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Environmental Racism and Environmental Justice

As a rule, when we talk about combating racism and discrimination, we are talking about the system’s problems faced by people because of race or ethnicity, their sexual orientation, gender, or age. Thus, usually, we talk about racism, homophobia, sexism, and ageism. However, these concepts do not limit the scope of discrimination, and often discriminatory practices are more hidden. Environmental racism is not so famous, but unfortunately very common. Although the specificity of this problem makes it much more challenging to fight, and even a special law will affect the situation slightly, it is still necessary to combat because it has terrible consequences.

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What is environmental racism?

In the situation of environmental racism, a more complex scheme works than with the usual one. Biased against people based on ecological considerations is not very common, but discriminated individuals and groups tend to be more exposed to environmental risks than other people. Discriminated groups are not the only ones forced to live under higher environmental risks, but that does not mean people should ignore the link between discriminatory practices and ecological risks.

Environmental racism, as a concept, has several meanings. Firstly, it indicates inequality in external environmental conditions and, as a consequence, the deterioration of the health status of people belonging to different races. Secondly, discrimination in ecological policies is also environmental racism (Bullard). For example, it is the construction of hazardous enterprises in territories close to impoverished areas. It can also include the exclusion of people of a certain race from a number of eco-activists and leaders in environmental organizations. Moreover, this type of racism can be manifested, for example, in the dumping of hazardous wastes in disadvantaged areas, access to drinking water, vulnerability to pollution, flooding, and other disasters.

Explanation of environmental justice

The environmental justice concept were formulated in America at the beginning of 1980s (“Environmental Justice Timeline”). It is a science that includes (but is not limited to) ecological theories, justice theory, laws and government decisions on environmental issues, sustainability, and political aspect of ecology. The principle of equity means that wealth, opportunities, and responsibility must be equitably distributed among different groups within each country (“Environmental Equity”).

Special attention should be addressed to the needs and rights of the poor and vulnerable. Also, the principle of equity towards future generations must be adhered. The moral duty of the present generation is to preserve for future generations the ability to meet their needs. It applies both to non-renewable resources, which are limited on the planet, and to the quality of the environment affecting human health.

Establishing environmental justice is a more social issue than technical or ecological. Serious changes are possible if society not only recognizes the existence of the problem but is also ready to solve it by changing something in daily life. However, there is a problem of choosing indicators of environmental injustice. They can focus on overcoming relative inequalities in the provision of environmental benefits or on preventing groups from falling below their minimum levels of availability.

Moreover, there is the issue of mechanisms for environmental justice. It is suggested that it can be achieved by establishing an effective system of legal accountability for actions that degrade the environment. If sanctions for ecological damage are severe and inevitable, the potential pollutant will always take sufficient precautions against possible disasters or measures to minimize inevitable ongoing damage regardless of the influence of the communities it deals with.

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Why environmental racism should be combated and environmental justice should be achieved

Racism and discrimination are immoral in all their manifestations. For modern society, this must be enough to fight them. However, such ethical arguments will always be considered as ambiguous for the reason that they are not objective. Ideas about right and bad change over time and what was the public norm yesterday may today be considered shameful or even criminal. Thus, calls for humanity, sympathy, and compassion continually elicit a flurry of criticism in response, because it is impossible to measure suffering in objective points. If ethical arguments are not enough, it makes sense to pay attention again to those spheres of social life in which objective values are clearly identified.

Influence on humans’ health

Harmful substances entering the human body and damaging cells cause a wide variety of diseases, sometimes even chronic. It is not only frequent colds, malaise, sleep disorders, and increased irritability. Also, the immune system suffers, cardiovascular and broncho-pulmonary diseases develop, bones become brittle, aging processes accelerate, oncology diseases can appear. In addition, harmful substances displace vital macro-and microelements in molecules, which leads to disruption of metabolic processes, and the functions of all systems and organs suffer.

Environmental Protection Agency has carefully examined the issue. They found evidence that people of color risk to be exposed to these diseases because of pollution more than the rest of the population. The statistics follow: African Americans suffer 1.5 times more, Latinos 1.2 times, and the poor 1.3 times more (Brown). Again, there are a lot of diseases – from frequent colds to serious catastrophic ones, for example heart attacks, strokes, oncology.

