Scientific research and technology have been key tools in the struggle for environmental and social justice. Research and data interpreted by environmental justice activists have provided much of the evidence community advocates use to bolster claims of disproportionate environmental impacts on poor communities of color. Yet the EJ Movement has not fully embraced science.
While environmental health has been an important focus for poor communities, EJ groups haven’t typically been involved in the research because environmental health advocates and scientists tend to focus primarily on health outcomes and environmental inputs, and academic disciplines like toxicology, without an analysis of such factors as race and class. This problem leaves EJ activists torn between their need for science and their disappointment in it because it often comes from a perspective that discounts their experiences.
On a national level, we have witnessed how politicians can distort or ignore even the most rigorous science (e.g. global warming, mercury emissions) for political and economic ends. Polluting industries can hire expensive scientists to prove their case while communities, lacking comparable resources, often don’t have the expertise or the opportunity to object. But when there are such rollbacks in environmental policy and a lack of enforcement, communities of color and low-income people are hit hardest.
We bring this issue to you at a time when environmental illnesses, such as asthma, are on the rise and the desire for data linking environmental factors to illnesses is growing. Because low-income people are most affected, they are at the forefront of demanding science that is more accountable to their everyday realities. Through techniques such as community-based participatory research, communities are not only gaining skills and greater capacity, but more tools that can be turned into action.
As we shift the research paradigm on the ground, we must also advocate with our representatives to make sure public policy supports the needs of affected communities. Decision-makers must adhere to guidelines for meaningful public participation in the process of conducting environmental impact reports and other findings that affect communities.
- As part of our transportation justice campaign, UH recently helped organize a regional diesel meeting, “Ditching Dirty Diesel.” More than 100 EJ and asthma advocates gathered in Oakland to share strategies, build capacity, and identify core regional campaigns to address the burden of diesel pollution in our communities.
- This fall, UH joined local leaders in supporting the reauthorization and enforcement of the Local Employment Program (LEP) ordinance in Richmond, California—largely a low-income community of color. Since 2001, LEP has called for the employment of Richmond residents in City-supported development projects.
- In preparation for the 2005 World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre, Brazil, UH hosted discussion groups to inform local activists about the impact of global economic trends on communities of color worldwide. After hosting a public forum on globalization with allies at the Center for Justice, Tolerance and Community at UC-Santa Cruz, we plan to raise funds to send a delegation from the Social Equity Caucus to the WSF.
We hope you enjoy this issue of RPE and welcome your feedback.