Youth Blog Series: Environmental Justice

Be the Change’s Youth Blog Series highlights blogs written by university student interns at Be the Change Earth Alliance. In the blogs, the interns reflect on their experience completing “Action Packs,” which are learning resources that guide students in research, critical thinking and tangible action related to a global sustainability topic.

Action Pack Summary

Environmental justice, while having different meanings to various communities and institutions, can be understood as referring to the belief that all citizens, regardless of ethnicity or socioeconomic class, should equally share in the benefits of environmental amenities and the burdens of environmental health hazards. It includes 

  • Distributional Justice: spacial fairness of physical distribution of environmental benefits and burdens
  • Procedural Justice: providing equal protection from environmental hazards regarding rulemaking and enforcement
  • Process Justice: providing opportunities for meaningful citizen involvement in decisions that affect environmental health, including access to information 

Environmental injustice is not a phenomenon new to Canada or new to the world. Residents of Africville, Nova Scotia, an African Canadian community, did not have paved roads, running water, waste removal, electricity or sewers despite paying the high taxes required to receive them through the early and mid 20th century. They were hindered from sharing the environmental amenities of their area, yet were forced to pay a disproportionate level by way of environmental costs. 

Globally, a notable example of environmental injustice is the 1984 chemical spill in Bhopal, India’s, which left thousands dead and tens of thousands ill or disfigured. The company responsible for the spill took no responsibility, while the dense, low-income communities surrounding the chemical plant faced short- and long-term environmental health hazards. 

Currently, the Lubicon Cree, a First Nation in Northern Alberta, are fighting for environmental justice in the face oil-sands expansion, which threatens their traditional territory, ways of life, and health. 

Upon examining these various case studies, this Action Pack encourages students to consider how their actions may contribute to systems of environmental injustice, as well as strategies to promote environmental justice for all. This is crucial in addressing the climate opportunities and challenges we face, as notions of environmental justice highlight, environmental amenities and hazards are not shared equally, often to the detriment of already marginalized groups.  

My Reflection

I chose to research environmental justice and reflect on my learnings through meditation. It was interesting and eye opening to see how unjust the society is when it comes to providing access and benefits that come from the environment. Many people do not have access to fresh water and other essentials from nature. This research was very eye opening. Meditation is part of my daily routine. I usually spend a part of my morning reflecting on my week, it allows me to understand my goals and process what I have learned. It is hard to grasp that there are people in Canada who do no have access to clean water, and other basic services. I also contacted my elected officials and voiced my concerns. I felt a bit rambly as I was talking on the phone, but I felt good knowing I had the ability and power to cause change.

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