Teaching About Environmental Justice

Introduction

Environmental justice is “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” (EPA). Unfortunately, in the U.S., low-income and colored communities are disproportionately affected by environmental issues, including air pollution and climate change. The ultimate goal of environmental justice is to ensure that all people are fairly and equally affected by environmental policies. Teaching about environmental justice is important because in order to become informed citizens who take actions against inequalities in our society, students need to learn about how environmental issues negatively affect certain communities.

Resources

There are many resources online available for teaching about environmental justice. Bringing the topic of environmental justice to the classroom is a great way to engage students in the study of environmental issues and inequality within our society!

Lesson Plans

  1. Analyzing Environmental Justice: Teaching Tolerance provides a lesson on analyzing environmental justice, which will help students understand how pollution disproportionately affects people in low-income communities and members of racial and ethnic minorities as well as how to use a map to locate environmental injustice. This lesson includes objectives, essential questions, materials, vocabulary, and a procedure. Educators who are looking for a lesson that will give students the opportunity to learn the curriculum material while working in small groups will want to use this resource in their classrooms!
  2. Environmental Justice in the Context of Sustainability: Interdisciplinary Teaching about Earth for a Sustainable Future (InTeGrate) has put together some resources to help educators bring the topic of environmental justice to their classrooms. This page provides pedagogic guidance and effective strategies for teaching about environmental justice. Each strategy is accompanied by an explanation and either example courses and activities or ideas and resources. For example, this resource recommends that educators consider ways to approach difficult issues because it is essential to maintain hope while also teaching students the full extent of how complex and deep-rooted the problems are. Materials on teaching controversial topics are also provided. Educators seeking guidance on how to integrate the topic of environmental justice into their curriculums will find this resource helpful!
  3. Teaching Intersectionality and Environmental Justice in Our Classrooms: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) offers an environmental justice classroom resource guide to help educators teach students about intersectionality and environmental justice. Before the guide is introduced, an explanation of intersectionality and environmental justice and why teaching these concepts to students is important is provided. Then, a list of resources, including webpages, individual lesson plans, and youth focused songs/videos, is given to help educators bring this subject matter to their classrooms.
  4. Talking and Teaching Environmental Justice: Learning To Give has put together a brief resource on talking and teaching environmental justice. This resource contains an explanation of environmental justice and injustice, information about how students can impact environmental justice in their communities, and links to a grassroots environmental organization and several interactive sources to help students identify environmental risks in their local communities.
  5. Environmental Justice Toolkit: Learning to Give offers an environmental justice toolkit for students in grades K-12. This toolkit provides instruction and gives ideas for service projects, which can be classified as direct, indirect, advocacy and research depending on their focus. Examples of environmental justice related ideas that students could participate in are given, including starting or joining a school environmental club or volunteering with a local organization working for environmental justice. This resource is best for educators who want their students to learn about environmental justice in a more hands-on manner by completing a service project!
  6. New Resources to Teach for Environmental Justice: The Zinn Education Project (ZEP) offers new resources to teach environmental justice. Five teaching articles from ZEP, which include role plays, stories of activism and resistance, and ideas for how to implement environmental justice concepts into classrooms, are provided. The specific resources included are Teaching Blockadia: How the Movement Against Fossil Fuels Is Changing the World, The Big Red Dot of Environmental Racism, Climate Change and School in a Yup’ik Fishing Village, From Mountaintop Removal to Divestment, and Teaching Sacrifice Zones.
  7. How to Construct an Environmental Justice Lesson Plan: This guide will walk educators through how to construct an environmental justice lesson plan. The content includes recognizing the importance of environmental justice education, knowing your audience, establishing your goals, engaging your students, going with the flow when modifying your lesson plan, and understanding the evolution of the lesson plan. For educators who are looking to create their own lesson plan, this guide will come in handy!

