Racial Equity and Social Justice Series

No Wait on Racial Equity and Social and Environmental Justice 
We must promote empathy, equity, and inclusion within our communities
By Kelly Tung  |  September 25, 2021  |  Source: The YEPI Journal Summer Edition 2021

Although it has already been a year, the death of George Floyd as well as the successive and brutal Asian hate crimes have left an impactful mark upon our world. These unfortunate events, along with other acts of bullying and violence, were caused by differences among people. Differences that we should be embracing together as communities rather than rejecting them. We should accept and welcome the diversity and individualism within each person, including their ethnicity, background, beliefs, race, culture, appearance, and more.

Our society needs to learn that inclusion, empathy, and equity are extremely important topics for us to tackle NOW. It is imperative to foster understanding between different people’s situations, challenges, and feelings while recognizing their individual perspectives as well. This is the only way we can bridge the gap between people and reduce conflict among ourselves. If everyone can leave his or her own judgment out the door and view from other people’s perspectives, we can make everyone feel more accepted, pacify our social environment, and improve relations.

I have vigorously worked towards my mission of promoting racial equality, tolerance, inclusion, respect, and social and environmental justice. I strongly believe that cultivating empathy through conversations and communication plays a critical role in fostering inclusion, advancing equity, and promoting better relations.

Education is one of the core values of Youth Environmental Power Initiative. We have continued to inform other youths and teens regarding social and environmental justice through our educational videos, workshops on environmental justice and youth advocacy, YEPI Sustainability Summit, and more. I hope you enjoy reading this special edition of The YEPI Journal as we have included a series of articles and discussions concerning environmental and social justice. I sincerely hope that our journal can motivate readers to advocate for racial equity, tolerance, and respect.

One’s skin color, race, social status, economic background, and other factors should never affect the air they breathe or the quality of their water. I dream of a world where everyone can enjoy equal treatment regardless of their wealth, income, race, gender, or beliefs. No matter how old you are, you can take action to foster understanding and empathy and celebrate diversity and differences in your community.

Crimes Against Humanity - Environmental Justice
By Kelly Tung  |  May 24, 2021

Many citizens in the United States are aware of the “Bill of Rights,” which contains the first 10 constitutional amendments. It guarantees various civil and political rights to individuals, such as the freedom of speech and the right to bear arms. However, the rights included in the US Constitution are civil rights and not human rights. Civil rights are rights granted to citizens of a specific state or nation. On the other hand, human rights are rights granted to all living individuals. 

 

For years, environmental rights have been overlooked by many political states and were not considered human rights. It is imperative for us to join and spread the environmental justice movement to grant all humans access to their fundamental environmental rights.

 

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, environmental justice is “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.” This definition of environmental justice ensures that no group of people bears an unfair share of negative environmental impacts due to laws or policies.

However, individuals who are in racial minority groups or live in poverty are still very affected by environmental injustice. African Americans, indigenous groups, and Latinos are among the minorities who are often victims of environmental injustice. For example, Native Americans who lived in the West suffered from uranium mining while Latino farmworkers were often exposed to toxic pesticides. African Americans from Miami suffered the harmful effects of carcinogenic emissions and waste.

In order to provide a safe, healthy, and clean environment for all, we need to fight for environmental justice. There have been changes made by governments and by people as well. The environmental justice movement started in the 1980s when a group of African Americans opposed the thousands of tons of toxic soil that were dumped in their community. This sparked the environmental justice movement and it gained momentum as more groups pushed for government action. Due to these protests, a new executive order was given to address environmental justice in federal agencies. This was one of the first steps to fundamental change and recognition of the environmental issues across the United States.

I implore you to take action and stand with the environmental justice movement. By advocating for the movement, you are helping others access the right to clean water, the right to clean air, and the right to a healthy environment. You can take a stand by educating yourself on the topic, empowering the voices of people from impacted communities, reaching out to government representatives, and advocating for environmental protection policies. One day, your livelihood, your health, and your life may be at risk due to the deteriorating quality of the environment in your community. By advocating for environmental justice, you are not only alleviating others’ environmental burdens but also actively making the environment cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable.

