Environmental Racism and Justice

Many people understand that the environment is a force of nature that cannot favor or distaste different people. However, the environment can be influenced by human activities. The environmental justice movement has widened the perception of environment beyond the scope of safeguarding and maintaining natural resources and has defined the environment as where people live, learn, work and play among other activities. Environmental justice comprises of cultural norms, policies, values, behaviors and rules to promote sustainability where all people are convinced that their environment is safe and productive. Environmental justice can only be accomplished if environmental racism and inequity does inter individuals from accomplishing their highest potential. This form of justice is reinforced by secure jobs and decent compensation, decent housing, quality education, empowerment of the people, good healthcare system and a democratic system of making decisions (Westar, 1999). A community of environmental justice also ensures that cultural and biological diversity is valued and that the people have equal access to learning institutions and sufficient resources that will help them grow and prosper.

Environmental racism, on the other hand is the uneven effect of environmental vulnerabilities on people of color. Environmental justice is a movement established to counter environmental racism. Some institutional rules, regulations and government policies are implemented with the intention to intentionally target certain groups or communities. This forces them to be inexplicably be exposed to toxic wasted depending on their race. It is caused by various factors such as low land values of minorities, lack of institutional power and premeditated negligence. Minorities and communities with low income populations are unevenly affected by polluting industries and their lax regulations. In the United States, racial minorities are exposed to toxic chemicals in factories, toxic radiations and legal storage of toxic wastes.

Globally, environmental racism is present in three primary sectors. The sectors are decisions concerning location of waste facilities, implementation of laws and regulations regarding the environment and structure of ecological groups and agencies. The issue of location of toxic waste facilities has faced the challenge of resistance from controversial opinions. When locating toxic waste facilities; the need for well-organized and appropriate disposal of toxic waste is a significant factor to consider. This is because improper disposal of toxic waste poses a greater risk of harm to both the environment and its occupants.

Further, environmental racism is evident through discriminatory enforcement of environmental regulations. The level in which environmental laws and regulations are implemented is impacted by the racial composition of populations in the areas nearing the toxic waste facilities. The act of imposing environmental laws in minorities pointedly rarely compared to white communities promotes illegal acts. Consequently, commercial organizations flock racial communities because penalties do not exist or those existing are low enough to affect the cost of business operation.

Additionally, people of color are not appointed in the environmental decision making positions or involved in the process. Conventional environmental institutions have not shown interest in ecological effects affecting racial minorities. In various areas of society, racial discrimination has barred the contribution of minorities in environmental groups. Subsequently, the groups do not have multiplicity in their association. In practice, environmental racism takes various forms such as workplaces with insane health regulations or people drinking polluted groundwater among other issues. Indigenous populations suffer from environmental racism. In America, Native Americans communities are exposed to huge portions of nuclear and lethal waste. Organizations continue to take advantage of weaker laws on land whereby land is held in trust on behalf of the tribes. Globalization has increased the possibility of environmental racism on a global scale. Recently, pollutants such as e-waste have been dumped on the global south because laws on safety and ecological practices are more laid-back. In 2017, more than forty four millions of tons of e-waste were produced worldwide. More than eighty percent of the waste is exported to Asia. Guiyu, Chinal, is one of the e-waste center where huge amounts of cast-off computer parts stacked by the river contaminate the water with copper and lead among other chemicals (LaDuke, 1994). Water samples showed that the level of lead was one hundred and ninety times higher than the limit issued by WHO. Increase in lead levels in the body affects the IQ of children. Further, used American batteries where shipped to Mexico where prohibited waste scrapheaps are operated by Japanese, American and European institutions. This has led to a significant increase in the rates of anencephaly. Environmental injustice also takes place when people or communities are barred access to natural resources, benefits and investments in the society.

The environmental justice movement functions to create awareness of the predicaments of vulnerable minorities through public activism, academic researches and studies and campaigns on social media platforms. The present environmental protection model has established imbalanced enforcement where the burden of proof is placed on the victims instead of the polluting industry. The injustice is also practiced by the North and West countries on the East and South countries (Vanderheiden, 2008). Discriminating burdens such as toxic discarding are imposed on third world countries whose leaders are willing to trade off the safety of their people for western hard currencies.

The Katrina disaster is also an example of environmental racism. The victims of this storm where the marginalized and vulnerable individuals in the region. Many years before the occurrence of the Katrina disaster, environmental justice activists were projecting the racially discriminative impacts of climate change with respect to coastal flooding and effects of heat waves on health of the people (Vanderheiden, 2008). The communities in the region had minimal opportunities to access good healthcare compared to the rich whites who lived near good hospitals. The white communities had a higher chance of being rebuilt after the damage from the hurricane while the minorities were subjected to redevelopment. Low income communities and minorities are pushed to live near environmental hazards which have increased their exposure to dangerous emissions.

In Canada, the African Nova Scotia’s have been for a long time now worried by the traces of carcinogens such as cadmium in their drinking water. The community has continued to voice their concerns on the ecologically toxic ways used to handle waste substances at the landfill. The blacks and radicalized communities in Canada are affected by polluting projects, toxic dumps and unsafe drinking water and are also more likely to face the consequences of climate change compared to the whites. Environmental racism has negative effects on the health of the people. For instance, members of the Aamjiwnaang nation who live near the Chemical valley have experienced increased levels of asthma, cancer, learning disabilities among children and reproductive effects (Westra, 1999). Pollution as a result of racism has affected food sovereignty. Communities that live near toxic waste dumps are unable to access traditional food sources due to the effects of pollution in the regions. Ecological racism is also evident in the substantial treatment of employees where numerous farm workers are exposed to dangerous and carcinogenic chemicals on the job and labor camps. The workers are also forced to tolerate low wages and poor working conditions.

