Environmental Justice: Protecting Nature

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What is Environmental Justice? Environmental justice refers to the fair and just treatment of people, regardless of color, income, origins, or race in connection to the advancement, adoption, and observance of environmental regulations, laws, and policies. Namely, the term is based on a broader definition of the environment and its surroundings, which relate to a person's living conditions. Therefore, people will use it to explain a social movement by focusing on the fair distribution of environmental benefits and burdens because it defines human relationships with the environment, and the need for just distribution of resources (distributive justice); it highlights conservation and fair usage of natural resources; emphasizes its sustainability can only be comprehended through environmental justice; it strengthens environmental laws, policies, and regulations. Environmental justice is the movement that links environmental degradation with social justice in a fight for sustainable human rights, and it’s a common appearance occurring within different social background and income stages, which leads to one of the main research questions: “ How does a person’s income background will change his health and living condition?” To simply explain the issue, we will compare two different district neighborhoods and provide data statistics to show a striking contrast, and later given a solution to solve the issue.

Pacoima, which means 'flowing water,' is one of the oldest communities in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles. It got its name from the Fernand language, and it was named because of the large amount of water that flowed through the area from the mountain canyons. Pacoima, a Los Angeles community of the San Fernando Valley in California, has 83 percent Hispanic which had become one of the “Hispanic city”. The economy is the main factor in improving the economic trend of the whole city. Pacoima has the reputation of having the largest amount of industries in Los Angeles, with its construction (61,400), restaurant (4277) and foodservice and primary and secondary schools (3620) and highest payment industries (scientific research and development services ($122,472), air transport ($106,425), and construction engineering and related services ($80,195). However, due to its urban context, residents living in Pacoima are affected by mobile and stationary pollution sources, as it is surrounded by three highways and divided by a railway, and the community has a small aircraft airport and more than 300 industrial facilities that create large amounts of carbon dioxide and emit toxic substances. As a result, many people who live in cities or nearby communities have health problems and asthma. According to the study, the median income in Pacoima is not considered lower than in poor areas, with a median household income of $56,082, compared with a national median of $60,336. Besides, of the 73,974, only 13,998 (19%) live below the poverty line, and most residents can afford home mortgages and financial expenses. However, due to the poor educational background of its internal population, many external populations began to migrate to Pacoima to start businesses, resulting in the highest proportion of the external population. According to their education statistics, only 1.36% of residents have a master's degree, 5.34% have a bachelor's degree, 3.38% have an associate's degree, 11.4% have a college degree, 32.77% have a high school degree, and 18.13% have no school degree. Based on the bureau of labor statistics (BLS), education makes sense in dollar terms, and higher education degrees it is, the lower the unemployment rate will be. Slowly, many large industrial mines, commercial construction, and private companies began to build around cities, which is also one of the main factors contributing to the deterioration of air quality. As a result, as an increasing number of private companies are moving nearby to start businesses, it increases the chances for residents to inhale toxic air, which is the most reasonable explanation for the deterioration of air quality.

By giving contrast, Arcadia is one of the cities that is located in Los Angeles and found by Elias Jackson “ Lucky” Baldwin in 1903. The city has 11 miles square and it’s typical Southern California town planned with tall palm trees on both sides and the exquisite houses around. Safety and neatness are the first impressions that most people have of this city, Also, the business transaction also plays a huge impact on the entire city economic because it gives an increase in economic growth rate and business interests within the city. The entire city employed 27,000 people, the largest industries are medical and social assistance (3,666), professional, scientific and technical services (3,054), and manufacturing (2,497), and the highest paying industries are Utilities ($92,946), public administration ($81,250), and professional, scientific and technical services ($74,809). The median household income in Acadia is $90,666. Also, residents favor on promoting health care insurance, in which it has more than 94.1% of the population has health insurance, including 50.2% for employee insurance, 11.4% for Medicaid, 12.2% for Medicare, 20.1% for nongroup insurance, and 0.179% for military and veterans' insurance. Also, Arcadia’s standard educational level of Aradia is excellent, with only 5.1% of not graduating from high school population and 94.9 (nearly 95%) of the population either with bachelor's college graduates and graduate degrees. Compared to the city of Pacoima, Acadia does not have any environmental problems, the whole city is very well built, the air index is normal, and there are a lot of trees along the road with safety facilities.

More than just facts, this is an environmental justice issue due to different social factors. However, Pacoima and Northern Sun Valley receive $23 million from California's state cap and trade program to buy electric buses and improve street safety.

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The money comes from proceeds from California's pollution-credit market, part of a program to help poor communities. Also, more significantly, an organization called “Pacoima Beautiful” is trying to solve the issue. Pacoima Beautiful (PB) was founded by five residents in 1997. It is a bilingual, multicultural, community-based organization focused on community capacity building, environmental issues and hazards affecting Pacoima. PB's current level II care plan is a continuation of work begun in 2005 to assess the environmental risks of Pacoima under the level I care grant. PB has its plan on solving the issue of raising toxic substances, which is the 4 steps solution.

Join together

As an integral part of the community, PB has established and nurtured partnerships and consensus-building relationships with more than 150 organizations, and institutions within and outside the community. In 2006, with funding from the primary care grant, PB brought together more than 320 community residents, partners, and stakeholders to review information on toxic sources in Pacoima.

Identify problems and solutions (Research)

As a result of the data collection, PB and its partners first identified 18 community health risks, then prioritized them and took action. PB found the Pacoima automotive industry to be a major risk because there are more than 100 auto body and auto repair shops in the community.

Implement solutions to reduce risk

The care II grant, awarded in October 2007, will help PB partners take action to reduce the risk of two identified community priorities: diesel emissions from auto stores in the Pacoima target areas and trucks and buses in the community. To reduce the impact of increasing toxic air, the PB partners first collect the baseline data from the business using toxic materials and. Then, to reduce the health impact of diesel trucks and school buses in residential areas, trained residents will collect baseline data by counting the number of trucks and buses and recording traffic patterns of trucks and buses in residential areas. Through these practices, they successfully implemented the solution plan by anticipating significant improvements in environmental health as a result of reduced emissions, reduced use of natural resources and increased use of sustainable products. As a result, PB plans to achieve these environmental and health improvements through the implementation of environmental best management programs (BMPs) and to enhance community capacity through increased education on toxic substances and mitigation.

Become self-sufficient

PB obtained additional funding from the following sources to support the objectives of the project and to become self-sufficient: the Liberty Hill Foundation and the James Irvine Foundation; the California Endowment; the James and Flora Hewlett Foundation; and the Los Angeles Environmental Affairs Department. Also, PB will request additional funding from past supporters, such as the Wells Fargo Foundation, California State Department of Transportation, the Carl Moyer Program, and the United Way.

Also, there is an organization called “Clean Up Green Up”. Their goals are to develop environmental policies to improve heavily polluted communities (nearby homes, schools, and family daycare centers) and improve exposure to toxins that cause serious problems (asthma, cancer, birth defects)

In general, environmental justice is the basic legal spirit of circular society and the prominent contradiction between environment and development. However, in order to minimize the problems caused by environmental justice, we should promote health and reduce environmental inequities. 

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