The Plan EJ 2014!

Environmental justice is the idea that people of all ethnicities, genders or income should be taken into account regarding environmental legislation. Accordingly, issues of environmental justice involve both social and environmental conflicts, and there are many of these issues indeed. For instance, studies have shown that generally people of color are more affected by pollution than White-Americans. Furthermore,”in 2011, scientists found that American counties with the worst levels of ozone had significantly larger African American populations.” (Grist) The ozone layer is a layer of the atmosphere. it becomes larger through a process called the greenhouse effect. Electricity production (power plants),transportation (i.e.: cars, buses, trains), even residential use of electricity all have one thing in common: they require the burning of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are nonrenewable sources of energy including petroleum, coal and natural gas. The burning of any fossil fuel releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These greenhouse gases remain in the ozone layer, trapping heat on earth and contributing to climate change.

Nevertheless, this isn’t an article about issues of environmental justice. This is an article designed to inform on a governmental plan focused on combating issues of environmental justice. Finally.

In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made environmental justice the top priority in the agency’s overall mission. From 2009 until May 2014 the EPA worked to create the Plan EJ 2014.   They describe it as

 “A roadmap that will help the EPA integrate environmental justice into the agency’s programs, policies, and activities. The Goals of the plan are to:

  • Protect health in communities over-burdened by pollution
  • Empower communities to take action to improve their health and environment
  • Establish partnerships with local, state, tribal and federal organizations to achieve healthy and sustainable communities.” (epa)

    I think of the plan as a guding hand, a plan that pushes all sectors of the EPA into taking into account environmental equality when making decisions.

The significance of this plan is simply in the fact that it exists. The plan EJ 2014 is a bit of revitalization of a failed executive order of 1994 issued by President Clinton. Clinton’s executive order called for federal agencies to stop companies from “overburdening communities of colors.” (grist) Meaning, to stop concentrating power plants in low income neighborhoods, or more generally to stop concentrating pollution in low income neighborhoods. Unsurprisingly, The executive order was largely ignored.

Bretin Mock sums up the importance of the plan excellently when he says “at least now, the powers that be can no longer feign ignorance.” (Grist) The people that can make a difference have acknowledged that environmental inequity is an issue, which is a huge step for the environmental justice movement in its own right.


Just Green Enough: A Compromise of Equality & Sustainability

The lack of environmental justice in American society is now being linked clearly to an issue prevalent in urban areas: environmental gentrification.

Environmental gentrification is the process of affluent populations moving into low-income neighborhoods and therefore changing the culture and demographics’ of that neighborhood.   This change generally leads to the displacement of the low-income population, as the neighborhood is no longer affordable.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a guiding document detailing the organization’s intention to “incorporate environmental justice into its decision making processes.” (PERC) Meaning, the EPA is now taking into account the way in which pollution generally impacts the poor more significantly than the affluent. A disturbing example of such is illustrated in a “1983 study showing that hazardous waste landfills in the Southeast were almost entirely located in low-income, minority communities” (PERC)

This ruling of the EPA seems like a good thing. It means making low-income and historically disenfranchised neighborhoods cleaner and more environmentally friendly. It means upgrading low-income neighborhoods with things like LEED-certified green buildings, and bike lanes.” (Grist) LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. There are different levels of LEED certification based on a point system. Any LEED certified building, is to a certain extent, energy efficient. A LEED certified building could have solar panels, harnessing sunlight to create electricity or heat. Essentially, the building’s design is geared to use the least amount of energy possible. Bike lanes would contribute to the fight against climate change, as it offers an alternative to driving or public transportation. Climate change is in part attributable to greenhouse gas emissions. Cars, when in use, emit greenhouse gases. These greenhouse gases range from carbon dioxide to methane. They build up in the atmosphere and block infrared rays from leaving, effectively heating the earth. This process is called the greenhouse effect.  Figure 1 illustrates this occurrence.

Figure 1:


Upgrading these neighborhoods would not only be environmentally friendly but also aesthetically beneficial to the community. Unfortunately, these improvements can lead to the displacement of the population it was geared towards helping.

