2024 Equity Challenge Day 14: Environmental Injustice: Exploring the Roots of Environmental Racism

Our racial inequality crisis is intertwined with our climate crisis. If we don’t work on both, we will succeed at neither.

Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson

Marine biologist, policy advisor, founder and CEO of Ocean Collective
▶ LISTEN TO DAY 14 – 6:32

Today, June 5, is World Environment Day the largest global platform for environmental public outreach and is celebrated by millions of people across the world. Please join us today as we delve into this topic and explore its connection to racism.

Environmental racism, a pervasive issue within the United States, manifests in the unequal distribution of environmental hazards and resources, disproportionately affecting communities of color. In Southeastern Michigan, this injustice is starkly evident, as vulnerable populations bear the brunt of pollution, toxic waste and inadequate environmental protections. Acknowledging the historical roots of this problem, we understand that marginalized communities have long been marginalized in terms of access to clean air, water and green spaces. Despite strides in environmental awareness, communities in Southeastern Michigan, such as Detroit, continue to grapple with systemic disparities, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive solutions.

“When you look at the most powerful predictor of where the most industrial pollution is, race is the most potent predictor.” Robert Bullard, professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University.

Communities of color bear the disproportionate brunt of climate impacts, grappling with everything from severe storms and heat waves to heightened pollution levels. Fossil-fuel facilities are often strategically placed in black neighborhoods, resulting in compromised air quality and an increased vulnerability to health threats such as COVID. While these issues are gradually gaining media attention, there’s a less-explored intersection between race and climate that demands more discourse.

Disturbingly, studies reveal alarming statistics indicating the severity of environmental racism in Southeastern Michigan. For instance, a report by the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition highlights that predominantly African American neighborhoods in Detroit experience more air pollution than predominantly white neighborhoods. There are an estimated 721 premature deaths annually in Detroit from exposure to pollution. Moreover, a comprehensive study by the University of Michigan notes that communities with lower income levels are more likely to be situated near hazardous waste sites, further exacerbating the environmental inequities.

It is crucial to recognize that this issue goes beyond mere statistics and academic discussions. It is a lived experience for many residents who endure the consequences of systemic neglect and injustice. To foster lasting change, we must engage in open dialogue, amplify marginalized voices and actively work towards dismantling the structures that perpetuate environmental racism. Only through collective action can we hope to create a future where every resident of Southeastern Michigan, regardless of their background, can enjoy a clean and safe environment.




  • “Environmental Racism: A Hidden Threat” with Dr. Dorceta Taylor. This PushBlack podcast episodes speaks with Dr. Taylor who argues that we are making a “deadly mistake” if we don’t talk about environmental justice when we discuss racism and Black liberation.


Reflect And Share

  1. What resonated with or surprised you in today’s topic and corresponding resources?
  2. What connections do you see between race, socio-economic status and environmental well-being? How is that intersectionality showing up in your local community?
  3. In what ways do you think environmental racism might manifest in our local communities in Southeastern Michigan?
  4. Consider the personal reflections shared in the memo about the emotional toll of addressing both racism and climate issues. How can individuals cope with and support one another in facing these challenges?


Start the conversation. Send the tweet. Share your story. Make the Facebook post. Sharing what you learn and experience with your family, friends, and co-workers is the first step toward allyship.

Join thousands in conversation by using hashtag #RiseToTheChallenge.