Environmental justice is a fascinating topic, but difficult to cover. Today, we got a taste of it. The concept, made waves in sociology long before it reached the media. To sum it up, and unfortunately risk mislabeling it in the process, it was originally known as environmental racism and focused on areas where people of low income or minority status faced an unfair amount of environmental and health problems that rich, white people rarely faced. The concept has expanded into the push for environmental equality for all people, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, etc.
I don’t know enough about the issues we encountered today. All I know for sure is that race, geography and environment are rarely unrelated and we saw that today. There’s a racial component to the cotton farms in the Bootheel, who are using migrant labor that, according to Charles Parker and other anecdotes, is primarily hispanic.
There’s a racial component to the Birds Point levee issue, in which one of the towns at issue, Cairo, Ill., is predominantly black and the farmers from Missouri’s Mississippi County are predominantly white. The flooding of the village of Pinhook, Mo., also has a racial component to it. How did that 80-plus percent African American village of 50-some people come to be there? Why did that town develop so close to the floodplain on land that is usually either conservation area or densely farmed?
This is what’s so fascinating about environmental reporting. It’s not just science. It’s culture, it’s money, it’s politics. More than anything, it’s people. Reporting about the environment helps people understand how they fit into it, something we may never fully grasp but something we should always strive for.
– Tony Schick, Edited by Steven Rich