Why Environmental Justice Is So Important

A graphic of environmental justice - people with a globe, plants, water, the sun, and a wind turbine.
  • Jun 12, 2023

At CleanChoice Energy, we envision a world free of catastrophic climate change for all. By helping people switch from polluting energy sources to 100% clean energy, we work hard every day to make that vision a reality, and we’re optimistic about a cleaner, greener future. Unfortunately, right now there are many communities across the U.S. and around the world that are bearing the brunt of environmental hazards and injustices. Here’s a closer look at environmental justice and why it’s so important.

What is Environmental Justice?

Dr. Robert Bullard, who is widely regarded as “the father of environmental justice,” explained it as “the principle that all people are entitled to equal environmental protection regardless of race, color or national origin. It’s the right to live and work and play in a clean environment.” 

Across the U.S., environmental injustices exist in far too many communities that live with polluted air and water due to nearby oil refineries, chemical plants, hazardous waste sites, polluting industrial facilities, landfills, and incinerators. And the reality is that these communities, which face worsened environmental and health risks, tend to be lower-income communities of color.

Environmental Injustices in the U.S.

In Flint, Michigan, a city where more than 65% of residents are non-white and more than 35% of people live below the poverty line, residents had to rely on a contaminated water supply with high levels of lead and other harmful chemicals for years. While many of the lead-ridden pipes have since been replaced, residents are still struggling with the long-lasting health effects from the lead-ridden water, including high blood lead levels, skin rashes, hair loss, nausea, lower birth weights (particularly among black babies), and even mental health effects such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

In Louisiana, an 85-mile stretch of land known as “Cancer Alley” contains nearly 150 oil refineries and chemical plants that the area’s residents believe have caused cancer and other health issues by polluting their air and water. Cancer Alley’s predominantly lower-income and Black residents are 50 times more likely to get cancer than the average American.

In New Orleans, the areas most affected by Hurricane Katrina were predominantly Black communities, which were located near poorly maintained flood levees and whose residents largely lacked the resources to travel elsewhere to escape the hurricane. 

In North Dakota, on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, thousands of protesters spent months fighting against the Dakota Access Pipeline, fearing that a pipeline leak would contaminate their water supply. But the project moved ahead anyway, and crude oil began flowing through the pipeline beneath their communities in 2017. 

These are just a few of the many communities in the U.S. and around the world facing increased environmental and health risks. Here are some staggering statistics illustrating the environmental injustices in the U.S. and around the world:

  • Communities that are more than 80% non-white are twice as likely to be located near oil and gas disposal wells than communities that are more than 80% white.

  • 79% of incinerators in the U.S. are located in low-income communities and/or communities of color.

  • Black Americans are 30% more likely to have asthma than white Americans—and almost three times more likely to die from asthma-related causes. For children specifically, Black children are nearly eight times more likely to die from asthma-related causes than white children.

  • White Americans have a “pollution advantage”—they experience 17% less air pollution than they cause. Meanwhile, Hispanic and Black Americans have a “pollution burden,” as they experience 63% and 56% more air pollution than they cause, respectively.  

A home in Lousiana's Cancer Alley

A home in Louisiana's "Cancer Alley" (via Grist)

Why Environmental Justice Is So Important

Environmental injustice is a human rights issue, and it will only get worse as climate change further exacerbates these problems. Too many people around the world are already bearing the brunt of climate change—and these are often the people who contribute to it the least and have access to the fewest resources to protect themselves. 

The disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on lower-income communities of color is heartbreaking and unjust. No one should have to live with greater environmental or health risks because of the color of their skin or how much money they have. At CleanChoice Energy, we envision a world free of catastrophic climate change for all. By helping people switch from polluting energy sources to 100% clean energy, we work hard every day to make that vision a reality.

Further Reading: 

Robert Bullard: ‘Environmental justice isn’t just slang, it’s real’ (The Guardian)

“Two different realities”: Why America needs environmental justice (CBS News)

Welcome to “Cancer Alley,” Where Toxic Air Is About to Get Worse (ProPublica)

‘Racism dictates who gets dumped on’: how environmental injustice divides the world (The Guardian)

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