Climate justice is an important topic within environmental justice and human rights that addresses the inherent right of people to a quality of life that is not disproportionately affected by climate change. According to the University of Colorado Boulder Environmental Center, climate justice is an issue that manifests at local to international levels and particularly affects people of color, people of low income, farmers, women, people with disabilities, people in the LGBT+ community, indigenous communities, coastal communities, migrants, refugees, religious minority groups, and other underrepresented, oppressed, and disproportionately-affected groups. Such populations are affected by compromised health, financial burdens and social and cultural disruptions, and oftentimes do not have the resources they need to adapt to the effects of climate change. The injustice is further exacerbated by the fact that these communities are often least responsible for the greenhouse gas emission and pollution that have resulted in the climate crisis we are currently facing. It is the people who have less impact on the environment that are being most affected by the environmental degradation we are witnessing today.
Overall, climate injustice addresses the fact that certain populations and countries:
- Are the least responsible for yet the most affected by the climate crisis
- Have less capacity and resources to deal with the impacts of the climate crisis
- Will have to deal with the environmental, social, health, economic, and cultural consequences of the climate crisis for generations to come
- Have less of a say than others in environmental decision-making spaces from the local to the international level
University Campus Case Studies
Environmental injustices associated with the lack of environmental education opportunities
The environmental injustice of lack of black scholarship
Environmental injustice due to the underrepresentation of people of color and other marginalized groups in environmental spaces in institutions such as universities (ex. lack of representative volunteerism)
In an interview on student community service and involvement, Paul Young, the Associate Director of Student Services at UConn Hartford, stated that:
“Given our demographic of students i.e. large low SES population who benefit from social welfare programs, they tend to volunteer at lower levels than more affluent populations.”
Environmental racism is a form of injustice and disproportionately affects marginalized racial groups of people. In Waterbury, CT, community language barriers were not adequately addressed and the local community, which comprises a large Hispanic population, was forced to deal with poor environmental conditions due to pollution from a waste plant that they were not properly informed about.
Flint, Michigan is a well-known current day example of ongoing environmental injustice. The Flint water crisis was exacerbated by poor community communication, a lack of transparency within the local and state government, and substandard water infrastructure management. Furthermore, there was a severe lack of response when the community, which is largely comprised of poverty-afflicted and black-majority populations, started reporting health issues soon after the switch of water source.
Learn more about the history of the Flint water crisis with this NOVA documentary.
Access more case studies on the intersections between water and environmental justice here.
West Oakland, California
Gentrification is a form of environmental injustice that has become increasingly more prevalent with the rise of urbanization. West Oakland in the San Francisco Bay Area is an example of a community composed of racial minority populations who disproportionately face environmental burdens such as groundwater contamination and air pollution due to “eviction, displacement, and community fragmentation”.
History of West Oakland
Health effects of air pollution in West Oakland
West Oakland Social social justice activists
Dakota Access Pipeline
The Dakota Access Pipeline is an example of environmental injustice against indigenous communities in the US. In 2014 a plan was proposed by Energy Transfer Partners to build an 1,172 mile underground oil pipeline carrying 470,000 of crude oil per day from North Dakota to Illinois. Soon after the pipeline project was proposed, many groups, including indigenous communities like the Standing Rock Sioux, raised concerns about the pipeline crossing through their culturally-significant land and under the Mississippi river, which serves as their main source of drinking water. Despite their protests, the pipeline construction continued and is currently in operation. In 2020, a US District Court denied permits to Energy Transfer Partners, determining that current permits violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and mandating that a comprehensive environmental review of the pipeline’s impacts take place.
A brief overview of the protest movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline
Cancer Alley, Louisiana
Environmental injustice can permanently affect a community for generations and can perpetuate other social injustices. Cancer Alley, Louisiana is an example of this. Cancer Alley is an 85-mile stretch housing more than 150 plants and refineries between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana. The local community, largely comprised of poverty-afflicted and black-majority populations, have had to live and raise families in the degraded and compromised environment. This has affected the health, safety, and quality of living for generations living in the area.
Low-income and rural populations in Puerto Rico are disproportionately affected by issues ranging from natural disasters to poor economic conditions. Recent issues of exposure to toxic coal ash pollution from power plants also excessively impact the health, safety, and quality of life of such vulnerable and underrepresented groups. Read more about this environmental injustice case here.
Pacific Island Nations
The Pacific Island Nations are one of the most recognizable examples of international climate injustice. These nations have to cope with warming ocean temperatures, sea-level rise, increase in the frequency of intense weather events, mass dying of marine life and coral, wildlife and habitat dislocations, saltwater intrusions into farms and freshwater ecosystems, costal erosion, and mass displacement and regional migration of people to higher altitudes. Despite the fact that the Pacific Island Nations are at high risk due to climate change, they have less of a voice in international environmental decision-making processes, perpetuating the environmental injustices they face.
More Case Studies
See the Environmental Justice Atlas and the EPA's Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool for a comprehensive list of current and historical environmental injustice incidents. Also refer to the Additional Resources section for more examples of important environmental injustice case studies.
Action Items for All
Complete an action on Project Drawdown Ecochallenge and inspire others to do so as well.
The Project Drawdown Ecochallenge.org partnership provides a platform that outlines actions you can do using 100 most impactful climate change solutions. Many of these solutions address environmental justice issues. Using the platform, you can earn points on actions you complete and see the collective impact of a global community of environmental justice advocates and changemakers just like you. Actions on the Project Drawdown Ecochallenge platform are organized by themes, such as Social Justice. Explore the Social Justice track, and be sure to visit others as well as actions that address environmental justice issues fall in all of the themed tracks!
