Allocating resources – 20 minutes
Divide the participants into two groups. Explain that each group represents a fictitious community. Award one group 50 “resource points” and the other 35 “resource points” Ask the two groups to split up and to allocate a certain number of resource points to each of the following categories based on how important they feel that category is to the community’s quality of life:
Employment opportunities; medical care; education; quality of housing; water and air quality; aesthetic qualities (trees, parks, etc)
Ten points for any given category, such as housing, “buys” the most desirable element with that category; seven “buys” an acceptable level and is the average; five and below “buys” below average. For example, 10 may mean large, new private homes, 7 decent apartment buildings, and 5 and below public housing and tenements. Discuss briefly how their allocation of resources to one category may affect what they can and need to allocate for another. Stress that together these categories make up a total quality of life “quota”. Remind them that they are making decisions for their own communities.
Comparing results – 15 minutes
When they come together again, ask a representative from each group to report on their group’s decision. Talk about what the allotments they have given to each category may mean: Are they above or below “acceptable” standards? Have them discuss why they made these decisions, and how they felt about being forced to make these decisions about basic elements that affect their quality of life. Are they happy with the number of points they were able to give to each of the categories? Compare and contrast the results between the two groups. How does one group react to the decisions made by the other? How does the ranking they have given to each category correspond to conditions in actual communities? Do they live in an area with many or few “resource points”? Explain that the decisions they made are very much like those made by families and communities in real life.
The facts of environmental justice – 15 minutes
By taking a look at environmental problems around the country and around the world, we can begin to understand just how lucky we are to live somewhere with trees and relatively clean air and water.
Discuss some of the following points: Environmental Justice Facts (info obtained from the Union of Concerned Scientist, the Commission on Racial Justice of the United Church of Christ, and the University of Michigan)
- Two-thirds of the people who live in cities around the world are forced to breathe air that contains dangerously high levels of sulfur.
- The World Health Organization estimates that over 10 million children in “third world” countries and in poor communities of industrialized nations die each year from drinking contaminated water.
- Much of the massive deforestation of the world’s rainforests is taking place because the large number of disenfranchised people in tropical Africa, Asia, and Latin America turn to the forests for subsistence farming and fuel when their governments and economies offer no alternatives.
- Studies conducted by the US Environmental Protection Agency, the University of Michigan, and the United Church of Christ have shown that minority and low-income communities in the US have consistently been selected in greatly disproportionate numbers as sites for chemical factories, landfills, and incinerators.
- Middle-income minority citizens of the U.S. are more likely to live in a community with a hazardous-waste site than white citizens of the same income level.
- African American children are two to three times more likely than white children to suffer from lead poisoning caused by lead based paint and lead pipes in old housing projects.
- Over 60% of African Americans and Hispanic Americans and half of all Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans live in communities with unregulated toxic waste sites.
- 80% of Hispanic Americans live in counties with substandard air quality.
As we can see from this information, not everyone enjoys clean air or water. The greatest burden of environmental degradation is suffered by poor people both in the US and around the world.
The reasons behind the facts – 5-10 minutes
Discuss the fact that one of the main reasons that poor and minority communities face these environmental health hazards is that such groups have traditionally lacked the political power, resources and experience to fight the placement of hazardous-waste sites in their neighborhoods. Bring in the groups’ decisions about resource point allocation to demonstrate this. As new toxic waste facilities often promise jobs, communities are forced to choose between fewer jobs (hence continued poverty) on the one hand, and employment that brings serious health risks to workers, their families, and those living in the vicinity of the site on the other. This is a cruel choice.
All around the world, and poor rural areas in America, millions of people do not enjoy the quality of life that many of us take for granted. This is clearly unacceptable on moral grounds. Because, however, pollution crosses the lines drawn on map or in people’s minds between neighborhoods, cities, and countries, by taking our own clean air and water for granted, by not protecting such critical components of a healthy environment for all communities, including poor and minority communities, we place our own health at risk. The “secrets” we bury in the ground seep out and catch up with us.
Taking the next step – 5-10 minutes
Discuss what we can do to further environmental justice:
(You may want to invite a leader of a local environmental justice group to join you at this point in the program.)
Work together with other ethnic and religious groups, community organizations, and environmental groups to clean up dirty neighborhoods; demand equity in the disposal of toxic material.