Environmental justice is a global movement challenging the disproportionate burden of pollution and environmental degradation borne by communities of color and low-income people, and the egregious racial disparities health linked to these exposures. This issue of Race, Poverty and the Environment explores a theme of science, health and environmental justice that has increasingly sharpened the focus of WE ACT for Environmental Justice’s work.
Scientific research and technology have been key tools in the struggle for environmental and social justice. Research and data interpreted by environmental justice activists have provided much of the evidence community advocates use to bolster claims of disproportionate environmental impacts on poor communities of color. Yet the EJ Movement has not fully embraced science.
While environmental health has been an important focus for poor communities, EJ groups haven’t typically been involved in the research because environmental health advocates and scientists tend to focus primarily on health outcomes and environmental inputs, and academic disciplines like toxicology, without an analysis of such factors as race and class. This problem leaves EJ activists torn between their need for science and their disappointment in it because it often comes from a perspective that discounts their experiences.
The issue is designed to tackle some key questions: What are the legacy and limitations of science, research, technology and public health methodologies that underpin environmental policies? And how has dependence on existing paradigms of science perpetuated environmental racism? In the first section of the issue, three knowledgeable leaders address the role science has played in the EJ Movement. Azibuike Akaba of the Neighborhood Environmental Indicators Project in Oakland presents the big picture, while Karen Pierce of Bayview Hunters Point Community Advocates (in San Francisco) and Shawna Larson of Alaska Coalition Against Toxics offer their local perspectives.