Environmental Justice in the US 
By Crystal Cheng  |  September 25, 2021  |  Source: The YEPI Journal Summer Edition 2021

The past year has been one with people very active in broadcasting about various types of justice, including social, racial, and economical. A tremendous amount of light has been shed on issues such as police brutality, and more and more people are able to learn about things in the world that we as humankind can and should be able to improve on. One topic related to these types of inequalities and injustices is environmental justice. 

 

 In most cities, there are wealth and social divisions among communities within the city. There are places where those of a certain race live, and places where those of a certain average income reside. As a result of these divisions, those usually in richer, white neighborhoods have access to clean water, clean air, and nutritious food, as well as the ability to pay for it. Meanwhile, those in poorer neighborhoods are left to deal with polluted air and groceries filled with food that isn’t great for their bodies, but even if they did have food that was fresh and healthy, they wouldn’t have enough money to pay for it. Since cities rely on systems that emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and pollute water, many are organized so that rich neighborhoods can enjoy all the benefits while poor neighborhoods are forced to suffer the consequences. 

 

Environmental justice is the idea that everyone is treated fairly in terms of their environment and the decisions they’re allowed to take part in. The issue of the lack of this was first brought into the conversation in the 1960’s, during the Civil Rights Movement. In the late 1970’s, research started to be conducted on environmental justice when a solid-waste facility was permitted to be built in the middle of a Black middle-class neighborhood in Houston, Texas, rather than the white neighborhoods next to it. Sociologists dove deep into the question of why and found that this pattern of the effects of environmental pollution being forced upon non-white communities was quite common. Today, there are cities and areas all over the world where there are disparities of quality of life due to the environment and access to resources between people who are separated by their race and wealth. Fortunately, some organizations already do  lots of work to try and build a system of equality for everyone to have better lives. 

 

The largest environmental organization in the United States is EPA, the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Founded in 1970 after a plethora of environmentally concerning events and topics had been brought up in the 1960’s, EPA has been doing work to actively better the environment for more than 50 years. Being the official environmental protection agency of the US, EPA serves as the head of environmental procedures, meaning that states who wish to implement things like pollution control initiatives look toward EPA for guidance and approval. Other responsibilities of this organization include establishing guidelines for safety in the air, water, and land cleanliness, making sure that laws regarding human health and climate are well regulated and administered, and polluted sites are cleaned up and restored to their former glory by individuals who are qualified to do so. More recently, detailed in their 2020 annual environmental justice progress report, EPA organized $1 million to benefit those in need affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and saved/ improved all or part of 27 sites from the National Priorities list for the second year in a row, among other notable accomplishments. EPA also awards a significant amount of grants to communities and projects that involve communities in need in terms of environmental safety. For those who wish to be more involved in environmental justice and human health, EPA offers jobs and internships for a wide range of people, from high school students to veterans. Given the history and the work EPA has done, these opportunities are worth looking into for anyone who wishes to make the world a better place, climate-wise.

 

But what about the people who don’t wake up in the morning and pick a breakfast of fresh fruit from a home-made garden and drink a cup of vegan, zero-waste coffee to kick-start their day of advocating for climate change awareness and planting trees, people who do understand this is a serious issue but feel like they just don’t have the energy or time to set aside from their normal lives to take action, as is so often encouraged in speeches and propaganda about climate change? Of course, there are the options that are widely available, such as self-education and donating, options that are important and do make a difference, but what is less emphasized is encouraging those in the position to make a difference on issues such as environmental justice to exercise their power and do something about the inequalities that our world faces today. Hold politicians and your local representatives accountable for the things they should be talking and doing something about. 

 

Lastly, be aware of how closely climate justice and social justice are related. After all, it’s not just a coincidence that the poor and BIPOC communities end up in worse neighborhoods, subject to health hazards in their environment, yet rich neighborhoods end up scot-free. There is no real social justice without climate justice, without a system where everyone has clean air, water, food, and land, where rural areas home to resources that urban cities rely on get more of the profit and less of the pollution that results from resource extraction, and where everyone can live safely.

