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Causalargument: How racism and classism contribute to environmental crisis

Socialclass and race are currently the most significant indicators of thelevel of pollution in different neighborhoods in the U.S. It isestimated that the minorities and the low-income households receive ahigher level of exposure to pollutants by 40 % compared to whites andthe rich households (Queally 1). Environmental injustice occurs whendumping sites and polluting facilities (such as factories) arelocated in areas that are already occupied by the disadvantagedmembers of the society. This trend is as old as the history of theU.S., where the Native Americans, Latinos, and black Americans workedand lived near the mining sites in the eighteenth and the nineteenthcenturies (Brehm1). However, scholars started researching anddocumenting trends in environmental injustices in the 1980s (Brehm1).The popularity of this trend has been increased by the initiativestaken by activists to enhance the public awareness. There areactivists who have tried to push the government agencies to preventenvironmental injustice, but it is evident that the lack of adequatepolitical representation, economic limitations, anddiscrimination-based factors has denied the minorities an opportunityto enjoy a fair treatment in environmental issues.

Economiccauses of environmental injustice

Availabilityof cheap labor and land

Thecompetitiveness of any organization in the business environmentdepends on its ability to produce goods at the lowest cost possible.Consequently, many manufacturing companies achieve the objective oflowering the cost of operating their business by locating theirplants close to areas with cheaper land as well as labor. This can beattributed to the fact that most of the manufacturing facilitiesrequire a few experts and a large number of semi-skilled andunskilled laborers (Mbote 3). Unfortunately, cheap labor and land areavailable in areas that are populated by the minority or the poorcitizens, which makes it cheaper to locate factories in those areas.This results in the pileup of solid waste, air, and water pollution,which affect the minority citizens surrounding the factories in adisproportionate way. Therefore, the availability of affordablefactors of production (including human labor and land) in areas thatare predominantly occupied by the disadvantaged ethnic groups andpoor residents contributes to environmental injustice.

Thebenefits associated with the establishment of polluting facilities tothe local impoverished communities serve as the compensatorymechanisms. For example, the disadvantaged communities living closeto the landfills and polluting factories are promised employmentopportunities and development of infrastructure (such as roads),which force them to procure a silent approval (Mbote 3). This iscommon among communities that have an unemployment rate that is abovethe national average. These economic benefits tend to underplayenvironmental consequences. For example, the establishment of one ofthe largest oil refineries in San Francisco Bay by Standard Oil wasexpected to provide thousands of jobs to the poor residents. Theregion is occupied by 3,717 residents, where 97 % of them come fromthe minority races, including the black American, Hispanic, an Asian(Durell 1). The study also indicated that black Americans living inthe county were more likely to die of stroke, asthma, andcardiovascular disease than residents from other ethnic groups(Durell 1). The refinery has disproportionately affected members ofthe disadvantaged ethnic groups, but they fail to complain becausethey earn a living from this commercial facility.



Institutionalizedracism has resulted in the deliberate targeting of the communitiesand neighborhoods that are comprised of people of color and thosewith low socioeconomic status. Environmentalists in the U.S. holdthat institutionalized racism has become ingrained and acculturatedin the modern social institutions and all levels of government,including the local, federal, and state (Elizabet 1). Decision makingbodies that are expected to formulate policies to enhanceenvironmental justice are dominated by people from the majoritycommunities. Consequently, public agencies develop unaccountable andunresponsive policies as well as regulations. The existence ofineffective regulations and policies result in delayed detection ofenvironmental injustices and the lack of timely response to cases ofunfair pollution that are detected in regions dominated by members ofthe minority groups. The Flint water crisis in Flint region in thestate of Michigan is an example of delayed responses to cases ofenvironmental injustice affecting the minority groups. About 84 % ofthe residents are black Americans, who were affected by a faultygovernment decision to stop the distribution of treated water fromthe nearby city of Detroit and source water from Flint River (Carder1). The river had been polluted with corrosive chemicals for manyyears to an extent that the nearby factories (including the GeneralMotors) stopped using its water in 2014 because it was corrodingtheir equipments. The state government decided to save money bydistributing polluted water to the minority community, since theexisting policies could not facilitate environmental justice.

