Environmental justice is having a moment. The term, which encompasses the many ways by which low-income people and communities of color suffer an unequal burden from pollution, contamination, and climate change, has seen a surge in use, largely due to the recent American political campaign.
Democratic primary candidates frequently mentioned environmental justice (or environmental racism) in their stump speeches, campaign pledges, and in debates — an indication that ideas that were not in the political discourse a decade ago, may shape some future climate policies. Environmental justice came up frequently enough in the primary that the first-ever Presidential Environmental Justice Forum was held in November 2019 and drew Senators Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren, as well as billionaire activist Tom Steyer. It’s been a big focus of President-elect Joe Biden’s climate platform and was discussed frequently as he unveiled his climate team in earlier this month. Beyond the race for the presidency, the racial unrest of the past summer, as well as the patterns of infections and death due to COVID-19, focused attention on a number of systemic issues in the U.S., including unfair environmental impacts felt by Black and brown Americans.
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