What Is It? Why Does It Matter?
The first few weeks of the Biden administration have featured significant recognition of a longstanding issue for ardent environmentalists and, increasingly, the general public: the cause of environmental justice.
Exactly what is environmental justice? What are its ramifications for public policy? How should we think about it?
EJ, as it is commonly known for short, refers to the need to redress the fact that environmental degradation falls most heavily on communities of color and on areas of economic deprivation.
Industrial operations, for example, are most often located in or near economically deprived neighborhoods. People who live in those neighborhoods need the economic lifeline of employment, but they are forced to live alongside concentrations of toxic chemicals that induce illnesses, complicate pregnancy, and shorten lifespans. People who already suffer from pre-existing conditions such as asthma are especially vulnerable.
Because of that, it is important to focus on restoring the environment in these neighborhoods and communities—and not making matters worse by transferring problems from relatively affluent areas to those with less economic and political power.
Mila Marshall, the clean water advocate for the Illinois Sierra Club, will speak on environmental justice at the next Sierra Club Woods & Wetlands program meeting on Sunday, March 14.
Marshall is an urban ecologist whose interest in the environment addresses sustainability and social justice. She has a particular focus on water ecology. In addition to her role at the Illinois Sierra Club, Mila is studying for a Ph.D. in ecology at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
"Environmental justice is often a polarizing conversation,” Mila says. "In this time together we listen and share with the intent of understanding the evolution of how environmental justice is a part of a holistic environmental agenda. We touch upon the true costs of segregation through an ecological lens, as well as discuss how nature responds to social influences and lift up how intentional solutions for addressing environmental harm towards people of color can help us achieve climate, biodiversity and sustainability goals for all.”