Environmental Justice + #BlackLivesMatter

Wisconsin Water Library > Water Library Blog > Environmental Justice + #BlackLivesMatter

By Anne Moser and Laura Killingsworth

What is environmental justice?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as the “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies. Fair treatment means no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental and commercial operations or policies.”

How does it relate to social justice?

In the United States, structural racism is inextricably linked to environmental racism. A disproportionate burden of environmental harm falls on BIPOC (black, Indigenous, and people of color) communities and on working class neighborhoods.Harmful infrastructure such as landfills, poor drinking water systems and lack of safe play spaces and harmful practices including a lack of investment in communities, leads to poorer physical and mental health. As our society continues to grapple with the very real effects of climate change, these negative consequences will continue to displace marginalized communities at an even more severe level.

Without environmental justice, can we have full social justice?

There is no environmental justice without full social justice, and there is no full social justice without environmental justice. Our core values as librarians surround access to information, and how various societal issues prevent that from happening. We have a duty to dismantle these systemic barriers, meaning that every societal issue is a library issue as well, and something we should be addressing. There is much work to do in terms of advancing social justice and anti-racist initiatives for the black members of our community, and to affirm that black lives DO matter.  Further, these conversations belong at the center of any conversation surrounding environmental justice.

Reading List

We have created this reading list as a means of providing information and facilitating critical thinking surrounding these topics. This list is meant to be an introduction, and is by no means exhaustive. If you have resources or readings to add regarding environmental justice and social justice, please send an email to Anne Moser akmoser@aqua.wisc.edu.

Books and articles

As Long as the Grass Grows: the Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to… Standing Rock by Dina Gilio-Whitaker.
Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors by Carolyn Finney
Clean and White: a History of Environmental Racism in the United States by Carl A Zimring.
Climate Justice: Hope, Resilience, and the Fight for a Sustainable Future by Mary Robinson.
Confronting Environmental Racism: Voices from the Grassroots by Robert Doyle Bullard.
Creating a Climate for Change: Communicating Climate Change and Facilitating Social Change edited by Susanne C Moser and Lisa Dilling.
Defending Mother Earth: Native American Perspectives on Environmental Justice by Jace Weaver.
Diamond: a Struggle for Environmental Justice in Louisiana’s Chemical Corridor by Steve Lerner.
Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality by Robert D Bullard.
Cleere, Rickie, “Environmental Racism and the Movement for Black Lives: Grassroots Power in the 21st Century” (2016). Pomona Senior Theses.
Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines by Paul Fleischman.
From the Ground up: Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement by Luke W Cole and Sheila R Foster.
Garbage Wars: the Struggle for Environmental Justice in Chicago by David Naguib Pellow.
The Human Right to Water: Legal and Policy Dimensions by Salman M A Salman.
Justice and Natural Resources: Concepts, Strategies, and Applications edited by Kathryn M Mutz; Gary C Bryner; Douglas S Kenney.
Landrigan, P. J., Rauh, V. A., & Galvez, M. P. (2010). Environmental justice and the health of childrenThe Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine, New York77(2), 178–187.
Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance by Nick Estes.
Polluted Promises: Environmental Racism and the Search for Justice in a Southern Town by Melissa Checker.
Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African American Environmental Heritage by Dianne D. Glave.
The Quest for Environmental Justice: Human Rights and the Politics of Pollution by Robert D Bullard.
Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor by Rob Nixon.
Soil Not Oil: Environmental Justice in a Time of Climate Crisis by Vandana Shiva.
Struggle for the Land: Native North American Resistance to Genocide, Ecocide and Colonization by Ward Churchill.
A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind by Harriet A. Washington.
There’s Something in the Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous and Black Communities by Ingrid Waldron.
Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution and Residential Mobility by Dorceta E. Taylor.
Trace: Memory, History, Race and the American Landscape by Lauret Savoy
What Is Critical Environmental Justice? by David Naguib Pellow.
Why Race and Class Matter to the Environmental Movement, article in Grist

Readings on the Flint Water Crisis

A Case Study of Environmental Injustice: The Failure in Flint by Carla Campbell, Rachael Greenberg, Deepa Mankikar, and Ronald D. RossInt J Environ Res Public Health. 2016 Oct; 13(10): 951
Flint Fights Back: Environmental Justice and Democracy in the Flint Water Crisis by Benjamin J. Pauli.
Iowa State University Libraries Libguide on Flint Water Crisis
The Poisoned City: Flint’s Water and the American Urban Tragedy by Anne (Anna Leigh) Clark.
What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City by Mona Hanna-Attisha.

Books for Youth

It’s Our World, Too! Stories of Young People Who Are Making a Difference by By Phillip Hoose.
A River Ran Wild: an Environmental History by Lynne Cherry
Read a previous post from our blog about young activists raising their voices about climate change: https://waterlibrary.aqua.wisc.edu/our-new-library-display-kids-take-action/

Curated Book Lists

New York Times June 5, 2020 – Read Up on the Links Between Racism and the Environment

Other resources

US EPA Environmental Justice – https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice
Resources from the Student Environmental Resource Center at UC Berkeley.
The American Environmental Justice Movement from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (peer-reviewed)
Bowling Green State University Libraries Libguide on Environmental Justice


1 Pellow, D. (2016). TOWARD A CRITICAL ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE STUDIES: Black Lives Matter as an Environmental Justice Challenge. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, 13(2), 221-236. doi:10.1017/S1742058X1600014X