Davi Kopenawa Yanomami

Environmental and social justice have a shared goal of promoting fairness and equality, but differ in their focus and implications. Environmental justice involves fair treatment and participation in environmental decision-making, while social justice seeks equity and fairness across society. This article explores environmental justice definitions, historical context, consequences of injustice, and examples of its impact on communities.

The Meaning and Origins of Environmental Justice

Environmental justice aims for fair treatment in environmental policies and laws, regardless of race, income, or nationality, as a response to environmental racism.

In the 1980s, a study showed millions of minorities living near toxic waste sites. Environmental justice is now a global movement advocating for communities impacted by environmental hazards.

The Impact of Environmental Injustice

Environmental injustice refers to the disproportionate harm certain communities face due to policies, decisions, or practices based on factors such as race, income, or location. This can result in serious health issues like decreased lung function, asthma, cancers, immune deficiencies, and premature death due to exposure to toxic substances, polluted air or water, or high levels of traffic-related pollution. 

Environmental pollution causes about 200,000 deaths in the US annually, with lower-income and minority communities disproportionately affected, according to sources. Environmental racism involves exposing minority communities intentionally to toxic waste sites or industrial facilities, and it may occur due to cheap land availability in low-income or Black neighborhoods, intentional neglect, or lack of enforcement of environmental protection laws.

Examples of Environmental Injustice

Studying prior environmental injustice cases sheds light on its effects on communities. At Camp Lejeune, contaminated water caused health issues for Marines, families, and fetuses, including cancer, Parkinson’s, fertility problems, and birth defects. Similarly, constructing the Dakota Access Pipeline on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s land endangered their cultural heritage and water.

The issue of environmental injustice is complex and multifaceted, and it requires collaboration and cooperation among different stakeholders to address. While progress has been made in recognizing the importance of environmental justice, there is still much work to be done. It is essential to continue to raise awareness and promote action to address environmental injustices and ensure that all individuals and communities have the right to a healthy and sustainable environment.