By Maddy Bergey
“I can’t breathe.” These words are not only the words of George Floyd, but also the words of other people of color who suffer the effects of environmental racism and injustice each day. Environmental racism is a deliberate act that targets communities based on race. As climate change becomes an extensive crisis, the waste, pollution, and poor air quality disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous, Asian, and other communities of color. In this world, social and environmental justice seem like ambitious hopes, but what if they were attainable goals? What if melanated voices were amplified and uplifted, acknowledged and admired?
Not only do the detriments of injustice run deep in society, but also, in environmentalism. We humans are so interconnected with this planet, especially as our actions have harmful, irreversible consequences. Although these consequences seem like distant issues, they are already prevalent and causing problems, but their damage is not proportionately distributed across the globe.
On average, Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color experience the effects of climate change on a greater scale than white communities do. When incinerators are more prevalent than heaters for home use, that is a concern. When large fast food chains are more prevalent than organic grocery stores in certain areas, that is a concern. When access to contaminated water is easier than access to clean water, that is a concern. Stated in an article by The Guardian on March 8, 2019, 70% of the United States’ waste sites, which are contaminated and filthy, are located near low-income housing. In addition, 47% of people who live dangerously close to facilities that contain hazardous waste chemicals are Black or Latinx.
Flint, Michigan’s water crisis is a familiar example of environmental injustice. The water contamination and lead exposure in Flint is a result of the city’s failure at doing a substantial amount of research before implementing a water supply system. Once the city government chose a water supply, the threats were clearly depicted. The river from which the drinking water was derived contained many waste products, including lead. This hazard in Flint had greater impacts on minority communities because of their socioeconomic status. Resolving the issue was immensely difficult due to the miniscule amount of economic and political power within these communities. Finding other sources of water or procuring the means to leave the area were also dilemmas that Flint’s water crisis proposed for minority communities. Environmental injustices, much like those in Flint, Michigan, present extra burdens to lower classes, making living conditions abominable and the cost of living outlandish.
On a global scale, there is also an imbalance with greenhouse gas emissions: the producers of it versus the people who are most affected by it. Low-income countries produce slight amounts of greenhouse gasses, unlike high-income countries, which produce a considerably larger number of greenhouse gasses. Not only do the low-income countries experience the effects of these emissions on a more serious scale, they also lack resources which prevent them from adapting to the warming earth. Not only should reversing the climate change crisis be done for our planet, but also for the marginalized communities who experience these effects in inequitable ways.
Racial injustices are prevalent in this world, and they show up in more ways than just unfair slurs or crude suggestions. These injustices also present themselves in the form of lower paychecks, higher exposure to lead-based paint in run-down tenement housing, and rare access to healthy food choices. In order to combat these injustices, it is the job of privileged people to stand up, while metaphorically sitting down, in order to let the melanated voices be heard and acknowledged to the extent they have always deserved. Dismantling systemic oppression requires supporting Black artists, signing petitions, eradicating the usage of Native American names as derogatory suggestions, uplifting Asian voices, capitalizing the “B,” and so much more. As the whole world watched Amanda Gorman recite on Inauguration Day, she brought awareness to inherent injustices, stating, “For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.” Systems of oppression may be familiar, but they are not fair.
Maddy Bergey is a student at Fillmore Central High School. She is one of nine area students participating in the Journal Writing Project, now in its 22nd year.