Academic journal article Electronic Green Journal

Unheard Voices: Environmental Equity

Academic journal article Electronic Green Journal

Unheard Voices: Environmental Equity

Article excerpt

A fairly large and growing body of literature today presupposes that there are substantial public health costs borne primarily by minority, low-income, and other disadvantaged populations specifically because of their differential exposure to environmental hazards (Bowen, 2001). As a democratic society, we must strive to set an example and improve the conditions of those vulnerable to the forces of inequitable power relations and social systems. Environmental justice principles seek to: affirm the right to protection, prevent harm, shift the burden of proof, obviate the requirement to provide proof of intent to discriminate, and target resources to redress inequities (Bullard, 1993). Environmental equity is premised on the notion of fairness in the distribution of environmental risks, particularly those of a technological origin (Tarlock, 1994). Environmental equity is complex because it encompasses scientific studies, judicial decisions, social policy, international trade, ethics, and conflicting values. This article briefly describes environmental justice issues facing urban and rural communities in the United States and address one particular problem-lead poisoning-since it has become apparent that the incidence of subclinical lead poisoning is overwhelming high among minority populations in low-income urban areas (Giegengack, Cressler, & Bloch, 1999). It also looks at the connections between racism, sexism, cultural destruction, power relations, and environmental equity.

Historically, environmental justice was viewed as a movement to prevent people of color from becoming victims of industrial pollution. The principles of the environmental justice movement in the United States were articulated by the delegates to the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit (United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice, 1992). Simultaneously, community groups gathered strength across the nation, from the Mothers of East Los Angeles, formed by Juana Gutienez, who fought against a hazardous waste incinerator; to the Good Road coalition in Rosebud, South Dakota; all the way to the Evanston community in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Evanston community (population 8,300, with 95% people of color) formed a community center in response to three acts of environmental racism including the siting of a BASF storage and waste facility and the clean-up after an explosion at the facility which they contend occurred because of irresponsible management (Phillips, 1995). There is no buffer zone between the BASF facility and Evanston, while there is a buffer zone between the facility and the predominantly white communities of Norwood and Walnut Creek. Carol Browner, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), confirmed that some communities do bear a disproportionate share of contamination problems (Environmental Protection Agency, 1994). It has become apparent that the disenfranchisement of minorities is strengthening an alliance of civil right advocates and environmentalists. Women in ecodevelopment have added the issue of sexism into the environmental justice arena. Thus, environmental justice goes beyond our borders.

As Garret Hardin (1968) discussed in The Tragedy of the Commons, resource exploitation leads to ecological, social, and institutional crises, and now such exploitation is on global scale that encompasses urban relocation issues in areas such as Africville, Nova Scotia, to environmental sustainability needs of women in highly populated regions of the world such as Africa and India. Environmental justice encompasses culture, race, gender, age, class, and power relations in issues ranging from health-related agricultural issues to inner-city toxic contamination of children. On a global scale, the World Health Organization estimates that 40,000 people die each year of pesticide poisoning, mostly in developing nations. However, California agriculture uses 10% of all pesticides in the world, ranking only 49th in sustainable farming practices (Jenks-Jay, 1999). …

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