Our topic of the week is environmental justice, which covers the intersection between racial and economic justice and environmental protection efforts. Essentially, environmental justice means that everybody should have equal access to environmental protection opportunities and nobody should bear too much of the burden of environmental damage. As it is now, low-income communities and areas with a majority of people of color have fewer opportunities and are more affected by environmental issues. One of the most prominent examples of environmental injustice in America is the Flint water crisis. Flint, Michigan is a community of primarily people of color and people with low income. In 2014, the city switched its supply of water to the Flint River without properly treating it and without consulting the residents of the city beforehand. Even when residents started to notice the poor water quality, their concerns were dismissed for over a year and, even today, still have not been properly addressed. Flint hasn't had clean water for six years. In order to deal with environmental injustices such as this, the Environmental Protection Agency created the Office of Environmental Justice. The OEJ provides financial assistance to communities working to improve their environment and has had some success in working towards environmental justice for Indigenous people in America.
|A view of the Seaport from our fishing trip|
Being at Fort Point Channel this week fits right in with our theme of environmental justice. The Channel separates downtown Boston from the Seaport area, which is possibly Boston's most glaringly obvious example of gentrification. Not very long ago, the Seaport looked very different. Most of the land there was undeveloped and simply left as empty lots. Over the past few years, there has been plenty of development, with new skyscrapers popping up constantly. The Seaport today is a gorgeous neighborhood, but those views come at a very steep price. I mean that literally; the restaurants and shops are fairly expensive, and most housing costs millions of dollars. So who gets to live on Boston's waterfront near brand new parks and green spaces, far enough from the negative effects of Logan Airport but close enough to easily visit the rest of the city? Only the richest Bostonians. That doesn't seem very much like "equal access" to me. Gentrification and environmental injustice go hand and hand, and Boston's waterfront is experiencing that intersection right now. As the city works to become more climate resilient and environmentally friendly, the waterfront areas especially become safer and more desirable to live in, so the price of living goes up. In areas like the Seaport and East Boston, this drives out poorer residents, making it a privilege to be able to live in a nice environment.
Why should we care? Well, environmental injustice isn't always as simple as rising costs. A lot of cases of environmental injustice, such as the locations of toxic waste sites and Flint's water crisis, actively damage the lives and health of people in those communities. So what can we do to help? Everyone can do their part for the environment by reusing and recycling materials and picking up/throwing away trash, but true environmental justice requires much more work. An important step towards environmental justice is electing government officials who will support the Green New Deal, but young people can make a difference too through youth-led climate movements such as the Sunrise Movement (https://www.sunrisemovement.org). And of course, as with any issue, it's always important to do your own research.
Peace out y'all :)
Larochelle, Claudia. “Five Years Later: Flint Water Crisis Most Egregious Example of Environmental Injustice, U-M Researcher Says.” University of Michigan News, University of Michigan, 23 Apr. 2019, news.umich.edu/five-years-later-flint-water-crisis-most-egregious-example-of-environmental-injustice-u-m-researcher-says/.
“Learn About Environmental Justice.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 7 Nov. 2018, www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/learn-about-environmental-justice.
“Office of Environmental Justice in Action.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2017-09/documents/epa_office_of_environmental_justice_factsheet.pdf.
Tiernan, Erin. “Greenification: Environmental Policy Is Fueling Boston's Housing Crisis.” Boston Herald, Boston Herald, 17 Feb. 2020, www.bostonherald.com/2020/02/16/environmental-gentrification-pushing-up-prices-of-coastal-development/.