On April 22, the world will recognize and celebrate the 51st anniversary of Earth Day. This day was created to call attention to environmental concerns and ultimately led to the creation of a federal agency — the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in December 1970 to tackle environmental issues. Now, 51 years later, environmental concerns and degradation have only heightened. These concerns affect us all, but environmental concerns such as climate change and pollution disproportionately affect low income communities and communities of color.
The fight for environmental justice is said to have begun in North Carolina. In 1982, despite protests, a hazardous waste landfill was created in Warren County, a small, rural, predominantly Black community, to accept PCB-contaminated soil that resulted from illegal dumping of toxic waste along roadways. Organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and others, the protests did not stop the toxic waste dumping but did launch the environmental justice movement.
The EPA defines environmental justice as “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.” Since 1982, environmental justice advocacy and efforts have continued while environmental injustices against low income and communities of color have also continued.
The NC State campus community recognizes the need to understand and address environmental injustices and recently held an Environmental Justice Symposium from April 5-9, 2021. Hosted by the environmental justice committee within the NC State Sustainability Stewards, a student group supported by the University Sustainability Office, the fourth annual Symposium focused on food justice and insecurity and included speaker events, live discussions and a documentary screening. The symposium required no previous knowledge or experience and engaged and informed the campus community.
Environmental justice and climate justice are undeniably linked to racial justice. This Earth Day, and every day, addressing and resolving environmental harm and injustices will require an interdisciplinary approach with collective action.
Photo: Artem Podrez
Jenna Nabors (she/her) is a graduating senior majoring in communication with minors in international studies, journalism and English and a Park Scholar. Share your thoughts about this article on Twitter at @NCStateOIED.