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Environmental Injustices and Systemic Racism

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Studies
Wordcount: 1971 words Published: 18th May 2020

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 There are many environmental injustices going on in the world today. Throughout the book What the Eyes Don’t see by Hanna-Attisha, she talks about the Flint water crisis and how those who are in power do not fit to be in power. Throughout her research she finds out that the government and representatives won’t always put the health and well-being of themselves and other citizens first, instead they will put the financial and political interests first. The behavior of the government and representatives has not only happened with the Flint water crisis but many other social injustices such as the use of Corexit which breaks down oil spills. Corexit is making people very sick but yet the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are still allowing first responders to use it. Another example of where government officials and representatives are more focused on the financial and political interests is clean air and how climate change is threating air quality.

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 One of the biggest advancements in the coal-burning industry is the “scrubber” which is a clean-air device that acts as a filter to remove years of pollution. The Trump administration proposed some of America’s dirtiest coal plants to start running again, but they would not be adding the “scrubbers” because it will cost a lot of money. Many older coal plants got grandfathered into the federal law so they did not have to add pollution control which resulted in many people getting sick because sulfur oxide formed and is harmful to the respiratory system. Many plant companies had to pay a lot of money to make air-pollution-control improvements because of the violations against the New Source Rule. The EPA proposed changes to the rule, but if older plants are being updated with newer working components, they can skip the New Source Rule as well as the requirement for the additional pollution control. The EPA is defending this change and is saying that it will benefit the environment, but many environmental groups say that by refurbishing the coal plants and not putting in “scrubbers” will be a step backward for the Clean Air Act.  In the article E.P.A. Rule Change Could Let Dirtiest Coal Plants Keep Running (and Stay Dirty) by Eric Lipton, John Walke, the director at the Natural Resources Defense Council said, “This is going to mean dirtier air and hurt Americans through a loophole built on lie that pollution from these plants will not get worse” (Lipton, 2018).  Environmental groups and state-governmental officials argue that the current rules discourage people from adding in “scrubbers” and making the older plants work more efficiently due to the financial cost. Brian Potts, a partner in Perkins Cole says, “from a business perspective, this will be the most helpful industry” (Lipton, 2018). This will help the industry because they would not have to spend approximately $1.5 billion on upgrading the plants to the most modern pollution control devices.

In the article America’s Skies Have Gotten Clearer, but Millions Still Breathe Unhealthy Air by Nadja Popovich, she talks about how Trump says, “We have the cleanest air in the world in the Unites States and it’s gotten better since I’m President” (Popovich, 2019). Studies have shown that the air is much cleaner than it used to be but the air pollution is increasing again. Due to the climate change, Jason West Predicts air pollution to be worse. Trump’s administration “has taken steps to weaken air quality and climate regulations” (Popovich, 2019). Since the EPA has proposed a change to the New Source Rule, this will change how they calculate the health risks of air pollution. Billings of the American Lung Association says that “there’s a fear we will see air pollution get worse” (Popovich, 2019). Climate change and disinvolvement are very strong threats to the air quality and could potentially weaken it. 

Each summer it gets hotter and hotter which can make the air at risk for becoming unhealthy because it will increase the stagnant days, which are domes of hot air that cause pollutants to get trapped. “Data showed that stagnation events are becoming more prevalent, with the number of annual stagnant days increasing in 83% of the cities” (“Climate Change is Threatening”, 2019). Stagnant days can impact the air quality because pollutants react together and create high levels of ozone, which can cause serious health issues. In order to protect human health under the Clean Air Act the EPA requires each state to adopt plans to maintain specific standards under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

“With hotter temperatures projected, more air stagnation days, and increases in natural emissions from wildfire smoke, the climate penalty will make it difficult for many areas of the country to achieve mandated air quality standards” (“Climate Change is Threatening”, 2019).

Ozone seasons are associated with the summer months, but since the length of summer from state to state varies it can tend to be longer in higher populated areas and wind can transport ozone miles away from the state it is in.

