When you hear the word “racism,” your first thought probably leads to the obvious; prejudicial actions towards a group of people based on the color of their skin. But there are many facets of racism with destructive, far-reaching effects.
Environmental racism is a form of institutional racism leading to landfills, incinerators, and hazardous waste disposal – essentially, environmental hazards – that have disproportionate impacts in communities of color. In the 1950s, the term “environmental justice” emerged to describe the efforts to combat these hazards and find solutions. Back then, a study that traced the federal government’s bulk placement of hazardous waste sites within African-American communities was brought to light.
The biggest recent example of environmental injustice includes the Flint water crisis, where the residents of a town in Michigan lost access to the most basic survival need – clean drinking water. The issue disproportionately affected minorities and low socio-economic classes that could not fix the problem, find other sources of water, or leave.
Environmental racism generally results from the actions of large companies and the government. In those situations, it can be hard to feel as if you have the ability to enact change as an individual. But you do.
McGeorge School of Law has two programs that lead to environmental impact: an LLM and an MSL program in Water and Environmental Law. The degrees provide value to land use planners, engineers, environmental consultants, public information officers, lobbyists, public agency and legislative staff, and others who seek expertise in this continually evolving field without a law degree.
Addressing Environmental Justice
In order to achieve environmental justice, there are two frameworks that must be addressed: stopping environmental wrongs and promoting environmental goods. Environmental bads involve toxins, carcinogens, and other toxins that disproportionately affect people of color. Environmental goods involve access to recreational opportunities, parks, and greens.
Clean energy, clean air, and access to public health for all income communities are all aspects of environmental equity.
Achieving Environmental Justice
The one true way to achieve environmental justice is to redistribute the power. The decision-making must revert to the vulnerable communities that are impacted by environmental justice issues. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that can happen in a day. There are plenty of steps in between that can be taken, including:
- Education of pressing issues and effects of practices and policies that are in place
- Elevation of the voices of the communities that are impacted
- Advocating for policies that help the community
- Continuous accountability demanded from those in charge
- Participation in the decision-making process
- Promotion of environmental health
What Can You Do?
Obtaining your MSL or LLM degree in Water and Environmental Law opens up possibilities to enact change. Planners and engineers are a line of defense in ensuring that environmental hazards don’t make their way out to the community. Lobbyists advocate, pressuring elected officials to do what is good for their constituents. They become experts in their field, using their knowledge to let politicians know what is happening on the ground. Legislative staff can help create policy. Consultants assess the risk and advise projects on a path with little destruction. There are many options that the advanced degree can help you achieve.
McGeorge’s MSL and LLM programs provide the opportunity to develop knowledge and skills that are critical in today’s complex regulatory environment. We have a distinguished faculty of experts in the field. Plus, our program is online, allowing students location and scheduling flexibility. Whatever other obligations you have in life, our online, asynchronous program lets you seamlessly integrate your education into them.
For those not looking for a Juris Doctor who work in the legal or environmental field, our MSL gives you legal education without having to become a lawyer. And for attorneys who want to dive into their specialty, the LLM program is a perfect fit. What are you waiting for? Contact our admissions office today to join the environmental justice movement.