The Green Beet

By Emily Pancoast

The Environmental Justice Panel conversation Feb. 12 began with a question. “How many people know someone who uses a nebulizer or inhaler?” Everyone in the audience raised their hand.The panel, part of the Minnesota Campus Energy Challenge event series, explored public policy and health. The panel featured Boise Jones who works for the Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota (EJAM), and Bernadette Longo, a professor of writing at the University of Minnesota, co-founder of the Northside Food Project. The panel was moderated by Professor Stephanie Rutherford, who teaches Environmental Politics and Policy at Macalester.

“We initially focused on problems such as lead and mercury and eventually got into food and its impact on colored people,” Jones said. Environmental issues consistently and disproportionately affect minorities whether it involves living near a coal power plant or in a house with asbestos.

Another issue that Jones combats is unfair housing policies for minorities. The houses that poorer people, and usually people of color, can afford often contain asbestos and other harmful chemicals. Because of poisoning from their houses, many children of these families have been incorrectly diagnosed with behavioral problems, creating a vicious cycle.

Longo focused mainly on food issues and took a strong stand against ethanol. Because ethanol is made primarily of corn, it can have disastrous effects on distant people reliant on the crop – such as tortilla makers in Mexico. It is an issue of “choosing to run a car over sustaining life,” which doesn’t seem environmentally sound, even if it releases less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

She is also concerned with the supply of nutritional food for all. There are some cities where one grocery store supplies 20,000 people, and healthy food is just not available or cheap enough. This issue will never be solved if the government continues to subsidize large monoculture farms.

In all matters of environmental justice, it is important to look at who is being hurt, and who are the stakeholders. In the majority of cases, the people being hurt are minorities or people of low socioeconomic status, who disproportionately bear the burden of environmental problems. The stakeholders are those who profit from environmental destruction. These people only “understand the bottom line of return. They don’t understand equity and fairness,” proponed Jones.