April 22nd was Earth Day, and we felt it would be important to talk about environmental justice, an important part of allyship that recognizes the relationship between environmental regulation/protection and systems of oppression, particularly for Communities of Color and women. IU’s recently taken steps to incorporate sustainability on campus, including creating a sustainability literacy curriculum requirement. We overview the history of the movement, the relationship between higher education and environmental justice, and how we can incorporate environmental justice into our allyship.
Reflect: What do you think of when you hear “environmental justice”?
What does “environmental justice” conjure in your mind? Many people see environmental justice as a modern-day movement that is solely focused on climate change. Rather, this movement is deeply intertwined in historical and contemporary waste and resource management policies that have disproportionately affected marginalized communities1,2; Black, Indigenous, and other Activists of Color have lobbied and organized for environmental justice for decades, with many women within these communities leading the fight.3,4,5 Not recognizing the role that environmental justice plays in broader movements for liberation in marginalized communities detracts from the ways that these activists have leaned into their identities, such as gender and feminism,6,7,8,9 in advancing environmental justice. How can having a limited view of environmental justice prevent us from being meaningful allies?
Learn: The relationship between higher education and environmental justice
The role that higher education has played in contributing to and combatting environmental injustice is complicated. The ongoing lack of access to science and technology for marginalized communities has limited the scope of innovation.10, 11 Relatedly, science and technology has largely failed to integrate with social sciences, humanities, and social justice, such as through the ways that STEM has been prioritized for funding12 and the proliferation of programs that do not include justice-oriented teaching/curriculum.13 Despite this gap in funding and attention to environmental justice in much of higher education, students, faculty, and staff are beginning to more regularly protest such things as fossil fuel investments.14,15 Ultimately, collaborations on all levels of the institution and beyond are critical to enacting environmental justice and creating a culture of sustainability in higher education.16
- Discussion questions: How do we honor the history of marginalized communities leading environmental justice? How can we hold each other accountable for sustainability? How can we scaffold environmental justice efforts in our personal, institutional, and professional lives?
- Promote sustainable practices: There are simple things we can do everyday to promote sustainability and environmental justice. Continue to educate yourself on environmental justice issues. Seek out ways to hold representatives accountable. Incorporate sustainable practices in your personal life (e.g., recycling, composting, donating clothes). We can also do our best to support existing community environmental justice efforts, by meaningfully giving our time, resources, and platforms to their expertise.17University of California – Santa Cruz’s People of Color Sustainability Collective is an example of non-extractive, intentional partnerships.
- Talk about environmental justice with others: On top of our own actions, we can also talk to others about environmental justice. These conversations can include talking about environmental justice, holding each other to being more sustainable, and so much more. This also can extend to conversations about the kinds of investments and decisions made within your professional life. Much research points to the importance of environmental justice (as well as social justice) being incorporated into STEM curriculums, which can help teach old concepts in new topical areas.18,19
Weekly Resource Recommendations
- Book: Diversifying Power: Why we Need Antiracist, Feminist Leadership on Climate Change - Stephens discusses the role that diverse leadership plays in determining the future of climate.
- Video: A Brief History of Environmental Justice – ProPublica overviews the precursors and work of environmental justice advocates throughout history.
- Article: A Path To Environmentalism – Kumalah describes her environmentalism journey, including deconstructing the exclusionary ways who gets to be an “environmentalist” is defined
- Podcast: Agents of Change in Environmental Justice – This podcast features interviews with experts who provide helpful insight into how we can be better environmental justice advocates.
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