It is incumbent on the world of Environmental Non Governmental Organizations (ENGOs) to stand in solidarity with those protesting police brutality and systemic racial injustices. It is imperative that our ENGOs work to address these societal wrongs.
There are countless links between environmental injustice, environmental harms, racism, and inequality.
“I CAN’T BREATHE”. George Floyd’s last words, uttered under the knee of an officer of the peace, are as symbolic of our environmental injustices as they are of our history of racism in policing. “I can’t breathe” has been spoken by hundreds of thousands before George Floyd in the context of systemic racism that results in higher asthma rates in communities of color and, more recently, higher incidence of COVID-19 in communities of color.
What actions can our ENGOs take to be better allies in the fight against systemic racism?
Especially with respect to environmental and land use issues, our ENGOs hold data, advance research strategies, and have special insights into how to reform a racist system in which the status quo has always been unjust. Going forward:
1.We must prioritize analyses that focus on understanding the true extent of environmental injustices in our communities.
Environmental injustice is a term that describes how people of color and poor communities have borne disproportionate harm from pollution and environmental risks, and the discriminatory systems that have perpetuated those inequities. Most ENGOs collect and hold abundant environmental data (water and air quality, soil studies, hydrologic functions, climate trends, risks and hazards, etc.) that can be triangulated with life expectancy, land use, US Census, racial, demographic, and other social and health data variables to better understand the true extent of environmental injustice in our communities. We must prioritize these analyses in our work.
2.We must advance an understanding of how regional land management, especially in Home Rule states, can serve as an antidote to environmental racism and environmental injustices.
“Home Rule” biases in land use decision-making means that municipalities are not required to take into consideration the impact of these decisions on regional growth patterns, existing or planned land uses in adjacent municipalities, or watershed and larger ecological systems impacts. Examples of undesired impacts include flood control decisions that displace flood waters to neighboring municipalities, and fragmentation of habitat that compromises regional environmental health.
Local impacts are felt in low income communities that are not only not prioritized for flood protection or environmental clean-ups, but that also continue to be identified for siting of locally undesirable land uses (LULUs). Regional environmental planning, especially watershed management of large ecosystems, demands integrated thinking and coordination. Regional environmental planning promotes healthy communities and resilience through equity considerations at larger scales.
3.We must pressure our state Departments of Environmental Protection to rank our contaminated sites in order of risk and urgency with respect to climate change and environmental health, prioritizing the environmental health of communities of color and the most vulnerable.
Developing a community health-based prioritized ranking for clean-up of our contaminated sites can serve as a corrective to market-driven remediation that focuses on clean-up of the most economically desirable contaminated sites.
4.We must continue to gather water quality, air quality, and other data for lands and waters disproportionately accessed by people of color.
5.We must research the extent to which our local communities of color are more likely than white people to be at risk of hazards related to climate change.
6.We must advance “citizen science” practices and provide our environmental data and other resources to all our communities so that they can analyze and understand environmental justice issues in their own neighborhoods.
The Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership is often asked to talk about the most pressing environmental issues facing our Central Jersey watershed communities. Here is our “Top 10” list of cross-cutting concerns for 2019. Starting in February we will feature one concern a month on our website, exploring that issue (and potential solutions) in more detail. We invite you to join in the conversation.
Poorly coordinated stormwater management, conducted at municipal (not watershed) scales, means that one community’s flood control efforts can lead to another community’s flooding problems.
Perceptions of safety (poor lighting, litter) around riverfront spaces, and poor signage and access to these spaces, deters use and enjoyment of our waterways. If we don’t know our rivers and streams we won’t grow to love them and act to protect them.
Failure of aging water infrastructure (culverts, pipes, inlets and outfalls), an urgent safety issue for all our communities, is exacerbated by an increase in precipitation due to climate change.
Poor control of non-point pollution sources (fertilizers and pesticides from lawns, sediments from development and erosion, oil and grease and road salt from roadways, animal and human waste, dumping of detergents and paints and other chemicals into stormdrains, and litter) results in high chemical levels, bacteria loads and algal blooms in our rivers and streams.
State and regional authorities do not have a clear plan to improve knowledge of the health of the Raritan and its tributaries, and do not model pollutant loads for our watershed.
Recent federal rollbacks of requirements for oil and gas reporting may result in increased methane emissions and open the door to more pipelines that fragment and threaten habitat.
Federal policies that extend the offshore fishing season and increase allowances in catch rates for commercial fishing reduce numbers of anadromous migratory fish in the Raritan, affecting the food chain.
Hi! I’m Acipenser Brevirostrum, but you can call me Simon the Sturgeon. I am here to tell you about the many challenges I face as a two year old, juvenile short nosed sturgeon in the Raritan River. To start, I’d like to say how glad I am to be a sturgeon in 2017, even though my species has been federally endangered since 1973. Being a sturgeon living 120-150 years ago was even worse. Between the years 1870 and 1900, sturgeon were hunted for meat, but especially prized for their eggs for caviar.
We were nearly driven to extinction! Sturgeon are still feeling the effects 120 years later. Our population is only 12,000 in the waters New York and New Jersey, which truth be told is not a lot as female sturgeons lay 40,000 to 200,000 eggs per year. Caviar and hunting weren’t the only obstacle we have had to swim around to be able to survive. Another issue we face is river pollution. As bottom feeders we have a subterminal snout, we use our snout to vacuum our food from the substrate into our protractile mouth. This means that we pick up a lot of pollutants off of the substrate that isn’t food. We deserve to at least eat our meals of crustaceans, clams, mussels, snails, marine worms, flounder and plant matter, without having to guzzle down chemicals for dessert!
My species is considered a living fossil. We have been around for longer than 12,000 years and have retained a lot of primitive features that were common way back then, like our subterminal mouth and our barbels, a whisker like sensory organ. We have been in this area for longer than humans have, we have survived the caviar craze, and even industrial dumping that was common in Raritan for decades. That dumping residue along with the new stuff that has made its way to the Raritan (like expired medication, fertilizers and pesticides). These can turn into Endocrine System Disruptors (E.S.D) which damage our bodies and can either kill us or make us very sick. A lot of the pollutants also contain cadmium, arsenic are heavy metals that are extremely toxic.
Some ways you can help us live our natural life span of 35-70 years is by making sure to protect us from non-point source pollution. (That’s the pollution that is in stormwater runoff like pesticides, fertilizers, road salts and motor oil). You can make sure that streams have adequate buffers of plants and streams, and cleaning up our habitat will help. Also please let the NJDEP know if you see us. We are brown- gray fish with a yellow underbelly with a short rounded snout, heterocercal tail and a subterminal mouth, that is 18-22 inches long. Now I have to be going I see some yummy algae floating by. Though it isn’t fast food, but it sure moves pretty quick. Simon the sturgeon splashes out!