What is environmental justice?

America has a long history of government and industry placing environmental hazards, such as landfills, refineries and incinerators, in minority and low-income communities. Even to this day, the people who live in such places are often given no say in what types of facilities are placed in their neighborhoods. Environmental justice is the response to such conditions—it is the communal pursuit of environmental self-determination.

Since the 1980s, numerous studies have shown that the variable most predictive of who lives near environmental hazards is race, even when accounting for other factors like geography and socioeconomic status. Activists define the actions that create such conditions, whether they are intentional or not, as environmental racism.

The movement’s basic demands are that minority communities should not have to disproportionately shoulder the burdens of environmental hazards and should be able to enjoy the same benefits of environmental law enforcement, clean energy and the mitigation of climate disasters, like floods, droughts and fires.

To achieve their goals, activists seek involvement in the permitting and siting of facilities, and redress whenever harm befalls a community. In taking these actions, they have expanded the definition of the environment. Whereas it was previously associated with conservation and preservation, the environment now relates to all places that humans inhabit, like workplaces, schools and homes. 

— Agya Aning

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