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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

“Environmental Justice for All” message of convo

<ioneer for the environmental justice movement and human rights, Robert D. Bullard, Ware Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University, opened up his convocation speech by stating he was proud to be called an environmentalist. Publishing over twenty books on a wide range of topics, including sustainable development, environmental racism, urban land use, regional equity, and climate justice, Bullard was named by Newsweek as one of the environmental leaders of the century. Acknowledging himself as “a sociologist by training,” Bullard nonetheless recognized how he has “worked with different individuals across all types of disciplines”, and emphasized “connecting the dots” as a sociologist. Because the environment is essentially everywhere – “it’s in here, and it’s out there” – he accentuated how environmental justice is not a fuzzy concept, but an essential part of human rights.

Bullard highlighted how at the end of the day, issues of environmental justice were all about health. Referring to health as defined by the United Nations, he emphasized the inseparable nature of the environment by stating that good health is impossible with pollution. He highlighted that racial injustice plays a key role in the distribution of resources, funding, and amenities. Referring to his presentation full of data and statistics, serious and humorous photographs, and numerous maps, Bullard pointed out the geographic coincidence of unhealthy states – that “seven out of ten” were in the southern United States. Singling out red-lining based upon race, he emphasized that even access to basic needs such as food was being denied. Bullard believed that the denial of food was in cases by design, and not accidental or coincidental.

“People who are impacted by natural or unnatural disasters are usually the worse off both before and after the disaster,” Bullard said about asserting the role of racial injustice in a nation’s use of the environment.

Bullard stressed the need for “greener” lifestyles, pointing out that fifty-eight percent of the people in the country are exposed to bad air. Drawing upon “the right to breathe versus the right to pollute”, he stated that industrial zones – along with the pollution they created – were not randomly distributed, but instead based upon the types of population. In creating greener communities, the major improvement involved increased funding for transit and making cities better suited for alternative modes of transport, such as bike lanes and walking trails. Bullard argued that going green would bring real, tangible results – that there are huge gains from going green, such as building more green schools, or “improving access to green by creating more green space” such as parks and playgrounds. In terms of unhealthy neighborhoods, Bullard pointed to a 2007 statistic that demonstrated how toxic waste was interconnected with color: fifty-six percent of people living in communities near hazardous facilities are people of color.

Bullard concluded his presentation by arguing, “To build just and sustainable communities, we have to address the age-old issue of race and discrimination,” and that it is impossible to accomplish environmental justice without first addressing these matters. Re-emphasizing how one must connect all the dots in this field, Bullard focused on how he believes that it is all about health.

“Just because you are unemployed or poor, doesn’t mean you have to get less,” Bullard said, adding, “As we grow green, we also need to grow just and fair.”

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