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What is Environmental Justice? - Definition, Principles, Examples & Issues

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  • 0:06 Environment
  • 0:53 Environmental Justice
  • 1:53 Issues & Examples
  • 3:31 Principles
  • 4:58 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Environmental justice is a movement that grew from the recognition of a disproportionate number of environmental burdens in certain communities. It works to ensure a healthy environment for all regardless of race, nationality, income, gender or age.

Environment: Definition

When you think about the environment, your mind might conjure up images of rambling rivers, peaceful woodlands or scenic mountains. However, a broader definition of environment is the surroundings or conditions in which a person lives. By this definition, the environment would include your home, place of work, schools, and community parks. These are the places you spend your time, and they play a big role in your overall health, happiness and well-being.

Those involved in the movement called environmental justice feel that a healthy environment is a necessary component of a healthy life. In this lesson, we will learn about environmental justice and its efforts to make everyone's environment clean, safe and healthy.

Environmental Justice

The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. In other words, your health should not suffer because of the environment where you live, work, play or learn.

The concept of environmental justice began as a movement in the 1980s due to the realization that a disproportionate number of polluting industries, power plants, and waste disposal areas were located near low-income or minority communities. The movement was set in place to ensure fair distribution of environmental burdens among all people regardless of their background.

Environmental Justice Issues and Examples

Examples of environmental burdens that may be considered under the umbrella of environmental justice cover many aspects of community life. These burdens can include any environmental pollutant, hazard or disadvantage that compromises the health of a community or its residents. For instance, one of the environmental justice issues and examples is inadequate access to healthy food. Certain communities, particularly lower-income or minority communities, often lack supermarkets or other sources of healthy and affordable foods.

Another issue is inadequate transportation. While public transportation may be available in urban areas, policies must be monitored to avoid cuts in service and fare hikes that make it difficult for community residents to pursue employment or an adequate living standard.

Air and water pollution are major environmental justice issues. Because many lower-income or minority communities are located near industrial plants or waste disposal sites, air and water quality can suffer if not properly monitored.

These communities may also contain older and unsafe homes. Older homes are more likely to have lead-based paint that can chip and find its way into the dust and soil surrounding the home, leading to illness. These houses may also be prone to structural problems, mold or other hazards that put residents at higher risk of health problems.

Principles of Environmental Justice

In 1991, principles of environmental justice were adopted at the First National People of Color Leadership Summit meeting in Washington D.C.

These principles are based on two major parts. The first is fair treatment, which states that no person or group should have to carry a majority of the environmental burdens and everyone should have equal protection from environmental hazards. Policies set by government and actions performed by corporate organizations can have a detrimental effect on a community. Fair treatment ensures that no group or community should suffer an unequal portion of negative environmental effects that result from these policies or actions.

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