The Garden of Environmental Justice

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The Garden of Environmental Justice brings together elements that I believe are important, and in some cases, necessary, to advancing the environmental justice movement. These aspects of environmental justice have come up in many of the topics covered in class from gentrification to food deserts to toxic waste/chemical facilities.

  • Understanding and Recognizing Privilege
  • Inclusivity and Diversity
  • Community Input and Engagement
  • Grassroots Organization and Community Mobilization
  • Youth Power
  • Education and Raising Awareness
  • Corporate and Government Accountability
  • Allies and Supporting Organizations

Food deserts and insecurity

Technology /engineering field, being conscious of who my work affects and whether they are truly beneficial/useful for the communities/audience that uses/consumes them

Greenwashing

What have you learned about different communication approaches regarding issues of environmental justice? (You can reflect on the narratives used by our guides at Veggielution and Chinatown Alleyway Tours, perspectives on how different forms of media approach EJ issues differently, as well as the course readings and your own experiences.) ! How might your experience in this class shape your understanding of the particular fields you plan to enter? What new goals can you now set for yourself as a student, activist, young adult, prospective employee as a result of what you have learned in this class?

Fossil Fuels, Renewables, and a Dangerous Double Standard

To me, stories of disease, health problems, and community disruption in Richmond and other East Bay communities located near oil refineries are sad, but also not surprising. Fossil fuel processes from beginning to end have dangerous side effects that pose public major health hazards. Whether it’s oil mining in South Los Angeles or coal mining in the Peruvian Andes, fossil fuel extraction damages whole communities and pollutes the environment. Transporting fossil fuels can lead to disastrous accidents, as seen in Porter Ranch (and I hope that the City of Benicia will say no to oil-transporting trains for their own safety). And of course, burning fossil fuels is extremely destructive for the environment at all scales, but has very negative impacts for communities near power plants and freeways, who are usually low-income and minority.

I experienced a small glimpse into the immense danger fossil fuels pose to communities in 2008, when the ash-retention pond used by a massive coal power plant in Tennessee burst open during a storm. The toxic grey sludge surged into Watts Bar Lake and sent huge floods of slurry across the low-lying surrounding area, destroying 42 houses, including the homes of my grandparents and my aunt and uncle. Thankfully nobody was killed, but these many families were forced to relocate and abandon their community, and the poisons released into the lake have severely decreased fish and wildlife populations. While this part of Appalachian East Tennessee is largely white, it is also very poor and uneducated, and most residents had no idea of the risks of the power plant nearby, nor were they given adequate compensation after the accident.

Keeping in mind all of these stories, I am always saddened at how little input communities have in what kinds of fossil-fuel facilities move into their areas and at how opaque these companies are about the dangers they pose. I am also reminded at the incredible promise of renewable energy, which offers a solution to our energy needs while posing essentially zero health consequences or risk to the larger world. Surely people of all classes and backgrounds would be proud to have these beacons of a brighter future in their yard, rather than burdening others with such dangerous, global-warming-inducing archaic options?

A rendering of how an offshore wind farm would appear from Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Photo from Cape Wind Associates.

Unfortunately, it appears that some of the most privileged people in the world have such little empathy for others and such short-sightedness that they are spurning renewable energy for the most trivial of reasons. Ocean-side residents around the world, from Cape Cod to the Netherlands to Long Island to Ontario are protesting the construction of clean, dependable offshore wind farms because of perceived damage to their ocean views, and in many cases, these protests have helped to delay or cancel projects that would have greatly reduced the need for fossil fuel power plants in those areas. Perhaps greater education about the risks of fossil fuel power are needed, or perhaps the government needs to have a stronger hand when it comes to such important issues. However, it is clear that we cannot let such trivial objections stand in the way of solving the world’s greatest environmental justice issue.

Environment, Race, and Socioeconomic Status

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Throughout the quarter, our class has explored how race and socioeconomic status play a role in the environment. One article that our class read that is a good example of how the environment, race, and socioeconomic status interact is Pollution, Poverty, People of Color: The Factory on the Hill by Jane Kay and Cheryl Katz. This article discusses the negative impact the Chevron Richmond Refinery has had on the residents of North Richmond, California.

“It’s the triple whammy of race, poverty, and environment converging nationwide to create communities near pollution sources where nobody else wants to live.”

– Jane Kay and Cheryl Katz

The communities of color in Northern Richmond have been victims to the refinery for over 100 years. Toxic emissions from the Richmond refineries are believed to increase residents risk of heart disease, stroke, and asthma.

This is only one example of environmental racism. Throughout the United States low income and people of color are forced to deal with the consequences of living in a poor environment. I believe that living in a clean, healthy, environment is a right and not a privilege. Regardless of race and socioeconomic status, no one should be subjected to living in an area that is detrimental to their health. In an ideal world refineries and other buildings that negatively affect the environment wouldn’t exist, but I believe that industries that produce toxic emissions should be relocated to areas where people do not live.