I can't breathe. Unequal exposure to ecological hazards.

I can’t breathe. Unequal exposure to ecological hazards.

“I can’t breathe”.

A powerful protest phrase as a rallying cry in campaigns against violence and systemic racism toward black people in the criminal justice system. However as Dr. Daniel Faber at Northeastern University has revealed, there is a “double meaning with this slogan” that bears an entirely different injustice.

Black and Latino Americans breathe different air than white Americans,” says Faber.

Right here in the commonwealth of Massachusetts.

“In Massachusetts, we have some of the most profound racial and class disparities with respect to the unequal exposure to ecological hazards that you will find anywhere in the United States,” says Faber. 

In turns out, not all communities in Massachusetts are polluted equally.

In Faber’s report (the most comprehensive environmental justice study of any state in our country), environmentally hazardous industrial facilities, power plants, municipal solid waste combustors (incinerators), toxic waste sites, landfills of all types, trash transfer stations are unequally distributed.The vulnerable population with the most exposure to these ecological hazards are low income & high minority communities.

Low income communities are exposed to environmentally hazardous facilities 4 times more than high income communities.

High minority communities are exposed to environmentally hazardous facilities 20 times more than low minority communities.

In the realm of environmental injustice, the scope of an issue can be extremely hard to fathom or empathize with, especially with mere statistics such as the previously stated. For example, how far does your empathy go when you hear this? Americans may be inadvertently killing 1.3 million children in southern Africa suffering from acute malnutrition. As Nicholas Kristof states, “climate change, disproportionately caused by carbon emissions from America, seems to be behind a severe drought that has led crops to wilt across seven countries in southern Africa”.

The fact of the matter is that blood is on our hands. But do you feel any tug of the heart? Probably not. Is it because this feels too far away? 

The problem: how do we create an empathetic reaction to these statistics? I propose an interactive documentary to bring the aspect of humanity to Faber’s compelling research of the environmental injustice present in the commonwealth of Massachusetts.

In order to combat the theme of ‘profit over people’ present in communities facing environmental injustice, we must give them a voice. Marginalized communities are facing corporate environmental abuse with no defense. The environmental justice movement is one of the most underfunded social movements. Communities are being stepped on by greedy corporate industry and political leaders.

A child playing on a playground near Alewife station, should not be playing on top of a pre-existing hazardous waste site and/or polluting facility.

A child taking a breath of air in Roxbury should not be exposed to 41.8% “more hazardous” toxic chemicals than a child taking a breath of air in Beacon Hill.

This is environmental injustice, here in our backyard.