EPA Leader Lisa Jackson Explains Why Environmentalism for Everyone

November 24, 2009

By Amanda Chablani, HSC Policy Specialist

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As we’ve seen
here in Chicago, environmental health factors disproportionately impact
the poor, people of color, and children. But for a variety of reasons, environmental concerns are most often championed by people outside those communities. Lisa Jackson, head of the EPA, summarizes this nicely in her article
at Huffington Post:

The term “environmentalism” brings to mind pristine wilderness and
wide-open landscapes. What doesn't come to mind is an apartment
building, a city block, or an inner city kid who has trouble breathing
on hot days. Even issues like climate change are distant concerns for
poor and minority citizens (and their advocates) who are struggling
daily for equality in education, health care and economic opportunity…

Blacks die from asthma twice
as often as whites, and have higher cancer mortality rates than any
other group. Nearly 30 million Latinos — 72 percent of the U.S. Latino
population — live in places that don't meet US air pollution
standards. Native American homes lack clean water at almost 10 times
the national rate.

At HSC, we’ve long partnered
with parents to improve the health and wellness environments of their children's schools. Our Parents United for Healthy Schools/Padres Unidos para Escuelas Saludables program brings together parents from Chicago's Latino and African-American communities to speak up for changes in the school environment — such as bringing back recess — that can reduce childhood obesity and asthma, two epidemics that disproportionately affect children in urban minority communities.

HSC provides training and resources so that parents can take on leadership roles in creating the kind of meaningful, sustainable change that helps combat serious health disparities.

HSC works with parents in Austin, an African-American community in Chicago, as part of the Austin Environmental Health and Justice Project, a two-year EPA-funded initiative of HSC and COFI (Community Organizing and Family Issues) to educate parents, teachers, administrators, custodians, nurses and students about how the school environment affects their health. The project also built a network of people at each school to address environmental health issues.

Parents and grandparents who took part in the project explained that they decided to work on the it because of their concerns about the growing rates of asthma in the African-American community, and the health hazards that exist in older, deteriorating schools. HSC and parent leaders from the Austin-Wide Parent Network recently received an award from the Illinois Environmental Council for environmental justice work in Austin. (Be sure to check out a poem, Earth Mothers, that organizer Tracy Occomy wrote about the parents involved in the project.)

IEC
HSC and parent leaders from the Austin-Wide Parent Network accept Illinois Environmental Council award for environmental justice work in Chicago's Austin neighborhood

Even though much progress has been made here
in Chicago and in cities nationwide, there's a long road ahead. As Lisa Jackson makes clear:

“To
confront the urgent environmental
challenges of the 21st century, we need to make sure that every
community sees their stake in this movement.”