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In her previous blog post, Heal the Bay Outreach Coordinator Danielle Furuichi discusses her journey to the environmental justice movement, sharing key concepts and context about environmental justice issues. She also shares the role each one of us can play through transformative action. Here, she dives into a visual illustration of what equality, equity and justice can look like within the environmental movement. 

 

Systemic and structural racism, harmful stereotypes, and a lack of access to education, economic status, and health resources often leave people of color out of the conversations that impact them, specifically about land use, natural resources, and environmental policy decision-making. As the environmental movement tackles climate change, water and air quality, public health, and plastic pollution issues, we all must consider the social inequities, inequalities, and injustices that are inherently intertwined with these issues. Although these words are sometimes used interchangeably, it is important to understand their differences. I will use coastal access and the graphic below to illustrate the concepts of equality, equity, and justice.


The illustration above was inspired by an illustration in “Seo, Jeong-Wook & Chung, Hosik & Seo, Tae-Sul & Jung, Youngim & Hwang, Eun & Yun, Cheol-Heui & Kim, Hyungsun. (2017). Equality, equity, and reality of open access on scholarly information.” and was created for Heal the Bay’s use by Alex Choy and Danielle Furuichi

What is equality?  

Equality is the condition under which all individuals receive uniform treatment, resources, and opportunities (Georgia Institute of Technology). The faulty assumption that underlies equality is that everyone has identical needs and would benefit equally from an even distribution of resources.

One example of a policy that emphasizes equality is the California Coastal Act of 1976. This policy outlawed private beaches in California so that by law, everyone has equal access to CA beaches. However, despite this legal action, physical and systemic barriers like geographical distance, lack of transportation, and historic segregation of coastal areas continue to prevent equal and full access for all to California beaches.

In the first segment of the illustration above, three individuals are treated equally and given the same resources – a uniform box – to access the beach view. Although one box is enough for the first two individuals, it is not sufficient to support the third individual, who remains without access to the beach view. A “one-size-fits-all” approach ignores specific needs, structural barriers, and systemic issues that impact some communities and individuals at disproportionate levels.

What is equity? 

Equity is the proportionate distribution of and access to resources. Unlike equality, equity accounts for individuality and acknowledges the historical underrepresentation of certain communities, yet it fails to actively deconstruct the underlying systemic barriers that create and contribute to current inequities (UC Berkeley Initiative for Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity). 

Let’s return to the previous example of the California Coastal Act of 1976, which provides equal access to California’s beaches. Equal, not equitable, is the key word here because equitable access requires extra steps. We can create equitable coastal access by providing educational programs and grant funding that brings people to the beach who wouldn’t have the resources to otherwise. This solution acknowledges that beaches are not uniformly accessible to everyone, and that an additional, targeted allocation of resources is required to make coastal access more equitable.

In the second segment of the illustration, the individuals are given a different number of boxes based on their needs, resulting in beach views for all three individuals. However, this solution fails to address the reason the beach view is inaccessible in the first place – the fence. 

What is justice? 

Unlike equality and equity, justice combats historic inequality and inequity while dismantling the systemic and structural barriers that are responsible for those inequities.

What would a just approach to ensuring full and equitable access to the California coast look like? To answer this question, we have to look at the fundamental reasons why there is unequal beach access in the first place. Who has access to the coast and why? 

If we look at coastal access in Los Angeles, we find that racist policies and gentrification are the root cause of inequitable access. This legacy of racism and discrimination began with the abuse, enslavement, and displacement of Indigenous people, including the Chumash and Tongva peoples who were the first to live in the Malibu and Los Angeles Basin areas.

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the legacy of slavery pervaded as Black people were harassed and kicked off of beaches surrounding Santa Monica. Practices like redlining – the division and ranking of neighborhoods based on race and socioeconomic status – prevented people in low-income communities and communities of color from buying homes, properties, or establishing businesses along the coast. On top of that, these communities were subject to additional discriminatory and unjust rent practices. 

The impact of these racist and discriminatory policies is clear today, as the demographic of those who live on and near the coast is primarily wealthy and white. Now, gentrification continues to cause the displacement of low-income communities and communities of color that live near the coast, parks, greenspace, and the LA River – and Black people still face harassment while trying to enjoy nature.

A just solution to coastal access requires the dismantling of systemic racism, prejudice, and inequitable policies. Removing “the fence” takes time and intention. Board by board, piece by piece, link by link. The process requires education and action to make the necessary changes to break down systemic and structural barriers that form injustices. 