Sprucing up a neighborhood with nifty environmentally friendly upgrades can trigger gentrification. Logically, if a historically “bad” neighborhood becomes cleaner and more “green” it will attract a new population. A population that can afford to take into account these upgrades. H. Spencer Banzhaf describes this occurrence aptly when he says:

“Residents who moved into dirtier communities tend to place a higher priority on low-cost housing than on the environment. Cleaning up the environment may increase those costs by more than their willingness to pay, as wealthier households bid up property values. As poor residents are more likely to rent their housing, they stand to lose from these increased housing costs.” (PERC)

Though environmental gentrification may be excellent for the environment, it’s not always ethically right. For example, in the 1990s, Pilsen, Chicago was an unsafe and predominately Hispanic community. “In 2012, however, the Chicago Department of Transportation finished upgrading two rundown streets by rebuilding them with recycled materials, permeable pavers, green streetscaping and sustainable stormwater runoff solutions.”  in Pilsen, Chicago. The neighborhood is now considered to be one of the ‘greenest in America’. (governing) Unfortunately, the rent prices are now soaring, displacing the low-income population that once resided there. Figure 2 shows a street in Pilsen, Chicago.

Figure 2:


Fortuitously, a compromise between both displaced inhabitants and the environment can be found in the idea of making neighborhoods “Just Green Enough.” Meaning, “to make a neighborhood more livable, without triggering gentrification.” (governing) There are two main components to this idea, the first being to make environmental improvements to the neighborhood without disturbing the identity of the neighborhood. The second being, allowing the community to be involved in making the neighborhood more sustainable. In addition, when a neighborhood is undergoing improvements, taking certain precautions, including local job training and rent subsidies, to prevent displacement. (governing)

Environmental justice is inevitably tied to issues of social justice, as the environment dictates the circumstances of its inhabitants.  The “Just Green Enough” initiative is a perfect example of the connection between the two. More importantly, however, making neighborhoods “Just Green Enough” means a more sustainable and equal environment and society.


Justice is Justice

The University of Minnesota conducted a study analyzing the relationship between census data and nitrogen oxide concentration.   The study showed that race was the most important factor in who is affected by air pollution in America. “The difference in exposures to nitrogen dioxide (N2O) between whites and nonwhite was 38%.” (theeconomist) In order to understand the implications of this study, it’s imperative to understand the effect of N2O on the human body and the racial disparities within American society today.

In the United States, urban areas are “disproportionately non-white, with over 52 percent of blacks and 21 percent of whites residing in central-city neighborhoods; while suburbs are disproportionately white, where 57 percent of whites but just 36 percent of blacks reside.” (nhi) Basically, more Blacks than Whites live in urban areas. These urban areas are heavily polluted, because they are generally in closer proximity to highways and power plants; which are large sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere and keep the earth warm, this is called the greenhouse effect. When sunlight reaches the earth, land and water absorb it. Sunlight not absorbed is reflected back to space. The earth’s surface warms up and gives off infared radiation, greenhouse gases trap some of these infared rays in the atmosphere making the planet warmer. Figure 1 illustrates this process.

Figure 1


The University of Michigan Study focused on nitrogen dioxide, a common greenhouse gas, as the polluting agent.  Nitrogen dioxide moves throughout the nitrogen cycle, a “natural circulation of nitrogen among the atmosphere, plants, animals and microorgnaisms.” ( Figure 2 briefly illustrates this process.

Figure 2


Fossil fuels include oil, coal and natural gas. The burning of fossil fuels, also called combustion, is used industrially and residentially for electricity and heating. In urban areas, fossil fuel combustion releases nitrogen dioxide.  This pollutes breathing air and adds nitrogen to the nitrogen cycle. The result of this is climate change attributable to the greenhouse effect and health issues for the people exposed to the nitrogen dioxide. Exposure to nitrogen dioxide causes health afflictions ranging from airway inflammation to asthma and heart problems. For instance, in New york the admittance rate for asthma is 1.8 per 1000. However, in the South Bronx, a predominantly Black and industrial neighborhood, the admittance rate for asthma is three times that rate. (nihl)

The correlation between race and exposure to pollution is tied to the prevalence of poverty in urban areas. Pollution and climate change are issues seemingly tied only to environmental justice. Environmental justice and social justice, however, are undoubtedly connected. The problems that pollution and climate change wreak on the globe leave the disadvantaged more vulnerable, even within the boarders of the U.S.  Tamara Rodriguez Reichberg articulates this idea when she says:

“Racial and environmental injustice are linked to the same systemic problems of our society…both manifest in disease, and both are concerns to public health. Racial injustice as we know it is expressed through institutional racism and structural violence that affect the health of Black and Latino patients. Environmental injustice, too, disproportionately impacts Black and Latino patients.” (nhi)

Recognizing that environmentalism reaches the heights of social justce is motivation enough to become more energy efficient.  Think about it this way, turning off a light is not only an act of environmental activism but also a step towards civil justice.


The Duality of Science and Religion

Science and religion are often times considered to be far apart on the spectrum of academia. Nevertheless, the efforts of Pope Benedict XVI, also known as the “Green Pope” have effectively linked Catholic faith with working towards a more energy efficient world.

