Raising issues of environmental justice
Published: Thursday, April 29, 2010
Updated: Thursday, April 29, 2010 06:04
An important social−environmental movement that we don't hear about as much as the mainstream environmental movement is that of environmental justice (EJ). The EJ movement combines environmentalism and social justice into a single theory that calls for equality in the sharing of benefits and burdens of the environment. That is, no group should disproportionately bear the brunt of environmental harm while other groups reap all the benefits. Traditional environmentalism focuses much less on complex internal social issues, rather on ameliorating environmental problems as a whole.
EJ aims to empower and advocate for those with lower socioeconomic statuses and members of minority groups. According to the environmental justice scholar Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., "Millions of African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans are trapped in polluted environments because of their race and color. Some Americans do not have the same opportunities to breathe clean air, drink clean water, enjoy clean parks and playgrounds, or work in a clean, safe environment." Environmental injustice is undeniably a global issue, wherein entire nations are unfairly burdened while others reap the benefits.
One major area of concern for the environmental justice movement is workers' rights and safety. Many victims of environmental injustice find themselves subject to environmental job blackmail: when the fear of unemployment forces people to take jobs that pose risks to the health of themselves and their environment. Residents of poorer communities are often faced with the choice of either working in potentially harmful jobs or not working at all.
Yesterday was Workers' Memorial Day, which is held every year to commemorate the thousands of workers who are killed and the millions more who are injured or diseased each year because of their jobs. Environmentally harmful jobs can be among some of the most dangerous for workers. Consider for a moment the health risks of merely living in close proximity to environmentally harmful factories and businesses. Famous real−life cases like those portrayed in the films "Erin Brockovich" (2000) and "A Civil Action" (1998) are no doubt familiar to most and have helped many citizens come to understand the real health and environmental impacts of environmentally hazardous businesses. Working in these conditions can put employees at significant risk for serious health problems each and every day. We must be aware of the conditions many workers face and work to promote better safety and greater rights for workers, keeping in mind the importance of environmental justice.
Safe workplaces are not a remote concept; Tufts employs hundreds of workers whose environmental safety we can advocate for. Although Tufts has switched over to Green Seal−certified cleaning products, which is certainly a step in the right direction, this does not eliminate the risks to employees on this campus. Even though a cleaning product may be labeled "green," it can still pose significant health hazards, including corrosive effects to the eyes, nose, throat and respiratory tract. Our janitors are exposed to these hazards every day. As they typically remain in their jobs for many years, janitors receive long−term exposure to these chemicals — exposure which is increased because our bathrooms are not especially well−ventilated. This risk is compounded by the fact that most janitors live in communities that experience more than their fair share of environmental injustices.
Today in the Mayer Campus Center from 10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m., our English class, Environmental Justice and U.S. Literature — taught by Professor Elizabeth Ammons — will be hosting a Social Activism Day to spread awareness about the environmental injustices faced by Tufts employees and residents of Massachusetts alike. Come out and ask us questions about the issues, learn what we have to share about our semester in this class and share your thoughts and opinions! Kelli Farrington is a senior majoring in political science. Shreya Gandhi is a freshman who has not yet declared a major. Audrey Miller is a sophomore who is majoring in English. Stephanie Wieseler is a sophomore who is a dual degree student with the New England Conservatory of Music. They are all members of the Environmental Justice and U.S. Literature course.
Kelli Farrington is a senior majoring in political science. Shreya Gandhi is a freshman who has not yet declared a major. Audrey Miller is a sophomore who is majoring in English. Stephanie Wieseler is a sophomore who is a dual degree student with the New England Conservatory of Music. They are all members of the Environmental Justice and U.S. Literature course.