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Environmental Justice, and Why it Should Matter to You

by Cory Hopkins | September 2016

The Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain (CSLS) is embarking on a year-long journey to introduce the Environmental Justice movement (EJ) to our campus and community partners. EJ is one of CSLS’ core themes for this year, and the idea for this theme was suggested by their colleagues in the College of Sciences.

So what is Environmental Justice? CSLS uses this definition: Environmental Justice is concerned with making sure that (A) no community takes on an unfair share of environmental burdens and (B) environmental benefits are shared in an equitable way regardless of race, class, gender, or orientation. The concept began in the 1990’s due to the realization that a number of polluting industries, power plants, and waste disposal areas were located near low-income or minority communities. The movement was made to ensure fair distribution of environmental burdens among all people regardless of their background. Seems pretty important, right? This is why CSLS is going to great lengths this year to offer opportunities for anyone to learn more about EJ and ways to get involved with the movement.

Dr. Jenny Hirsch, the director of the Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain, says, “The goal of the series is to generate serious conversation, examination, and action around justice as it relates to environment and sustainability.” Throughout the series, CSLS plans to explore topics covering: the role of technology in EJ; how Tech can help further the EJ movement; and what specific contributions can we make to help vulnerable communities move from striving to thriving. Dr. Hirsch continues by saying, “While ‘justice’ has not historically been a key topic of deliberation at Tech, it is central to addressing not only community challenges, but sustainability challenges as well. In fact, social science research has demonstrated a positive correlation between equity (the goal of justice work) and environmental sustainability.”

With such an important topic to cover, CSLS is taking great care in providing multiple events to increase exposure to the EJ movement. And due to the scale of this undertaking, to paraphrase a Beatles song, they’re going to “have a little help from their friends.” Just in the Fall Semester alone there are 16 events and activities hosted by SLS along with 16 partners, from Georgia Tech and beyond. The series includes public talks by GT faculty and guest speakers, workshops, films on “structural racism”, community-based service activities, art performances, and an EJ-themed Alternative Spring Break trip.

In this month alone there are four EJ events—one of which is the EJ series kickoff & Liam’s Legacy Symposium, on Tuesday, September 27th, from 4:30-6:30pm in the Clary Theater (Student Success Center). The kickoff features guest speakers Dr. Paul Mohai, environmental sociologist and founder of the Environmental Justice Program at the University of Michigan and member of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC), Mustafa Ali, senior advisor to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, and Samantha Shattuck, member of the newly formed NEJAC Youth Perspectives on Climate Justice Workshop. Speakers will discuss:

  • How EJ scholars research and measure disparities
  • How methods have changed over the years, particularly with the emergence of GIS
  • How scholarship and activism have influenced policy and led to social change the particular ways in which universities - including faculty, staff, and students - can contribute to the Environmental Justice Movement moving forward

Do yourself a favor and attend some (or all!) of the EJ series events, each one offers something new to be discovered. As an added bonus, CSLS is offering two free tickets to the Center for Civil and Human Rights for attendees who go to at least three events this semester.

You can find a full list of Environmental Justice events HERE.

And if you want to learn more about EJ, prior to going to an event, CSLS has made some detailed resources about Environmental Justice HERE.