Environmental Justice

From direct actions that shape our future to investigations that result in incredible environmental wins to large-scale mobilizations that inspire hundreds of thousands of people, Greenpeace has been making an enormous impact on the global environmental movement since its very first action in 1971. But our journey from 50 years ago to today hasn’t been perfect. Like many large environmental organizations and much like the mainstream environmental movement in the United States, Greenpeace USA has continual work to do to ensure justice is at the core of our campaigns.

What is Environmental Justice?

Environmental Justice is a concept that was coined in the early 1960s during the Civil Rights movement and has increasingly picked up momentum as our social justice movements and environmental issues have grown. The issues of racism and socioeconomic justice are central to the issue of Environmental Justice. At its core, Environmental Justice guarantees that all people have equal access to a healthy, safe, and sustainable environment, as well as equal protection from environmental harm

Environmental Justice assumes and recognizes community care and Indigenous and first nations’ knowledge. It acknowledges how privilege, power, and oppression are integral to our understanding of how we are impacted by climate change and our environment.

We witness environmental injustice when our single-use plastic is incinerated causing air pollution in low-income communities in the US, or when it is shipped overseas to overwhelm South East Asian communities. We witness environmental injustice in Flint, MI, a majority-black community that still has lead in its water and when state violence harms Indigenous youth fighting to protect their land. These are only a few examples of the impact of environmental injustice that highlight the necessity of centering Environmental Justice in our movement.

Why is justice critical to the future of activism? 

As our planet continues to warm, forest fires burn, plastics dump into our oceans, and natural disasters worsen, we are witnessing increases in negative impacts. Our movements must keep pace with the rapid degradation of our natural world as well as our social world, challenging us to understand how climate change and environmental degradation impact humans differently. 

We have lifetimes of relearning to do around our notions of community, trauma, and social justice. Racism, patriarchy, militarism, corporate greed, capitalism, state violence — these and other causes of immense harm to those most at risk continue, largely unchecked. When we recognize who is most at risk, we find institutional harm is interwoven with the impact of the climate catastrophe. Understanding this, fighting oppression, and centering those most marginalized help us create an environmentally just future for all.

Environmental Justice requires that we incorporate racial and socioeconomic justice into the way we fight for the protection of our planet. Exploring the ways that global warming harms low-income communities, primarily black, brown, Indigenous, and migrant communities are critical to understanding how our fight must be won.

Environmental justice challenges us to center the voices of those most impacted by environmental harm in the fight for the protection of our planet. And it’s not just communities of color that are at risk from environmental injustice — those in need of abortion access, food access, LGBTQ2S+ communities, people with disabilities, and people at  intersections of multiple oppressions are impacted as well. 

To protect our natural world and natural resources, we need to fight for justice for all people and leave no one behind. This means recognizing the unique challenges faced by our most marginalized communities and taking leadership from them; those experiencing injustice know what they need. For centuries, Indigenous communities have learned and taught about ways we must protect our land and seas. When we give agency and power back to people-centered communities, we empower the change that our world and our future needs.

It is time to take initiative and acknowledge the harm that environmental movements have caused and do the work required for a just future. At Greenpeace, we know that Environmental Justice is the centerpiece for our movements and that the work we do must be rooted in it as an ongoing practice. Building a greener and more peaceful world for all requires a diverse, multicultural, people-powered force that centers the most impacted and marginalized, to ensure no one gets left behind. This is the Environmental Justice we strive to achieve.

Communities Fight Back

Melinda Tillies lives in Youngsville, Louisiana. After purchasing her dream home in 2017, Energy Transfer Partners is uprooting her home with the construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline project, the last section of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Those from impacted communities, like Melinda, are fighting back. This time, ETP won’t get away with its dirty tricks.