EarthTalk: I understand that the “environmental
justice” movement defends poor, non-white communities
that too often serve as sites for polluting industries such
as sewage treatment plants, factories and landfills. Have
there been any notable victories?
—P. Silver, Peekskill, NY
low income or minority groups have learned to raise
their voices and stand up against the discriminatory
locating of hazardous waste sites, polluting factories
and other sources of bad air quality and compromised
waterways and soils. Pictured: an environmental
justice rally in the Rogers-Eubanks community of
© Mar is sea Y, courtesy Flickr
environmental justice movement was born in September 1982
when a group of poor residents of rural Warren County, North
Carolina laid down in front of trucks transporting waste
containing toxic PCBs to a nearby landfill. Those primarily
African American activists eventually lost their battle
to keep toxic waste out of the area, but their actions eventually
led to an executive order by President Clinton in 1996 that
institutionalized the U.S. government’s duty to identify
and address “disproportionately high adverse health
or environmental effects of its policies or programs on
low-income people and people of color.” It also mandated
that the federal government look for ways to prevent discrimination
by race, color or national origin in any federally funded
programs dealing with health or the environment.
the time since, many other low income or minority groups—Latinos,
Asians, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans and others—have
learned to raise their voices and stand up against the discriminatory
locating of hazardous waste landfills and transfer stations,
polluting factories and utilities, and other triggers for
bad air quality and compromised waterways and soils across
the U.S. and beyond.
of the better known environmental justice groups came to
be out of specific struggles in their own local neighborhoods.
Concerned Citizens of South Central LA (Los Angeles) was
created to fight the now infamous LANCER incinerator in
the late 1980s, and today provides leadership on environmental
and other social justice issues throughout southern California.
Likewise, Mothers of East LA, originally formed to stop
the siting of a prison in an East Los Angeles community,
has become a strong voice against incinerators and other
waste processing and landfill facilities interested in moving
to the area.
West Harlem Environmental Action formed in 1998 to fight
(unsuccessfully) the building of the North River Sewage
Treatment Plant in West Harlem in New York City. Despite
that defeat, the group is now a leader on environmental
justice issues around New York State. And the Deep South
Center for Environmental Justice began with humble activist
roots but is now in high demand helping rural communities
in Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley” protect
themselves from further degradation and harm at the hands
of oil refineries and other heavy industry located there.
national organizations now devote significant resources
to these issues. The Center for Health, Environment and
Justice (CHEJ), which emerged out of the 1970s Love Canal
controversy when the U.S. government relocated 800 families
from their polluted Niagara Falls, New York neighborhood,
today functions as an activist clearinghouse for related
issues. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has
devoted significant resources to environmental justice efforts,
including helping to identify cancer clusters in poor communities
near heavy industry. Many Sierra Club local chapters battle
environmental discrimination in their neighborhoods. And
the federal government today provides millions of dollars
to environmental justice projects through the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies.
of East LA; West
Harlem Environmental Action; Deep
South Center for Environmental Justice; NRDC;
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EarthTalk: I understand that many of the world’s
fisheries are on the brink of collapse, “fished out,”
to put it bluntly. How did this happen and what is being
done about it?
—Mariel LaPlante, New Orleans, LA
of the world’s fisheries are in crisis today
due to years of overfishing, pollution and habitat
destruction. According to the Natural Resources
Defense Council, some of the most popular fish --
including cod (pictured here), snapper and tuna,
are dangerously depleted yet continue to be overfished.
Many of the world’s
fisheries are indeed in crisis today due to years of overfishing,
pollution and habitat destruction. According to the United
Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, 57 percent
of global fish populations are “fully exploited”
and another 30 percent are ”overexploited or collapsed.”
This leaves just 13 percent in the “non-fully-exploited”
category, down from 40 percent less than four decades ago.
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) reports that many
of the most popular fish, such as cod, snapper and tuna,
are dangerously depleted yet continue to be overfished.
have only been able to satisfy rising demand for fish and
shellfish in recent decades by using increasingly high-tech
strategies like on-vessel refrigeration and processing,
spotter planes and GPS satellites. Furthermore, says Matthew
Roney of the non-profit Earth Policy Institute, “Industrial
fishing fleets initially targeted the northern hemisphere’s
coastal fish stocks, but then as stocks were depleted, they
expanded progressively southward on average close to one
degree of latitude annually since 1950.”
pursuit of fish…has had heavy ecological consequences,
including the alteration of marine food webs via a massive
reduction in the populations of larger, longer-lived predatory
fish such as tunas, cods and marlins,” reports Roney.
In addition, he says, sophisticated fishing techniques aimed
at maximizing catches, such as longlines and bottom-scraping
trawls, kill large numbers of non-target species such as
sea turtles, sharks and coral.
Roney is optimistic
despite the trends. “In several well-studied regional
systems, multiple fisheries have bounced back from collapse
after adopting a combination of management measures,”
he says. “These include restricting gear types, lowering
the total allowable catch, dividing shares of the catch
among fishers, and designating marine protected.”
He cites an example of Kenyan communities removing beach
seine nets and creating “no-take” zones leading
to an increase in total fish, fish sizes and fishing income.
And no-take reserves established around parts of Australia’s
Great Barrier Reef led to a doubling of fish stocks and
size within the boundaries of protected areas and larger
populations throughout the region.
not too late to get our fishing practices back on track,”
reports NRDC. “Using smart laws, policies, incentives,
and market demand, we can help sustain fish populations
at healthy levels for years to come.”
of policymakers play the key role in marine protection,
but individual choices and consumer advocacy also make a
difference. “We can all support sustainable fishing
by wisely choosing which fish to eat, spreading the word
to friends and family, and contacting our lawmakers to make
sure they support responsible policies,” says NRDC.
Consumers can learn which fish are OK to buy by consulting
with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program,
available for free via the web and phone apps.
Policy Institute; Seafood
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