Environmental Justice: paying attention to people

Environmental Justice is a term used to indicate that certain sectors of the human population suffer from the worst affects of environmental disaster and are kept from the best of environmental benefits. Correlating with a lot of other structural issues of injustice, people of color and people in lower economic brackets are documented to be living closest to the most toxic sites and farthest from beneficial ones.


Think of the people who populate the major agricultural fields that get heavily sprayed with pesticides (primarily Latino or Hispanic), or historical populations that have been removed from their land (various Native American nations). Think also of the people who suffer the ill health effects of mountain-top removal coal mining (Appalachian communities) and those who find highway traffic and disposal sites disproportionately located in their neighborhoods (African American communities). 


At the recent PCUSA Big Tent conference, there was an opportunity for Presbyterians to take an “Environmental Justice Tour” around Louisville, to learn about environmental impacts in the city particularly related to neighborhoods that are primarily African-American and others that are economically disadvantaged.


Here is a reflection from Brian Symonds, one of the young adult planning team members of the CPJ “Turning the Tables” conference at Big Tent, and participant on this Tour:


“Blatant racism is thought to have been resolved with the civil rights movement these past several decades. In fact, it is not gone so much as taken on a different more deceptive form. This tour taught me that all I need to do is open my eyes a little wider and look just a little closer at my community to see where the racism lies. I am now encouraged to ask questions like, “Who makes up this community?” “In what neighborhoods are those different groups of people located?” and “What kind of industry surrounds these neighborhoods, or is there any?” Asking these questions will help me realize that those in control of big corporation, big industry, or government agencies may be allowing or permitting dangerous processes and plants to be in production right next to our neighbors who some might deem less valuable and possibly expendable. The examples could be as complex as building coal burning plants right next to low income housing producing coal ash that can develop into cancer when inhaled, and then to building a freeway in those same neighborhoods which have proven to lessen lifespan in most people due to the pollution and dust from that expressway. Just take a look around and you might be able to see the racism in your neighborhood. Are you near a freeway, or a plant, or a dump site? Are you affluent, have political influence, or have immediate access to public safety such as the police and fire departments? Open your eyes, and ask the questions that just might help make a difference.”

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