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Environmental Inequality

Updated: Mar 8, 2021

Week 17: October 19, 2020

We are in the midst of a climate emergency, and the effects are becoming increasingly clear. Because of the decades of systemic discrimination and oversight, lower income communities, indigenous people, and other marginalized groups are experiencing the brunt of the effects.

While climate change in its entirety is a global issue that will have an impact on every person’s life, many of its effects are actually highly localized, and these locations can be controlled and prioritized. For example, factories, sewage treatment plants, and other industrialized processes can greatly increase the pollution at a particular location.

Despite clear evidence connecting proximity to these facilities to health detriments, the government has continued to intentionally build infrastructure in marginalized communities. One example of environmental discrimination can be found in the North River sewage treatment plant in New York. The federal government mandated that a treatment plant be made to protect the water quality of the Hudson River, and while engineers thought that the more affluent west side of Manhattan would be the best place to put the plant, developers, who were interested in that area managed to get the City Planning Commission to instead move the plant to Harlem. As a result, one of the city’s largest treatment plants is directly across from a residential area.

Indigenous communities are also under tremendous environmental stresses as the government fails again and again to adequately protect their lands. This was brought to mainstream news with the Dakota Access pipeline which is a 1,200 mile project planned to run under the Missouri river, putting the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s primary source of water at risk, along with damaging sacred land (read more about the Dakota pipeline).

Both the government and companies need to start taking climate action now, and they need to do so in a way that protects the health and well being of historically unprotected communities. Environmental inequality runs deep, and its effects will become more severe in the coming years, so we must educate ourselves and pressure our government to make a change.

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