WHAT IS ENVIRONMENTAL RACISM?
A general definition of environmental racism is that it refers to the disproportionate effects of environmental degradation on BIPOC through hazardous waste, pollution, and climate change. The problem is further expressed in that “huge profits are being made, mostly by white men, through enterprises that are destroying the environment, while people of color pay a large percentage of the costs of these endeavors”.
It is important to remember that these are not just random occurrences or coincidence, but a component of systemic racism and the discriminatory practices that surround land use and resource distribution. Environmental racism is caused by a few different factors, some of which are intentional neglect of certain communities and the supposition that having a place for disposal of pollutants in urban areas is necessary. This combined with the “lack of institutional power and low land values of people of color” has led to the well-documented occurrence that “communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by polluting industries (and very specifically, hazardous waste facilities) and tax regulation of these industries”.
Some examples of the outcomes of different forms of environmental racism are:
1. “African Americans are 79 percent more likely than white people to live in neighborhoods where industrial pollution is suspected of causing significant harmful health effects.”
2. “Three out of every five African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans live near toxic waste sites.”
3. “Black people are exposed to 50% more air pollution than white people.”
4. “Communities with more people of color are 40% more likely to have unlawfully safe drinking water.”
5. Heat-related deaths among black people living in urban areas occur at a 150-200% higher rate than for white people, due to population density and the abundance of concrete.
6. Highlighted by Hurricane Katrina and Sandy, “people of color living in neighborhoods with the fewest resources have a harder time escaping, surviving, and recovering from climate change driven disasters.”
The answer to environmental racism is environmental justice. This is different from environmental equity or equality, which are the most commonly pushed ideas from governmental organizations. The main reason environmental justice is different is that it addresses the systemic barriers in place and works toward removing the causes of the inequity. “Environmental Justice is supported by decent paying and secure jobs; quality schools and recreation; decent housing and adequate health care; democratic decision-making; and finally, personal empowerment. A community of Environmental Justice is one in which both cultural and biological diversity are respected, and where there is equal access to institutions and ample resources
to grow and prosper.” This notion, if achieved, is the only long-term solution to environmental racism that truly addresses the root of the problem, instead of making small adjustments to momentarily appease those negatively impacted by the current system.
It is important to recognize the connection between racism and environmental degradation and address the disproportionate effects of the global climate crisis on BIPOC. Racism is deeply ingrained in the harmful environmental practices of profit-seeking enterprises, so it is vital to increase community resources and power, not only to work towards dismantling systemic racism, but also to ensure that all humans can live on earth sustainably.