Environmental justice is defined 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 … [and] regulations.” Environmental injustice, therefore, is when people are treated unfairly concerning the environment. The concept of environmental injustice is seen on a very wide scale. Throughout the University of Connecticut, we see an uneven distribution and poor regulation of housing. Northwest dorms, for instance, had a severe black mold scare last semester where some students even had to be relocated. Although this is a well-known issue, administration is doing little to improve housing, and sadly this is not just the case at UConn. Abuses of environmental justice are occurring in communities across the country because citizens are not taking accountability for environmental injustices against underserviced communities.
Environmental injustice issues were brought to the forefront of the UConn community a few weeks ago when noted activist Catherine Flowers visited on Oct. 11 to deliver a lecture on economic and social rights. Flowers is famous for her many accomplishments in the environmental justice field, especially her discovery that rare diseases (many of which were thought to be extinct in the developed world) are still occurring in low-income areas.
Through my work as a Bennet Research Assistant in UConn’s Political Science department, I was able to interview her. She explained that frontline communities are the first places that people go to place failing systems, such as poorly designed infrastructure or contaminated water systems. Frontline communities often do not get proper representation in government and because of this, they fall victim to neglectful regulation or abuses by major companies. Flowers went on to explain that “we live in a time where profit trumps people.” Our mega-capitalist society has a fixation on economic gain for few, leaving many more behind to deteriorate. More often than not, this burden falls on underrepresented minority communities.
Clearly, something needs to be changed. However, while solutions to environmental injustice may seem as simple as criticizing the wealth distribution in America, the conflict is littered with layers of complications. First off, the causes of these injustices cannot be fixed without transformative, systemic change. Poor infrastructure, unregulated garbage dumps, contaminated water and similar issues take years and a lot of money to address. For example, Flint, Michigan is still struggling to fully clean their water supply after being contaminated with lead for two full years. Not to mention that citizens, especially children, in the city are likely going to deal with the side effects of lead poisoning for their whole lives.
In addition to this, a solution would require substantial legal reforms and policy changes. During her visit, Flowers also spoke about the Green New Deal, a proposal introduced in the U.S. Congress that addresses climate change and economic inequality. She voiced her strong support for the proposal, stating that “we have to create systems in these towns where the drinking water will not be contaminated every time it rains.” We need a fundamental change in our policies so that the issues of environmental injustice can be tackled at the core.
Above all, students need to get involved. Flowers stressed many times in her interview that “students are our future:” If we are not addressing these issues then no one else will. As students, it is now our responsibility to make sure that we are taking action in climate strikes, educating ourselves, making sure policies are amended and getting to know about the Green New Deal. Environmental injustice is chronic in our society today and it is our responsibility as inhabitants of this country to work towards change.
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Cassidy Fawcett is contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.