Environmental equity is the goal of spreading environmental disadvantages equally among all people. Creating environmental equity is the objective of the environmental justice movement.
National nonprofit organization MobilizeGreen states, “Environmental equity describes a country, or world, in which no single group or community faces disadvantages in dealing with environmental hazards, disasters, or pollution. Ideally, no one should need extreme wealth or political connections to protect the well-being of their families and communities. Environmental equity is a basic human right.” The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adds that environmental equity is an important goal in a democratic society.
Components of Environmental Equity
One central component of environmental equity is fair treatment, meaning that no group should be disproportionately affected by an environmental hazard or crisis because of laws or governmental policies. The effects of an environmental hazard should be shared more or less equally across society.
A second component of environmental equity is meaningful involvement, which means that groups can offer their input on decisions that will affect their environment and their health. Input should be taken seriously, and lawmakers should seek feedback from communities that are affected by decisions that government officials have made.
Effects of Environmental Inequity
Environmental inequity means that some people experience the effects of pollution and environmental degradation more than others because of their race, ethnicity, gender, and/or socioeconomic status. Environmental degradation and climate change disproportionately affect low-income communities and people of color. The EPA notes that racial minority and low-income populations experience higher than average exposures to selected air pollutants, hazardous waste facilities, contaminated fish, and agricultural pesticides in the workplace.
People who live in communities that are impacted by pollution and environmental degradation can be stuck in those areas because of a cycle of poverty. Residents who are surrounded by unsafe air and water and other forms of pollution and contamination are often unable to move out of those neighborhoods because they cannot afford to live elsewhere. Families may be trapped in toxic environmental conditions for generations because of poverty.
Long-term exposure to environmental contamination can lead to a host of health concerns, including respiratory and neurological problems. Other factors, such as malnutrition, limited access to health care, smoking, and chronic stress, can increase individuals’ risk of experiencing negative health outcomes related to exposure to environmental pollution. Health issues stemming from environmental contamination can contribute to shortened life expectancies in low-income and minority communities.
Medical problems can also force people to miss time from work. For those workers whose employers do not provide paid sick days, taking time off can contribute to the cycle of poverty.
Climate change affects everyone, but communities of color are disproportionately impacted. Those disparities are often not adequately addressed, and many people in low-income and minority communities lack the resources and clout necessary to bring about changes in laws and government policies.
According to the Greenlining Institute, when policies to combat climate change are being debated and adopted, the ideas of people in communities that are most affected are often not carefully considered and implemented. Without the ability to influence decision-makers, people who are most heavily impacted can be left unable to control the conditions around them.
Importance of Systemic Change
Governments across the United States have repeatedly chosen minority and low-income communities to build toxic waste disposal facilities, landfills, and other sites that can negatively impact the surrounding environment and the people who live there. According to the EPA, data on environmental factors, health, and health risks posed by multiple industrial facilities are generally not collected and analyzed by income and race. However, risk assessment and risk management procedures can be improved to better take into account equity considerations.
The Fight for Environmental Equity
Governments have passed numerous laws and have made decisions on the use of land that has had negative environmental effects. Those policies disproportionately impact people who live in low-income and minority neighborhoods. These problems have existed for decades, and bringing about widespread change will take a concerted effort by people across the United States.
Ben Crump Law, PLLC advocates for people who have suffered because of the choices and actions of others. Many of the clients we represent have been harmed because they lack economic and political power. We are working to right the wrongs of the past and bring about environmental equity. Call our office at (800) 959-1444 to speak to a member of our staff about what you and other members of your community have experienced and how our team may be able to help you seek justice.