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Environmental justice and environmental racism

This is a topic-guide for environmental justice and environmental racism. Inside it you will find brief introductions to the topic, helpful videos, suggested readings, and links to Iowa State University Library resources.

The image depicts union workers of many trades coming together across borders in solidarity and struggle. A protest, picket line, blockade and rally all gather, while agents of corporate-state surveillance look on from the upper corners.


Environmental justice

Is an ideal that can be summarized as: "All people have a right to a clean environment, and all people have a right to accessible natural resources."¹ This right is grounded in the fact that while environmental hardships effect everyone, vulnerable and poor populations often suffer a larger and unequal share of those burdens.

Environmental racism

Environmental racism recognizes that people of color suffer a disproportionate amount of environmental harm due to institutional and governmental regulations, policies, and decisions.  Eliminating environmental racism is one of the necessary steps to achieving environmental justice.

The NIMBY - "Not In My BackYard" - phenomenon (Wikipedia) is one of the most common ways that environmental racism and injustice is perpetrated and sustained.


A wide variety of topics can be examined as issues of environmental justice and/or environmental racism. In general, for a topic to be considered an environmental justice topic it must:

  • Be related to people: their lifestyle, health, wellness, livelihood, etc. and
  • Be caused by (or a symptom of) their environment (i.e. air, water, soil, food, housing, etc.).

For a topic to be considered environmental racism the race or ethnicity of those involved must also be a factor.

Introductory resources

Works Cited

McIntosh, A. and J. Pontius. 2017. "Air Quality and Atmospheric Science" in Science and the Global Environment.


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Megan O'Donnell
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