Consequences for State’s Economy

Racism impairs the life quality of a numerous people and, in some way, limits their personal and professional development. That means society is depriving itself of additional opportunities. Limiting some groups of people access to a specific part of public life, people impoverish this area. If even a small part of the population suffers from a bad environmental situation, the problem will affect everyone in the long run. There are a lot of exposure options. For example, the environmentally impaired health of adults can have an impact on the health of their future children. Moreover, groundwater pollution over time affects larger areas, etc.

According to Amadeo, the deaths of people due to pollution only in 2013 alone cost the global economy $225 billion and raise each year. The number of patients is growing, the work process suffers as people get tired faster or cannot go to work at all. Water pollution brings losses to the American economy in tourism (1 billion losses annually), public health (a thousand gallons of water rose by $4), etc. Talking about plastic pollution – it brings thirteen billion losses annually.

Moreover, environmental justice is closely linked to sustainable development concepts. It is a type of economic development in which all contemporary needs of society are met without damage for future generations. Thanks to the sustainable development idea, there is an opportunity to increase the resiliency of the movement of environmental justice, giving more opportunities to the vulnerable sectors of its population (Gellers and Cheatham). Such cooperation will make a significant contribution to addressing the depletion of natural resources or the cutting of forests.

Erosion of Governments Authority

It can be argued that environmental racism and injustice undermine people’s faith in their government. Caring for the oppressed segments of the population is an integral part of the government’s work. For those who fail, this large segment of the people will no longer give their votes.

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In addition, the rating of politicians is strongly influenced by its attitude to the environmental problem. The most striking example is United States President Donald Trump. According to The Guardian journalist, the president’s decisions in environmental policy can have terrible consequences for the whole world (Barkan). Another source – Time points to the unpopularity of Trump’s decisions, particularly to withdraw from the Paris Agreement (Worland). At the same time, polls conducted in February by The Atlantic show that climate issues will occupy the second place after health protection by importance in the 2020 elections (Meyer).

Opposed Opinion

Some researchers argue that environmental racism is an inevitable side effect of economic development (Wolfram). The poor people can only afford the housing that is most likely to be in a contaminated area, which affects its price. If the area will become environmentally friendly and, for example, create parks, places for walks, cafes and so on – it will become more popular and attract wealthy residents of the city. As a result, housing prices will rise, and the poor will be forced to go in search of cheaper options. There’s some truth in that, but it does not mean that inaction is necessary. The responsibility lies with each person – what humans will leave for future generations. Will descendants be able to see the flowering green world without harassment?


One should not tolerate the fact that a certain percentage of city residents live in much worse environmental conditions than all others – it is necessary to modernize industry and talk about the social responsibility of business. Within one district, environmental risks are unevenly distributed, and at first, it may seem that there is no systemic problem and that it is a natural development. However, in society, nothing happens for no reason, and any trends have their causes, consequences, and are indicators of some more global processes.

Works Cited

Amadeo, Kimberley. “How Air, Water, and Plastic Pollution Affect the Economy.” The Balance. 2019. Web.

Environmental Equity. Reducing Risk for All Communities.United States Environmental Protection Agency, 1992. Web.

Environmental Justice Timeline.United States Environmental Protection Agency. Web.

Barkan, R. “Trump has savaged the environment. The planet cannot afford a second term.The Guardian. 2020. Web.

Brown, Stacy M. “Environmental Racism Killing People of Color.The Greenlining Institute. 2019. Web.

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Bullard, Robert D. “Dismantling Environmental Racism in the USA.” Local environment, vol. 4, no. 1, 1999, pp. 5-19.

Gellers, Joshua C., and Trevor J. Cheatham. “Sustainable Development Goals and Environmental Justice: Realization through Disaggregation.” Researchgate, 2019. Web.

Meyer, R. “Voters Really Care About Climate Change. For Democrats, climate change is now one of the two most important issues in politics, according to a new poll.The Atlantic. 2020. Web.

Wolfram, C. “An Economic Perspective on Environmental Justice.Energy Institute Blog, UC Berkeley, 2019. Web.

Worland, J. “Trump’s Paris Agreement Move Is Unpopular. Here’s How He’s Trying to Spin It”. Time. 2019. Web.

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