Environmental Justice

The Brundtland Report, released by the UN's World Commission of Environment and Development in 1987, regards sustainability as the action of “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” 

As we pursue sustainability, we must recognize that it has not yet met the needs of the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color in our communities. In order to move forward, we must address the historical exploitation of Black, Brown, low-income, and marginalized people in order to make sustainability equitable. 

This webpage aims to highlight the intersections of environmental justice, social justice, and UConn’s strategic sustainability goals, as well as to provide educational resources for those interested in learning more.


"The Office of Sustainability denounces all acts of hate, violence, and discrimination that violate Constitutional rights, stifle social justice efforts, and undermine the rule of law. We stand in solidarity with all those who face hate, violence, and discrimination based on the color of their skin, ethnic background, disability, religious beliefs, socio-economic status, gender identity, and sexual orientation. We are dedicated to doing all we can to fight racism and promote inclusion, equal justice, and freedom from all forms of oppression."-  Rich Miller, Director, Office of Sustainability

Resources

Environmental Justice Toolkit:  UConn graduate Himaja Nagireddy ('20) created the Environmental Justice Toolkit during her undergraduate career as a way to teach others about environmental justice. She used her experiences at COP@25 and ongoing research to provide an opportunity for others to take action to support the environmental justice movement.

 

Environmental Justice Toolkit

 

 

Solve Climate by 2030Climate Action Helpdesk:  It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the ongoing climate crisis; this page is meant to ease those feelings by providing tangible actions for individuals to take, and clear, accurate information on how others are approaching these issues.  Solve Climate by 2030 initiative : the thought-based origin of this page!

 

Climate Action Help Desk

 

 

UConn Reads:  President Katsouleas has re-inaugurated UConn Reads, a stimulating program that invites all members of the extended UConn community (students, staff members, faculty members, alumni, friends) to join in an engaging discussion about a book that has been selected to spark multidisciplinary conversations, critical debates, and an array of supporting activities. The program is being orchestrated by the Office of the Provost, and the thematic focus of this year’s program is “Environmental Justice and Human Rights.”

Our next book is The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable by Amitav Ghosh as the focal publication for the 2020-2021 Academic Year.

UConn Reads

 

 

Environmental Justice Word Bank:  This helpful word bank provides definitions for some terms commonly used in Environmental Justice conversations. All definitions are subject to change as language is constantly evolving!

 

Environmental Justice Word Bank

 

 

 

 


 

What is Environmental Justice?

Environmental Justice addresses long-standing prevalent issues of living quality for low-income, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities. The Environmental Justice Movement was notably sparked by protests condemning the 1982 dumping of toxic waste materials in Warren County, North Carolina. Sit-ins, protests, and marches were ultimately unsuccessful, but caused environmental justice activists to recognize a pattern:

The Nation Article: Race Best Predicts Whether You Live Near Pollution (informed by U.S. Census Data)

 

Pollution-producing facilities are often sited in poor communities of color.”

The common phrase “Not in my Back Yard” (NIMBY) was born from wealthy neighborhoods rejecting sites in their neighborhoods through legal means, while lower-income communities lacked funds for such defenses (and access to information that would raise alarm). For these reasons, large corporations, regulatory agencies, and local planning/zoning boards often are left to designate polluting sites to poor communities of color for development.

 

 

 

 

 


Why should UConn students care about Environmental + Climate Issues?

Connecticut's last coal-fired power plant in Bridgeport Harbor, CT. A natural gas plant opened in 2019 as a cleaner replacement, yet the 50-year-old plant remains open with decommissioning set for June 2021.

Climate change may feel like a far-away problem, but it is an omnipresent concern. U.S. winters have become milder and spring has come earlier. In the future, we can continue to expect less snow, more frequent precipitation as rain, and increased coastal flooding. Heat waves will become more severe and frequent, as will hurricanes.

Severe heat waves not only affect the habitats of wildlife, but also contribute to poor air quality which exacerbates pre-existing health conditions in urban  areas. Suitable habitats for invasive species and vector-borne diseases, like Lyme disease, will shift further north affecting unfamiliar communities.

The PSEG Power up Connecticut LLC coal power station in Bridgeport, CT (pictured left). Coal power plants release hazardous gaseous chemicals (such as carbon monoxide) into local air, which can exacerbate respiratory issues.

 

 


What do Racial and broader Social Justice movements have to do with it?

