Why Should We All Care About Environmental Justice?

Compassionate Atlanta recently hosted a webinar entitled “Compassionate Conversations: Environmental Justice” featuring Ms. Whitney Brown who is the communications director of Interfaith Power and Light. I want to thank Ms. Whitney Brown for bringing this issue of environmental justice to Compassionate Atlanta and to our faith-based communities so that we can all learn something from this.

Ms. Brown explained that environmental justice is a response to environmental racism. Before this Zoom conversation I had never heard of those two terms before. Environmental racism exists when neighborhoods where mostly people of color live and are disproportionately near environmental hazards such as garbage dumps, landfills, toxic waste facilities, and other sources of pollution.  Environmental justice seeks to make sure that everyone has equal access to clean air, clean water, and a pollution-free environment.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines environmental justice this way: “Environmental Justice (EJ) is 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.”

For those of you that weren’t a part of the Zoom conversation, one of the examples that Ms. Brown talked about was Juliette, Georgia. Georgia Power mismanaged hazardous waste materials there, so some of the material leaked into the water supply and it caused diseases such as cancer and immune disorders. It is sad that they mismanaged how they were handling that situation with the residents. Georgia Power should be held responsible for not cleaning up their hazardous materials because we should want to protect everyone in that community. This should be a lesson for all people involved, to not leave hazardous material out where it can leak into the water supply.

We as a nation need to figure out environmental justice as a whole because it does affect many communities, specifically people of color and other ethnic backgrounds. We all should have the same access to a clean environment, including clean drinking water, healthy food, and clean air quality so that we don’t have to suffer various kinds of diseases caused by toxins in our environment. Everyone’s access to a clean environment should all be equal, but it is not. It is necessary to change that in the federal law to make a healthy environment equally available to all people.

Whitney Brown spoke specifically on what different faith-based communities can do about environmental justice. It is my personal view that all church denominations and other religious groups should get behind this environmental justice push, because we all need to be concerned about the environment, not just the government. We don’t just live in houses; we live in the environment, and if we don’t take care of the environment, I am concerned that there would be nothing left.

We all need to be aware of what is going on around the state of Georgia, not just in Atlanta, so that we can keep an eye on people’s health and safety. I also think what’s going on in each state needs to be reported on the national news, not just the local news affiliates, so that we can have a national conversation about environmental issues and the specific, disproportionate impact on communities of color.

Ms. Whitney opened all of our eyes, especially mine, because I never knew the impact of environmental justice on people of color until this presentation. Now I will see the world in a totally different light because of this Zoom conversation. I bet for most people on the call it opened people’s eyes so that they too can understand environmental justice in a lot more detail. I also think that there needs to be more conversations like this so that people like me can understand environmental justice a little bit more than they do now.

I would encourage you if you want to know more about environmental justice and what it means for the city of Atlanta and for the state in general, my suggestion is to do some research on your own. Everyone needs to care about the environment that they live in and the people in their community, because there needs to be greater conversation about environmental justice.

Jimmy Freels
Community Outreach Associate
Compassionate Atlanta

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