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI installed over 1,000 solar panels in the Vatican. Solar power is energy from the sun that is converted into solar or thermal (heat) energy. Figure 1 shows the highly efficient roof of the Vatican.

Figure 1


Solar power is a clean energy source, meaning it’s efficient and renewable. Solar panels are “large flat panels made up of solar cells.” (seia) These solar cells are made of materials that, when struck by light, turn the energy within sunlight into an electrical current.  This electrical current can then be harnessed as electricity. Figure 2, illustrates this process.

Figure 2


The most important thing to understand about solar energy, and all sources of clean energy, is that it generates electricity with little to no pollution or contribution to climate change.

The Catholic’s church journey to energy efficiency isn’t limited to the actions of the “Green Pope.” Last month, a group of Catholic Bishops from all over the globe “called on the world’s governments to end fossil fuel use…citing climate change’s threat to the global poor.” (thinkprogress) Climate change is any notable change in temperature, precipitation or wind patterns. It is attributed to large amount of carbon dioxide and other green houses gases entering the atmosphere. The majority of these greenhouse gases are emitted through the burning of fossil fuels to produce energy. The greenhouse gases that build up in the atmosphere “act like a blanket around Earth, trapping energy in the atmosphere and causing it to warm.” This process is called the greenhouse effect.  This resulting change in climate is dangerous to the health of ecosystems and humans. For example, through changing the consistent climate of a region, the population’s ability to obtain water and maintain agriculture can be disturbed.

The bishops also called for a global agreement to lower carbon emissions. They argued that in doing so “the immediate needs of the most vulnerable communities” will be prioritized. The globe’s most impoverished populations are particularly vulnerable to droughts, floods, storms and other extreme weather attributable to climate change. The Catholic Bishops called attention to the moral side of energy efficiency by connecting the use of fossil fuel to victimizing impoverished populations.

The way in which the Catholic Church is able to relate an issue rooted in science to a question of morality is articulated when Daniel Stone notes, “Benedict (the Green Pope) is able to “inject morality into environmental debate. Changing light bulbs or saving a wild animal by protecting the habitat wasn’t about saving money… but was a religious obligation.” (nationalgeographic) Making clean energy the scrupulous choice is an excellent way to spread awareness of energy efficient practices.

Often times when people think of saving energy, it’s simply to save electricity.  Usually saving energy isn’t a a question of the right thing to do.  When Pope Benedict says, “If we want justice and peace, we must protect the habitat that sustains us, “ he makes saving energy a question of being morally right or wrong. Furthermore, he connects Catholic faith to preserving the environment through energy efficiency. I’m not religious, but, to me, tying energy efficiency to being ethically “good” is more affective than knowing that I save X amount of energy when I turn my light off or recycle. The key to getting anyone to do something is getting him or her to care. The actions of the “Green Pope” and the Catholic Church are a step towards doing just that.


Knowledge is Power!

Algal blooms and consequential dead zones are a problem plaguing the globe. In order to understand what algal blooms and dead zones are, and the impact they have on the environment, you have to understand the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles.

Algal blooms are caused because of human disruptions in the nitrogen or phosphorus cycle. Nitrogen and phosphorus are two of the main chemical elements of earth. The nitrogen and phosphorus cycles are biochemical cycles; biochemical cycles are simply cycles in which matter moves through out the earth.   An algal bloom is a rapid increase in the amount of algae in an aquatic environment. These blooms often occur because excess amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus enter the aquatic environment, and stimulate the increased growth of algae. (Science Daily)

Nitrogen and phosphorus are naturally occurring elements but they become overabundant from nutrient pollution. An example of nutrient pollution is runoff from farms using fertilizer containing a large amount of fixed nitrogen or phosphorus. Nitrogen fixation is the first step in the nitrogen cycle; it is the process by which nitrogen oxide from the atmosphere is converted into nitrate or ammonia. In the form of ammonia or nitrate nitrogen can be used in fertilizer to stimulate the growth of producers.  Phosphorus is more readily dissolved by soil than by water, so even a small amount of phosphorus within fertilizer runoff can stimulate growth of producers. Nitrogen and phosphorus may be helpful as fertilizers, but they can deadly when entering an aquatic environment. Nutrient pollution can occur in different ways, but the end result is always the sane, an abundant amount of nitrogen or phosphorus stimulating the growth of algae, creating an algal bloom. The abundance of algae in the aquatic environment turns the water green or red, (Figure 1 illustrates this). (National Geographic)

