Environmental justice protects the health of all communities, but it is hampered by an environmental racism legacy that continues to endanger health and well-being. Climate change increases the danger for vulnerable people, who tend to be low-income and minority communities. Environmental injustice comes in many forms, including air pollution, hazardous waste sites, water contamination, and lack of access to green space.
Air pollution is a major health concern for everyone, but it has a particularly negative effect on children's health. Outdoor air pollution is linked to asthma attacks, heart disease, and premature death. Indoor air pollution results from household activities such as burning coal or wood for heat, cooking with unvented fuels, and using incense and candles without the proper ventilation. This pollution can contain toxic substances such as carbon monoxide, lead, and mercury. Air quality tests have shown that many poor neighborhoods are exposed to levels of air pollution above what federal regulations allow.
Hazardous waste sites threaten public health by contaminating soil, water, and air. The disposal of old appliances, abandoned vehicles, and industrial waste can lead to deadly chemicals being released into the environment. There are several hundred active hazardous waste sites in urban areas alone. The majority of these sites were used during the era when industrialization caused widespread contamination; however, some sites date back hundreds of years.
The disproportionate impact of environmental dangers on persons of race is referred to as "environmental racism." Environmental justice is the environmental justice movement's response to environmental racism. The environmental justice movement aims to address environmental injustices caused by racial discrimination. These include denying access to affordable housing near toxic facilities, permitting practices that allow white neighborhoods to avoid pollution from industrial sites, and police harassment of people who are trying to protect their health.
There are two main forms of environmental injustice: disparate exposure to environmental hazards and discriminatory treatment in environmental regulation and enforcement. Disparate exposure occurs when one population is exposed to a hazard that another population is not. For example, many African-Americans live within close proximity to hazardous waste sites yet receive little or no assistance from government agencies in dealing with these problems. This is called "internal" environmental racism because it targets populations that live within the same country. Discriminatory treatment occurs when individuals are denied access to beneficial resources like jobs, education, or information about lawbreaking conduct by companies or governments. For example, many African-Americans do not work for environmental protection agencies because they don't know about the opportunities available at these organizations. This is called "external" environmental racism because it targets populations that live in different countries.
Environmental justice concerns overlap with but are not the same as sustainable development.
The underlying idea of environmental justice is that everyone is entitled to equal protection from environmental harm and dangers, regardless of race, color, country origin, or income. Improving community knowledge of environmental and health-related concerns will help ensure that all people are given this protection.
Environmental justice activists work to increase awareness of environmental issues among disadvantaged groups, particularly communities of color, who may be more likely to live near toxic facilities or polluting industries. They also work to improve the quality of life in these communities by seeking alternatives to harmful practices such as landfills, sewage treatment plants, and industrial parks. Environmental justice movements have emerged across the United States over the past few decades to address the disparate impacts of environmental hazards on racial and ethnic minorities and low-income populations.
In addition to racial discrimination, environmental injustices can occur due to gender or economic disparities as well. For example, women are often excluded from decision-making positions within community organizations fighting for environmental justice, which limits their ability to influence public policy. The poor also tend to be disproportionately affected by environmental hazards because they are usually unable to avoid living in dangerous areas or cannot afford remediation if a hazard is identified in their neighborhood.
The health of communities afflicted by poor environmental conditions is impacted by environmental racism. Exposure to dangerous chemical poisons in landfills and waterways is one of the many variables that might cause health concerns. The types of illnesses that are associated with environmental racism include cancer, respiratory problems, neurological disorders, and reproductive issues.
People of color are more likely than white people to live in environments that pose a risk to their health. This is true for areas near oil refineries, dump sites, or other industrial facilities where there are often few if any protections in place to prevent exposure to toxic chemicals. They are also at greater risk than white people of developing cancers due to airborne pollutants, contaminated water, and other hazards present in neighborhoods near polluting industries.
Individuals who are not physically able to move away from toxic environments may suffer severe health consequences as a result of living in polluted areas. Children in particular have been shown to be affected by environmental toxins at lower levels than adults. The developing immune system is less able to deal with harmful substances than an adult's, so even low-level exposures can cause serious health problems later in life.
There are several factors that may lead individuals of color to live in environments that are detrimental to their health.
The social justice manifestation of environmental ethics is environmental justice. As a result, this movement focuses on the unequal distribution of environmental risks and resources, as well as measures to prevent pollution from negatively hurting low-income areas. Environmentalists working on environmental justice issues seek to protect communities of color from toxic contamination by industry practices. In addition, they work to ensure that government agencies have the funding and authority necessary to address environmental hazards in these communities.
Environmental ethics, then, is about how our actions affect other people and what should be done about it. Social justice is an important part of this discussion because poor communities are often the first to suffer the effects of industrial pollution or the abandonment of waste sites. They also tend to receive less governmental attention when decisions need to be made about regulating chemicals in the environment or cleaning up contaminated sites.
As we discuss more serious cases of environmental injustice it becomes clear that social justice and environmental ethics are not separate movements but rather two sides of the same coin. Wealthy countries can afford to devote significant resources to protecting the environments of poorer nations, for example, while others use their economic power to secure advantages in negotiations over international trade agreements. Both approaches are essential if we are to make real progress in addressing environmental problems.