On Monday, our nation celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. King's life demonstrated that peace and tolerance can triumph over hate and injustice, and can serve to correct social wrongs. On this holiday, we are reminded of his heroic devotion to equality, justice, and unity.
In the spirit of Dr. King, it seems appropriate to talk about an issue that has stemmed from King's movement. The term "environmental justice" did not become popular until the 1980s, but the movement's roots stem from King's legacy.
Environmental justice refers to an equitable distribution of environmental burdens and benefits to groups such as racial minorities and residents of economically disadvantaged areas. Unfortunately, research has shown that these minority populations are disproportionately affected by environmental burdens. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that race and socioeconomic status accurately predict disproportionate distributions of environmental problems.
- Toxic waste dumps are disproportionately located in neighborhoods inhabited by minority groups and people of low socioeconomic standing (EPA).
- A 1987 study found that race proved to be the most significant variable in determining the location of commercial hazardous waste facilities, more so then socioeconomic standing (United Church of Christ).
- Health effects stemming from pollutant exposure combine with other poverty-related factors like poor nutrition to exacerbate health effects (Grist).
Dr. King famously said that, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere". Inequities in environmental justice force us evaluate things like where our energy comes from, where our waste ends up, and who it affects. Dr. King's words and actions continue to inspire the movement towards a more just and peaceful world.
Some additional resources:
- Watch Majora Carter, founder of Sustainable South Bronx, speak on how minority neighborhoods suffer most from flawed urban policy.
- Read more. APSCU's blog and Grist both have great articles on this issue.
- Mark February 2 on your calendar. Renewal, a Christian student environmental group, is kicking off the International Day of Prayer for Creation Care: "Prayer for Environmental Justice". More details to come.
- Hear John Perkins' historic "A Quiet Revolution" on iTunes U, delivered at SPU during the 1977-78 chapel series.