While the environment might not discriminate (the way humans seem wired to, at least), there are man-made infrastructures and entities that do.
Here are three snapshots of communities struggling to get environmental justice today. Each struggle has its unique set of challenges. The players are different; the stakes and scales are different, too. Yet you don’t have to travel to distant places to find them. I bet you could find a similar struggle in your own community if you really looked.
Ingrid Waldron, a Dalhousie University researcher, found in her early advocacy research that health concerns are high priorities for the traditionally underserved communities in the Canadian Nova Scotia region. According to The Chronicle Herald, Waldron’s research explains how the black and aboriginal communities that she surveyed were worried about the link between their health issues, like cancer, and the widespread garbage dumpster and junkyard sites that were intentionally placed in their communities.
This “dumping” theme continues as Waldron’s advocacy research also highlights the socio-economic concerns that these underserved communities face. Many of the youth are deserting the communities, and they are not returning. Businesses are also choosing not to invest in these communities.
On the eastern Navajo reservation, water is a precious resource. In 2013, the nonprofit organization DIGDEEP brought water to 250 homes on the Navajo reservation. Water scarcity is a real and everyday challenge on the reservation. It’s not uncommon for families to go to extremes, like collecting water from livestock waterers, to barely get by. The water that is managed to be collected is stored outside in plastic buckets and barrels — the perfect playground for bacteria.
As reported in The Navajo-Hopi Observer, George McGraw, DIGDEEP’s founder and executive director, explains how the need for water access can be everywhere — even in your own backyard. McGraw highlights how the Navajos’ water access rate of 10 gallons per day (compared to the average U.S. user’s “110 gallons of water per-person-per-day” consumption) is worse than “‘a lot of sub-Saharan African countries.’” The truth is that toilets and running water shouldn’t be novelties in the 21st century.
Barbara Filet, a Santa Monica bike advocate, wants to use her Sustainability Bill of Rights to reduce auto traffic along the usually congested Michigan Avenue, which currently acts as a freeway on-ramp. On March 12, 2013, Santa Monica passed the Sustainability Bill of Rights granting its residents rights to “clean indoor and outdoor air and ‘a sustainable climate that supports thriving human life and a flourishing biodiverse environment.’”
As reported in the Santa Monica Lookout, while Santa Monica officials claim that the Bill of Rights makes no specific mandates, Filet believes her cause is an “environmental justice project,” with health implications for Santa Monica residents, and she wants to use the Bill of Rights as a legal resource. For Filet, the multitude of cars along the freeway — 4,200 cars during rush hour alone — is akin to the effects of smoking.
Every community deserves a Sustainability Bill of Rights that holds real weight in the real world. At its root, environmental justice is about human justice. No community is immune, and more environmental injustices could be coming to a community near you.
Photo Credit: United Workers