Environmental Justice

The Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice 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.”

Climate Justice

Environmental justice is linked to climate justice because the impacts of a changing climate disproportionately affect groups that have been historically marginalized, underinvested, and excluded from policy and urban planning - primarily low income communities of color. This historical pattern of exclusion has left many places and communities with an urgent need for resources and infrastructure to become resilient, in the face of a world with changing climatic conditions.
Systemic Environmental Inequality
Redlining and oppressive policies underpin a system that directs air pollution to low-income Communities of Color and limits BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) access to the outdoors1.

The higher amounts of air pollution in Black and Latinx neighborhoods2 lead to higher illness rates compared to white counterparts3. In addition, a lack of urban tree coverage creates additional financial strain by increasing the rate of heat related illnesses and raising home cooling costs4. Together, these issues, compounded by an existing lack of representation, inhibits the ability to fight environmental policies that harm Communities of Color, such as Cap and Trade5, and decreases access to open spaces and the associated health benefits6. This restricts BIPOC representation in the outdoors and the environmental sector7, which further limits BIPOC voice in environmental policy decisions, leading back to directing pollution to these communities. Even attempts to end the cycle, such as neighborhood tree planting initiatives, harm BIPOC communities through Green Gentrification8.

Census tracts with 60% white population "had 2% less (fine particulate matter) and 8% less NOx" than census tracts with 25% white populations2.

Less than 12% of leadership positions are held by ethnic minorities in environmental organizations7.

Prior to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Black Americans were banned from, or segregated at, public recreation sites, including national and state parks1.

︎ This loop overlaps with:
  • Housing/Urban Planning - Systemic racism in urban planning places lower income housing in areas with higher pollution2 and further away from open spaces8.
  • Maternal, Child, and Adolescent Health Inequalities - Limited access to green space and higher pollutant levels in Communities of Color leads to higher rates of disease3,4,6.
  • COVID-19 Impacts/Longterm Health Impacts - Messaging about park closures due to COVID-19 was circulated on the assumption that everyone has the same privilege and access to the outdoors and will thus feel the same effect if these open spaces were taken away. Closing parks and trails incurs greater stress on low income and underresourced communities that have historically lacked access to outdoor spaces9.


  • Access a primer on learning resources for Environmental Justice/Environmental Racism here.
  • The work of Robert Bullard, who many consider the father of environmental justice, published many of the first books and articles on environmental racism. A great place to start is this page on environmental justice on his website.
  • Check out books, podcasts, and documentaries on environmental justice issues.
  • Research the history of environmental justice issues in your local area:
  • Whose land are you on? Use this map tool to learn and recognize Indigenous lands around you.
  • Are there mines, landfills, factories, and power, sewage or waste treatment facilities nearby? Who lives near these sites, and how are they impacted?
  • Research to see if there are nearby cultural sites or other vital areas in danger of redevelopment, privatization, or closure.


  • Support and vote for equity-focused efforts to keep jobs and housing stable when “greening” projects are proposed in places susceptible to Green Gentrification - see the report and YouTube recording of “Greening Without Gentrification” here!
  • Support, follow, donate, or if possible, join Environmental Justice initiatives and organizations:
    • Outdoor Afro - connecting Black communities with nature, conservation, and leadership opportunities
    • Black Mental Wellness (IG: @blackmentalwellness, @sadorawellness) - wilderness therapist for families and Children of Color
    • Latino Outdoors - creating networks and opportunities for Latinx communities to share stories, culture, knowledge, and their heritage through engagement with the outdoors
    • Diversify Outdoors - organizing, blogging, raising awareness, and creating events for connecting and celebrating diversity in outdoor recreation
    • Deep South Center for Environmental Justice -  supporting and training communities impacted by pollution and climate change
    • Energy Action Coalition -  working with young people to secure just power, including electrical, economic, social and political
    • Indigenous Environmental Network - supporting Indigenous communities to protect land and natural resources
    • Movement Generation for Change  - ensuring a Just Transition in low-income and Communities of Color
    • There are many more environmental justice organizations across the nation and in California. Find your local organization!

3. ACT

  • Learn about, support, turn out, and vote vote vote for your local environmental justice initiatives. Use your vote and voice to let your representatives know that you care about environmental justice issues, and want them to support those initiatives.
  • Amplify and support the voices calling for environmental justice, on issues either in your area or across the nation.
  • Continue to recognize and learn about the history of the land around you. Use this helpful Native Land map tool to get started.
  • Remember that history only teaches one version of the story - continue educating yourself and those around you about environmental justice issues, especially those near where you live.


1. Shumaker, Susan. “Untold Stories From America's National Parks.” PBS, (2009), www.pbs.org/nationalparks/media/pdfs/tnp-abi-untold-stories-pt-01-segregation.pdf.

2. Jones, Miranda R et al. “Race/ethnicity, residential segregation, and exposure to ambient air pollution: the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA).” American journal of public health vol. 104,no. 11 (2014), pp. 2130-7. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2014.302135

3. Erqou, Sebhat, et al. “Particulate Matter Air Pollution and Racial Differences in Cardiovascular Disease Risk.” Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, vol. 38, no. 4, (2018), pp. 935–942, doi:10.1161/atvbaha.117.310305.

4.McDonald, R.I., et al. “The Value of US Urban Tree Cover for Reducing Heat-Related Health Impacts and Electricity Consumption.” Ecosystems 23, pp. 137–150 (2020), https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-019-00395-5.

5. Cushing L, et al. “Carbon trading, co-pollutants, and environmental equity: Evidence from California’s cap-and-trade program (2011–2015).” PLoS Med 15(7):e1002604 (2018), https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002604

6. Donovan, Geoffrey H. “Including Public-Health Benefits of Trees in Urban-Forestry Decision Making.” Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, vol. 22, (2017), pp. 120-123, doi: 10.1016/j.ufug.2017.02.010.

7. Taylor, Dorceta E. “The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations: Mainstream NGOs Foundations Government Agencies.” Green 2.0, (2014), https://orgs.law.harvard.edu/els/files/2014/02/FullReport_Green2.0_FINALReducedSize.pdf

8. Rigolon, Alessandro, and Jeremy Németh. “Green Gentrification or ‘Just Green Enough’: Do Park Location, Size and Function Affect Whether a Place Gentrifies or Not?” Urban Studies, vol. 57, no. 2, (2019), pp. 402–420, doi:10.1177/0042098019849380.

9. Gonzalez, Jose. “Park Closures Have Unequal Costs.” High Country News, 16 Apr. 2020, www.hcn.org/issues/52.6/covid19-park-closures-have-unequal-costs.

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