ERA FOUR: Environmental Justice – Rights for All
The Environmental Justice Era is rooted in three main issues, each of which continues to have ramifications today. First, the burgeoning environmental movement that arose from the original Earth Day in 1970 witnessed a multitude of successes through local, state, and, in particular, federal legislation. In many instances, people even believed that “the problem,” at least to a large extent, had been solved. The Environmental Justice Era is a continued reaction to such thinking. Specifically, many people still believe that the answers to environmental calamities lie solely in national legislation or international mandates. Undoubtedly, the protection of the natural world has benefited from stronger laws and treaties; however, a fundamental premise of environmental justice is that the answer to the problem lies not in government, bureaucracies, or even international organizations, but in people themselves. In fact, because we all share the same environment, the empowerment of all people is a key facet of environmental justice.
Secondly, and in association with this rising concern, our society observed an onslaught of environmental catastrophes in this era that helped to solidify the direction of the movement in terms of emphasizing the human side of the environmental equation. Environmental disasters such as Bhopal, Chernobyl, Exxon Valdez, Minimata, Three Mile Island, and Love Canal all occurred during this period of environmental history. These global news events were covered not for days, but weeks and sometimes years. Additionally, each event was specifically created, in one way or another, by the seemingly intractable actions of other people, and each event had dire consequences for sometimes millions of people. In one specific case, 20,000 people died overnight in the Bhopal disaster. While these events were environmental catastrophes, the important change to note in this era of history is the direct, calamitous effect on ordinary people, a fact widely communicated in the media. The best example of this emerging perspective is the Love Canal tragedy.