On September 4, 2019 presidential candidates explained how climate change is having a negative effect on the low-income communities and people of color. In the article Environmental Justice Was a Climate Forum Theme. Here’s Why by Maggie Astor, Elizabeth Warren said that climate policies must help the “people have been displaced, workers who have been displaced, people in communities of color who have for generations now been the ones where the toxic dumps got sited next to their homes” (Astor, 2019). Many candidates have proposed a variety of policies that related to the environmental justice going on in the world; for example, combating systemic racism. In the YouTube video Systemic Racism Explained they talk about how systemic racism affects every area of life in the United States and are single stories that people don’t know that have. Throughout the video they discussed how due to implicit bias “…the black unemployment rate is twice the rate of white unemployment” (act.tv, 2019). Systemic racism has no single person that is fully responsible, so in order for this to change everyone must support the changes that are made to create equal opportunities for everyone. Dr. Bullard said, “breathing clean air should not be aspirational. It should be experiential” (Astor, 2019). There have been many stereotypes about how low-income and colored communities are powerless, but Dr. Martin says that “environmental justice plans should not only benefit marginalized communities… but also bring them into the policymaking process” (Astor, 2019). In the TED Talk on Intersectionality by Kimberlé Crenshaw, she talked about how gender and race discrimination were marginalized and how intersectionality marginalizes people and is the result of many failures. When low-income and colored communities are being marginalized, that will eventually result in many failures because their voice counts as well, and they have just as much power as those with good income and those who are white. 

In the book What the Eyes Don’t See, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician, researcher, and leader was able to provide evidence that the water in Flint, Michigan was contaminated. When the governor of Flint had an idea to switch their water system from the Great Lakes to their own private water system, it immediately became an issue. The water started to flow orange and brown, and it smelt. Kids and parents would come into Hanna-Attisha’s office with strange rashes, but she never thought about the water change. She would repeat her patients, “Flint was literally in the middle of the Great Lakes region, the largest source of freshwater in the world. Why doubt the safety of what was coming out of the tap” (Hanna-Attisha, 2018, p. 30)? But when a trusted friend and a former EPA employee tells her there’s a chance there is lead in Flint’s water, she is shocked. After doing a lot of research she starts to write letters and makes phone calls. She hears nothing back but does not give up. Residents of Flint were complaining to the city because they were becoming sick, but they were ignored. After a long time, Hanna-Attisha was finally able to connect with a guy from the health department who told her “water is not under the jurisdiction of the health department… water isn’t in our department” (Hanna-Attisha, 2018, p. 81). The guy admitted to collecting blood-lead-levels but said that they did not look into them to see if there was a change. Hanna-Attisha (2018) said “it made no sense that communities with the most struggle and most poverty and therefore the most health issues were always allocated to the least amount of money” (p. 80). Flint saved a small amount of money each day because they eliminated corrosion control for the water system. Instead of spending money on chemicals that keep lead pipes from corroding and spreading lead into the water, a lot of money now has to be put into replacing those lines. When a city does not get enough tax revenue the low-income families are the ones punished with higher bills, but it is not right to ask those with the lower incomes to share more of their income with other residents for basic necessities such as clean water and proper plumbing. This is a perfect example of environmental injustice and systemic racism.

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Communities can come together to fight for social justice, even with the resistance of their own governments. Sometimes what is best for the financial and political aspects for the world, state, and city may not be what is best for the health of the citizens. Without healthy citizens there would be no government, nobody to fight for what is right. If nobody fights for clean air and banning pollution there will be nobody like Hanna-Attisha an immigrant, a doctor, and a scientist, whose family roots in social justice activism supported her, and believes that her brown skin helped her fight for justice in Flint.


Works Cited

  • Act.tv. (2019, April 16). Systemic Racism Explained [Video file].
    • Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrHIQIO_bdQ
  • Astor, M. (2019, September 5). Environmental Justice Was a Climate Forum Theme. Here’s Why. Retrieved from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/05/us/politics/environmental-justice-climate-town-hall.html
  • Crenshaw, K. (Director). (2016). Kimberlé Crenshaw – On Intersectionality [Motion Picture].
  • Climate Change is Threatening Air Quality across the Country. (2019, July 30). Retrieved from Climate Central: https://www.climatecentral.org/news/climate-change-is-threatening-air-quality-across-the-country-2019
  • Lipton, E. (August, 24 2018). E.P.A. Rule Change Could Let Dirtiest Coal Plants Keep Running (and Stay Dirty). Retrieved from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/24/climate/epa-coal-power-scrubbers.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FClean%20Air%20Act&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=10&pgtype=collection
  • Popovich, N. (2019, June 19). America’s Skies Have Gotten Clearer, but Millions Still Breathe Unhealthy Air. Retrieved from The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/06/19/climate/us-air-pollution-trump.html?searchResultPosition=9


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