The University of Colorado Environmental Center Energy & Climate Justice Program works to create a deeper understanding in the CU community about how our energy and water use directly relates to climate change and social justice issues and what we can do about it. We employ peer-to-peer education about climate change, climate justice, water, air, food justice, agricultural practices and how to efficiently conserve energy on and off-campus. By educating each other, we are able to increase awareness and build interest in finding and working on solutions.
Climate change is fundamentally an issue of human rights and environmental justice that connects the local to the global. With rising temperatures, human lives—particularly in people of color, low-income, and Indigenous communities—are affected by compromised health, financial burdens, and social and cultural disruptions. Those who are most affected and have the the fewest resources to adapt to climate change are also the least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions—both globally and within the United States.
People in low-income communities and developing countries who have lesser impact on the environment are often the ones most affected by the degradation we are seeing today. The Environmental Center strives to implement campaigns that educate the Boulder campus about environmental injustices and provide service opportunities for students, faculty and staff to help alleviate the burden place on people in these communities.
The environmental justice movement grew in response to the disproportionate environmental burdens communities of color and low-income communities bear including pollution, industrial production and processing facilities, landfills and power plants. Simultaneously these communities often have fewer environmental benefits like parks, gardens and green spaces, while facing inadequate health care, access to healthy food, less political power. The Environmental Justice Movement leverages the gains and protections from the American Civil Rights movement and recognizing discrimintaion also happen in terms of environmental benefits and burdens. One major environmental justice win was Executive Order Executive Order 12898, passed in Feb 1994 by President Bill Clinton, requiring federal agencies to “make achieving environmental justice part of [their missions] by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations.”
One key tenet of the environmental justice movement is that it operates from a broader interpretation of ‘environment’ than has historically been used by the environmental movement; one that includes human habitats: places where people live, work and play. To someone involved with environmental justice, your home, office, or school playground is just as much a part of the environment as rivers, forests, National Parks and remote wilderness areas are. For example, the concern for clean water is not limited to rivers, lakes, and streams. It also includes the water coming from the tap in your kitchen, which may contain contaminants if your home has lead pipes or if the water comes from an unregulated source, such as a well serving a small or transient population.
Often it is the affected communities themselves that initiate and lead efforts to address environmental injustices. The most well known example is that of Warren County, North Carolina. In 1982 residents of this predominately African-American county protested the siting of a landfill for PCB-contaminated soils in their community. Today there are numerous non-profit organizations and government agencies that assist communities facing environmental justice issues.