Articles

  1. The Environmental Justice Wake-Up Call: The New York Times has published a brief article on the environmental justice wake-up call. After George Floyd’s unjust death this past summer, environmental activists used his last few words of “I can’t breathe” as a way to address the disproportionate impact of air pollution and other environmental hazards in communities of color. The author recognizes that the issue of environmental injustices faced by low-income communities and communities of color has gained attention in Washington, but there is still a long way to go. Overall, this article would be helpful for educators who want to emphasize to their students that environmental injustice and racial inequality go hand in hand!
  2. “Two Different Realities”: Why America Needs Environmental Justice: CBS News provides an article on why America needs environmental justice. There are so many ways in which inequality harms minority communities. Air pollution, disease, and climate change are no exception. This article includes an interview with Peggy Shepard, the co-founder of We Act for Environmental Justice. Shepard explains the term “environmental racism,” discusses how environmental issues fuel racial inequality, offers examples of how communities of color are disproportionately impacted by environmental issues, talks about the Green New Deal, and more.
  3. Inside Climate News – Environmental Justice: Inside Climate News provides a page filled with current news articles related to environmental justice. There are articles on everything from the young voters who, motivated by climate change and environmental justice, helped propel Biden’s campaign to the many superfund sites that are dangerously threatened by climate change.
  4. The Environmental Justice Movement: The NRDC has published an article on the environmental justice movement. Topics covered in the article include the spark of the movement, the facts of environmental racism, ally organizations of the movement, national recognition of environmental justice, and the strong forces for environmental protection in our communities.
  5. Ensuring Environmental Justice and Health Protection: This additional article from the NRDC discusses ensuring environmental justice and health protection in the U.S. The author talks about the Biden promises and why they matter, how the new administration should address environmental justice and health crises, and more. For educators who want their students to read a current article that discusses environmental issues and how the new administration may address them, this article is one they should take a look at!

Informational Sites

  1. Environmental Justice….. What does that mean?: The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIH) provides information on environmental justice for kids. This article explains what environmental justice means, the unhealthy environments that environmental issues create, and what people can do about the fact that racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by these issues. For educators who are trying to teach younger children about this topic, NIH has put together this great resource that will offer them information in a manner that is easy to understand!
  2. Learn About Environmental Justice: The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has put together a combination of information on environmental justice and resources that educators and students can use to further investigate the subject. From this page, students will be able to learn about what environmental justice is, how EPA works for environmental justice, and the specific laws and executive orders that are related to environmental justice.
  3. NAACP – Environmental & Climate Justice: The NAACP provides a brief informational article on environmental and climate justice. This page emphasizes how people of color are disproportionately affected by environmental and climate issues, which is one of the most important concepts for students to walk away with after learning about the topic.

Conclusion

Teaching about environmental justice is so important! If students walk away learning only one concept from one of these lessons, it should be that environmental issues disproportionately affect people in low-income communities and members of racial and ethnic minorities. In order to understand this topic, students need to comprehend that environmental injustice and inequality, especially racial inequality, are not mutually exclusive!

Additional Resources

  1. Khan Academy – Environmental Justice (Video): Khan Academy collaborated with the Association of American Medical Colleges to provide a video on environmental justice.
  2. Environmental Justice & Environmental Racism: Greenaction offers information on environmental justice, environmental racism, and the principles of environmental justice.
  3. What is Environmental Justice?: The Office of Legacy Management has put together a brief explanation of environmental justice along with a list of linked pages that detail how the Department of Energy (DOE) implements environmental justice within the department.

Environmental justice is “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” (EPA). Unfortunately, in the U.S., low-income and colored communities are disproportionately affected by environmental issues, including air pollution and climate change. The ultimate goal of environmental justice is to ensure that all people are fairly and equally affected by environmental policies. Teaching about environmental justice is important because in order to become informed citizens who take actions against inequalities in our society, students need to learn about how environmental issues negatively affect certain communities.

Newsletter

Newsletter

Facebook Group