Environmental Justice

As part of its series on environmental justice in America, the article the Guardian published today is about a study of 90,000 schools across the US, Air pollution: black, Hispanic and poor students most at risk from toxins – study.

The study used EPA and census data to map out air pollution exposure for those 90,000 schools, and concluded “Schoolchildren across the US are plagued by air pollution that’s linked to multiple brain-related problems, with black, Hispanic and low-income students most likely to be exposed to a fug of harmful toxins at school, scientists and educators have warned.”  The article includes numerous statistics and maps to document this.

“When you look at the pattern, it’s so pervasive that you have to call it an injustice and racism.” Dr Sara Grineski, author of the first national study on air pollution and schools. “We’re only now realizing how toxins don’t just affect the lungs but influence things like emotional development, autism, ADHD and mental health,” she said. “Socially marginalized populations are getting the worst exposure.”

Definitions:
Environmental equity: Poison people equally
Environmental justice: Stop poisoning people, period.

Environmental racism is the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color. Environmental justice is the movement’s response to environmental racism. “Environmental equity” is not environmental justice. “Environmental equity” is the government’s response to the demands of the environmental justice movement. Government agencies, like the EPA, have been coopting the movement by redefining environmental justice as “fair treatment and meaningful involvement,” something they consistently fail to accomplish, but which also falls far short of the environmental justice vision. The environmental justice movement isn’t seeking to simply redistribute environmental harms, but to abolish them.  from the Energy Justice Network.

The way that I became connected to the Kheprw Institute (KI) in Indianapolis was because of their work on environmental problems in the inner city.  Their initial projects involved a large aquaponics system and building and selling rain barrels.  I remember talking with Scattergood School’s farm manager, Mark Quee, about what KI was doing.  And I remember him saying he would be very concerned about raising food in the inner city because of the toxins in the soil.

KI is a great place to connect with social activists, and I was very fortunate to meet and become friends with Denise Abdul-Rahman, chairwoman of Indiana’s NAACP Environmental Justice Committee.

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Imhotep Adisa and Denise Abdul-Rahman at KI

Denise almost single-handedly convinced the Indianapolis Power and Light Company, which has a huge power plant in downtown Indianapolis, to switch from burning coal to natural gas, instead. I have mentioned one of the things my KI friends do is to support social justice meetings, including live-streaming them. The photos below are from the NAACP celebration of stopping the coal burning.

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