How Environmental Justice & Social Justice are Connected

Photo credit: Joan Villalon

As we demand ‘a more just and peaceful world’ while demonstrating against systemic social injustice, some fear environmental causes are being eclipsed. Sadly, it is a legitimate fear. Along with plastic bag bans and recycling plus composting mandates being suspended – hard won, vital environmental regulations are being flagrantly dismantled daily. 

While we are protesting and making our voices heard in demand for racial justice, it is important to remember that our daily, environmentally-conscious decisions are in fact a powerful act of advocacy for social justice. 

Social justice and environmental justice are inextricably linked because our most underserved, politically, and economically marginalized communities exist the most directly downstream of pollution. African-Americans and people of color represent over half of the 9 million people living near hazardous waste sites, landfills, and industrial plants – and thus are three times more likely to die of pollution related illness than their white counterparts. Without adequate representation, disenfranchised BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) groups struggle to protect themselves and fight against environmental injustice – in addition to being economically impotent to escape it.

photo credit: Markus Spiske

Complicit institutional suppression and violence not only applies to BIPOC groups – but to the environment as well. Property values and job markets in areas where natural resources have been compromised will take decades to come back, as is evidenced in Flint, MI. And water insecurity in Indigenous communities leave those residing there to languish. Diseases like Covid escalate rampantly without adequate clean water. Globally, migration due to the climate crisis is perpetually on the rise as consistently high temperatures, drought, and flooding are forcing large populations to move to more hospitable regions. All while it is getting harder and harder to relocate to those more hospitable regions.

Photo credit: Thomas Allsop

So yes, while our democratic house is currently on fire, our larger house has been burning for quite some time and we cannot afford to look away. We no longer have that luxury. Covid is not an excuse to pollute – and neither is social revolution. In fact, the pandemic and social upheaval should hopefully be a galvanizing force to rebuild broken, ineffectual systems and institutions, and correct the injustices and imbalances making it difficult for a significant portion of our citizens to live and prosper. 

Your eco-conscious habits make a difference. Keep the larger view in mind each time you eliminate polluting material from your daily routine. Each time you bring a reusable bottle, cup, or straw out into the world as part of your everyday habit, or vow to never buy cling wrap, plastic zip-lock bags, paper towels, or single-use disposable anything. These waste items are either non-recyclable or have a dismal chance of actually being recycled despite your best intentions. Single-use plastics are petroleum products, which require polluting extraction and leave a toxic trail, resulting in a product that is nearly impossible to get rid of.

The revolution taking place at this moment is about respect, safety, and equality for ALL, regardless or race and socio-economic power. We cannot attain these demands without protecting our environment – because environmental degradation always leaves some group holding the shortest straw. But make no mistake, in the long term we ALL lose if we ignore the health of our Earth.

About the Author

Here at Jenny Green Jeans, by sharing success stories and easy-to- implement tips, I hope to inspire and empower you to continue to make sustainable choices in your life and watch how far the impact goes. Please contact me with any questions or suggestions you may have. Also visit the Green Design Goods store for my favorite environmentally sustainable products.

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