No environmental justice without social justice

Mari Belina, Opinion Writer

The color of someone’s skin should not affect their access to clean air or clean drinking water.
Yet, it is all too common for communities of color in the United States to struggle with access to these fundamental resources and it is not an accident.
The planned placement of oil pipelines, toxic waste sites and polluting factories near low-income or non-white neighborhoods is inpart environmental racism; the environmental justice movement is a response to the effects of environmental racism.
In order to illustrate the importance of racial justice as part of environmentalism, here is a statement from Summer Dean (@climatediva) who is working to re-define climate activism:
The same ideas of white supremacy that value the lives of some humans over others are the same forces that value humans over all other living species.
They are the values that believe humans are separate from nature, and that we must dominate this earth rather than live in harmony with all things on it.
Those values are woven into the fabric of powerful bureaucracies that were built to exploit people of color and the environment. So environmentalists: We cannot end the exploitation of our environment if we continue to allow the exploitation of oppressed people.
Ask yourself this: How can we rebuild our relationship with the earth if our relationships with each other are broken and unequal? Sustainability itself is inherently an idea from Black and Indigenous people, so they need to be at the center of this fight.
The struggles for a habitable planet and racial justice are deeply intertwined. The longer we stay in our institutional silos, the longer it will take to achieve justice for people and for the earth.
This quote speaks many truths that members of the University of Wisconsin Divestment Coalition strive to follow in their fight to divest their universities from fossil fuels.
To get an idea of environmental racism today, we can look to the fossil fuel (FF) industry as a prime example.
The Enbridge Line 3 tar-sands pipeline runs directly through protected Indigenous territory, specifically at three different locations on Fond du Lac reservations in northern Minnesota.
A ‘leak’ or ‘spill’ that is bound to happen by an oil pipeline may not sound like much, but the Center of Biological Diversity informs us that “Since 1986 pipeline accidents have spilled an average of more than 3 million gallons per year.
This is equivalent to 200 barrels of oil each day.” This puts freshwater at high risk of contamination, and freshwater is a finite resource that cannot be replaced.
Line 3 is just one current example of environmental racism taking place in the Midwest, as it was intentionally placed through what is supposed to be protected Indigenious land.
FF companies and their executives have never suffered action-changing consequences for the pollution and contamination that they inflict worldwide.
Divestment from FF is an important step toward dismantling this largely problematic institution.
Reinvesting funds to renewable energy and community-based solutions, advocating for reparations and protection of clean water is what creates environmental justice for highly affected groups.
Making sure that Black and Indigenous needs are prioritized in environmental movements is crucial to achieve any of these goals.
A few environmentalists who uplift these ideas on social media are @climatediva, @breaking_green_ceilings, @intersectionalenvironmentalist, and @browngirl_green.
Authors of this article can be found @uwdivestmentcoalition on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Visit our website to follow along, sign our petition, or get involved in the student-driven movement for a sustainable Wisconsin future.