Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Environmental Justice

Because I am an Environmental Science major, I am very interested in the environmental justice movement, especially since I had recently been introduced to this movement in my Environmental Theology class. Influenced by the civil rights movement, the environmental justice movement emphasizes environmental human rights, which is the right to a healthy and unpolluted environment. Everyone has the right to resources that abound the earth, such as pure air, water, food, and housing. The advocates of environmental justice posit that public officials should be held accountable for ensuring that all humans have these basic rights, especially those who are marginalized and oppressed.
Dr. Martin Luther King right first led the environmental justice movement before he was assassinated in 1968. During this time, Dr. King was in Memphis aiding in the African American sanitation workers strike for the equality in both wages and work conditions. This led to the rise of advocates in the low-income communities who started to see patterns concerning race and the environment. These advocates, such as Dr. Robert Bullard, with the help of researchers from higher learning institutions depicted how detrimental effects of environmental degradations primarily affect low-income people, who happen to be the minorities.
During his completion of his sociology Ph. D. in 1979, Dr. Robert Bullard was performing research which resulted in the realization that within the city of Houston, the entirety of the city's dumps were situated within or around neighborhoods that were predominantly occupied by African Americans, even with the comparatively high Caucasian population of three quarters. Taking into account Houston's lack of land zoning laws, Bullard asserted that the link between the two were not coincidental, but in fact completely intentional, driven by discrimination and what he would later title "environmental racism". The discovery and illumination of his findings to the African-American middle -class and communities assisted in the opposition of new dumpsites being formed in their neighborhoods. In response to his growing skepticism, he explored the possibility that Houston may not be the sole offender, and found confirmation for his hypothesis when it was discovered that it was not only dumps that were being established in African-American middle-class and poor communities, but additional imperfections among the American Southeast in the form of polluter factories and other industrial sites.
 Though Bullard believed discrimination to be a prominent reason behind the problem, his conjecture grew to include a lack of political experience within the communities. Today, his theory has demonstrated itself through the formation of activists and groups aimed at "environment justice", lobbying for new laws and scrutinizing policymaking.  Dr. Bullard in his 1990 book, "Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality", stressed that his findings were not restricted to a specific race or region, but that it was indicative of a larger issue that fell on the shoulders of the nation's minorities stating, " People of color in all regions of the country bear a disproportionate share of the nation’s environmental problems".
The book expounds on some of the cases Bullard thought over a period of two decades, and it posits a persuasive case concerning the issue of environmental justice relating to the siting of hazardous chemicals by large corporation in low-income minority communities. We also learned that Bullard aided in shattering the false notion that minorities were ignorant about the environment. Charles Stewart Mott Foundation allocated money and supported Bullard. With this financial backing, Bullard organized the first National People of Color Environmental Summit in October 1991. Subsequently, within a year, he published the first directory that listed 300 Environmental Groups, called People of Color Environmental Groups Directory, to raise awareness and to make information accessible.
Recently, Bullard spearheaded the cleanup of disasters and catastrophes left behind by Hurricane Katrina. He voiced his criticisms concerning the slow efforts by both the state and nation. Because of the lack of funds, Bullard was skeptical and monitored the clean up to make sure that all contaminations in all neighborhoods were accounted for.
Drawing from the civil rights movement, the environmental justice movement has articulated environmental human rights, or the right to a clean environment. This ethical position asserts that everyone has the right to clean air, water, food and housing. This movement asserts that these are not privileges but rather rights for everyone, and that public officials have a special responsibility to protect these rights, especially in the lives of the poor and vulnerable. Community groups and the environmental justice movement take action when public officials fail to act justly. Environmental justice groups have argued that the solution to environmental injustices must involve more democratic forms of governance that increase citizen participation in land and resource use decisions.
What do you guys think about this? Do you guys also feel as if the right to the earth’s abundant resources is a human right? Do you all feel as if maybe raising awareness and increasing the participation of the oppressed in decisions concerning the environment will lead to just results?

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