Here are a few Ecochallenges that directly pertain to Environmental Justice:
- Learn about local indigenous practices by attending a training, workshop, or presentation
- Support indigenous people’s land management by donating to the Native American Rights Fund
- Advocate for forest protection by contacting your representatives in Congress to implement policies that protect against deforestation
- Remind your elected officials of the importance of restoring both private and public farmland in your region by contacting them
- Support international clean energy efforts by donating to nonprofits that install renewable energy based-microgrids and clean cookstoves in low-income countries
- Encourage public transportation use in your community by improving your local bus stop. Ideas include posting a stop schedule and adding plants, art, seating, and other resources
Host an Environmental Justice event in your community! For tips on how to host successful university campus or community-based events, you can use the UNA-USA Chapter Handbook.
Volunteer for a local food bank or join a local initiative that addresses community food deserts
Apply for social and environmental justice internships at the Sierra Club and other organizations
NOTE: A lot of these organizations listed below have mailing lists. You can sign up for their mailing lists and receive updates every month on how to participate in current campaigns/objectives! Or you can donate to these organizations:
- League of Conservation Voters
- Indigenous Environmental Network
- American Civil Liberties Union
- Funder’s Collaborative of Youth Organizing
Other online resources:
- Join one of the organizations listed in the NAACP Database for Environmental and Climate Justice Resource Organizations
- Access and share EPA’s Environmental Justice online resources
Tell your governor that you stand with the US Climate Alliance.
Since a true understanding of environmental justice involves an understanding of social justice, access comprehensive resources that discuss important social justice issues like racial equity. For example, access Racial Equity resources by food justice organization Food Solutions New England and women justice organization Movement Strategy Center for further information on racial equity learning.
Get involved or volunteer with local CT school and community environmental programs! Here are a few options for students in Connecticut:
- Connecticut Environmental Action Day
- UConn 4-H
- UConn Natural Resources Conservation Academy
- UConn’s Sustainable Food Systems Programs
- Connecticut Envirothon
- Contact UConn Extension for services and workshops relating to the environment in your own town. For example, want to build a community garden? They can help you test soil, water, figure out the best options for the technical parts of that project.
- Attend a webinar hosted by UConn’s Center for Land Use Education and Research
- Subscribe to and explore environmental videos on UConn Extension’s YouTube channel
Here are some other opportunities to get involved with environmental justice efforts:
- Participate in the New Haven Climate Health Education Project
- Join the Education Fund Grassroots Committee or CHISPA at the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters
- Participate in Connecticut DEEP Citizen Science Opportunities in wildlife and water monitoring
- Access other citizen science opportunities at https://www.citsci.org/
- Help with land protection and management by volunteering with a local land trust near you
- Help with your town’s SustainableCT efforts
- Join the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs
- Stay up to date on legislation that is happening in your state regarding climate and environmental justice
- Join the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice
- Join the Connecticut Citizen Action Group
Created with images by NOAA - "Looking Ice - perhaps a more appropriate name for Looking Glass Falls on this frozen day. " • Dan Stark - "untitled image" • Lawrence Makoona - "Climate justice for all flags at the Climate Strike Melbourne. Friend of the Earth International." • Patrick Hendry - "Took a walk on lunch break to create a collection of industry and “gas punk” type photos. " • Tobias Tullius - "Caught this on an early morning hike on a trip in NZ" • Ryan Jacobson - "This trip was interesting because my sleeping arrangement didn’t workout, so for a week I slept on a random dorm mattress, and used my camera bag as a pillow." • Vivianne Lemay - "Recycling is great, but how much of it is actually reused? How much of it is burned for energy? How much of it is sent off to far off countries? Learn more about recycling and how you can minimize your impact at www.sosplastic.ca or follow @sos_plastic on Instagram" • Nicolas COMTE - "untitled image" • Sterling Davis - "This is a vantage point seen often on social media, and I wanted to find it, but no one was forthcoming with the info. I started to use Google Maps 3D to try and locate where this was. I knew the ballpark—it had to be northeast of downtown. So after many attempts trying to find this cluster of palm trees, I eventually came across what had to be the location. This area, within Lincoln Heights, has lovely views but is off the beaten path. It was time for me to go make my photograph. That will never get old. I’ve loved that process ever since I was a kid. Here’s to many more in 2018!" • roman pentin - "untitled image" • Ehud Neuhaus - "untitled image" • Wim van 't Einde - "The Amercentrale is one of the electricityproducing plants in the Netherlands. The smoke from the chimneys are in a beautiful contrast with the clouds in the air." • Valdemaras D. - "Lofotens" • Adam Bouse - "Blue and white aerial view of the snow-covered Rocky Mountains" • Filip Zrnzević - "Fade ↟" • NOAA - "The view from Inspiration Point on Anacapa Island. " • Claudia Rancourt - "untitled image" • Dan Meyers - "When this gets a million views, I'm going to print out the stats and give them to the owner of this home. Random DIY signs are one of my favorite things. Think about it...what sort of intense need are these people satisfying when they decide the only course of action is to make their own signs and put them on public display? What's the story here? Why did they decide to have these face the 7-11 gas station? In all seriousness, I'm sure someone working in a mental health or suicide prevention field can make use of this stock photo. " • Matthew Smith - "Conifer sapling" • piotr szulawski - "untitled image"