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Poverty and Environmental Injustice

by TChris

The poor always suffer first, last, and most. As New Orleans degrades into a pool of toxicity, Prof. Hari Osofsky reminds us that the burdens of enviornmental disasters are borne disproportionately by the poor.

Hurricane Katrina's aftermath demonstrates this country's crisis of environmental justice. As the endless images cruelly reveal, the effects of this hurricane were not distributed randomly. Low-income people of color lived in more vulnerable situations and had fewer options.

The convergence that Katrina's aftermath represents is not unique to severe weather events. Beginning with an annual report of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality and Robert Bullard's research in the 1970s, studies have documented the unequal distribution of environmental benefits and burdens.
...
Moreover, efforts to rectify these inequities face substantial obstacles. In Louisiana, for example, Tulane Law School's environmental clinic came under fire for helping a low-income, African-American community fight the siting of a chemical plant nearby.

The burdens of poverty in an environmental disaster are drawn into focus in New Orleans. Remedying that injustice requires a renewed commitment to ending poverty. Prof. Osofsky argues that environmental issues must be addressed in tamdem with the attack on poverty.

Engaging this collision of race, poverty and environmental disparity is critical to preventing endless cycles of despair. A few of the most basic lessons from Katrina's aftermath include: good management of coastline ecosystems saves lives and property; investing in mitigating technology is critical; disaster-preparedness plans need to contain redundant and flexible ways of assisting society's least fortunate.

< Report: U.S. to Block Media, Not Just Photos of New Orleans' Dead | Judge Tjoflat Criticizes 11th Circuit Stance on Booker >
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  • Re: Poverty and Environmental Injustice (none / 0) (#1)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:03:27 PM EST
    New Orleans has heightened the awareness of ending poverty in America.
    Low-income people of color lived in more vulnerable situations and had fewer options.
    This statement applies to many cities and rural areas in America.

    Re: Poverty and Environmental Injustice (none / 0) (#2)
    by Rich on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:03:27 PM EST
    Sadly, the environmental establishment (Sierra Club et al.) pay only lip service to this and have never done serious, sustained organizing or advocacy with anyone other than the REI crowd (I'm a 25 year REI mmeber, BTW).

    Re: Poverty and Environmental Injustice (none / 0) (#3)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:03:27 PM EST
    "the burdens of enviornmental disasters are borne disproportionately by the poor." Doubtful. There are many more "poor" than "rich" in this world, so it would make sense that more "poor" would be affected by enviro disasters, but a significantly disproportionate amount? I wonder. For example, in SoCal where I live, I would argue that enviro disasters are borne disproportionately by the rich. I assume the word "borne" means both physical injury/death and economic impact. Raging wildfires burn at will through generally rural areas like Malibu where generally (ok, only) rich folks live. Earthquakes generally affect the tallest housing units the most - rich folks are more likely to live in multi-story houses than non-rich folks and bear a disproportionately high "burden" as a result. Earthquakes seem to propogate better through sandy soils, you know, the soils common at the beach where few "poor" live. Yes, many non-rich folks live in multi-story rented apartment buildings just like many "rich" folks live in owned multi-story condos/owned apartment buildings (like our own J. Merritt), so death and injury would likely be similar among both groups, but as the costs of earthquake damage falls inordinately on the owners of the buildings (landlords and individual owners), the non-rich likely fare better, economically, than the rich in similar circumstances. I will admit that tornadoes in the plains states seem to affect the "poor" (leveled mobile home parks) more than the "rich" (generally single family home-owning farmers), but out of proportion to the relative numbers of "rich" v. "poor" in those areas? I doubt it. Did a disproportionally large number of "poor" die in the tsumamis? Doubtful. Typically the "rich" are the ones who can afford to live and/or vacation ocean-side...and mostly the "rich" own the properties there so they bore much of the financial burden. Most hurricanes have the most impact on coastal cities, which, as ocean-front property is generally more expensive, are probably disproportionaly populated by the "rich." What else is there, volcanoes? If you can afford a home on a mountainside, generally you're not "poor." Avalanches? Most avalanche victims (skiers) are "rich." Good night.

    Re: Poverty and Environmental Injustice (none / 0) (#4)
    by bad Jim on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:03:27 PM EST
    The poor don't have much choice about where they live. It's always cheaper to live in the dirtier, noisier, most dangerous parts, because anyone who doesn't have to live there leaves. There are places named Salsipuedes - get out if you can - which are full of people who, practically speaking, can't. This gives some of the flavor of what it means to be poor in America. It's way upscale from what it means to be poor just a few degrees in latitude south.

    Re: Poverty and Environmental Injustice (none / 0) (#5)
    by cpinva on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:03:27 PM EST
    sarcastic, you have either intentionally or otherwise confused environmental with natural disasters. an earthquake is a natural disaster, an oil spill an environmental one. a wild fire is a natural disaster, a toxic waste dump an environmental one. do we begin to see a pattern here? wealthy people choosing to live and build expensive houses in areas known for wild fires and mud slides have made a conscious choice. those living where some company decides to dump toxic waste, or fails to follow EPA mandated safeguards have no choice. the big difference is that the govt comes quickly running to the aid of those wealthy people, and has to be dragged, kicking and screaming, and forced to aid the poor people now living with an environmental disaster not of their own making.

    Re: Poverty and Environmental Injustice (none / 0) (#6)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:03:27 PM EST
    cpinva, your distinction is irrelevant, hurricane Katrina and its effects are the source of the article and this thread. As a side note, if you think the residents of NO didn't, in general, of there own free will, choose to live there despite the risks associated with hurricanes, you might want to rethink.