What is Environmental Justice?

Written by Franchesca Araujo

Do you know where the waste collection and disposal site in the city of Boston is located? Here’s a hint: more than 83% of the residents in this neighborhood are people of color. Well, if you guessed Roxbury, you're correct.

Roxbury is not very different from many other neighborhoods in cities around the country. Landfills and incinerators are often placed in black and brown, and low income, neighborhoods. Black and brown communities are more than 20 times likely than white communities to be exposed to environmentally hazardous sites that harm their air, their water, and their quality of life. These kinds of inequalities are what the Environmental Justice (EJ) movement has formed around. The movement works to reduce the burden that pollution and climate change have on certain groups of people, a concept we call environmental racism. 

The harm that comes with rising seas and contaminated water systems isn’t evenly distributed. People who are already disadvantaged by race, wealth, and income are usually the most affected by environmental disasters. Environmental Justice reminds us to tie our efforts to movements that address racism and classism, as they work hand in hand with environmental issues. If you’ve never heard the term “Environmental Justice” before, or if you want to know more about it, watch this short, 3-minute Grist video linked here.



To learn more, watch this video of Peggy Shepard, a long time Environmental Justice activist, talking about environmental racism in the New York City neighborhood of Harlem. "Some communities don't have the wealth or the complexion for protection, [and] those communities are called sacrifice zones,” she says, “which can be found both locally and globally. Harlem is a sacrifice zone...it is the dumping ground for a richer and whiter Manhattan.”



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