How is Environmental Justice an Act of Radical Self Love?

Blog post written by CYH volunteer Megan, originally posted at The Body is Not an Apology.

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How is Environmental Justice an Act of Radical Self Love?

Well-being, Justice and the Environment

Well-being often requires access to the resources that allow you, your family, and your community to pursue wellness, but for many people there are significant barriers. Too often it is an incredible privilege to reflect on how we can care for ourselves. Some communities and marginalized groups may face institutional and environmental obstacles to seeking out the kind of care that they need. Those who are challenging this phenomenon are part of the environmental justice or environmental racism movements.

(Image above displays numerous people marching on a street holding a banner that states, “Toxins in our environment (arrow symbol) Cancer in our bodies.”)

Environmentalism, justice, and body positivity are rarely linked, but I think they should be. Due to systemic and environmental factors, many people have a much more difficult time pursuing well-being and self-care than others. Pollution, location of toxic factories, dump sites, mines, climate change and other environmental risks are unequally distributed, as are positive resources like clean drinking water or parks. Environmental justice seeks to highlight and halt the unequal distribution of the burden of pollution and environmental degradation, while also empowering all communities to have a meaningful say in environmental policy, implementation and enforcement.

The fact that the unequal distribution aligns with low-income neighbourhoods and communities of colour is part of why the term environmental racism came into use. It is no coincidence that three of the five largest hazardous waste facilities in the United States can be found in communities populated by people of colour. It is no accident that people in poverty and people of colour tend to live in the most polluted neighbourhoods in North America. These communities are targeted for dangerous sites because other groups have the privilege of time, money and social power to keep landfills, factories and hazardous chemicals out of their neighbourhood.

Indigenous peoples often face specific resource obstacles. For example, those living on reserves in Canada have significantly less access to safe drinking water and a much higher risk for many diseases that are uncommon off-reserve. In the United States, uncontrolled toxic waste can be found on or near up to half of all reserves. Globally, Indigenous peoples too often find that their land has been stolen, exploited and polluted. If well-being requires personal, family and community resources, what happens when the land around you has been turned from a resource to an obstacle to your health?

There is also an unequal distribution of accessible, affordable and nutritious food. Poverty is obviously a huge obstacle to achieving well-being that I don’t think requires explaining. However, you can also see an unequal distribution of food resources geographically if you look for food deserts, which are areas where accessing an affordable grocery store is very difficult or impossible. If you don’t have a car in a food desert, you might not have the food available to you that would give you more dietary options and you have to work within limits of your budget and your neighbourhood. This is important because, increasingly, we see links being made between poverty and some types of diabetes, as those with a low-income don’t have financial access to the type of nutrition that could potentially prevent illness (and then once someone has diabetes it often has a further negative effect on their income). It’s no surprise that self-care is harder when your budget is smaller.

(Graphic above displays a map of the United States. The caption about it reads No Car and No Supermarket Store Withing a Mile. The map is shaded to indicate the percentage of people with no car or supermarket withing a mile)

 

We simply are not on equal footing when we’re trying to pursue well-being. Even if you put aside the substantial cost of gym memberships, diets or surgery, which are not available to or desired by many, a disparity of health resources persists. Unfortunately, it is a privilege to be able to dedicate time and resources to well-being and self-care. Because of this, I believe that body positivity and radical self-love are connected to the work done to make our communities safer, increase access to critical resources like food and water, and make our world more just. If we want people to be able to love, support and care for themselves, we need access to the necessary resources. Self-love starts with yourself, but our world ought to help, not hinder, that journey.

A Few Resources More on These Topics:

Almost Everything You Need to Know About Environmental Justice

Crisis on Tap: Seeking Solutions for Safe Water for Indigenous Peoples.

Environmental Justice Video Archive

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfAOU1tAsbU

National Resources Defense Council: Environmental Justice

Poverty, Pollution and Environmental Racism: Strategies for Building Healthy and Sustainable Communities

Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States

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Originally posted at The Body is Not an Apology

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