Inclusion & Environmental Justice
By Avishi Trivedi  |  April 21, 2021
Ecological Succession: Instability to our Ecosystems and its links to Environmental Justice 
By Amberle Lim |  September 25, 2021  |  Source: The YEPI Journal Summer Edition 2021

Ecological succession, a term that was coined in the 19th century, is described as the process that biological communities undergo as a result of natural or anthropogenic activities. The term ‘succession’ was first adopted by French naturalist, Adolphe Dureau de la Malle, and was popularized to explain the theoretical framework of how our ecosystems evolve over a period of time. It is a classical phenomenon that concerns the changes ecological communities experience — primary or secondary— and presents scientists with the groundwork to understand the disturbances that affect ecosystems directly. In context to our current world, recent studies have concluded that understanding the importance of ecological succession is imperative due to the unprecedented rate of climate change. Hence, the study surrounding this issue reinforces how ecological succession is exacerbated by global warming to provide a lens into how plant and microbial organisms respond to the disturbances in the world. 

 

Unquestionably, ecological succession is used as the basis to the study of ecology and underscores the many changes to our global biodiversity. It plays a critical role in the modern understanding of ecological restoration and the heightened changes seen in remote ecosystems. Understanding both primary and secondary succession is key to this article: primary occurs in an environment without previous life and secondary succession in an area that had been inhabited but suffered a disturbance. In the past, precursors used the term to study the varying and intermittent effects of these changes seen in their field of study; it was officially used to understand the process of vegetation development after clearcutting and was popularized as a scientific term. Unfortunately, the sudden changes to our global environment and drastic anomalies in the world’s climate have transformed the idea behind ecological succession to focus on the dying ecosystems on our planet. Thus, scientists have proposed that its understanding provides a strong reasoning to how human activities can adversely affect the biological underworkings of a particular ecosystem. 

 

The factors that can influence the successional changes in an ecosystem vary, however, gravitate towards a few that are more commonly in effect. This would include the site conditions, character of the events that catalyzed succession and the weather conditions at the time of disturbance. Predominantly, the two most important perturbation factors are linked to human activities and the issue of climate change. All factors listed have contributed to the predictability of an ecosystem’s succession rate and have either enhanced the ecosystem, or more often deteriorated the habitat. For example, land degradation for commercial use results in habitat fragmentation to subsequently endanger species of animals native to the area and even its unique plants. As well, any significant changes to the abiotic condition of an environment can negatively lead to the deterioration of plant diversity and result in unfortunate repercussions to hinder community development. The following changes heightened by human activity have continued to threaten ecosystems excessively and exposed native organisms to further vulnerability. 

 

In addition, the rapid rise in the global temperature has only continued to endanger the wellbeing of the organisms residing in these fragile ecological spheres, but forces communities situated there to be gravely disadvantaged. Therefore, the drastic changes that result has caused many communities to tolerate the environmental disparities of succession and bear its heavy burden. When coupled with other environmental issues, these communities who are unguarded from the changes in their surrounding environment are subjected to great uncertainty. The literal architecture of an ecosystem can unfavorably affect the resource development in a community and disrupt the possibility of arable land or futile soil to sustain residents nearby. Stress factors from natural and human disturbances can continuously alter the natural environment of the area to affect the many abiotic features of the landscape. Each specific disturbance that occurs in an ecosystem will leave a different kind of signature and cause irreversible ramifications to the network of biological species inhabiting the area. Subsequently, the populations that allow a habitat to thrive and be self-perpetuating will diminish uncontrollably. The risk associated with declining biodiversity is the downward spiral for residents in the area and will inevitably lead to the loss of an ecosystem. Without the organisms to sustain the environment, the complex web to provide food for a community, water resource and other elements of life will deteriorate eventually. Individuals will endure significant changes to their lifestyles and suffer from a nightmare without access to local food or drinkable water sources. The perils of rapid succession can be crippling and devastating for remote communities given the drastic changes surrounding their livelihood. From ecological succession to a loss of biodiversity, the effects are conspicuous and are ought to be addressed before it is completely irreversible. 

 

Environmental justice in relation to the rapid ecological succession seen in the world is becoming increasingly alarming and unprotected. Sadly, a series of communities are suffering from the ecological succession rates seen in their lives and the pattern of unpredictability has amplified the devastating changes they yield to each day. The rapid changes along with the lack of environmental redress has left many poverty-stricken and unable to ensure they are equipped with the basic necessities of life. Biological populations have suffered indefinitely and succession rates are variable due to climate change seen worldwide. As we continue to progress towards our future, mitigating the effects of global warming will be necessary to ameliorate the severity of ecological succession in our fragile ecosystems. Without immediate changes, our world will lose its ability to be self-sustaining and ecological succession will remain an issue that is difficult to swallow.