There is a whitewashing in the environmental movement, where white people are framed as being the most concerned about the environment.
But a number of polls show that Asian, Latino and black communities have strong environmental values and even show more support for climate issues than whites.
American Indians are currently leading the biggest environmental activism movement with their campaign to halt construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
So why is it that environmental justice issues are not a regular part of the national conversation?
When discussing climate change, environmentalists talk about melting ice caps, an increase in natural disasters, protecting animal species and natural wonders like the Great Barrier Reef dying off.
But how often do we talk about the millions of Americans that live near a coal power plant? What about the high asthma rate of black Americans in cities because of poor air quality? Are these public health issues part of the conversation?
Environmental issues involve people fighting for access to clean water, green spaces and safe housing.
The reality is that most factories, warehouses, garbage incinerators, landfills, hazardous waste treatment facilities and disposal plants are overwhelmingly located and built in poor, non-white communities.
Low-income and communities of color are most impacted by toxic waste, pollution and urban decay. Families are forced to live in close proximity to hazardous environments because these areas are seen as sacrifice zones for big polluters.
Vulnerable populations live at the intersection of pollution, power and environmental policy, and they continue to lose. These communities lose because the balance of power is tipped towards the wealthy.
This is environmental racism.
Environmental racism is systemic. It is the result of poverty, redlining, housing discrimination and segregation that has relegated black and brown communities to some of the most dilapidated environments.
It explains the Flint, Michigan water crisis and why East Chicago residents were poisoned for 30 years before being informed of the health risks of living on an old lead smelter.
This form of racism explains why these stories aren’t covered by mainstream media outlets and why there is no public outrage over people of color being poisoned by industrial waste for generations.
There is a disconnection between who publicly cares about environmental issues and the face of people taking action on the ground.
The Navajo Nation has been fighting for years for uranium mining companies to clean up abandoned mines. You can go to Detroit, Compton, Milwaukee and the Bronx and find black leaders running community gardens and cleanup efforts. Latino communities fought to close down a lead-acid battery smelter that spewed toxic air pollution for decades in Los Angeles neighborhoods.
It is local residents that attend meetings with city officials, planners and the EPA to fight routine industrial polluters. These groups don’t always have access to the same resources and platform as mainstream organizations, but they are still environmentalists.
There's an issue with diversity within the mainstream environmental movement, where people of color, various socio-economic classes and religious groups are not being engaged by mainstream groups that are predominantly led by middle class and upper-middle class, white liberals.
Mainstream organizations can leverage their power to help environmental justice groups secure funding to build healthy communities. They can help cultivate youth from different segments through an internship pipeline to pursue a career in urban forestry, ecology, environmental resource management, soil sciences and urban planning.
A more diverse group of voices will create a stronger movement. Environmental justice cannot be an afterthought to national parks, endangered species and global climate change. It must be integrated into our policy agendas.
We cannot afford to sugarcoat the demographic of people who are being displaced from their homes because of natural disasters. We need to talk about the number of children who have lead poisoning and the policies that made it happen. We need to stop talking in the abstract and tell the stories of people whose families are being poisoned by waste and decay.
Devote more space in your newsletters and fundraising emails to environmental injustices happening to our own citizens.
Environmental issues are civil rights issues. Those with political power are able to sway environmental decisions. Let's create a path for marginalized voices to also have a national platform.
Environmental advocate. Communications professional. Sports fan. I love television and press conferences.