The difference between environmental and social justice is that environmental justice, although part of social justice, deals exclusively with the environment. Environmental justice is primarily concerned with the positive as well as negative effects that different environmental factors can have on communities and individuals.
Social justice aims to ensure fair treatment of individuals and groups. The concept of social justice is that every group or individual receives a fair share of social and economic benefits, as well as environmental benefits. As such, environmental justice is an integral part of social justice. In social justice, advantages, as well as disadvantages, should be distributed evenly across all members of society, regardless of their race or background.
There can be environmental advantages as well as disadvantages. Advantages include access to green spaces, clean water and air, and others. Disadvantages can be hazards from waste or industrial facilities, air or noise pollution from traffic, as well as other detrimental environmental hazards.
In the U.S., an environmental justice movement inspired by the civil rights movement gained momentum in the 1980s, according to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The environmental justice movement is, in a way, a response to environmental racism.
A study commissioned by the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice during the 1980s focused on toxic waste distribution throughout the United States. This study found that more than 15 million African Americans, as well as millions of Hispanics and Native Americans, lived close to at least one toxic waste site.
Unfortunately, much work still needs to be done even today to try and achieve environmental justice for communities of color, minority communities, and those of low income.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines environmental justice as 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.” Any policy that fails to meet these standards is promoting environmental injustice.
Environmental injustice can have devastating effects on the health and morbidity of those living in underprivileged minority communities. These communities suffer from considerable exposure to environmental hazards such as toxic substances, polluted water or air, or dangerously high levels of air pollution from traffic sources.
Those suffering from the negative effects of environmental pollution, whether from toxic waste, industrial operations, or other sources, can develop many diseases, including but not limited to:
- Decreased lung function
- Immune deficiencies
- Nerve disorders
- Liver and kidney damage
- Skin diseases
Constant exposure to pollutants and toxic substances in water or air can also cause early deaths. According to Newsweek, 200,000 Americans die each year due to environmental pollution, with lower-income communities as well as Black communities disproportionately affected.
Environmental Racism: How it Fits into Environmental and Social Justice
An extreme form of environmental injustice is environmental racism. Environmental racism exists when corporate or government decisions deliberately disadvantage minority communities, for example, by exposing them to industrial facilities or toxic waste sites. Such decisions can affect communities of color or those with a lower socioeconomic status disproportionately when compared to affluent or white neighborhoods.
Environmental racism can have several causes, including:
- The availability of cheap land in Black or lower-income neighborhoods
- Intentional neglect
- Lack of enforcement of environmental protection laws
Environmental racism is just as wrong and egregious as any other form of racism and mistreatment. The deliberate pollution of Black or low-income neighborhoods causes people in those communities immeasurable suffering. Not only can pollution and living close to toxic waste have severe consequences on people’s life quality, but it can also destroy their health and potentially cause premature deaths.
If your community or you individually suffered from environmental injustice and racism, you can do something about it. Consulting with an environmental justice lawyer is a good first step that can help you get clear about any avenues for pursuing justice and compensation.
Examples of Environmental Injustice
To better understand what environmental injustice is and its real impact on communities, it is helpful to review past examples to illuminate how it happens and what can be done about it.
In one prominent case of environmental injustice, Marines stationed at one of Camp Lejeune’s military installations from 1953 to 1987 were exposed to water contaminated by various chemicals. These Marines and their families—including those who were in utero during this period—have suffered severe health consequences, including:
- Fertility issues
- Parkinson’s disease
- Heart defects
- Eye defects
These Marines and their families have sought healthcare benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to help them live with these health issues.
Another example of environmental injustice is the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) through the territory of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. According to the Smithsonian Institution, this project threatened the “water supply and cultural resources” of the Standing Rock Sioux and surrounding tribes. In fact, the environmental threat caused the government to move the DAPL from another white-majority area and onto Native land, making this a clear example of environmental racism.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and others staged high-profile protests against the building of the DAPL, bringing attention to their plight and garnering nationwide sympathy for their cause.
The Bottom Line about Environmental and Social Justice
While there are some differences between environmental and social justice, the fact remains that we are all supposed to enjoy the equal rights that come with both, whatever our racial or financial background.
If you, your family, or your entire community suffers from significant environmental injustice, you have a right to take action. Environmental injustice contributes to the inequality that Black and minority communities still have to face every day, and it is unacceptable.
Ben Crump Law, PLLC Can Fight for Your Community
We can speak out on your behalf and potentially hold those responsible to account whether they are local governments, businesses, or even global companies. We are not afraid to tackle tough cases and will not leave a stone unturned in our fight for equality.
Clean air and clean water are not luxuries but essential rights. In recent years, the United Nations passed a resolution stating that access to clean water is a basic human right. Hopefully, we will soon see similar resolutions regarding clean air and the right to live in a healthy environment.
Nobody has the right to deny you and your loved ones access to clean water, clean air, and a non-toxic environment based on your color or nationality. Ben Crump Law, PLLC is here for you. Call us today for a free case evaluation and to learn more about the differences between environmental and social justice.