According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies."
Environmental justice is a relatively new field. Those in the field are concerned with how environmental problems disproportionately affect poor, marginalized communities around the world. Traditionally, the needs of marginalized communities have been ignored in favor of building cheap factories or other environmentally hazardous areas where property taxes and community protest were low. Environmental justice advocates work to reverse this way of thinking and to empower these communities to fight for their environmental health and safety rights.
Recently, advocates at national, international and grassroots levels have won several battles for the environmental justice movement. According to the Community Coalition for Environmental Justice, these advocates have been so persistent that in 1994, President Clinton signed an Order which "directs each federal agency to develop an Environmental Justice strategy for 'identifying and addressing... disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations.' Monies have been allocated to federal agencies and state governments assisting communities develop strategies to local environmental problems." This has created more jobs in the field as well as brought the mission of justice advocates to the forefront of the world's consciousness.
Environmental justice is a socially-important field in that you are helping under-represented minority populations to fight environmental injustice. Citizens of these communities have long been exposed to dangerous environmental hazards from irresponsible corporations, but they sometimes lack the resources and skills to effectively organize a campaign against injustice. Advocates in the field help citizens to be effective advocates for their communities, to take back their health, safety and peace of mind.
The Academic Requirements
Students in an environmental justice program will explore the historical, social, legal, and political issues that influence the relationship between people and the environment. Specifically, students look at how race, class, gender, socio-economic status, and ethnicity affect the people and environment relationship. Students will learn about past and current efforts to eliminate environmental injustice, and they will brainstorm new potential solutions with faculty and classmates. Teamwork and cooperation, as well as good communication skills, are essential to environmental advocacy, so programs focus on developing these skills. Students will also learn about environmental policy, law and politics and how advocates work to change the attitudes of the public, of private corporations and of the government in order to affect positive change.
Here are some courses that we've seen:
- Gender, Development and Inequality
- Environmental Justice: Domestic and International
- Small Groups, Organization and Advocacy Planning
- Introduction to Environmental Policymaking
- Social Organization of Black Communities
- Empowering Families and Communities
- Special Topics in Environmental Justice
- Environmental Justice
- Environmental Studies Seminar in Environmental Justice
Graduates of environmental justice programs, "can expect to find employment with government agencies, colleges and universities, consulting firms, research institutes, corporations, and a variety of domestic and international non-governmental organizations, including community and environmental organizations," states the University of Michigan program's website. Graduates can also pursue masters or professional degrees.
According to the Bureau of Labor, "Careers in social services appeal to persons with a strong desire to make life better and easier for others. Workers in this industry usually are good communicators and enjoy interacting with people." Although a career in environmental justice is not part of the social services sector per se, most people in the field do work in non-profit and/or grassroots organizations. These people work for little pay but earn great rewards in the form of knowing they make a positive difference in the lives of others. Successful advocates possess strong team-building skills, listening and communication skills and a passion for environmental justice. Of course, there are also workers in the government and in private firms; these people can still do socially-rewarding work but may have better job security.
Working conditions vary considerably, depending on what kind of job you get. For example, you may spend a good deal of time "in the field," running workshops and meetings with community members to help them become better advocates. You could go back and forth between community buildings (town halls, etc.), organizer's homes and the central office. Consultants and managers would work mostly in the office. Political advocates may spend considerable time in their state or nation's capitol, lobbying the legislature for social change. Government employees would be more likely to work regular hours.
Here are some job titles that we've seen, including some of the organizations that offer them, all of which included a requirement for experience in Environmental Justice:
- Researcher on Campaigns (Friends of the Earth, Scotland)
- Project Coordinator for Global Communities Project (Friends of the Earth, Scotland)
- Assistant Secretary for Environmental Justice (California Environmental Protection Agency)
- Public Interest Attorney (The Natural Resources Defense Council)
- Executive Director (Environmental Advocates of New York)
- Environmental Education/Community-based Advocacy Advisor (Prince of Songkhla University)
- Rural Development Advisor (YATSIM Foundation for Rural Development)
- Environmental Advocate (Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group)
- Community Organizer (Clean Water Action)
- California State University, Fullerton, "Environmental Studies Program Links: Environmental Justice
- Center for Health, Environment and Justice
- Community Coalition for Environmental Justice
- Drexel University
- Earth Justice
- Earthworks, Environmental Science/SD Jobs
- Environmental Career Opportunites
- Environmental Justice Foundation
- Environmental Justice Fund, "About the Environmental Justice Movement"
- Executive Order 12898, Addressing Environmental Justice Issues
- Green Dream Jobs, "Advocacy Jobs"
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Urban Studies and Planning
- North Carolina State University, The Leadership for Environmental Justice Program
- Sierra Club, "Environmental Justice"
- Thurgood Marshall School of Law, Environmental Justice Clinic
- U.S. Bureau of Labor, Statistics for Social Services
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "Environmental Justice"
- University of Michigan, School of Natural Resources & Environment, Environmental Justice Specialization
- University of Wisconsin, Madison, Environmental Studies Department