Environmental Justice Part 1

What is Environmental Justice? Resources for Beginners (Part I)

I think I speak for many of us when I say that being an environmentalist means thinking about the planet and the people who call it home. A common cry for activism typically includes considerations of Earth’s future generations. Plus, we all deserve a home that continues to remain habitable and supportive of what we need to stay alive, right?

So, it’s clear to see that sustainability and social justice are connected. But they’re actually even more connected than we think. The practices and policies that are degrading our lands, waterways, and ecosystems are also degrading human lives—especially the lives of those in marginalized communities.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Black Lives Matter—Especially in a Changing Climate

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has recently drawn global attention to the dangerous impacts of police brutality in the United States. And it has also reminded activists from around the world of another inequality facing the world’s BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) individuals—climate change.

Racial inequality is experienced in nearly every area of life: education, housing, the economy, and yes, even in the environment we all share. For decades, environmental activists have used their voices, votes, dollars, and platforms to advocate for endangered species and at-risk ecosystems. But what about the lives and well-being of fellow humans?

This is where environmental justice comes in. It brings together people and the planet to advocate for both. Our next blog post will highlight why this is so necessary and why there has never been a better time to stand up for what's right—from both a social and environmental standpoint. In the meantime, we’ll elaborate on some important terms and give you some resources to learn more. 

Important Terms to Know

    • Environmental Justice: Environmental justice involves all people (regardless of race, gender, income, or ethnicity) in environmental policies, regulations, and laws. It means meaningful and equal access to decision-making processes. It means that no one has to bear an unequal share of negative environmental consequences. It means that anyone and everyone has the capacity and ability to take positive action and make informed decisions. 
  • Environmental Racism: This concept came about with the environmental justice movement in the late 1970s and is used to describe the environmental injustice suffered by certain racial groups. 
      • Black Lives Matter: The BLM global organization was founded in 2013 after Trayvon Martin’s murderer was acquitted of charges. The inclusive movement strives to prevent violence (including climate violence) inflicted on Black communities. 
  • Climate Violence: Climate violence is where extreme climate conditions mix with social realities. This is the intensification of inequality, neglect, poverty, and improper planning—and where extreme climate events are associated with an increase in violence and conflicts.
      • Ethical Consumerism: With ethical consumerism, you can vote with your dollar. This is your power to align your personal values with those shared by a business. For many, these include racial, environmental, and gender considerations. (If you’re interested in the latter we sell shampoo and dental floss from women-owned businesses!)
  • Intersectionality: Intersectionality is a term used a lot in gender and sustainability studies. It’s the interconnected nature of race, class, and gender and it allows us to understand how a person’s political and social identities might all come together to create a unique experience of discrimination. 
  • Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

    Environmental Justice Organizations

    Similar to how they’re underrepresented in other sectors, BIPOC communities have also largely been left out of mainstream environmental groups. Most of the world’s famous environmentalists—John Muir, Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall, David Attenborough, Henry David Thoreau, and Paul Hawken—are caucasian.

    As we could probably imagine, this is problematic on so many levels. How do we address the climate change disparities if we don’t hear the stories of those experiencing them most acutely? 

    Fortunately, some organizations are doing just that. 

    • Green For All: Recognizing the intersection between economic, environmental, and racial justice movements, Green For All is fighting for a world that truly is green for all by finding solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems like pollution and poverty.
    • Got Green: With a goal to strengthen low-income communities of color, Got Green focuses on campaigns that highlight the intersection between gender, racial, economic, and climate justice.  
    • The Sunrise Movement: At the forefront of the environmental justice movement, this diverse group of young people is committed to build political power to ensure that this country starts fighting against climate change, white supremacy, and colonialism. 

    Where to Learn More


    • RISE: Standing Rock [Parts I & II]
      • Filmmakers follow the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline planned to run through Sioux ancestral lands 
    • Urban Roots
      • This documentary follows the story of a group of dedicated Detroiters who reclaimed their spirits by growing food and starting an environmental movement
    • Sisters on the Planet
      • Following four women and diving into their struggles, Sisters on the Planet shares how vulnerable communities are exposed to climate change in unique and alarming ways


    • Green Dreamer: This episode examines corporate denial from the slave trade to climate change (interview with environmental attorney and author Barbara Freese)
    • For The Movement: Environmental racism: It’s a thing. This episode features an interview with Mayor of Flint, Dr. Karen Weaver; and Senior Vice President of Climate, Environmental Justice, and Community Revitalization, Mustafa Santiago Ali
    • For the Wild: This interview with Bronte Velez explores “the pleasurable surrender of white supremacy


    Check back soon for our next article! Find out how the fossil fuel industry is using some of the same tactics as the slave industry to keep us in the dark, and see how recent regulatory rollbacks are an example of environmental racism happening in real time. 



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