Inequalityin enforcement of environmental laws has also contributed toinjustices. This has become a common practice in the Southern stateswhere the law enforcement agencies have demonstrated laxity inimplementing protection laws, with the objective of benefiting fromoutside industry relocation (Elizabet 2). In addition, the speed atwhich non-compliance with environmental laws is detected and punishedis different for the affluent and impoverished neighborhoods. Thespeed of detection is always slow and penalties for non-compliance inthe vulnerable communities that are occupied by minority groups isfive 500 % less compared to similar types of measures taken againstthose who fail to comply with regulations in neighborhoods that arepredominantly occupied by whites (Elizabet 1). The same studyindicated that it takes about 20 % longer for the EnvironmentalProtection Agency to list waste that is classified as hazardous onthe federal priority cleanup system. Moreover, lower monetarypenalties and administrative orders are issued to facilities that arebased in areas with a higher percentage of the people of color andHispanic residents compared to polluting factories that operate inneighborhoods dominated by whites. Failure on the part of thegovernment agencies (such as the EPA) to enforce environmental lawsin a fair manner has disadvantaged minority races and the poorcitizens.

Thelack of bargaining power


Theminority racial minorities have a limited number of voters, whichlimits their ability to vote for leaders who can present their issuesto the relevant government agencies. In addition, discriminatoryattitudes and laws that are formulated by politicians who are electedby the majority races reduce their bargaining power (Mbote 4).Environmental laws formulated by these politicians favor the majoritywhile forcing the minorities to a disproportionate share ofenvironmental pollution. The impoverished communities lack thecapacity to prevent the establishment of hazardous or toxicfacilities in their neighborhood.

Lackof resources

Inmost cases, the environmental pollution results from investmentprojects (including mega factories) that are owned by wealthycapitalist. The success of the efforts applied in preventing thewealthy traders from polluting the environments is determined by theability of the affected community to access the ruling class theresources to carry out lobbying as well as environmental protectioncampaigns (Elizabet 5). The minority races do not have adequatefinancial resources to push for the enforcement of laws that regulatethe disposal of waste, which subjects them to the risk ofexperiencing environmental injustice. Impoverished and minoritycommunities do not have organized groups that can push the agenda ofenvironmental protection on behalf of their entire neighborhood. Forexample, the resident of convent relied on the services of the TulaneUniversity Environmental Law Clinic to engage in a legal battle witha PVC producing company known Shintech’s (Hohai 1). Although theresidents won the legal battle, their reliance on the students is anindication of the lack of resources.


Theincrease in environmental injustices can be attributed toeconomic-related challenges, discrimination-based factors, and thelack of bargaining power. The minority races and the low-incomehouseholds are disadvantaged in many ways. The lack of resources andadequate political representation limits the capacity of thedisadvantaged communities to push for the formulation of laws andpolicies that can enhance justice in protection of the environment.However, the opponents of the issue of environmental injustice arguethe members of the minority races relocate to regions with factoriesin search for jobs. The concentration of the low-income and thepeople of color in industrial areas create a perception that thesepeople are disproportionately affected by environmental pollution.This idea is founded on the concept of rural-to-urban immigration,where people move the growing urban areas to in search foremployment. Although this idea may be correct, it has only happenedin a few cases, but most of the polluting facilities have beenestablished in areas that are already populated by the low-income aswell as the people of color.


Brehm,H. and Pellow, D. Environmental inequalities. Nortonand Company.September 19. 2013. Web. 9 July 2016.

Carder,F. TheAmerican environmental justice movement.Prairie View, TX: Prairie View A &amp M University, 2012. Web.

Durell,R. Pollution, poverty and people of color: Living with industry.ScientificAmerican.4 June. 2012. Web. 9 July 2016.

Elizabet,L. Getting to the root of environmental injustice. StanfordEnvironmental Law Journal.2 January. 2016. Web. 9 July 2016.

Hohai,P. Environmentaljustice case study: Shintech PVC plant in convent, Louisiana.Ann Arbor: University of Michigan.

Mbote,P. and Cullet, P. Environmentaljustice and sustainability development.Geneva: International Environmental Research Center, 2011. Print.

Queally,J. Environmental injustice: Minorities face nearly 40 % more exposureto toxic air pollution. CommonDreams.16 April. 2014. Web. 9 July 2016.