Happy Earth Day: Don’t Forget to Include Racial Injustice When Advocating for the Environment

Every year on Earth Day, we are told about the overlying problems of pollution, lack of recycling, the garbage disposed in our oceans; through my own experience as a child, my teachers took us outside and gave us seeds to plant. The whole process was a metaphor for growth and development; we were showing our love and devotion to the earth. We were given little pamphlets showing us how to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, how to get involved in STEM programs in order to grow up and further aid in saving our earth, and quick tips on how to engage and maintain a healthy means of living through organic produce. As I got older, I realized that the conversation stayed the same. High school discourse on the matter consisted of questions regarding how we can help in reducing our water use and education on fossil fuels, but once again, it was incredibly limited to no more than a half hour class conversation. College discussion was almost non-existent (at least at my institution; though there were different clubs who seized the opportunity to get other students involved in several local projects). All of these discussions were, of course, important to have especially at such a young age, but they seemed whitewashed. These conversations do not consider the underlying capitalistic regime and racial injustice continuing these issues for a profit. We must understand that this discussion is consistently directed towards the individual consumer, but we are ignoring the big businesses and companies that continue to disregard the environment and further place people of color in danger through racist means. Not only do racial minorities face far more pollution than white people, but there is also a grueling history of water scarcity and toxic waste being concentrated in predominantly Black and Latinx communities.

Concerning air pollution, people of color have been subjected to starkly higher rates than white people have dating back decades. Black residents in the U.S. particular encounter the highest proportions of almost deadly wind contamination on a daily basis; these communities are exposed to “1.54 times more fine particulate matter, a pollutant that contributes to haze and has been linked to heart and lung diseases compared to the average American. Hispanic residents encounter 1.2 times more fine particulate matter.” It is no surprise under the reign of capitalism in the United States, these areas are being targeted.This statement indisputably exclaims that racism kills. It also provides a further incentive for profit with no care for the people that die as a result of it. Communities with members below the poverty line experience 1.34 times more fine particulate matter. The same disproportion is found with other poisons including lead, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides. These companies are buying land in predominantly lower-class neighborhoods because it is inexpensive; in doing so, they are realizing such fatal toxins. Environmental problems are causing the mortality rates of people of color to grow, but this information is not new. In discussing air pollution, we cannot simply disregard these facts. Companies are blatantly killing those who stand in the way of them making any earnings while polluting the earth to the state of permanency.  

In every state except Virginia, North Dakota, New Mexico, Maryland and Washington D.C., the study found non-white people have a higher exposure to particulate matter than white people do. The worst disparity exists in Indiana and Alabama, where people of color were exposed to more than twice as much particulate pollutants as white people.

The same jarring statistics are found with water scarcity. Racism ties into the water distribution. With Flint, Michigan still being neglected of the basic human right, the government is still no help. Flint itself is a predominantly black city that has not been given aid from the US in fixing the water crisis. This is state-sanctioned violence. This is systematic oppression. These people do not have access to something that should not be considered a privilege. It has been four years. Other cities have faced identical abuse. Neighborhoods in New Orleans, West Virginia, and Washington D.C. have been subjected to environmental disasters such as chemical spills and hurricanes. The damage of these instances could have been prevented or even diminished if action was taken, but it wasn’t.

Indigenous communities are harshly affected as well. The federal government is approving corporations in their endeavors to not only take over sacred lands, but essentially evict entire tribes. One example is the Dakota Access Pipeline’s building. It was stationed on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and would have endangered the tribe’s main water source. Additionally, the construction would have destroyed the sacred lands of the group itself. After fighting endlessly to prevent the pipeline’s establishment, the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes’ order was denied by a district judge.

America’s treatment of Native Americans and Minority groups has been utterly disgusting and even more so disgraceful in the past. This is not the first time their basic human rights have been compromised for mere economic gain. These communities have been contingent on structural racism and classism. In fighting for the environment, you must fight against capitalism. These systems of power are clinging to their own authority by severely debasing regions due to their own prejudice and industrialist gain. Saving the earth is more than just using less water. These problems are perpetuated by Capitalism and its rule. Do not whitewash your earth day activism; be aware of these matters and fight them.

Happy Earth Day to all!

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