Lawmakers should also consider feedback from people who live in communities that are impacted by their decisions.
How Supporters of Environmental Justice Work to Achieve These Goals
According to the Sierra Club, the environmental justice movement includes local, national, and international organizations that work together to achieve common goals. Those groups may band together formally or may collaborate informally. Environmental justice groups sometimes work with government agencies to influence policies to protect vulnerable groups from negative environmental impacts.
Explore Your Legal Rights
Environmental injustice is a widespread problem that has affected low-income people and communities of color across the United States. Although environmental justice groups have been fighting for decades to right the wrongs of the past, much work remains to be done. Minority communities still suffer the effects of environmental degradation at disproportionate rates. Exposure to unsafe living conditions can affect people’s health and economic prospects and can impact families for generations.
At Ben Crump Law, PLLC, we understand the roots of environmental injustice and the many ways it can affect low-income families and communities of color. We have represented people across the United States who have suffered because of environmental racism and worked to improve conditions and seek financial compensation to cover their medical bills and other losses.
We may be able to take legal action against those responsible for creating dangerous environmental conditions on behalf of you and others in your community who have suffered. Call the office of Ben Crump Law, PLLC today at (800) 959-1444 to discuss your circumstances with a member of our team and to learn how we may be able to help you seek justice.