Working with Environmental Justice Communities
This training helps volunteers practice two larger approaches within environmental justice outreach: building personal relationships built on genuine interest and working towards broader community engagement through shared alliances.
Finding out more about Environmental Justice
The idea of “Environmental Justice” recognizes that the benefits and burdens in the quality of our environment is unevenly distributed through our communities.
Environmental Justice (EJ) and Climate Justice (CJ) groups can often fall under the same umbrella as other green groups, but they are unique organizations with their own history and focus. All of these groups represent a specific subsection of the American public, perhaps a region or a city, and they are very careful to never misrepresent those stakeholders. Environmental Justice is a topic that takes some background to really know, and we strongly recommend researching the history of your area or region before engaging with them.
The bottom line is that these groups work to ensure that the people most affected by climate, environmental, social and equity injustices have their voices heard, and are “at the table” in creating policies to ensure they protect their communities. This movement grew out of instances where lower income and minority communities were disproportionately affected by policies such as the placement of pollution generating plants and storage of toxic materials near their homes. These practices continue today and are a major priority to these groups.
Build relationships, don’t seek endorsements
If you are going to engage with a local EJ/CJ group, please do so respectfully, and with the intention of making a relationship, just like we do with members of Congress, and NOT with the intention of recruiting or getting endorsements.
If you and your group can’t commit to building that relationship and being genuinely interested and engaged with them on local issues, we recommended you do not approach them until you have spent more time educating yourself on Environmental Justice, its History and its Principles. If you have any questions, please visit the Climate and Environmental Justice Action Team and ask anything in the group's forums.
Engaging with these groups takes time, and a deep understanding of why they are fighting. These groups have been underrepresented, underpaid, underserviced and disregarded since the beginning of the U.S. and demand that future policies not only acknowledge this, but work to correct it. In engaging with them the most important principle to remember is to listen. These groups sometimes look at Citizens’ Climate Lobby and other groups that deal with federal policies as not listening to the voices of those on the ground dealing with climate impacts now, and often feel used by bigger organizations.
Resources and activities for chapters
The following links, readings, and resources have been prepared by the CCL Climate and Environmental Justice Action Team’s Steering Team (special thanks to Marti Roach) to help chapters weave elements into their meetings and individual CCL members who want to learn about and make connections with folks in the Climate and Environmental Justice Community.
- Invite your group to get a basic understanding of environmental justice with the EPA's Environmental Justice website and this Al Jazeera 3-min video explaining Environmental Racism.
- As a group, try reading aloud one of the following sets of principles created by people in the communities impacted by environmental burdens, speaking for themselves. Environmental Justice Groups are using these principles to guide their work with government and other community groups and allies.
- Jemez Principles of Democratic Organizing
- Climate Justice principles
- Environmental Justice principles
- Mary Robinson Foundation Principles of Climate Justice (International)
- After reading the principles, lead a short discussion on what was clear? Unclear? What resonates with our CCL way? What is different from our CCL way? How did reading these increase your understanding of Environmental Justice? Ask how your chapter can do this better. Let this be a continuing conversation.
- Assign one or two members of your chapter to join the Climate & Environmental Justice Action Team. With the action team, they can educate themselves about environmental justice, and be the representatives to educate and remind your chapter to view your actions through an environmental justice lens.
- Set up an environmental justice table at a CCL regional conference to build a local community of CCL volunteers who are committed to building awareness about environmental justice. Check with the Climate & Environmental Justice Action Team for resources and handouts.
Resources and activities for individuals
- Click the "Watch" tab above to view a recording of the Working with Environmental Justice Communities and CCU Environmental Justice webinars.
- CCL's Youtube site provides additional Climate & Environmental Justice videos as well as the CCL Podcast: CC Radio Ep 16 Pursuing Climate Justice.
- Identify and join a local EJ group, attend. Don’t identify yourself as CCL or necessarily promote the Energy Innovation Act. Simply sit, listen and learn about the community and the relevant concerns of the community. Build relationships and trust, and wait for people to ask. It will take time, move at the speed of trust.
- Offer something of value to EJ groups before asking for anything (such as endorsements). Volunteer on their missions where help is needed. Something that CCL chapters can offer is a presentation of Lobby Training, not just in climate but lobby training and effective citizen advocacy in general.
- Bring up and discuss EJ with your chapter and in your action team. Look at your mission through an EJ lens.
- Work to identify and uplift women of color for every panel in your regional conference, and suggest it to your conference panel coordinator.
- Identify EJ advocates on Twitter or Facebook and subscribe to their feed.
Diversity: Related but not the same
Remember our Conservative Caucus’s admonition~ If we only grow our “left wing”, then we will fly around in circles. If we only grow by appealing to people we know in our social circles, then we will primarily benefit the mainstream folks who had an input in our policy crafting.
So what diverse organizations can you reach out to? What about immigrant communities? They may have better insight and new stories to tell about personal experiences in climate impact that you haven’t heard yet. If you have local members join your chapter who are people of color, please also let them know they are welcome to join the new People of the Global Majority Caucus.
History of Environmental Justice (7m 26s)
Principles and Organization of EJ (9m 7s)
Examples From Around the U.S. (23m 6s)
Final Takeaways (2m 21s)
- 8 Ways Environmental Organizations Can Support the Movement for Environmental Justice
- EJNET's Climate Justice Document
- US CAN Network Principles of Working Together
- Putting Equity at the Center of the Fight to Protect the Climate
- The Climate Gap Full Report
- Do you have anything you would like to add to this page Please let us know at the Climate & Environmental Justice Action Team.