The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, March 17, 2006

Covenant #9: Assuring Environmental Justice For All

Here’s one I’d never thought about specifically, but it makes sense.  Some statistics:  Black children are five times more likely than white children to have lead poisoning—and a young person’s lead burden is linked to lower IQ, lower high school graduation rates, and increased delinquency  Three out of five Black Americans live in communities with abandoned toxic waste sites.  There are between 130,000 and 450,000 abandoned waste sites scattered across the country, most of them located near low-income, working-class, and minority communities.  Almost half of the two million low-income housing units sit within a mile of factories that reported toxic emissions to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Then of course, there is Katrina, which many people feel represents a perfect example of the nation’s contempt for poor people of color.  Frankly, it FASCINATES me that many of the same people who show little compassion for Katrina victims claim to support the Iraq war for humanitarian motivations. This reminds me of the Vietnam era, when the people supporting the Civil Rights movement in America were against the war, but the people claiming to be in favor of the war “to free the Vietnamese” almost unanimously condemned the efforts of Martin Luther King at home.  I really don’t get it, folks—unless somebody is lying.
At any rate,   the legacy of slavery created a brain-washed community turned loose in a Capitalistic society at the very bottom of the social ladder, with obstructions placed at every door to advancement.  Poverty sucks—you get the worse of everything: education, food, health care, whatever.  These things impact your ability to raise yourself from poverty, so you tend to get stuck here.

Here’s another exercise to see if you’re a bigot: imagine that, at emancipation, all black people were given white skin.  Then, in 2006, turn the skin black again.  If you think that black people would still be distributed through the country in approximately the same way, with the same crime rates, incomes, and so forth, then in my mind, you have a very serious problem.  But that’s just me.
One of the ways poverty impacts environment, and health, touches me personally.  When cities purchase land for freeways, of course they want the cheapest land they can get, so such construction runs right through poor neighborhoods.  Like my old neighborhood, where the Santa Monica Freeway cut through a block from the house where I grew up, and where my mother continued to live after I moved away.  Ever look at the cancer statistics within a block or two of a major freeway artery?  It’s not pretty.  Despite never smoking a day in her life, Mom died of lung cancer.  Because of the Freeway?  Who can say? It is, however,  enough to make me…thoughtful.
What every individual can do now:
Do not forget the Katrina victims.  Write to your representatives and demand follow-up action and support.
2) Educate yourself, and your family, on issues of environmental justice.
3) Find out about air quality, water quality, and toxic waste sites in  your community.
4) Make sure your home is free from the hazards of lead poisoning.

MOST OF ALL:  Hold all leaders and elected officials responsible and demand that they change current policy.


Enforce existing environmental and health standards in ensuring environmental justice for all.
2) Create and maintain healthy clean schools for children.
3) Involve impacted communities in environmental decision-making.

There is more, of course.  To get more ideas go to

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