Environmental Protection and Social Justice: We Can’t Have One Without the Other


Issues pertaining to social and environmental justice are linked. Both need to be addressed before progress is made on either front. (Frank Carini/ecoRI News)

The calls, comments, and emails all basically say the same thing: What does this have to do with the environment? “This” is inevitably an ecoRI News story that deals with racism, inequality, or social injustice.

Our latest “this” story was published last week. It dealt with the fact that Rhode Island’s communities of color — like those nationwide — are being disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, both healthwise and economically. The story — like our four-part series published in 2016 about homelessness — apparently made some readers uncomfortable. Good. Stories about racism and inequality should nauseate you.

When ecoRI News was launched more than a decade ago, reporting on social-justice issues was an important part of our mission. It still is. But, as editor and co-founder, I’ll be the first to admit we need to do a better job. It’s not easy to build trust with communities that have for so long been lied to, marginalized, and abused by those in power and by an inattentive media.

Even when our small news organization attempts to give these disenfranchised communities a voice, there are always readers — some of whom I know and respect — who basically tell us to stay in our lane. Our coverage can’t be that one dimensional.

As for the “What does this have to do with the environment?” question, the answer comes down to one word: Everything.

Environmental issues and social-justice issues are interconnected on multiple levels. Society can’t solve the problems of one without addressing the problems of the other. Their lanes cross, merge, and run parallel. They both typically slam into dead ends. We aren’t close to solving any of the problems intertwined among these two broad issues. The powers that be won’t allow it. We don’t have the stomach for it. Our constitution is weak.

We’ve been plundering people and the environment since this country was born. Sadly, it’s the bedrock upon which the United States of America was built. We’ll never stop damaging the environment if we don’t stop inflicting pain on those we purposefully discriminate against, scapegoat, terrorize, and kill. We’ll never stop the human suffering if we don’t respect the water we drink, the air we breathe, the land we sow, and the other creatures living among us. Our demise will come because we continue to put power and profit over all else.

If we are unable to treat everyone — no matter their skin color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or where they live or came from — with respect and dignity, there’s little chance we’ll properly safeguard that on which we depend: the natural world.

History and current events show how little progress we have made.

So, next time we publish a story that deals with racism, inequality, or social injustice, please remember these issues dovetail with environmental protection.

Frank Carini is the ecoRI News editor.


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  1. Thanks very much for this. There is no place in our society that is not touched by the economic, social and cultural forces that govern our lives. It is hard not to see these connections and to study them for what they reveal. Thanks for doing such a great job of reporting these issues and helping to change and enlighten the conversations we need to have.

  2. Thank you for stating this so clearly. It is undeniable that people of color have been subject to generations of hurt due to racist policies. These racist policies have included housing policies that place people of color at greater risk for the ill effects of air pollution. Racist policies have made it so people of color are more likely to get asthma and heart disease due to poor air quality. There are so many more examples. I’m grateful for EcoRI stating it as it is and this is why I will continue to donate to this excellent reporting.

  3. You cannot heal ecosystems without ending poverty, you cannot end poverty without healing ecosystems. they are inextricably linked.

  4. I can’t breathe. We need to understand the relationship between systemic racism and environmental injustice in Trump’s America. I applaud ecoRI News for reporting on too often ignored social-justice issues. Racial inequality is one of the most pernicious and enduring forms of injustice in the United States and the callous insensitivity of the GOP and the ruling administration leads many to believe that protest is the only way to make their voices heard. This article surveys some of the evidence that shows how overt racism has worsened under this president as have other less obvious forms of racial injustice.


  5. Good post. Disappointing that you get lots of pushback on environment-social justice connections. One enviro consequence on the lack of social justice – both in the inability to respond adequately to the virus pandemic and in the violent response to the racist police abuses is that cities and public transit are under threat as people and businesses move out to less dense areas thinking they are safer from pandemics and looters, drive alone (and for longer distances) rather than carpool or use transit. That means more pressure on the environment due to resulting sprawl which is generally more energy intensive, and increased auto use.
    One caution about the social justice angle, our country is alrweady way too polarized on racial, political and even regional lines. It wouldnlt be bad to note that we are all on the same plant thrratened by climate change, in wealthy and [oor neighborhoods alike, and we are all at risk from climate disruptions in their varipus forms. We do need to look for ways to bring people together to meet this common thrrat rather than emphasize our divisions.

  6. Beautifully written and completely right.
    It’s articles like this that explain the connections that some have failed to make. I’ll use some of this on FB RI Move to Amend if that’s ok.
    Side note – Is it too much to hope for that people will like some of the small benefits of the quarantine and change their ways to maintain them. I am hopeful that will happen.

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