Popular Science

We can’t truly protect the environment unless we tackle social justice issues, too

People of color continue to live closer to environmental hazards.

Protesters are confronted by the police in Warren County, NC.

In the 1980s, the state of North Carolina built a toxic landfill in a low-income, predominantly African American county. In 1982, protests against it exposed environmental racism nationally.

In the Southside of Chicago, Ali Rashad works with a group of men to rebuild the community they live in; environmentally, spiritually, and economically. As the manager of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network’s Green ReEntry Program, Rashad helps formerly incarcerated individuals find jobs that are rooted in sustainability.

The program, which has been operating for the last seven years, aims to provide these Chicago residents economic opportunity by rehabbing and revitalizing homes in Chicago Lawn, a neighborhood on the city’s southwest side that has experienced decades of white-flight, segregation, and changing demographics.

The Green ReEntry Initiative runs a fully accredited program that helps members become certified for HVAC installations, carpentry, and electrical work. But in each step, the program emphasizes the use of environmentally friendly products and processes—from disposing of debris during construction to installing tankless water heaters and high efficiency furnaces. The organization is actively expanding its green jobs as well. Soon, they may include a solar panel installation track, further reducing the group’s environmental impact.

Green ReEntry’s approach is part of a larger network of environmental justice organizations across the nation. Historically, low income and minority communities have been on the receiving end of pollution, toxic waste, and other environmental problems at rates much

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