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Mapping Environmental Injustice

The USA has, on average, a much more healthy environment than it did fifty years ago. But the phrase “on average” masks a big issue: environmental problems are not evenly distributed. Poor people and people of color inhabit neighborhoods much more toxic, on average, than their richer (and whiter) neighbors.

On a global scale, we see some of the same patterns replicated. Environmental pollution doesn’t stay in one place: much of it disperses or is exported from the places where material consumption is highest, and ends up affecting people who didn’t have much to do with generating pollution. And if those people are poor or live in places where governments function poorly, it’s much harder to deal with the impacts of that pollution.

Last year, Rusty Pritchard, one of our Vice Presidents, spoke at the Q Conference about the history of the environmental justice movement in the US--a movement led by people of color confronting structural injustices. You can now watch the video about environmental problems and how they’re distributed on the landscape (it’s also a podcast).

In the talk, he gives us the basic picture of how families can experience completely different environments depending on the racial makeup of their neighborhood. He points out how toxic sites correspond to the places where black and Latino people live in Atlanta. This is a pattern that happens across the landscape in the U.S.

Explanations vary for how such disproportionate exposures to toxins emerge. But the bodies of kids growing up in polluted neighborhoods don’t care about the explanations. They simply bear the burden of the toxins. We need the moral imagination to conceive of a different world for those kids.

At Tearfund, we call the product of that moral imagination the Restorative Economy, an economy that works for everyone no matter where they happen to live. You’ll hear more about the Restorative Economy in the coming years.

If you aren’t familiar with the Q Ideas conference, the space is one of the best out there for bringing people together to have hard conversations. If you’ve never been, try to go in 2019; there are still a few spaces, and our very own Jason Fileta will be speaking this year.

*Header image from Fairphone

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