Let’s Talk About Environmental (In)Justice.

Ongoing racial injustice in this country, paired with a global pandemic that is disproportionately affecting communities of color and a rapidly changing climate, has contributed to a rise in awareness about the links between racism and environmental degradation – a concept known as environmental racism.

Here at TRT, we are committed to doing our part to address environmental racism and injustice through our work. As we educate ourselves, we will share resources and information with you, our community. We hope that this will provide more context for our upcoming emails that will expand on the topic of environmental justice throughout the watershed.

The California EPA (one of our generous funders) defines environmental justice as:
“A call for fairness, regardless of race, color, national origin or income, in the development of laws and regulations that affect every community’s natural surroundings, and the places people live, work, play and learn.” Fair treatment means no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental, and commercial operations or policies.

Throughout American history “fairness” has NOT been a reality.

Environmental justice is not a new concept. Indigenous people and tribes have been fighting against environmental injustices since the first colonizers arrived on this continent. Communities of color have been fighting against environmental racism for decades, even if it was not formally recognized as such.

In the 1960’s, Latinx and Filipino farmworkers in the Central Valley organized for their rights, which included protection from harmful pesticides. Larry Itliong, Cesar Chavez, and Dolores Huerta were three prominent leaders of the movement, which lives on.

In 1982, “North Carolina announced a plan to move soil contaminated with PCBs from alongside 210 miles of the state’s roadsides to a landfill located in Warren County, one of only a few counties in the state with a majority black population.” The community protested by lying down on the roads that led to the landfill in order to stop the trucks from bringing in the contaminated soil. Following that, six weeks of marches and nonviolent protests drew national attention, despite their ultimate loss of the battle for their community. “The protests and legal challenges mounted by the people of Warren County to fight the landfill are considered by many to be the first major milestone in the national movement for environmental justice” (Source: NRDC).

Around the same time, Dr. Robert Bullard is credited with coining the term environmental justice. He states, “Whether by conscious design or institutional neglect, communities of color in rural ‘poverty pockets,’ or on economically impoverished Native-American reservations face some of the worst environmental devastations in the nation.” This can also be linked to NIMBYism (an acronym for the phrase “not in my back yard”), which continues to this day.

The movement for environmental justice recognizes the direct link between economic, environmental, and health issues. It is a movement that focuses on the equitable distribution of environmental benefits and burdens.

We must be agents of change to stop the environmental injustices that plague our communities of color. Understanding and addressing environmental racism as a complex and systemic issue is imperative in creating a better, more just future for our communities and planet.


Resources on Environmental Justice and Racial Equity:

Last week the New York Times shared a wonderful list of articles on Environmental Justice. Below are a few of our favorites from the New York Times list, plus other resources and articles that we found to be insightful.


The Green Movement Is Talking About Racism? It’s About Time! “The same people and organizations we admire for protecting our wild places also have a history of being apathetic—or plain antagonistic—toward issues of race and social justice”

I’m a Black Climate Expert. Racism Derails Our Efforts to Save the Planet “Stopping climate change is hard enough, but racism only makes it harder”

Black Environmentalists Talk About Climate and Anti-Racism “Racial and economic inequities need to be tackled as this country seeks to recalibrate its economic and social compass in the weeks and months to come. Racism, in short, makes it impossible to live sustainably.”

“Two different realities”: Why America Needs Environmental Justice “One thing we know is that environmental enforcement does not happen the way it needs to happen in communities of color and low-income communities.”

TED Talks:

Environmental Justice: A Ted Talk by Peggy Shepard

Greening the Ghetto: A TED Talk by MacArthur-winning activist Majora Carter

Environmental Racism: A TED Talk by Van Jones

The Danger of a Single Story: A Ted Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

If you would like to keep the conversation going
or share additional resources, feel free to email us at staff@tuolumne.org.