For most people, the term “environmental justice” is about as elusive as a BP representative when confronted with paying for the gulf oil spill disaster. However, the most basic definition is intuitive — it is the intersection of environmental issues and social justice. Some classic examples are of toxic waste treatment facilities that are placed disproportionately in communities of color and of lower income, causing cancer and other diseases at significantly higher rates than anywhere else. This kind of discrimination does not necessarily stem from hate but from something equally disturbing: convenience. By targeting communities that do not have access to legal resources or environmental education, corporations are able to get away with slow, disease-ridden murder.
Environmental justice is a useful lens through which to view global climate problems, since communities that are most likely to be affected by the disastrous climate-changing choices of pollution-producing nations are those that already have fewer resources. This means that our choices as the number one, per capita, pollution-producing nation in the world do not just affect the environment in the abstract; not just trees and hippie stuff. It means our choices also affect real people — people who do not have the means to escape the dirty air and dirty water that our choices effectively force on them.
A prime example of environmental justice is happening right here in Santa Barbara county. Hydraulic fracturing is the process of injecting water and chemicals deep into the earth in order to release natural gas and other deposits, and it has occurred near Goleta in the past six months. Although energy companies claim this process is entirely safe, most of them refuse to release the list of chemicals they use. Furthermore, there have been numerous instances across the nation of chemical leakages into aquifers, resulting in residents literally being able to light their tap water on fire. Situations like these speak to the need for education and activism on the environmental justice front.
To learn more about fracking, visit EAB’s table in the Arbor from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today and watch the film “Gasland” at 4 p.m. in the Multi Purpose Room of the SRB, where an Environmental Defense Center attorney will be available to answer questions about fracking in Santa Barbara County. Another environmental justice event that EAB will be hosting is a discussion with local Comanche speaker Pete Crowheart at 12:30 p.m. in the SRB 2nd Floor Conference Room to share how his community has been affected by changes in their local environment.
Cassie Belden is a fourth-year psychology and environmental studies major.
Factoids: Did you know that African Americans are 79 percent more likely than Whites to live in neighborhoods where industrial pollution is suspected of causing the greatest health dangers?
The Commission for Racial Justice contends that “approximately half of all Native Americans live in communities with an uncontrolled toxic waste site.”