Blog: National Partnership for Action
Environmental Justice: More than Just Saving the Planet
Posted on 8/20/2013 by Ailin Lu
During the past decade, climate change has been a major topic of concern and discussion. Much of the time, environmental ethics has been framed in terms of energy divestment, renewable resources and conservation of ecosystems. However, what is often overlooked is how industry disposal of hazardous by-products takes a toll on the health of many communities.
Despite the passing of Executive Order 12898 20 years ago under the Clinton Administration, poor living conditions persist in cities like Baltimore, which has experienced growing rates of asthma [PDF | 251KB] due, in part, to neighboring coal burning plants. These coal burning plants, among the largest in the Mid-Atlantic, are allowed to emit almost four times more sulfur dioxide (a compound that causes bronchoconstriction and increased asthma symptoms) than is recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) National Ambient Air Quality Standard.
Environmental justice advocates argue that no community should disproportionately face more hazardous waste than another, but we find time and time again that low-income and majority minority communities are suffering more [PDF | 145KB] so from environmental build-up of toxins than any other demographic. It is indeed important to talk about creating less waste to preserve the integrity of Earth’s ecosystems for future generations, but it is also important to talk about environmental justice and recognize that current patterns of toxin build-up and disposal endanger the lives of people in present and future generations.
The unfortunate truth is that we typically aren’t aware or concerned about these issues until we see the negative effects in our own backyard. With this logic, it would make sense to expect low-income and majority minority communities to lead the push for environmental justice. However, these communities are also ones that encounter poverty, food deserts and unsafe neighborhoods – meaning they have limited community resources available to protest the building of industrial complexes in their area. In the end, the communities that suffer the most face additional challenges that prevent their voices from being heard.
Environmental pollution is a concern that, if left unaddressed, will continue to negatively impact the quality of life today and in future generations. It is one of many compounding factors that impact the health of vulnerable communities and widen health disparities. Working together to decrease environmental pollution will not only improve the health of the nation, but help to increase health equity in the U.S.
It is necessary to acknowledge the importance of environmental justice, because conserving our ecosystems is an integral way to preserve health. You can learn more and get involved by:
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About the Blog
The NPA works to achieve health equity -- the highest level of health for all people. This blog is a venue for professionals from all fields and sectors to share their thoughts on pressing issues, news and events pertaining to health equity. Follow and participate in this candid discussion.
About the Author
Ailin Lu is attending Cornell University to receive her bachelor's in Policy Analysis & Management. Ailin’s main interests lie in health policy and health advocacy, but she is also involved with student-led organizations such as the Women of Color Coalition and the Asian & Asian American Center community at Cornell.
Recent Blog Posts
→ Health Atlas for the City of Los Angeles’s Health and Wellness Chapter
→ Changing the Prognosis for Sickle Cell Disease through the Affordable Care Act
→ Winning the battle against health disparities through new technology
→ Improving Data Collection on Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Health
→ 2013 Report to Congress on Minority Health Activities