Centering Environmental Justice on this 50th Earth Day

By the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency’s Equity and Community Engagement Team
April 22, 2020

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (the Agency) is committed to environmental justice, so no communities within our region face disproportionate environmental impacts. The very first Earth Day had environmental justice at its core. In 1970, when the first Earth Day commenced, millions of people used their voices to demand a healthy, clean environment. Since then, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established, which led to many unprecedented political changes including: the passing of legislation such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Quality Improvement Act, and many other legislation that was  critical for improving ecological sustainability and health for all people. Years after the first Earth Day, there have been many successes in the fight for a cleaner, healthier earth, but there have also been a number of set-backs. We have much farther to go in order to create a healthy, resilient, and equitable planet.

Global greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at alarming rates all while low-income communities and communities of color face the greatest threats from a warming planet. The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (the Agency) is committed to environmental justice so no community in our region bears disproportionate burdens and exposure from air pollution. We have identified four focus communities throughout the Puget Sound region that are disproportionately impacted by air pollution and other environmental issues. We direct many of our community engagement efforts in these communities to try and move the needle and see greater environmental justice in focus areas.

Low-income communities and communities of color are on the front lines in the colossal fight against human-induced climate change. Climate change disproportionately affects people of color and low-income communities, and the mainstream environmental movement would benefit by broadening its current scope. As the planet warms, we will continue to see more impacts affecting front line communities, such as poor air quality, poisoned rivers, and compromised health and livelihoods of community residents. Now imagine placing a global health crisis on top of already taxed communities. Health disparities are becoming increasingly more evident right now due to the COVID-19 pandemic where African-American and Latinx populations are dying at disproportionately alarming rates, further exacerbating inequities.

There needs to be a major shift in the global response to climate change in order reduce inequities and create a healthy planet for all. Well-intentioned environmental organizations can help support and center communities who are most impacted by environmental injustice—that may mean stepping back to ensure resources and platforms are reserved for those communities.

We can’t afford to wait for another 50 years to see a reality where voices from the most affected communities are sought and heard, and resources from the mainstream environmental movement are shared with these communities. Communities that lack the most resources, tend to be the greatest affected. We are hopeful when see more and more people, including young people of color, continuing to get involved in one of the greatest challenges of our time. 

As the world grapples with the reality that COVID-19 has slammed upon us, the 50th Anniversary celebration of Earth Day continues on, but looks radically different, with millions of people involved in carrying the message forward and calling for action. Our Agency continues to pursue avenues that support cleaner options to help our region reduce its contribution to climate change, through clean transportation initiatives, environmental justice work, and more. We look forward to developing impactful solutions with our most affected communities. To help celebrate and build on community-driven solutions, there are virtual events and activities planned throughout the world and in our region. You can see some of them listed below.

Consider participating in a virtual event and getting involved to support a healthier, cleaner, and equitable planet.

By the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency’s Equity and Community Engagement Team