Racial Justice Toolkit

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Environmental Racism

Environmental Racism is an aspect of systemic racism in which marginalised and impoverished populations are consistently exposed to less hospitable environmental conditions than the populations in power, or with more wealth.
“Though wealthy, developed nations like the U.S. emit larger amounts of GHG per capita, developing nations experience the worst effects of climate change relative to wealthier countries due to their limited resources and ability to adapt”
U Michigan
Aspects of Environmental Racism
A major topic of environmental racism is the act of placing hazardous waste or environmentally damaging industrial facilities in low-income or marginalized regions. This is done both out of malice and economic fault. Concerning economics, hazardous facilities will be placed in low-income, often marginalized areas because the land is cheap. These facilities also lower surrounding property costs, trapping nearby residents in houses that they can’t sell, in neighborhoods that are dangerous to their health. Furthermore, waste may be discarded in such low income areas either in trash incineration or burial sites, or into waterways to a similar effect.
Minority communities often lack the political or economic power to combat local subtractors to their health, leading to more hazards being placed near them because there is less opposition than with more powerful residence areas.
Gentrification forces low-income populations to relocate to areas in which land is extremely cheap, likely near hazards that lower property values. Suburbanization, decentralization of cities, and phenomena similar to “white flight” also leaves inner cities very poor and vulnerable to disrespect.
Cities may install widespread highway and large road systems to accommodate the travel of suburban residents to their urban jobs. However, city residents who do not need cars or who cannot afford cars are cut off from anywhere but short-distance commuting, and are limited to their communities where jobs are fewer and lower paying.
International environmental racism heavily involves global north countries exporting toxic facilities and waste to global south countries, contributing to environmental degradation in countries at the losing end of that transaction. Furthermore, some large corporations in global north countries will often outsource jobs to countries where labor is cheap and regulations are few. Among other negative effects, a lack of regulated industry leads to higher emissions and poorer environmental protections in poor labor communities.
Poor or marginalized communities and countries are more at risk from adverse effects of climate change than rich and powerful ones are, even though wealthy regions contribute more to the climate crisis. These communities and/or countries are much less likely to be able to afford expensive climate adaptation measures, and have a much lower chance at a quick recovery from natural disaster as a result of a lack of funding to do it with.
Basically, Environmental Racism concerns any environmental threat that disproportionately affects poor or marginalized communities.
Affect on Health of Marginalized Communities
Poor or marginalized communities on average are exposed to less hospitable environmental conditions, such as toxic fumes or particulate matter in air, polluted liquid runoff and water sources, acid rain and smog, and toxic dusts and heavy metals being tracked out of industrial facilities. This leads to average lower lifespans in poor or marginalized communities than rich ones, as well as higher rates of cancer, asthma, weakened immune systems, and long term illness.
Affect on Climate Crisis and Pollution
When decisions are made to put environmentally harmful things into poor or marginalized areas, alternatives to mitigate environmental harm are often overlooked because environmental racism would be easier. Thus, if environmental racism were to cease, the overall world climate would benefit immensely as well. Things involved in environmental racism are often large emitters of greenhouse gasses, water pollutants, and require large amounts of natural resources, that the world could do without.
Combating Environmental Racism
Here are some possible solutions to environmental racism: Urban planning must be made transparent and accessible to all residents of said area, any government decisions that could harm the environment must be regulated against. Pricing for houses should be at least partially regulated by local governments to prevent devaluation cycles in certain urban areas. Creation of suburbs should be very well-planned and de-commercialized, if not halted entirely to prevent the fleeing of wealthy populations to suburbs. Cities should not be automobile-focused, and should have clean and cheap public, personal, and pedestrian transportation options. International corporations should be motivated by legal action to dramatically lower job outsourcing, and should be held financially responsible for all damages to the environment that they cause. Least easily done, systematic racism must end.
Cancer Valley: Cancer Valley is a region in the U.S. south. It is inhabited by mostly low-income black and brown communities, and is well known for having very little restrictions on air, water, and sediment pollution, as well as a multitude of harmful industrial facilities and factories. Its namesake is a result of unnaturally high cancer rates in the area.
Niger River Delta: Many oil companies, such as french company TOTAL or Royal Dutch Shell have drilling and oil refinement operations in the Niger river delta. Local populations see drastic degrading in the environment as a result of crude oil leakage, geographic disruption, and chemicals and fumes used in drilling, but no economic benefits as only the nigerian government receives meager payment for the occupation, which the people never see.

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