Environmental justice is the social justice expression of environmental ethics. The environmental justice movement emerged to challenge the unfair distribution of toxic, hazardous and dangerous waste facilities, which were disproportionately located in low income communities of color. This movement is a distinct expression of environmentalism, for it works to improve the protection of human communities and is generally less attentive to wild nature. It is environmental protection where people live, work and play. Over the two past decades it has expanded its scope from community-oriented anti-toxics activism to address global scale inequalities in economic development and environmental degradation.
The idea of environmental justice draws heavily from civil rights, public health, abor and community organizing efforts, and the environmental justice movement reflects this. As a result, this movement devotes itself to the unfair distribution of environmental risks and resources, and promotes efforts to prevent pollution from impacting low income communities. It complements traditional environmentalism's efforts to protect nature by making the poor and marginalized the object of special concern. Its power lies in its appeal to a fundamental ethic of fairness. Members of this movement argue that it is unjust for politically marginalized, low income communities of color to suffer such a heavy burden of polluting activities. More recently this framework has been adapted to evaluate the extraction and distribution of resources (clean air, food and water).
Origins of the idea and movement
The first steps toward environmental justice were taken by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968, the very week he was assassinated. He had come to Memphis to assist Black sanitation workers striking for equity in pay and working conditions. During subsequent years, advocates in poor communities (both urban and rural) began noticing patterns. In partnership with academic researchers, these groups demonstrated how negative environmental impacts disproportionately impact low income people and communities
The term "environmental justice" was first articulated by a report of the United Church of Christ's Commission for Racial Justice, Toxic Wastes and Race. The environmental justice movement built upon the work of previous U.S. social movements for justice (civil rights, labor rights, and community organizing efforts). African American churches who had been active in civil rights advocacy were early and important religious contributors to this "new" environmentalism. An alternative vision of environmental protection emerged from the collaboration between community groups and scholars. Together they described the common patterns of environmental harm suffered by inner city African Americans, Native Americans on reservations, and rural Mexican Americans (especially farm workers and their rural communities). These groups viewed the problems of hazardous industries and industrial waste as yet another manifestation of discrimination and racism. The severe public health problems impacted neighborhoods already suffering from economic marginalization, crime, and poor schools. Thus, environmental problems are seen as one dimension of many forms of racial injustice visited upon some low income communities of color. The environmental justice movement arose to criticize what they perceived to be unjust public policies, but also to critique conventional environmental organizations, which then employed few persons of color and reflected middle and upper class concerns. The leaders asserted the need for an alternative approach to environmental leadership, and they took the problem of toxic racism or environmental injustice and reframed it positively: environmental justice.
Environmental justice concerns are always embedded in a broader vision for justice in society. They are not distinct from efforts to enhance economic justice and political power for marginalized communities. Environmental justice carries a critique (whether explicit or implicit) of any environmentalism that is disconnected from the needs of poor and vulnerable people. A chief distinguishing feature of environmental justice is that it never considers environmental issues separate from social justice efforts.of color.
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