Environmental racism is an unethical practice that originates from historical issues such as discrimination against poverty and race. The ethical principle of distributive decision making on matters of environment strengthens the stratification of people, place and work. It possesses numerous disadvantages to racial communities while providing advantages to individuals and organizations in the upper stratums of society (Vanderheiden, 2008). It institutionalizes unjust enforcement of laws and trades the health of human beings for profit. Public participation in use of land and environmental resource decisions is essential for the people to achieve the democratic ideals of the country. There are several factors that have made environmental racism to become an ethical issue in the society.

To begin with, mobility and power of large corporations has contributed to the ethical issue of ecological racism. Companies have become extremely powerful and are only accountable to their shareholders. The mobility and power of corporations has forced them to fight for the greatest returns, least regulations from the governments and best tax incentives all over the world. Employees are subjected to both economic and ecological blackmail to make a living.

Second, racism also contributes to environmental injustice in the society. People of color are forced to pay a greater and unequal price for things such as extraction of resources, industrialism and economic development depending on their mode of living (Wenz, 2012). Further, environmental racism has also occurred as a result of lack of power among the minority groups such as Hispanics and blacks. The minorities lack knowledge and essential global strategies that can help them counter global corporations or fight unfair practices. The Flint water crisis and the current COVID-19 pandemic have enabled reinforce the lessons that many countries do not have public health infrastructures and also do not have enough regulators to keep the people safe.

To promote environmental justice, the minorities should be empowered to practice self-education to understand the relation between structural racism and unbalanced environmental hazards found in the racial communities. Learning about inequities in the society will enable them to carry out research on local and federal policies that are structured to promote the differences. Further, the voices of the impacted communities should be elevated. When the minorities are educated about structural racism, they will understand the advocates of social justice in their community and give them any possible support. This support can be of various forms such as donating directly to organizations fighting for environmental equity or volunteering in activities of the organizations (Wenz, 2012). This will play a significant role in ensuring that the environmental issues are voiced and addressed. Further, the representatives of the minorities should be held responsible.

Moreover, the governments should focus more on climate justice and racial equity when dealing with climate activities. Business activities that affect communities with respect to race should be identified. Corporations should also evaluate their impact on climate and come up with data showing the effects on communities and stakeholders that are affected by structural inequalities. Thereafter, they should involve them in community – driven climate flexibility development. Further, the employees should be educated on environmental justice to help build awareness. Since solving the environmental issue is excessively large for a single organization to act alone, the burdened reorganizations should collaborate with others in different industries to scale impact.

The burden of proof should be shifted to the polluters who practice environmental racism. This is because the impacted communities are minorities that do not have enough resources to hire lawyers and individuals who are expert witnesses. The system of protecting the environment is broken and should be fixed. Movements fighting for justice in matters concerning the environment have set out clear goals of eradicating biased implementation of laws on the environment and public health. The minorities should organize networks and push for their inclusion in the main arenas of public decision making.

People in power should also be pushed to facilitate the process of cleaning up current toxic wastes and ban organizations from dumping the waste near racial minorities. Critical information should be made available to all the residents in the region in addition to allowing their participation in the decision making process (Morito, 2000). Students in the minority regions should be encouraged to familiarize them with and involve themselves in organizations that are fighting for environmental justice. Platforms should also be created to enable people of color voice their experiences with environmental injustice.

Environmental organizations should provide technical assistance through ways such as providing legal assistance to minorities and carrying out health analysis when necessary. The organizations can also offer training on issues such as water testing, establishing community gardens and educating them on how to adopt practices that do not degrade the environment. Further, they can create spaces for sharing resources and networking through ways such as funding and research opportunities. Besides, and organizations should also evaluate who benefits from their actions. Historically, racial communities have been highly targeted for undesirable use of land such as power plants and incinerators. Instead, the communities should be the primary target for programs and activities that lead to significant advantages such as biodiversity projects and clean energy programs. Research carried out should be driven by goals of the community and not those of corporations that want to benefit at the expense of the people.

The government and environmental organizations should work towards creating a more even distribution of funds. If organizations are funded, they should ensure that their actions and projects are for the benefit of the society. Since established communities have great platforms, they should support frontline communities and focus more on organizing and generating support within their community (Vanderheiden, 2008). The support could be through reinforcing their story to help build a larger foundation of community supporters and pressure decision makers to consider the interests of the minorities. The organizations can also incorporate environmental justice in their platforms to help employees understand how the actions of one community affect others. This will make it easier for them to prioritize activities that are geared towards eliminating environmental racism. The government should impose measures that favor the rich and poor in the society regardless of their geographical location.


LaDuke, W. (1994). Traditional ecological knowledge and environmental futures. Colorado Journal of International Law and Policy, 5, 127.

Morito, B. (2000). Language, sustainable development, and Indigenous peoples: An ethical perspective. Ethics and the Environment, 5(1), 47-60.

Vanderheiden, S. (2008). In the wake of Katrina: Climate change and the coming crisis of displacement. In P. Cannavò (Ed.), Political theory and global climate change (177-200). The MIT Press

Wenz, P. S. (2012). Just garbage: The problem of environmental racism. Environmental Ethics: Readings in Theory and Application, 530-547.

Westra, L. (1999). Environmental racism and the first nations of Canada: Terrorism at Oka. Journal of Social Philosophy, 30(1), 103-124.