Millennials, our grade school Earth Day memories are probably very similar: images of “Save The Earth!” posters & discussions centered around the the “3R’s” – reduce, reuse, recycle. Protecting the earth responsibilities meant that we were encouraged to simply take shorter showers, turn the lights off in every room, & snip plastic rings on packs of soda cans to save sea turtles. While taking actions of sustainable living to protect our environment is very important, here is the uncomfortable truth: most of what we learned about environmental justice growing up was flat-out greenwashing to shield government & major corporations from accountability.
Unpacking Earth Day and Environmental Justice – by Naomi Harris, Contributing Editor, Hudson Valley Style Magazine, Kingston, NY
Many of us received this one-sided view of environmental justice, and now into my adulthood as I reflect on what I was taught every April 22nd, I clearly recognize that environmental justice runs so much deeper than being an issue that is purely physical in nature.
This is a human issue; we’re fighting for human life.
For example, climate crisis is happening right now – global warming and other extreme weather events are becoming more & more frequent (recall February’s deep freeze in Texas and neighboring states!), and they expose the vulnerabilities of those not able to adequately prepare for such emergencies. Black & Indigenous communities bear the brunt of these events that are exacerbated by other socio-economic factors like poverty and systemic racism. Hundreds of millions of people are going to become climate refugees. And the most affected areas – the islands, developing countries, low-income communities – are going to be impacted the hardest. This is a fight for them.
Of course, the impact of climate is very multi-faceted and impacts other critical environmental issues such as:
Water – the baseline for all living things. We all have a human right to safe water & an equal right to its access. Fundamental to a thriving community, we need to ensure low-income areas are protected from the harms of contaminated water dictated by climate change.
Energy – we aren’t able sustain fossil fuels, so we need clean, reliable, & affordable energy that does not damage the environment or produce harmful impacts on marginalized communities (and to ensure our earth stays healthy for generations!)
Land – minorities deserve equal & fair access to safe, clean communities with access to affordable and reliable resources. The BIPOC population needs to be able to fairly purchase land and buy a house to pass down to their children, one of the hallmarks of living in America.
The intersection of Environmentalism and Environmental Justice is very clear. Our collective voice is needed to bring attention to and center that BIPOC people have the right to determine our own futures, to earn a decent living, purchase a home, raise a family and live in a safe community with access to reliable, clean and affordable services. We should all be able to build a future around the things that are important to us.
If you’d like to support organizations dedicated to climate solutions, please consider:
350.org / crpe-ej.org / weact.org / sunrisemovement.org / ucsusa.org / Labor4sustainability.org