In the third segment of the illustration, the primary barrier and need for additional resources has been removed. Without the fence, the beach view is completely accessible for everyone. 

Why did we create this image?

We created this illustration to educate our community and to encourage everyone to think more critically about the environmental movement. When we think of the environmental movement, what comes to mind? When we protect our natural resources, who are we protecting them for? Or from? Who benefits from their protection?

It is easy to see environmental issues and their solutions through a lens shaped by our own privileges and experiences. But like many other social, political, and economic issues, environmental issues are complex. Solutions to environmental problems must take into account social, political, historical, and economic factors, and to be truly transformative they must also be equitable and just. 



Danielle Furuichi, Heal the Bay’s Outreach Coordinator, shares her personal journey in the environmental justice movement, and how each and every one of us must have a unique role in transformative action. Read part two of this blog post.

 

When I first started my journey in the environmental field, my idea of environmentalism was purely ecological. I viewed nature as a place where I would escape to, rather than something I was a part of. My definition of the environment did not include my home or my community. But I now understand how this view is incomplete; where we live, where we work, and where we recreate are all parts of our environment, and ecological and human health are equally important and inextricably linked. 

The way I view environmental issues now is much more holistic, but to get there, I had to zoom out and take a broader look at my identity and my view of the world. I realized how my privilege shaped my perspectives, and the only way to see past it was to acknowledge it. I grew up in a middle class family, in a house, with two, supportive, cisgender, heterosexual parents. We had a car and I frequently went to the beach and traveled to national parks around the state. I saw myself as separate from nature and the environment because my immediate environment was not in danger nor was my access to it threatened. Environmental injustices did not impact my family or my community. But my experience is vastly different from that of others.

I share this with the hope that you will also reflect on your view of environmental issues and the role your identity and experiences have played in shaping your perspective. Here is some of what I have learned in reshaping my own:

Our Environment

At the most basic level our environment is what surrounds us. Access to clean water, sanitation, clean air, and safe and stable housing are all essential for us to have a healthy environment. When one or more of these are impaired, both human and ecological health are endangered. All too often ecological and human health are pitted against each other: increasing green space in a community drives up the cost of living there, displaces residents, and leads to gentrification. A beautiful, clean, thriving environment does not and should not have to come at the expense of any community. 

Environmental justice encompasses the idea that human and ecological health are interconnected and that all people should be a part of the decision-making process when it concerns their environment. The 17 Principles of Environmental Justice, established at the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991, is the “defining document” of what environmental justice looks like for the Earth and all of its inhabitants. It concludes, if the environmental movement excludes human health and social justice, the movement is incomplete. There is intrinsic value in protecting the environment – an environment that includes people who are healthy and cared for. I encourage you to read through the 17 Principles and use them to expand your view of the environmental movement. We also have to take a look at history to further understand the relationship between human health, social justice, and the environment.

Historical Context

As we have seen recently with COVID-19 and for decades prior, socioeconomic status and race frequently determine which communities will experience the biggest negative impacts of health and environmental crises. We have witnessed over and over again that environmental issues do not affect all communities equally. Often, it is low-income communities of color that disproportionately bear the burden of poor air quality, poor water quality, and the impacts of climate change – a burden amplified by limited access to parks, recreation, and open space. This relationship is not a coincidence; a history of racially discriminatory land acquisition, voting, and environmental policies has created a legacy of injustice in the U.S. that continues today. Previously redlined neighborhoods now have high levels of poverty, pollution burden, and a lack of access to green space.

My Role

Now that I have this new perspective, what do I do with it? And how do I incorporate what I’ve learned into my work? I am continually learning about myself, environmental justice, and my place in the environmental movement. I’ve learned recently about the value of transformative over transactional practices and where true impact lies. Transformative practices take time and produce long-lasting change, while transactional practices are merely an exchange, and their impacts are short-term and insignificant. 


Danielle giving a beach talk at a Suits on the Sand cleanup. Photo by Victor Fernandes.

I have taken a critical look at the programs I manage at Heal the Bay – Suits on the Sand, Speakers Bureau, and Club Heal the Bay – to see how I can make these truly transformative. I started by educating myself and building meaningful connections and relationships with program participants. I continue to share what I’ve learned and hold myself accountable for transformative programming and an inclusive and holistic approach to environmental issues. I held an Environmental Justice Youth Summit for local middle and high school students, created an Environmental Justice-focused Suits on the Sand, and helped create more inclusive volunteer trainings. But I am still only at the beginning of my journey. Social and environmental issues stem from institutional and systemic racism, so I must check my privilege and be actively anti-racist and intentional in weaving equity and justice into my work.

