How Environmental Racism Effects Everyone


Alex McGoldrick

A data center owned by STACK Infrastructure sits directly outside of The Regency, a residential neighborhood in Manassas, VA. Data centers require large amounts of energy and resources that are often taken from surrounding areas. This is just one cause of the controversy surrounding them.

Environmental racism is a form of social injustice that disproportionately impacts minority communities including people of color, indigenous peoples, and low-income individuals. However, the reality is that the effects of environmental racism stretch beyond these communities and impact everyone.

Firstly, environmental racism leads to irreversible issues that harm the natural world that we all depend on. For instance, when industries are allowed to pollute air, water, and soil in these communities, the contamination can travel to other areas through air and water currents. This can lead to the contamination of natural resources such as drinking water and wildlife.

In addition, environmental racism worsens climate change. Climate change is caused by the release of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere. These gases trap heat, which leads to rising temperatures, melting glaciers, and rising sea levels.

Communities that are most impacted by environmental racism, such as those living near polluting industries, are often the ones who experience the most severe effects of climate change (heatwaves, flooding, hurricanes, etc.). However, these effects ultimately impact everyone, as they contribute to the destabilization of ecosystems.

One of the most well-known examples of environmental racism in the United States is the Flint water crisis. In 2014, the city of Flint, Michigan switched its water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River, a move that resulted in lead contamination in the city’s drinking water. The predominantly African American and low-income residents of Flint were harmed by this crisis, which led to widespread health problems, including neurological damage in children. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council “Inadequate treatment and testing of the water resulted in a series of major water quality and health issues for Flint residents—issues that were chronically ignored, overlooked, and discounted by government officials even as complaints mounted that the foul-smelling, discolored, and off-tasting water piped into Flint homes for 18 months was causing skin rashes, hair loss, and itchy skin.”

Environmental racism is not limited to the United States. In fact, it is a global issue that affects people around the world. In the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, the oil industry has caused widespread environmental damage, including water pollution and deforestation.

Indigenous communities in the Amazon rainforest have also been impacted by the destruction of their land and water resources due to logging and mining operations. The Open Society Foundations states that “The Amazon rainforest absorbs more carbon than any other land region in the world”

It is also important to mention that race is the biggest factor in the cause of environmental injustice. The World Economic Forum states that “Black Americans making $50-60,000 a year were more likely to live in polluted areas than their white counterparts making $10,000.” The same article later mentions that after extensive research “Race was found to be more important than socioeconomic status in predicting the location of the nation’s commercial hazardous waste facilities.”

Ultimately, environmental racism is a social justice issue that affects everyone. By working together to address this issue, we can create a more sustainable future for all. We must recognize that environmental issues are not limited to certain communities but are interconnected and affect us all. Luckily there are several things that we can all do to help solve this issue.