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 Environmental Injustices 

When people think about environmentalism, their minds may jump to images of national parks, paper straws, and electric vehicles – but it’s a little more complicated than that. Because of the legacies of colonialism and segregation, marginalized communities – more specifically, low-income and BIPOC communities – are disproportionately impacted by pollution and climate change. This is environmental injustice.

IMG: A photo taken by Sunrise Brown while participating in the Save Morley Field Protest in Pawtucket, RI against a construction project that would ultimately convert Morley Field— the neighborhood's only public outdoor recreational space— into a parking lot.

What Does Environmental Injustice Look Like?

One example can be found in the disparate impacts of air pollution across the US. Several studies have demonstrated that people of color are significantly more likely to face exposure to air pollution, and they are more likely to die an early death as a result – even when controlling for income. Why? Because of a long history of systemic racism, communities of color have faced repeated cycles of divestment, lacked proper political representation, and generally been suppressed and ignored. This means that when industries are searching for a new location to build their plants, factories, and refineries, the cheapest and easiest option is often alongside these communities. A lack of economic, social, and political power creates a path of least resistance. In the end, these industries benefit from our country’s troubled past – and communities of color are once again left to suffer.

Sunrise Brown chooses to center Environmental Justice – defined by the EPA 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." Environmental Justice aims to change the systems of inequality and white supremacy that have perpetuated environmental injustice and provide reparations to those adversely affected by environmental destruction. If you wish to learn more about environmental injustice and its possible remedies, here is a brief list of informative and inspiring resources:

EJ Learning Resources

First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, 1991

Dina Gilio-Whitaker, 2019

(read Chapter 1 for basics on environmental justice and its history)

Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice

Local EJ Organizations

As visitors to Providence, Brown University students do not have the knowledge or experience of Providence-specific environmental justice issues necessary to lead local organizing efforts. That’s why we are dedicated to assisting local environmental justice organizations that have been doing the work since long before we arrived on campus. Read on to learn about some of the incredible organizations in the area!

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Join Sunrise Brown

Featured Initiative

Historically, environmentalism has been dominated by the most privileged within our society. These individuals and organizations ignored the unique environmental needs of marginalized communities, perpetuating the same oppressive power structures that caused the very environmental destruction they were fighting.

We are dedicated to breaking this cycle. As such, we have created this helpful guide to environmental justice: what it is, why it matters, and what we can do to focus our minds on a justice-centered approach to environmentalism. 

Learning and self-reflection are critical parts of effective, justice-oriented work. Therefore, we highly (highly) recommend that all members of Sunrise Brown – new and returning – read this document. We hope that this guide can assist your learning and growth, and we encourage you to explore the works we have cited and linked throughout. Enjoy! :)

EJ Zine

In addition to our EJ Guide, we have created a supplementary EJ Zine featuring a condensed introduction to Environmental Justice. 

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