Thursday, October 25, 2012

Becoming Aware of Environmental Justice: Introduction

By Josh Gross, Outreach Coordinator

In late August, less than one week after I started working at Earth Ministry, I accompanied Jessie Dye to an adult education class with a group of Episcopalian youth. This group consisted of about 25 young adults from across the United States, including two from my hometown of Cleveland. At the beginning of the discussion Jessie asked all the attendees to go around the room and say why environmental stewardship is important to them. Almost every single one of the Episcopalian young adults mentioned environmental justice. That was the first time I was consciously aware that how we treat the environment can have serious social justice implications.

I became so curious about environmental justice that I decided to make it the theme of the fall colleague consultation that took place on October 13th. By doing so, I forced myself to learn more about the Environmental Justice movement in the United States. What I uncovered during my research shocked me. As it turns out, racism and other prejudices influence our nation's environmental practices more than I ever imagined.

I believe all Americans should have a basic knowledge of the Environmental Justice movement. We need to be aware of the human impact of poor stewardship, especially when it's mixed with social injustices like racism. This is especially true for privileged Americans such as myself who don't have to live next to toxic waste dumps or coal mines. Therefore I'll be sharing the talk I gave about the Environmental Justice movement at the colleague consultation in Earth Ministry's blog.

The talk gives a very brief overview of the history of the Environmental Justice movement in the US. It doesn't go into much detail (I had to keep it between 10-15 minutes), but even so it's far too long for one blog post. Therefore I'll be breaking it up into several segments, posting one each week. Since I've already written quite a bit, this first segment will only contain the opening paragraph of my talk. It's short, but it provides a workable definition of environmental justice. So without further ado, here it is: 
       First of all what is Environmental Justice? According to the EPA, Environmental Justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, educational level, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws. But in reality it’s much more than that. Environmental Justice redefines the concept of the environment. According to Dr. Robert Bullard, “It basically says that the environment is everything: where we live, work, play, go to school, as well as the physical and natural world.” Under this definition, the physical and cultural environments are inseparable. And so, as Dr. Bullard tells us, “What the environmental justice movement is about is trying to address all of the inequalities that result from human settlement, industrial facility siting, and industrial development. (Schweizer, 1999)”
For those of you who don't know, Dr. Robert Bullard is one of the founders of the Environmental Justice movement. He was there at the very beginning, back when residents of Afton, North Carolina learned that their town was about to become the home of a toxic waste dump. My next post will contain more information about that event, as well as some of the other historical roots of the Environmental Justice movement. There's more to come next week! 

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