In the next blog post, I will break down the concepts of equality, equity, and justice, as I look at transformative action in the environmental movement.


Additional Resources

I have found the following timelines helpful in connecting public health, civil rights, and the environmental movement in the United States:



In part two of this two-part blog post, our Heal the Bay team dives into the causes and impacts of climate change. Check out part one.

Why is it critical for us to make a strong commitment to climate action now? Well, to start, we are emitting 152 million tons of green-house-gas (GHG) pollution into our atmosphere every single day. Oceans have been our buffer for decades, absorbing much of this air pollution and heat, not to mention all of the stormwater pollution, plastic, and other contaminants that end up washing out to the coast.

Our persistent and destructive actions have altered the oceans’ natural processes. Absorption of GHGs has changed the pH of our oceans causing ocean acidification, which negatively impacts the entire marine ecosystem. Rising ocean temperatures affect ocean circulation, which not only prevents efficient transport of nutrients but also makes it harder for the ocean to continue to naturally absorb our GHGs. 

As we continue to dump pollution into our environment, we have begun to feel the impacts of this climate crisis here on dry land, as well, with longer droughts, more intense storms, erosion along our shorelines from sea level rise, air pollution, more devastating fire seasons, and an increase in record breaking temperatures contributing to the impact of widespread heat islands (urban areas that are much hotter than their rural or natural surroundings because of human activity). As a result, we are facing heat and flood related deaths, food shortages, and an increased spread of disease. 

Professor Hugh Montgomery acknowledged climate change as a medical emergency back in June 2015, but the fact is we have been experiencing a climate induced emergency worldwide for decades. We are all impacted by climate change; however, the burden of these negative impacts is not distributed equally across communities. 

A history of racially discriminatory land and environmental policies has caused an unjust and disproportionate impact on overburdened communities. We are seeing this disparity in the current pandemic and it continues to be felt in the climate crisis.

Low-income communities of color have significantly less access to parks and green space, which exacerbates the heat island effect. And despite the fact that higher-income households have a larger carbon footprint, the highest concentration of oil wells in Los Angeles are in low-income neighborhoods whose residents face higher rates of health-related problems as a result. These disproportionate and location-specific rates of health-related problems like asthma and upper respiratory illness are direct consequences of systemic environmental racism, and the reason low-income communities of color are at a higher risk to contract and die from COVID-19. To amplify this burden, the same communities also bear significant socioeconomic impacts as a result of the response to this pandemic.  

Additionally, a lack of community representation in local government and decision-making processes makes adequate access to resources to prepare for and combat the impacts of climate change even more difficult. The compounding social, economic, and environmental impacts of climate change make just, sustainable, and immediate climate action vital. 

How is Heal the Bay Fighting for Systemic Climate Action?

In addition to calling for individual actions, Heal the Bay is taking our own climate action now by demanding systemic changes. 

We push for climate resilient policies within local city and county offices as well as many state agencies like the State Water Resources Control Board, the Fish and Game Commission, the Coastal Commission, and the Ocean Protection Council. We track the activities of each agency so that we can advocate for science-based climate actions such as creating sustainability plans, setting aggressive goals to address ocean acidification and deoxygenation, and approving a strong MS4 Permit to reduce the pollution that exacerbates those issues.

We also advocate for the restoration of our ecosystems that have the ability to buffer against climate change by sequestering carbon, reducing the heat island effect, and protecting us from flooding. Our work on Los Angeles River ecological health, Ballona Wetlands restoration, and Marine Protected Areas all serve to create healthy watersheds and a thriving ocean, natural climate buffers, and important natural resources on which we depend.

In addition, we engage in programs to implement environmentally friendly and sustainable projects like wastewater recycling and stormwater capture that provide multiple benefits (improving our water quality, increasing our water supply, restoring our watersheds, etc.). These projects not only help us prepare for the impacts of the climate crisis, but they also restore natural processes that can help us to fight climate change. In addition, we actively oppose expensive and environmentally harmful projects like ocean water desalination, so we can put our limited resources toward more sustainable multi-benefit projects.

And we work to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels by forcefully opposing offshore drilling in the Santa Monica Bay and in neighborhoods, negotiating with the City of LA for a just transition to renewable energy, and banning single-use plastic (a product of fossil fuel).

Of course, the greatest asset we have is YOU: people who read our blogs, people who volunteer at cleanups, people who come by our table at public events or visit Heal the Bay Aquarium, people who invite us to speak at schools and events, people who take the time to learn and then share their knowledge with others.