The MIRA (Materials Innovation Recycling Authority) Incinerator in Hartford, CT. Set to close in June 2022.

Racial, social, and environmental injustices do not affect communities equally. Many BIPOC (Black [people], Indigenous [peoples], and People of Color) have been prevented from: moving to certain neighborhoods (Redlining, outlawed by the 1968 Fair Housing Act), fairly voting in local and national elections (voter suppression), accessing fresh and affordable food (Food Apartheid), and accessing affordable, safe healthcare (Racism in Medicine). Examining each phenomenon separately, we see how environmental injustice is pervasive in our society.

The MIRA Incinerator is located in Hartford, CT, where nearly two thirds of the population are BIPOC individuals and a third of the city's population suffers from poverty. Low-income communities of color are disproportionately located near industrial pollution-producing facilities which contribute to respiratory-related illness and water quality issues.

 

Redlining, a series of illegal policies that cut off funding and resources from predominantly low-income POC communities for decades in the United States. Lasting impacts are felt in many Connecticut localities.

 

 

 

People of color, especially Black individuals, have been constrained to live in urban communities where they experience high levels of industrial pollution and exacerbated heat (urban heat island effect).They are discouraged from voting for many reasons, including but not limited to the inaccessibility of polling locations and times. BIPOC in urban settings may also be unable to access nutritious food, ultimately leading to health issues like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Even hospital care brings adverse treatment by medical professionals who have internalized stereotypes about the pain tolerance, mental health, and biology of their patients.

Redlining map of New Haven and surrounding cities during the 1930s (pictured left). While ruled illegal by the 1970 Fair Housing Act, Black and Latinx Americans continue to be denied mortgages at higher rates than their white counterparts in many metropolitan areas of the country.

The COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism (illustrated by the work Black Environmentalists), and climate change are all related in that they jeopardize the health and wellbeing of people of color.

Using our voices is a powerful way to support the environmental justice movement. Practicing allyship can take many forms, including advocating for more inclusive and equitable spaces, as well as acknowledging and valuing the socio-environmental knowledge possessed by BIPOC (NRDC). By listening to and collaborating with individuals from all backgrounds, we ensure that nobody is left out as we address the environmental threats facing our society.

As we students, educators, and members of society at large begin to practice allyship and have discussions regarding inclusive environmentalism, it is crucial that positionality is recognized in each issue. Reflecting on our relationship with the environment - what we stand to lose as the impacts of climate change worsen - helps us move away from performative allyship. In doing so, the microphone is passed to BIPOC to discuss their lived experiences with the environment and injustice. Rather than giving BIPOC a seat at the table, which implies ownership of the table, passing the mic signifies a respect for their lived experiences and cultural knowledge. Everyone deserves to speak for themselves, and fostering respectful communication must include a mutual effort to listen to voices without gatekeeping.

Why Should I Care About Environmental Justice?

Certain communities are buffered from impacts of climate change more than others. Storrs, CT is the one of the  Safest Places to Avoid Natural Disaster in the country, but other communities are more vulnerable. (Our conversation here centers on climate change in the United States. We recognize that this list is not exhaustive, but rather emphasizes limited environmental struggles within the United States.)

Income inequality and the lasting impacts of redlining drive many BIPOC families to cities where they frequently experience environmental racism/discrimination. The rising temperatures we expect from climate change will make urban areas even warmer due to concrete and heat-absorbing building materials. This effect, combined with air pollution, significantly lowers air quality, leading to higher prevalence of respiratory and cardiovascular disease. Income inequality and other barriers to affordable care makes healthcare a costly (or impossible) burden for many.

Urban Heat Island Management Study, Texas Trees Foundation


COVID-19 & Connections to Systemic Racism

Structural Racism & COVID-19 disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities.

Let’s look at environmental justice in the scope of the COVID-19 pandemic, and recognize how the virus disproportionately affects people of color. According to the Washington Post, individuals with underlying health conditions were hospitalized six times as often as otherwise healthy individuals and died twelve times as often. But for Black Americans, the proportion of those infected (out of all infected Americans) is twice as high as their proportion of the population.

