Environmental Justice Explained (and What You Can Do)

Conversations about and action for the environment are impossible without the individuals that live, work, and utilize the environment in their daily lives. Environmental justice is a movement that acknowledges this fact and works to empower all individuals regardless of race, gender, or income.  

Today, environmental justice is central to environmentalism as a whole, so we’re going to explore what it means, how the movement started, and how you can get involved.

What is Environmental Justice?

Environmental justice is a movement focused on empowering everyone when it comes to environmental policy. 

Although environmental justice has roots in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s, it came into its own when the 1987 study titled “Toxic Waste and Race in the United States” was published.  This study revealed for the first time that racial minorities were unfairly targeted when it came to the location of toxic waste disposal sites and other types of environmental pollution.  

This is environmental injustice: the unfair treatment of low income and minority populations related to environmental regulations and policies.  The result for those communities can be (but is not limited to) poorer health, loss of environmental resources, and lack of access to environmental services. 


Credit: Conservation Law Foundation


What Environmental Injustice Looks Like

There are a multitude of ways that environmental injustice can occur including lack of access, food, land/resource use, and pollution.  

It’s become clear that minority and low income communities have significantly less access to green spaces than more affluent communities.  Green spaces have a positive affect on mental and physical health by giving communities a place to exercise, socialize, and enjoy the outdoors.  Uneven distribution of these spaces means low income and minority communities not only have less access, but they also have fewer community resources to maintain them. 

Lower income communities also face significant challenges when it comes to accessing healthy, quality food.  Food prices in these communities are often higher while the quality of the food is lower.  While the average American household spends just 14% of its income on food, low-income families spend over 30% and face challenges getting to supermarkets due to uneven distribution and lack of transportation access.

Despite the 1987 study that brought the issue to light, minority communities are still dealing with more toxic waste and pollution than other neighborhoods. 56% of the population living near facilities that use toxic chemicals are people of color.  


Credit: Houston History Magazine


Land use is also a significant environmental justice issue.  Many of the precious resource reserves including coal and uranium occur on indigenous land.  When these reserves are discovered, the land and the resources themselves are taken away from indigenous communities, land they have lived on and looked after for generations. 

How We Can All Help Fight Environmental Injustice

Since the movement began, environmental justice has been a national conversation.  There is now even an office of the Environmental Protection Agency specifically focused on the issue. 

But there is still much work to be done. 

As environmental issues change and evolve, there are subsets of the environmental justice movement beginning as well.  With the rise of concern regarding climate change, “climate justice” has become a common phrase.  Climate justice acknowledges that the negative effects of climate change are not felt equally, and have a larger impact on poor communities and minority populations. 

Climate justice is something we at Alter Eco feel personally.  Our farmers are located near the equator, where temperatures are projected to rise even more than the global average.  They are already feeling the effects more severely, and there is no doubt that they will continue to. 

Climate change, pollution, pandemics, land, and environmental resource allocation are all environmental justice topics that are just as relevant today as they were in the 1980s.  So how can you make a difference?

Use the resources you have to make an impact.  If you have financial resources, consider making regular donations to organizations whose mission is to fight environmental injustice and create healthier, better environments for all.  If you can’t give financially, consider donating your time.  Sign petitions, write your political leaders, and dig deep into understanding the environmental justice issues that affect your specific community.  

Credit: The Aspen Institute

At Alter Eco, we provide funding, training, and resources to our farmers in order for them to transition to regenerative agriculture.  This ensures food security and diversifies their income streams, making them more resilient to the effects of climate change.

We all benefit from a more environmentally just world.  Let’s take action every day to better our planet and, as a result, the people that live on it.  

More Posts