Environmental Justice

by Karen Monahan

Everyday, we are affected by our environment in one way or another. There are some who are disproportionately affected by our environment. We Call this Environmental Injustice. Environmental racism and classism is the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color and low income. It affects many aspects of ones life. For instance, communities of color and low income communities are most likely to live by dirty coal plants. Folks who live by them often suffer from asthma. African Americans have the highest rate of asthma and often have no health care to get the heath services to deal with it. Asthma is also the number one reason students miss school, link that to test scores and drop out rates. Folks still have to eat and put a roof over their head, so many may turn to a life of crime which can lead to death or incarceration. When we discuss Environmental Justice, we are discussing issues of race, class, health, health care, education, incarceration and may other issues.

Environmental justice is the simple belief that all people deserve a healthy environment – where they live, learn, work, play and pray. In Minnesota, the Sierra Club’s environmental justice program has partnered with community members to address the impact the environment has on our vulnerable communities. We have worked to be included in decisions regarding the green jobs movement, health disparities regarding the air we breathe, and have partnered with various groups to advocate together and cultivate new leadership to grow the environmental justice movement.

In 2010, the Sierra Club environmental justice program was part of the HIRE Minnesota – a coalition of 70 plus community groups seeking public investments that grow our economy, provide living wages to low-income people and people of color, and promote healthy communities. Together, we ensured $2.5 million for green jobs training and energy efficiency outreach to communities of color and low-income communities around the state. Now, state agencies administering these programs have to frequently report to the community on their progress toward training and hiring low-income people and people of color. We can cut down on energy cost and save the climate as we begin to weatherize more homes.

The reality that African Americans suffer higher asthma rates and health disparities associated with air pollution brought Sierra Club and the Minneapolis NAACP (National  for Colored People) together in 2009. Beginning with Earth Day celebrations, together we have honored green heroes of color, shared information from local partners on issues varied from transit, and clean air to healthy food. In 2011, we invited the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to the Minneapolis Urban League to address air pollution and joined with the NAACP nationally calling on the US EPA to adopt strong clean air standards. 

The roots of environmental justice run deep and can be found in communities across the state. We would like to honor leaders before us and those who are now joining the movement. Some of those leaders are inspiring youth from the High school for Recording Arts Green Team, Folks in the Native American Community working on organic gardens, various youth groups using the arts to rep this movement. 

Sierra Club’s environmental justice program is just one of many organizations in the state working on environmental justice issues. See the resources listed here for more information on environmental justice and to get involved.

On the Web – Hiremn.org

Act Locally – The Kitty Andersen Youth Science Center http://www.smm.org/kaysc/history



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