To overcome the climate crisis in a way that is just and sustainable, we need both individual action and systemic change. But, most importantly, we all must acknowledge how injustices in our communities affect the impact of, and our responses to, climate change in order to create a resilient future for all.



In part one of this two-part blog post, our Heal the Bay team encourages you to take climate action on Earth Day and every day. Check out part two.

We have all been impacted by COVID-19. Thousands have lost their lives and millions more have lost their livelihoods. During these devastating times, something has happened that many thought wasn’t possible: coordinated collective action around the world to defeat a common threat. As we tackle the climate crisis, we want to carry over that same momentum of collective action, while ensuring that health and safety does not come at the cost of frontline communities.

As we continue to band together to save lives through our individual actions across state lines and international borders—physically distancing ourselves and wearing protective gear to slow the spread of COVID-19—we must also make a commitment to take climate action.

Greenhouse gas emissions by humans have thrown Earth’s natural processes off track, causing longer droughts, more intense storms, sea level rise, air pollution, hotter temperatures, devastating fire seasons, and more. Underserved communities bear the brunt of these negative impacts, which are now linked to higher COVID-19 death rates

Heal the Bay has committed to taking climate action by educating thousands of volunteers about the climate crisis, advocating for climate resilient policies, and engaging in the restoration of our ecosystems (natural climate buffers). Can you make the commitment too? Here is how you can take the climate challenge to lower your carbon footprint and advocate for the systemic changes necessary to tackle the climate crisis.

Take the Climate Challenge

Just as our personal actions during the ongoing COVID-19 response have helped flatten the curve, so too could our individual actions help slow down the onslaught of the climate crisis. However, wider systemic changes are also required to make the sweeping revolution our planet needs. And you have an important role in that transformation, too! 

The current pandemic places limitations on what we can do. It is a privilege to have the time, energy, and financial resources to make environmentally conscious choices and take action against climate change. Yet for many communities the decision to take climate action now or later can mean the difference between life and death. 

So let’s do our best to get creative and be intentional with our actions and resources. Whether you have money, time, creativity, passion, or something else entirely your own, we all have a unique contribution to make in the fight against climate change. Start by picking one action you can take today to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Use #fightclimatechangefromhome and let us know how you are fighting climate change for Earth Day!

Don’t stop there! Consider the skills, experiences, and resources you have to offer and create a personal list of climate actions. And because every day is Earth Day, take this list with you and do what you can when you can with what you have. 

Here are some ideas to get started…

Where We Live

  • Pick up trash around your neighborhood 
  • Ditch single-use plastic and switch to reusables at home
  • Remove any hardscape or lawn on your property and replace it with a vegetable garden or drought tolerant native vegetation 
  • Start or join a community garden
  • Sign up for Green Power or install solar panels
  • Reduce your energy needs 
    • Turn off lights, unplug unused electronics, and swap out old lights with LEDs (once the bulbs burn out)
    • Bring in a professional to insulate your home, or find simple swaps around the house like adding thick curtains around your windows  
    • Set your thermostat for maximum energy savings, or regulate temperature without a thermostat by opening/closing windows and using those thick curtains
    • Wash clothes in cold water, and hang dry rather than using the dryer
  • Decrease your water usage

How We Commute

  • Telecommute if it is an option
  • Choose public transportation
  • Walk or skateboard for shorter distances
  • Ride a bicycle
  • If you must drive
    • Carpool
    • Invest in a hybrid or electric vehicle
    • Use car sharing services with electric vehicles
    • Make sure your vehicle is in tip top shape for optimal efficiency (secure gas cap, inflate tires, etc.)

What We Eat

What We Learn

How We Vote

  • Vote in local, statewide and national elections!
  • Support just and equitable environmental policies in support of:  
    • Climate resiliency
    • A tax on carbon
    • The end of fossil fuels
    • Regenerative agriculture
    • Renewable energy
    • A reduction in plastic waste
  • Be an advocate
    • Attend local City Council meetings and town halls
    • Send a letter to your local representatives so they know climate action is important to you
    • Participate in public demonstrations and rallies
    • Sign petitions
    • Give public comments
    • Take part in the Census 2020
    • Create climate inspired art and share it with the world
  • Join existing efforts by Heal the Bay and partner groups to demand climate action now 

We hope you are feeling inspired to take climate action today. Take a deeper look at the climate crisis and see how Heal the Bay is pushing for systemic changes in California.

And while many of our usual activities have been put on hold until the threat of COVID-19 has subsided, we are still here with new virtual presentations, online events, blogs, and much more to help keep you informed and engaged.