Friday, November 9, 2012

Becoming Aware of Environmental Justice: Part 3

Dear friends,

We come to it at last, the final part of my Becoming Aware of Environmental Justice series. Today I will post the last part of my talk from the October 13 colleague consultation. It's only two paragraphs, but the information contained in them is vitally important. It gives a very brief overview of the current environmental justice situation in the United States. There's no way anyone could possibly cover that topic in detail in two paragraphs, but that was not my intention when I wrote this talk. What I hoped to do was give attendees of the Fall 2012 colleague consultation a sense of the direction our country is headed in regards to environmental justice. With that in mind, feel free to read the final excerpt from that presentation:
       Despite successes such as Executive Order 12898, our nation continues to be plagued by environmental injustices. In 2007 the UCC conducted a follow-up study to their groundbreaking Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States. They found that in 20 years the situation hadn’t improved. In fact, it may have gotten worse. A community’s racial demographic is still the single most important factor in determining whether or not it hosts a toxic waste site. On average, neighborhoods that host commercial waste sites are 56% people of color. Neighborhoods without toxic waste sites tend to be only 30% people of color. It’s important to note that the state of Washington is the 7th worst in this regard (Bullard, Mohai, Saha, and Wright, 2007). In addition, as recently as the year 2007 African Americans were three times as likely to die from asthma-related diseases as European Americans. This could be because 70% of African Americans live in counties in violation of federal air quality standards. Cosmetic products marketed towards communities of color are also full of harmful chemicals. For example, there’s mercury in skin lighteners, formaldehyde in hair relaxers, and coal tar in hair dyes ("Is There No Balm in Gilead").
       The Environmental Justice movement has had a large impact on the United States. It’s shown Americans that the health of the environment and the health of a society are inseparable. Cultural practices such as racism influence nearly every aspect of our lives, mostly in ways we aren’t aware. Therefore it’s not surprising that when we degrade the environment, people of color suffer the most. It’s imperative that we take this into account as we work to be better stewards of the earth. We must acknowledge that those with less political power are the most harmed by irresponsible environmental practices, and do all we can to ease their burden. If we do this, if we look for solutions that take all people’s needs into account, then we will establish a truly just and sustainable future.
As I said earlier, the above paragraphs don't even scratch the surface of the current state of the Environmental Justice movement in the US. Despite this, they illustrate an important and frightening fact: environmental racism and related injustices are just as common as they were in 1987. Depending on how the data is interpreted, one can confidently claim that in the past 20 years the United States has become even more environmentally unjust. There's no excuse for this.

The USA has undergone significant changes since 1987. There's been an unprecedented technological boom, Americans elected the first African-American president, and just a few days ago Washington voters approved same-sex marriage. And yet communities of color and those with lower socioeconomic status are still forced to suffer disproportionately due to unfair environmental practices. As people of faith, we cannot stand for this.

God gave this planet to all people, therefore we all share the responsibility to care for it. Treating the earth in whatever way is convenient for us while leaving others to deal with the aftermath is poor stewardship. Remember, whether we realize it or not we're all God's children. If you knew your sister was being forced to drink poisoned water, would you allow it? If your brother had no choice but to breathe toxic air, would you look the other way? As people of faith, we need to realize that it's our duty to care for our brothers and sisters. Therefore we must make sure no one is disproportionately harmed by environmental degradation.

I hope some aspect of this series on the Environmental Justice movement in the United States has been meaningful to you. Thank you for reading this post, and may God bless you.

Josh Gross        

No comments: