Eco Echoes: Environmental Justice

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I am tired of people shaking their head and brushing off environmentalism as some cause only for lazy, self-absorbed, rich, white kids who do not work and live off of their parents’ money. Environmentalism is not a cause fighting for upper-middle class white kids’ ability to go hiking and sailing. It is not just about saving the bugs that people don’t notice or animals people only see in zoos. It is so much more than that. Yes, the polar bears and the rare species of beetles matter, but environmentalists are not putting these animals over humans. Those “lazy, self-absorbed, rich, white kids” are actively fighting for other people’s rights and justice because environmentalism is a social and economic justice cause.

It cannot be ignored that coal-fired power plants and incinerators are purposefully placed in low-income, minority neighborhoods. A report on racial inequality in the distribution of hazardous waste from 2007 found that nearly half of people within one kilometer of a toxic waste facility are people of color and a fifth living within the area are below the poverty line. A 2002 report focusing on air quality and African-Americans found about two-thirds of African-Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, which is the area smokestacks take the most toll, while just about half of white Americans live within that area. It also found nearly three-quarters of African-Americans live in counties which violate federal air population, compared to about half of white Americans. These areas increase asthma in children meaning a larger population that cannot go outside to run and play. Infant mortality rates and emergency room visits due to exposure of pollutants increase.

In Appalachia, mountain top removal for coal is causing devastating effects as well: polluting the local people’s water with poisons like mercury and lead. There, children get huge welts just from bathing and even though they live in the 21st century United States, where everyone has running water, they can’t drink the water. And the coal from this production goes to the coal-fired power plants, leaving more children with asthma and respiratory illness.

It cannot be a place of equality, a land of the free and home of the brave where cowardly corporations will not pay for their actions and injustices and in return pay no taxes. This is not equality. The children are not free to breathe clean air or drink clean water. I do not think anyone would disagree that we cannot stand by while children get asthma and populations are victim to cancer while a corporation gets million dollar tax breaks.

Nor can we ignore that the countries that will face the most hardships from climate change are also the ones that are least developed and have contributed the least to climate change. In 2005, the nations with the highest emissions per capita also were some of the wealthiest. It is wrong that developed nations continue to exploit the smaller, less developed nations’ people and resources and burden them with climate disasters.

Environmental injustice and climate change cannot be fought successfully separately. Communities must come together. The middle class must join with the lower class because there shouldn’t be a separation to begin with. This movement can bring true equality to the world because there are not differences to set aside. We all are affected in some way. The corporations may have money and politicians in their bulging pockets, but we have growing numbers. We have to take back the power from the corporations and remind politicians that they represent the people. We cannot stand to let them control a political system by the people and for the people any more. It is by the people and for the people, and despite Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, corporations are not people. And so we must fight for justice, equality and people.


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