Mobilizing Data (and People) for Environmental Justice

Hi, all.

Writing (and reading) about climate change and other socio-environmental issues is often pretty depressing: We’ve passed this or that point-of-no-return on our path to planetary collapse. Congress failed to pass this or that policy that would have been a step in the right direction. Nothing is being done about people suffering in this or that way. Etc. You get the point. 

This past week, however, I managed to spot a story that sparked some warmth into the often cold, stark cavern that is my personal news feed: “California has a new battle plan against environmental injustice. The nation is watching.” In this article from the L.A. Times, reporter Evan Halper highlights an environmental screening tool, CalEnviroScreen, that compiles both pollution and public health data from around California and identifies the most heavily burdened communities in the state. As the California Environmental Justice Alliance explains, “Decision-makers can utilize [CalEnviroScreen’s] data to reverse uneven environmental enforcement practices, protect sensitive populations, prevent an over-concentration of polluting facilities in vulnerable areas, and direct much needed capital and public service improvements to under-resourced neighborhoods.” In the L.A. Times article, Halper writes about how state officials, including the state attorney general, in conjunction with local residents have successfully used the tool to protect these overburdened communities from developments that would cause further pollution. Moreover, writes Halper, the Biden administration is working to create something like CalEnviroScreen on a national scale. (Read more about that effort here.)

Now, nowhere in the L.A. Times article is the phrase “climate change” mentioned, which might lead you to think, fairly, that this tool and these efforts to battle pollution, while admirable, are not really part of the climate movement. Looking a little bit deeper, however, we see that almost all of the projects are related to cutting existing emissions or stopping new emitters, and by extension, these projects help combat the climate crisis. So, although CalEnviroScreen may not be centered on the climate crisis (at least rhetorically), it is nonetheless an incredibly powerful tool that is not only lowering emissions in heavily polluted areas, but it also shows how data and people, from local residents to the attorney general, can unite to make change. 

Which, not to toot our own horn too loudly, is exactly what we’re working to do with our Climate Action Explorer: giving you, and others, the data you need to help make change. We’re so glad you’re along for the ride with us, and stay tuned to the CAE as we continue to update it with new actions and make improvements. 

And here are some further resources and related actions you can take this week:

  • Check out the California Environmental Justice Alliance website and sign their petition calling for 3,200ft setback for new oil and gas wells. 
  • EarthJustice is a common partner for officials using the CalEnviroScreener. Check out their climate change action hub Zero to 100 here
  • Google your state + “environmental justice” to see what’s going on locally and if there’s any way you get involved. Here in Minnesota, I can see our state’s pollution control agency has an environmental justice framework and even a mapping tool similar to California’s (if not quite so sophisticated or as well utilized). 

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