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Environmental Health

The Urban Bike Movement: Peace Rides to Scraper Bikes

In July 24, 2010, an estimated 300 cyclists took to the streets for the third annual Bikes 4 Life Peace Ride. The approximately 10-mile circuit took the riders through the streets of Oakland—around Lake Merritt, down International Blvd, past the Fruitvale BART station (where a candlelight vigil was held for Oscar Grant), and back to West Oakland. As the cavalcade passed through neighborhoods people cheered and motorists honked. The Peace Ride illustrated some of the best qualities of what has become known as the urban bike movement. It’s one thing to get on a bicycle and go for a ride, and quite another to share that experience with a large group of people from diverse ethnic, social, and economic backgrounds. There is strength in numbers and a palpable power in hundreds of cyclists essentially reclaiming public space while raising awareness about transportation, public safety, social justice, non-violence, and environmental issues.

Penn Loh: EJ and TJ

Now 2010

Penn Loh is a professor at Tufts University's Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning. From 1996 to 2009, he served in various roles, including executive director (since 1999) at Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE), a Roxbury-based environmental justice group. He holds an M.S. from the University of California at Berkeley and a B.S. from MIT. Before joining ACE, he was research associate at the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security in Oakland, California.

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Jesse Clarke: What was your involvement with environmental justice in the early ‘90s when you were at the University of California Berkeley?

Penn Loh: I went to UC Berkeley because I realized that much of the work of electrical engineers (I had an undergraduate degree in that field) at that time was really in the military industrial complex. It seemed like the profession, rather than making life better for people, was largely involved in projects supporting war research. So, I started down a different track.

At that time, I saw environment as a secondary concern to other social justice issues. But at U.C.Berkeley I met folks who had just attended the 1991 People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in Washington D.C. I got involved with that student group and also took a class with Carl Anthony. Suddenly, light bulbs went off and I realized, “This is what I can do to contribute to something positive and which goes real deep with respect to my own social justice commitment!”

Chevron in Richmond

By Ellen Choy and Ana Orozco

www.truecostofchevron.com

As oil reserves dwindle across the planet, the oil industry is seeking to exploit energy-intensive, dirtier, ‘bottom-of-the-barrel’ crude oil, such as can be found in the Alberta Tar Sands of Canada and the Orinoco Belt in Venezuela. Rather than shifting to renewable energy and conservation, the industry is pushing to “retrofit” 33 existing refineries, construct five new ones, and build thousands of miles of new pipeline in the United States. The Chevron refinery in Richmond, California is one of the battlegrounds in this global struggle.

Incinerators in Delhi Threaten Waste-Pickers

The waste-pickers of Delhi may soon rank among the world’s endangered species if carbon markets continue their rise. Now numbering in the tens if not hundreds of thousands, waste-pickers have plied the garbage of Delhi’s streets for decades. A disturbing spectacle, often including women and children in their ranks, they nonetheless provide a vital service: recycling. In a country like India, paper, plastic, and metals are an increasingly valuable commodity. And for slum-dwellers, this may be their only source of income.

And so they join the cows and dogs in a daily forage through garbage by the side of road, searching for plastic, paper, metals—anything that can be turned into cash.

Bharati Chaturvedi, director and co-founder of Chintan, a small non-governmental organization (NGO) servicing India’s waste-pickers, claims that more than one percent of Delhi’s population is engaged in waste-picking—a significant source of revenue for the poorest—and that they recycle nine percent to 59 percent of all of the waste generated in the city. “These waste-pickers are providing a public service—for free,” Chaturvedi says.

Bay Area Health Inequities

The generation of Americans born at the beginning of the 21st century can expect to live, on average, 30 years longer than those born at the beginning of the 20th century. And at least 25 of those years are attributable, not to antibiotics, vaccines, and other medical advances, but to improvements in our physical and social environments, such as food and water sanitation, workplace and traffic safety, restrictions on the use of tobacco products, and housing conditions.[1]

Geographic distribution of poverty rates in Bay Area counties.

In fact, the odds of being healthy can depend very much on the community in which you live. In the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, people who live in West Oakland can expect to live on average 10 years less than those who live in the Berkeley Hills. Similarly, people in Bayview/Hunters Point can expect to live on average 14 years less than their counterparts on Russian Hill, and residents of Bay Point can expect to live on average 11 years less than people in Orinda.[2]

Life expectancy in the Bay Area—and around the nation—conforms to a pattern called the “social gradient.”[3] The more income and wealth people have, the more likely they are to live longer. This pattern can be seen in the graph “Bay Area Life Expectancy by Race/Ethnicity: Data from 1999-2001” (on page 85), which correlates life expectancy to the extent of poverty in specific areas (census tracts). People who live in places where there is the least poverty can expect to live, on average, 10 years longer than people in places with the most poverty.

Traffic Causes Death and Disease in San Francisco Neighborhood

There is an environmental and health crisis brewing in the inner city and working class barrios of the San Francisco Bay Area. Their residents—primarily working class communities of color and immigrants—are dealing with the health impacts of heavy local and regional traffic that has been disproportionately channeled through their neighborhoods. Thanks to the transportation planning decisions made over the last generation, families looking for housing are often faced with the “choice” of an affordable but unhealthy community vs. a healthy but unaffordable neighborhood.

A Community Overwhelmed by Traffic

Southeastern San Francisco’s Excelsior District is a vibrant, working class community, home to many families of color and immigrants. It is also a community cradled by Highway 280 and the large, busy thoroughfares of Alemany Boulevard, Mission Street, and San Jose Avenue. So, there is a constant flow of traffic—particularly fast-moving trucks and buses on residential streets.

Concerned about the health impacts of the inordinately heavy traffic with its concomitant air pollution, noise, and safety hazards on the largely immigrant and working class communities of the area, PODER (People Organizing to Demand Environmental & Economic Rights), along with researchers from the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) and the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health (UCB), developed a community-based Health Impact Assessment (HIA).[1]

PODER, community residents, and allies conducted door-to-door surveys in Spanish, English, and Chinese; counted traffic on street corners; took pictures of the neighborhood; and interviewed local residents to gather first-hand experiences and document the voices and ideas of the community within the HIA. The participatory approach brought together people of all ages and immigrant backgrounds to share their knowledge and experiences.

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