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Take Action: Environmental Justice

The EPA defines environmental justice as the fair treatment of all individuals, regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, and their equal opportunity to develop, implement, and enforce environmental policies and regulations. Environmental justice issues range from the concentration of landfill sites in minority neighborhoods to the toxic contamination of water in Flint, Michigan - a city with a poverty rate of nearly 42%. Additionally, as highlighted by Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si, environmental justice is innately intertwined with social justice. Issues of this magnitude can seem daunting and difficult to solve, but here are some simple ways you can promote and uphold the ideals of environmental and social justice in your own community.

REDUCE the effect of environmental injustice in low-income and minority communities by volunteering with local programs that promote environmental equality and sustainability. For instance, SF Environment, a city department of San Francisco, supports community projects in low-income neighborhoods that tackle environmental issues like air pollution and toxic waste disposal. In addition, these projects also help to build lasting, self-reliant communities. This organization is one of many in the Bay Area that are working to uphold the dignity of all people by promoting environmental justice.

REUSE resources whenever possible to reduce waste and leave more for others. Ever find half-filled water bottles lying around? Instead of throwing out this purified water, reuse it to water plants around your house (and don’t forget to recycle the bottle!). Small actions like this can help reduce the negative effects of the California drought - an environmental issue which continues to impact a number of small, rural, low-income communities and their accessibility to clean water.

RECYCLE old clothing, shoes, and accessories at Santa Clara University’s very own Swap for Good. Donate gently-used items from your wardrobe and pick out something new-to-you from others’ donations! Not only does this “swapping” reduce waste and energy costs associated with clothing production, it also directly benefits women and children from Homesafe (a transitional housing center), who get to pick out clothes from the shop for free. All remaining items are donated to Hope Services, a nonprofit organization that provides services to those with developmental disabilities. Organizations like these promote social justice and environmental justice - both essential pieces to a thriving, sustainable world.

RESPECT others and their shared rights to the Earth’s resources. This mindset is not only important for resolving current environmental justice issues, but also for preventing such issues from plaguing future generations. For instance, allowing waste to accumulate in our oceans may not have immediate consequences, but continued dumping creates a ripple effect that can disrupt many interconnected ecosystems and will affect us and future generations. By adopting an attitude of accountability in addition to respect for the dignity of others, even small actions can carry a meaningful precedent for others to follow.

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