EcoJustice: How is the dream?

(10 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)


Forty six years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered I Have a Dream. In that speech, even one hundered years after emancipation, he spoke of black communities crippled by segregation and discrimination. They lived, ‘on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity.’

Today, blacks participate in all levels of professional society and leadership. We have a beautiful first family, former Secretaries of State, and even Supreme Court judges. It is common to see black lawmakers, doctors, lawyers, business professionals, and professors. Perhaps that ocean is embracing the island. One might think that discrimination is a thing of the past — that America is a place that tends toward racial equality…

Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives to remind them that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them. –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

If Dr. King could return and look at America, would he say the same thing today?

In the 2007 study Toxic Waste and Race at Twenty, four university researchers along with The United Church of Christ examined demographics of how communities were located with respect to industrial hazardous waste contaiminated areas. They found that if you want to locate toxic contamination and hazardous pollution in the US, it is frighteningly effective to use race as an indicator.

Race matters. People of color and persons of low socioeconomic status are still disproportionately impacted and are particularly concentrated in neighborhoods and communities with the greatest number of facilities. Race continues to be an independent predictor of where hazardous wastes are located, and it is a stronger predictor than income, education and other socioeconomic indicators. People of color now comprise a majority in neighborhoods with commercial hazardous waste facilities, and much larger (more than two thirds ajorities can be found in neighborhoods with clustered facilities. African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos and Asian Americans/Pacific islanders alike are disproportionately burdened by hazardous wastes in the U.S.

While socioeconomic status is also an indicator, and whites are affected by hazardous waste, too, this study demonstrates that non-whites are particularly concentrated in neighborhoods with most hazardous waste facilities throughout the country.

Many industries, particularly coal and petrochemical, use environmental sacrifice zones as part of doing business. They find a place where labor and land is cheap, and people are not in a position to put up a fuss. This won’t happen in an affluent backyard, so they appear in the poorest of American communities. These are places where people are brutally marginalized, and the neighborhoods quickly fall through regulatory cracks.

Texas’ Cancer Belt is an industrial area that surrounds Port Arthur, Texas. This area is a dumping ground for toxic chemical by products. The people are poor and powerless, and crippled by fact that the petrochemical industry is the only significant source of money in the region. Surrounded by refineries and chemical plants, Port Arthur, Beaumont, and Orange Texas have the highest rate of cancer incidence in the state. The population that lives by the chemical plants are overwhelmingly black.

The above clip is compiled from an interactive slide show (circa 2007) on poverty in Texas called The Bottom Line. At about 2:15 they mention Port Arthur and the surrounding communities. People routinely die of cancer and respiratory illness without access to healthcare. Their air and water are poisoned with carcinogens, but they are powerless to do anything about it. They have no resources to help them, and they have nowhere else to go.

And the local lives in Port Arthur are cheap to those in power. After a series of accidents, a representative from a chemical company went door to door offering the residents $500 in exchange for waiving their right to sue for damages. The company claimed they would pay their medical bills, as well. Of course, that didn’t apply to anyone who was already sick. One is left to wonder how a resident could prove that their condition was caused by that spill…

Can we see Dr. King’s dream today through the eyes of a child in Port Arthur?

All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.

–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The UCC study demonstrates that toxic communities do exist, and eco-justice does not deal a fair hand. While correlation cannot imply a cause, it is clear that these communities exist and it is likely that they are populated by people of color — so what are we going to do about it?

Deoliver47 examines one promising way to impact this injustice in Green For All, asthma, cockroaches and children of color. Green For All works throughout the country to create programs and forge policies that address climate change and create pathways out of poverty through green-collar jobs.

We can make a tremendous positive impact through green energy projects. Green For All coordinates workforce development, trains community leaders, and develops business tools, similar to those provided at an it consulting company, in the community for small green enterprises. And they advocate on Capitol Hill to promote green industry in vulnerable communities.

Focused effort on climate change policy and green economy will tangibly even the scales of ecojustice, and change lives. This is a human rights issue, and it is one where the progressive community has the power and tools to genuinely affect change.

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

How will we see Dr. King’s dream in ten years?  


    • rb137 on January 19, 2010 at 07:04

    Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

    –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  

    • dkmich on January 19, 2010 at 13:03

    there is so much in life that isn’t fair. Where to begin and can it ever be any other way?    Poor is one thing, and poor because black is totally another.  A truly color blind society would at least be a good start.  

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