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The environmental crisis, such as global warming, climate change, etc., has pushed several people to reconsider the areas they live in. Places around the world are becoming difficult to live in due to human activities that heat up the planet. It comes to a point where people wonder what they would do if the areas around their homes become uninhabitable. These situations can be seen in numerous cases in the United States. Minority and vulnerable communities in the United States are victims of what is known as ‘Environmental Racism’. The Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous communities have been fighting for decades for their right to a clean, healthy, and safe environment.
Racism is the discrimination of an individual person belonging to a particular ethnic or racial group. Environmental racism in America is a term that was developed during the environmental justice movement of the 1970s and 1980s. Environmental Racism is a term used to describe the environmental injustice that takes place against a particular ethnic or racial group.
No particular community in the United States should have complete ownership over a clean environment. However, in the United States, certain communities are forced to withstand the country’s environmental issues. Several environmental hazards, such as polluted air, Industrial toxins, polluted drinking water, municipal landfill incinerators, lead smelters, waste facilities, etc., have an impact on the working class and poor communities.
Environmental racism and ecological inequalities are an outcome of numerous factors such as housing and real estate practices, distribution of wealth and power, and land use planning. These factors and practices place the Latinos, Native American, and African American populations at a higher environmental and health risk than the rest of the American society.
Many surveys and studies have revealed that the Hispanic and Black populations are exposed to greater quantities of toxic waste and landfill sites, air and water pollution, impacts of industrial complexes, etc. Whereas the white population has a monopoly over clean and healthy environments. Approximately 70 per cent of toxic and polluted waste sites are located within poor and low-income localities. Around 2 million people in the United States live within a short distance of areas that are prone to flooding, the majority population of which are brown and black communities.
The United States, the richest nation in the world, has seen generations of environmental racism. People of colour have no proper access to sanitation, water, or clean air. African Americans are 75 per cent more likely to stay within a locality with gas and oil facilities and industrial complexes. These complexes and facilities emit huge quantities of air pollutants affecting the communities that live near them. As a result, African Americans often suffer from high rates of asthma and cancer.
According to various researches, African American children are twice as likely to suffer from asthma as compared to white children. For decades, there has been an absence of political will to protect these populations from environmental racism in America. Global warming and climate change could increase the instances of environmental racism in America and other nations as well.
The attempts made by the United States government to stop environmental racism in America were of no success. Environmental discrimination still continues. A study was conducted by the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice; in its report, the race was identified as a factor that determined the location of polluted and toxic waste sites. Race and not income, property values, or home ownership rates was a predictor. According to the same study, almost 60 per cent of African Americans live in neighbourhoods with a minimum of one hazardous landfill site. Besides landfills, dangerous waste incinerators are also prone to be located within minority and vulnerable communities and low-income groups. According to a 1990 Greenpeace report, the standard income in the communities located near incinerators is 15 per cent below the national average.
Environmental racism in America seems to be prominent in regions that have strained race relations. Besides African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans are also affected by environmental racism and inequalities. One such example of the Latino community being affected by environmental racism in America is the Chemical Waste Management case in Kettleman City, California. Of the total residents in Kettleman City, 40 per cent speak Spanish. Yet, the environmental impact records and public hearings were all conducted in English. Later, in the case, the judge overturned the County Board of Supervisors’ approval of the incinerator. Native Americans have also been targets of environmental racism in America. Due to the strict rules and regulations among other land reservations, the Native American land reservations are being targeted mainly for the purpose of waste disposal. Up till now, only Native Americans have been successful in preventing the destruction of their environment. However, their lands continue to be targeted.
Minority and vulnerable communities have been fighting against environmental racism in America for decades. They have been trying to resist the ecological damages and inequalities that are being done to them and their environment. Initial protests were always ignored and disregarded by people in power, environmentalist, policymakers, journalists, etc. However, today, numerous environmental and civil rights movements have validated the protests.
In the movement’s early days, the protests started off violently due to generations of discrimination and environmental racism. The protests led to the arrest of numerous activists and leaders. As the years passed by, the protests became even stronger and more organised, with numerous communities joining hands together to fight for their right to a clean and healthy environment. Pressure from grassroot levels, activists, leaders, academicians and more pushed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take measures to address this serious issue. However, as seen today, the issue still persists. Several grassroot groups and organisations have not waited for national or local governments and the EPA to take steps to prevent environmental racism. Numerous groups have taken it upon themselves to solve these problems, and many have succeeded in it. They have also been able to force change in various government policies and legislation by fighting and protesting.
Today, the fight still continues. It is unacceptable to determine the location of a dumping ground or a toxic industrial complex merely on the bases of the race in that particular neighbourhood. Neither race nor the income group of the community should be a factor. The EPA must protect all Americans’ right to a clean, safe and healthy neighbourhood, whatever the race or ethnic group. As the earth’s temperature increases and regions become uninhabitable, all communities deserve the right to be protected from environmental degradation.