The planet is in crisis. This is evident to anyone who is willing to pay even a hint of attention to what’s happening in the world. Similarly, it is also clear that nearly every issue that humanity is facing is a result of our own actions throughout the centuries. Even things that seem unrelated are ultimately connected: an example of this is how many of the world’s refugees are escaping natural disasters that are a direct result of climate change. But when it comes down to it, most of us know there is a crisis, and we know that we as a species have been the one to cause it.
However, there is another fact that is not half as discussed or accepted: the consequences of this crisis disproportionally affect vulnerable communities. Ironically, these are mostly communities that have had no hand in the creation of the issues we’re dealing with; yet they’re the ones who have to bear the brunt of them. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, people were in uproar when a rebuilding plan was announced — one that meant predominantly white parts of New Orleans would be rebuilt, while predominantly Black parts would not.
There are two umbrella terms to discuss these issues: environmental justice and climate justice. The two are related, but not quite the same. According to the United States 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.
Let’s look around: there is no fair treatment. So let’s get to work. These eight books on environmental and climate justice provide a good starting point.
All We Can Save: Truth, Courage and Solutions for the Climate Crisis Edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson
In this incredible collection of essays, a group of experts in a variety of related fields come together to offer their unique perspectives on the climate crisis, how it affects vulnerable communities, and how to solve it. Edited by two conservationist powerhouses, this book provides both information and actionable steps to take.
Environmental Justice in a Moment of Danger by Julie Sze
This book packs a punch in fewer than 200 pages. Sze delves into mobilizations and movements, exploring how the fight for environmental justice develops and grows. Described as “the essential primer on environmental justice”, it’s a fantastic starting point for those who want to learn about the topic.
Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret by Catherine Coleman Flowers
While many take sanitation for granted, there are entire communities that don’t have access to it. Coleman Flowers delves into the layers and intersections of systemic prejudice, one that keeps far too many people unable to cleanly and safely dispose of the waste from their toilets.
Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility by Dorceta Taylor
This book is a must-read for everyone seeking to understand how entrenched segregation and discriminatory zoning laws work, among other concepts. Drawing from both theoretical knowledge and case studies, Taylor’s work has been rightfully called a landmark.
From the Ground Up: Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement by Luke W. Cole and Sheila R. Foster
The concept of environmental racism didn’t come into being when Bill Clinton signed an Executive Order on Environmental Justice in 1994. The environmental justice movement was built, as this book indicates, from the ground up. An excellent resource for those interested in the history of the movement.
As Long As Grass Grows: the Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice, from Colonization to Standing Rock by Dina Gilio-Whitaker
Modern environmentalism has all too often made the mistake of ignoring Indigenous wisdom and knowledge. In this book, Gilio-Whitaker provides a history of Indigenous resistance to government, as well as new perspectives on environmental justice activism and policy.
Unequal Protection: Environmental Justice and Communities of Color Edited by Robert D. Bullard
Edited by a man who is considered the father of environmental justice by many, this book explores how environmental laws are inconsistently applied. Therefore, that communities of color lack protection from public health hazards. Drawing on a multitude of case studies, the works involved offer a fantastic overview.
On Fire: The (Burning) Case for the Green New Deal by Naomi Klein
This is the culmination of Klein’s work on climate change, combining over a decade of previous work with the urgency of the current situation. This book successfully argues that, in order to avert total disaster, we must change the entire systems that created this crisis in the first place.