Figure 1


What is a dead zone and how does an algal bloom create it? Well, once the algae produced in the algae bloom dies, it sinks to the bottom, and bacterium decomposes the algae through cellular respiration. The bacteria takes in dissolved oxygen and produces carbon dioxide and chemical energy. The excess amount of decomposition decreases the amount of dissolved oxygen, creating hypoxic zones, areas with low amounts of oxygen. This lack of oxygen causes mass amounts of organisms requiring oxygen to die, or find new habitats, leaving an aquatic wasteland: also known as a dead zone.Now that you have an understanding of what algal blooms and dead zones are, and why they occur, it’s important to understand their significant impact on the environment. In 2007, an algal bloom in China’s Lake Taihu, the third largest lake in the country left 2 million people without water. “Overnight the city had no drinking water… what happened is folks woke up in the morning to make tea and found green Jello-like stuff coming out of the faucet. “ said Hans Pearl, a professor of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. (Circle of Blue) Figure two shows an image of Lake Taihu:

Figure 2


Depriving an entire population of drinking water is a clear indication that something needs to be done in order to combat the nutrient pollution entering aquatic environments. Nonetheless, if you need something closer to home, in August, “a toxic bloom shut down the water supply system in Toledo Ohio. Since 2004 blooms of toxic algae shut down water supplies for more than 3 million people on three continents and have closed hundreds of inland lakes to recreation.” (Circle of Blue)

So, what should be done?

State legislation needs to be passed in order to allow government to regulate the amount of waste entering aquatic environments. But, because of the lack of political urgency in which this issue is viewed, nothing is being done. Teresa Fedor, a Democrat from Toledo articulates my view on the issue perfectly when she says, “We need regulations on seatbelts for cars to save lives, and on air pollution to shut down acid rain. So why would we not do this for the most fundamental, basic need of water?” ( Circle of Blue)

The only way to combat this issue is through limiting the use of fertilizers rich with nitrogen and phosphorus. Legislation passing laws limiting the use of such materials must enforce this. I think right now attention needs to be called to this issue; the people need to be informed of the environmental impact of algal blooms. If the people rally for it, politicians have no choice but to legislate. In this situation, knowledge is power!

60 Minutes

In New Delhi, India, “One woman dies every hour due to dowry related reasons on an average in the country.”   In order to understand this horrifying statistic, you must first understand the concept of dowry, and the role it plays in Indian society.

In Indian culture, it’s tradition for the bride’s family to provide her with riches such as “gold, jewelry, and a trousseau, before she leaves her parental home to live with her in-laws.” This practice is a means of providing the couple with a sense of economic security as they begin their new life together.   In 1961, India passed the Dowry Prohibition Act, which “prohibits the request, payment or acceptance of dowry as consideration for the marriage.” As exhibited by the horrific statistics concerning dowry related deaths, this law is widely ignored.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reported that the number of dowry related deaths have been increasing. In 2007, 8903 deaths were reported. In 2008 and 2009, the number rose to 8,383.

Dowry related deaths are linked to the phenomenon of gender imbalance occurring within Indian society. Couples want to have boys instead of girls. This is because, if you have a girl, you have to pay dowry when she gets engaged. Oppositely, if you have a boy, you receive dowry. Having a son is more profitable than having a daughter. Often, women are abused if they cannot give birth to a son. This is a cruel and ironic practice. The gender of a baby is decided by the sex chromosome that each parent contributes. Women have two X chromosomes, and males have one X and one Y chromosome. The mother can only contribute an X chromosome; the gender of the baby at that point depends on whether or not the father contributes his X or Y chromosome.   Reference, Figure 1.1

Figure 1.1


The highest population of women in any age group is around 52 million, whereas the highest population of men in any age group is around 65 million. This serves to illustrate the enormous gap between the male and female population in India. This age structure diagram also illustrates that the population in India is currently expanding.  Additionally, it indicates that India is between the second and third stage of the demographic transition. The demographic transition has five stages; it’s used to illustrate a country’s change from high birth rates and high death rates, to low birth rates and low death rates. The demographic transition model below illustrates birth rate, death rate and population growth. See Figure 1.2


The problem of gender imbalance and dowry related deaths are prominent ones. I hope that as India progresses through the demographic transition that the culture of the country will progress with it.  If this happens than the rate of dowry deaths and the gender imbalance should decrease.  This is because, often as countries progress through the transition, societal traditions change with it, specifically gender equality increases along with female literacy rates.  These changes often attribute to the lowering birth rate as a country advances through the transition.

I think the key to combating the issue of dowry related death will be in changing societal beliefs concerning dowry, and also by combatting gender inequality within Indian communities.