Week #3: Environmental Racism

The convergence of social and ecological justice

In the wake of the Global Climate Strike on Friday, this weeks newsletter is focused on the issue of Environmental racism. People often say, “climate change affects us all, regardless of color, class, gender, etc,” but that’s simply not true. Though the climate crisis will affect us all eventually, currently, and for many years, the brunt of pollution has fallen on black and brown communities. The data shows that white people contribute to environmental degradation far more than people of color, yet people of color have to endure the consequences. This week I have three stories for you that may stray away from the thread of the adventurer or outdoors-person but have everything to do with marginalized communities lacking access to nature and its resources.

Flint’s Water Crisis Started 5 Years Ago. It’s Not Over.

Photo courtesy of The New York Times


Clean water is a right that the majority of the U.S. takes for granted, but to the residents of Flint, Michigan clean water is more like a privilege. In this article,  Mitch Smith, Julie Bosman and Monica Davey update the New York Times’ audience on the Flint water crisis. In 2014, the mayor declared that Flint’s new source of water would be the Flint River, but the citizens soon realized there was something wrong with this water. They complained to their local government, telling them that the water looked and tasted like rust and was making them sick, but no one listened. Today, five years later, residents are still living off bottled water. Officials recently told residents that the water is now clean, but the citizens no longer trust the government and don’t want to risk drinking lead-filled water. “It’s a community that’s still dealing with the trauma and the aftermath of having been poisoned at the hands of the government,” Said new mayor Karen Weaver. In order to force them to drink the water, the government is beginning to take away the free bottled water they have been providing for the past 5 years. 

On Review: 

  • Similarly to other towns suffering from environmental injustice, the majority of Flint’s citizens are black. This article fails to mention this fact even though systemic racism is largely to blame for the crisis.

  • The article also does not bring up Mari Copeny, also known as Little Miss Flint, who became a prominent figure in the news in 2014 for her clean water advocacy. She is now 11 years old and is still fighting for Flint.

The Green Movement Is Talking About Racism? It's About Time

Photo Courtesy of Outside Magazine


Brentin Mock writes about the racist roots of the environmental movement for Outside Magazine. Organizations like the Sierra Club were built to protect and conserve ‘public’ lands for future generations, but these lands already had protectors in Native people. Native folks had their land stolen, and these organizations excluded all other people of color from participating as well. During Roosevelt’s era, land promised to previously enslaved Black people was used to create more national parks. Men like John Muir, Madison Grant, and Frederick Jackson Turner were involved in building the national parks and simultaneously supported white supremacy and tough immigration policy. Mock said, “Given the history of conservationists elevating endangered plant life over endangered people of color, it is environmentalism’s soul that most needs saving.” Mock points out the irony that areas of preserved nature (i.e. national parks) are still exclusive to non-white people while communities of color are pushed further into polluted and deteriorated urban areas.

On Review: 

  • Finally, Outside Magazine has an article on racism written by a person of color. However, it should be noted that Brentin Mock is only a guest writer for Outside as he works for City Lab full time. 

  • This piece is longform and comprehensive which is not typical for Outside, but is crucial when tackling this issue.

'They chose us because we were rural and poor': when environmental racism and climate change collide

Photo courtesy of timeline.com


Megan Mayhew Bergman wrote about and investigated the effects of environmental racism in the South for the Guardian. She gives a long list of examples of towns that have been put in danger by corporations who have no care for the lives of low-income residents or residents of color. Bergman said, “The EPA estimates that 1.5 million people of color live in areas vulnerable to contamination.” She spoke with a woman who was part of the 1982 protests in Warren, North Carolina. In this situation, a company tried to deposit tons of toxic PCB waste, a chemical that can cause cancer, in the predominantly Black town of Warren. In response to a conversation with Rick Middleton in Charlottesville, Virginia, Bergam said, “Virginia’s current ethical race-based fumbles are stereotypical of what people expect from the south. What outsiders don’t always expect are the intelligent and passionate movements that grow in response to systematic injustice here.” She points out that the region of the country responsible for the most pollution is the south.

On Review:

  • Though Bergman puts herself in this article quite often, it is arguably valuable because she explains that she is from the South and therefore was able to connect and gain deeper information from her interviewees. 

  • It is effective that Bergman interviewed someone who works and lives in Charlottesville as it is both a place steeped in racism and injustice and a place where people are uniting and working tirelessly to make change. Then again, as a Charlottesville native, maybe i’m just biased.

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