This disparity reflects the ongoing crisis of systemic racism in the United States, whereby Black individuals have disproportionate access to basic necessities. The NIMBY phenomenon characterizes opposition by residents to proposed developments in their local area, which frequently results in the placement of polluting facilities in low-income (predominantly Black) communities of color. Industrial facilities emit gaseous toxins, liquid chemicals, and heavy metals that contaminate the soil, air, and water in the surrounding community. Frequent exposure to poor air and water quality, combined with the inaccessibility of affordable fresh food and inadequate healthcare, increases COVID-19 risks and mortality rates for members of marginalized communities. Additionally, Black children are more likely to suffer from asthma due to persistent housing segregation and impacts from redlining, which confine Black communities to urban, overcrowded housing. Normalized threats to the health of BIPOC  reinforce the understanding that underlying health conditions make Black individuals more susceptible to contracting and dying from COVID-19.

 

 


Environmental Justice In the US

This section highlights the major ways in which different regions and territories of the United States are experiencing climate change. Here we offer sources to learn more about how communities frequently experience face environmental injustice. 

Contiguous United States

 


Native Peoples (some individuals prefer Indigenous or Native American)

UConn Land Acknowledgement Statement

"We would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we gather at UConn is the territory of the Mohegan, Mashantucket Pequot, Eastern Pequot, Schaghticoke, Golden Hill Paugussett, Nipmuc, and Lenape Peoples, who have stewarded this land throughout the generations. We thank them for their strength and resilience in protecting this land, and aspire to uphold our responsibilities according to their example."

 

The Dakota Access Pipeline has been widely protested due to its passage through sacred Native American land, the potential for groundwater contamination, and the lack of an environmental impact review.

 

Native American tribes and lands have been exploited by European colonizers for centuries, which has fueled environmental justice movements in the United States. Historical case studies reveal how economic vulnerability is often linked to natural resource extraction, a consequence which often yields additional socioeconomic and environmental harm (i.e. lead poisoning from extraction of minerals, military weaponry testing, and waste disposal). Light is also being shed on the climate injustice Native American communities are faced with. Tribes contribute minimal greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions yet face some of the gravest effects of global warming such as food insecurity, water shortages, and legal battles for control of tribal resources.

 

A map depicting Connecticut's Native American Sachemdoms (tribal land under a Sachem, Chief) Circa 1625, prepared for The Connecticut Society of the Colonial Dames of America.

 

 

 

 

The aftermath of the 2017 Keystone Pipeline spill in Amherst, South Dakota.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Keystone pipeline runs through the American Midwest and a significant portion of tribal land; Pipelines are a consistent threat to ecosystems, drinking water sources, and public health, especially for Indigenous communities. In 2018 the Trump administration had been sued by two Native American communities for failure to conduct an environmental impact survey and violating historical treaty boundaries. *Two years later, in 2020, their suit proved successful in revoking the pipeline’s operating permit.

 

 


Caribbean & Pacific Islanders

The American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands are all territories of the United States that are frequently left out of conversations surrounding climate change and environmental injustice. All islands are experiencing sea level rise firsthand, which threatens the contamination of their groundwater supply and could dislocate countless communities.

While contributing minimal emissions on a global scale, Puerto Rico has experienced intensified, slower moving hurricanes - take a look at impact of the 2017 Hurricane Season. Hurricanes like Maria and Irma have cut off the island’s water supply, electricity, and cellular service, and cost Puerto Rican lives - both directly and through poor emergency storm response/lacking federal aid.

In the state of Hawai’i, Native Hawaiians and other marginalized populations are located close to Oahu’s landfills and the Kahe power plant. These polluting facilities have been linked to the high asthma rates and cancer found in surrounding communities. In addition, vog (volcanic smoke) and noxious emissions released by lava flows threaten indigenous communities that have been displaced to hazardous areas by Western Colonizers.

 

Defend our Mother Earth. The Mother Earth statue is dancing with BombaYo, a project from the South Bronx working to preserve Puerto Rican traditions. Latin Americans March in NYC Against Climate Change

Support for BIPOC Individuals and Allies

Bias/Discriminatory Incident Reporting:


Mental and General Health Services at UConn (plus external free services with greater representation!)

