We often think about “the environment” as a pristine spot in the woods where the birds sing and the trees grow tall and green. But the truth is, “the environment” simply means the surroundings or conditions in which a person, animal, or plant lives or operates. “Environmental justice” focuses on the fact that any place where people live is “an environment,” and it promotes the basic principle that ALL humans, regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, deserve to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and live in clean neighborhoods. Unfortunately, throughout the State of Oklahoma there are numerous situations in which people of color, and the poor, are experiencing much greater health impacts and are subject to much greater pollution levels.
How do we know “environmental justice” is a real “thing”?
Recent studies, even work done by the EPA during the Trump administration, prove time and time again that people of color and the poor suffer much greater health impacts from environmental pollution than Caucasians and the financially secure. This article helps explain the situation.
And this interview with Dr. Robert Bullard (considered by many to be the “father of environmental justice”) for Earth Day last year, breaks it down even further.
Are there any situations in Oklahoma that relate to environmental justice?
Yes. Data has been gathered for the neighborhoods around the Holly Refinery in west Tulsa, Oklahoma, and it concludes that race and poverty are both connected to poor health. And overall, people of color and poor people in north Tulsa are suffering significantly more health issues than south Tulsans.
Overall, the forceful removal of entire tribes from their native lands and relocation to Oklahoma can be viewed as systematic environmental injustice, as tribes have suffered for decades from the impacts of relocation. And many tribes now view the United State’s disregard and lack of action on climate change as a form of environmental genocide. Casey Camp-Horinek, a member of the Ponca Nation, speaks to these issues here.
I am interested in learning more about this, and I want to get involved in environmental justice in Oklahoma– who should I contact?
In Tulsa, MetCares Foundation is currently engaging on environmental justice, and they are looking for community members willing to help on this issue.
Statewide, you can reach out to Movement Rights. They have worked with more than 150 communities across the United States, including Ponca City, Oklahoma.
And if you want to see and hear what environmental justice activism looks and sounds like in action, watch the videos and join in the actions of the Poor People’s Campaign.