  • Diversity & Inclusion Resources: Intersections of Health and Racism
  • UConn Psychological Services Clinic  provides mental health services to individuals of all ages in the area. They are operated by the University of Connecticut as a training clinic for graduate students in Clinical Psychology. Services are provided by graduate students under the supervision of licensed clinical psychologists and faculty members in the department of Psychology.
  • SHaW (Student Health and Wellness) Mental Health Services provide clinical services to promote the emotional, relational, and academic potential of all students at the University of Connecticut.
  • UConn’s Cultural Centers have resources to support the social, behavioral, and cultural needs of students. They provide a safe space for underrepresented populations at UConn and are a reference for issues and historical context related to particular communities.
    • Sign up for their weekly emails & stay up to date!
      • Email the center and ask to be on their Listserv!
      • The Cultural Centers will be functioning virtually for students during Fall 2020!
  • African American graduate student therapists at the UConn Psychological Services Clinic have partnered with African American Cultural Center to create:
    • AACC Mental Health Mondays 
      • These weekly messages contain information topics including: how to de-stress, mindfulness and meditation, signs of depression and anxiety, preparing for school-related stress, and when and how to seek professional psychological help.
      • Send an email to aacc@uconn.edu to be added to the ListServ!

 


External Mental Health Services


Black in STEM

  • Black Birding Movement
    • Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, a video exposed a racist incident in Central Park, NY.

      Dorceta E. Taylor | University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability
      Dorceta Taylor is an environmental sociologist who studies environmental racism and the environmental movement. She worked for the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability, and is now a professor at Yale University. Taylor is a published author of many texts including Toxic Communities, which examines the intersection of industrial pollution and marginalized communities.

      Christian Cooper was birding in the park when he asked a woman to leash her dog. The woman called the police on a Cooper, telling them that “there is an African American man threatening my life.” The woman’s actions were condemned by the publicand she was fired from her job. This interaction sparked the establishment of Black Birders Week, which acknowledges the exclusion of Black people from natural spaces and encourages Black individuals to share their experiences in environmental academia.

  • BlackAFinSTEM → online origins of Black Birding movement
  • 4 Black Environmentalists Who Changed the Environmental Movement

 

            UConn Community Resources

            Statements from UConn Leadership on Racial Justice:

            Mental Health Resources

            • UConn Psychological Services Clinic  provides mental health services to individuals of all ages in the area. They are operated by the University of Connecticut as a training clinic for graduate students in Clinical Psychology. Services are provided by graduate students under the supervision of licensed clinical psychologists and faculty members in the department of Psychology.
            • SHaW Mental Health Services provide clinical services to promote the emotional, relational, and academic potential of all students at the University of Connecticut.

            Resources for Institutional Equity


            The Sustainability Progress Report  published in 2018 identifies UConn's progress in achieving campus sustainability goals.

            Students brainstorming environmental justice goals at the 2025 Vision for Campus Sustainability and Climate Leadership Summit during Fall 2019.

            UConn Delegation at COP@25 in Madrid, Spain - "COP" stands for Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Here, the UConn delegation gained key information to frame UConn's sustainability goals and incorporate international environmental justice concerns.

             

             

             

             

             

             

             

             

             

             

             

             

             

             


            UConn Student Organizations

            These UConn student organizations represent the multi-faceted nature of the environmental conservation movement. While some organizations are specifically dedicated to involvement in outdoor spaces or endangered species aid, others celebrate broader community and cultural involvement. While not comprehensive, this list reflects how organizations with different interests are invested in a common movement. 


            UConn Demographics for Students, Faculty, and Staff

            The 2015 Diversity Task Force Report assesses the diversity and inclusion efforts of the University of Connecticut and makes recommendations for further programming, outreach and accountability.


            Related Courses

            Key Definitions

            Environmental Justice: addresses environmental racism by necessitating involvement of BIPOC voices in environmental spaces 

            • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (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.

            ***Including two different definitions of environmental justice is intended to highlight the evolving nature of the topic and the voices dictating the conversation.

            Environmental Racism: the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color due to systemic racism

            POC: Person of Color. An acronym that relays the communities often marginalized on the basis of race and ethnicity.

            • Latinx: relating to people of Latin American origin or descent (used as a gender-neutral or non-binary alternative to Latino/a; some prefer Latine)

            BIPOC: Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. An acronym that relays the communities often marginalized on the basis of race and ethnicity, with emphasis on the historical mistreatment of Black and Indigenous populations. 

            Intersectionality: a lens through which you can see the places where power structures collide, interlock, and intersect (coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw)

            Intersectional Environmentalism: an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people + the planet. It identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities and the earth are interconnected. It brings injustices done to the most vulnerable communities, and the earth, to the forefront and does not minimize or silence social inequality. 

              Additional resources you’d like to see on this page? Contact us at: sustainability@uconn.edu