There is no time to waste on Earth Day platitudes. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the burdens unloaded onto families of color sharply visible, and many of these are intensified by their marginalization into neighborhoods with contaminated water, toxic lands, bad air quality, and no green spaces. Restoring our earth requires putting an end to environmental racism.
California neighborhoods, from Coachella to Sacramento and beyond, are plagued by polluted neighborhoods and residents often work in the most health-hazardous jobs. That’s why Communities for a New California (CNC) is taking leadership to advocate for access to basic resources - clean air, land, and water - and the equal application of environmental regulations in all neighborhoods. Today and every day, CNC honors our planet by fighting for environmental and social justice, two things that are irrevocably intertwined. When we fight to improve our environment, lives change for the better. When we fight for our families and communities to live in better conditions, we improve our environment. All people, regardless of zip code or income, deserve to benefit from nature and a healthy environment; our families cannot thrive without environmental justice.
Listed below are just a few examples of environmental issues that affect our communities, and what CNC is actively doing to make a positive impact.
Water is essential to all life, and that is especially true in the San Joaquin and Coachella Valleys. Our communities desperately need clean water for our families. It’s also critical to satiate the agricultural operations that feed our entire nation. Despite the clean water that generously flows to nourish crops, hundreds of thousands of people in the San Joaquin Valley lack access to safe, clean drinking water.
It’s often rural and smaller communities that lack the resources to make meaningful change who are left with toxic water tainted by arsenic and fertilizer chemicals. Toxic water is a way of life in these areas, forcing many low-income families to fit their lives around the issue, spending more than 10 percent of their income on bottled water. Those who won’t or can’t make this extra expense risk the serious health complications that come from drinking contaminated water. Such serious health risks can range anywhere from an increased risk of cancer to high infant death rates.
CNC is committed to advocating for all of our communities to have clean water, regardless of where they live. We support organizations, research, and policies that push for clean water and sustainable ways to achieve this.
To check the water quality of your area, click here.
We’ve seen firsthand the devastating effects of air pollution and climate change on the well-being and health of our families. The San Joaquin Valley is known for far more than feeding our nation: we’re also known for having some of the worst air quality in America. Asthma and asthma-related hospitalization rates flourish throughout the Valley, as we have the highest asthma rate for children in the United States. The air quality is worsened by air pollutants, pesticides, and wildfires (which continue to intensify due to climate change).
This kind of pollution can often lead to further health complications, like heart disease and weakened immune systems. We’ve also learned that those with higher exposure to pollutants, like those found in the Valley, are more susceptible to extreme outcomes with other illnesses like COVID-19. Breathing clean air should be a human right, but in our communities, it is a health risk that we have no choice but to make with each breath we take.
As with many environmental issues, the pursuit of clean air is also a social justice issue. It is our laborers and farmworkers who bear the brunt of pollution, working nonstop in the elements to feed us, paying the ultimate price at the risk of their health.
CNC has and will continue to mobilize to stop polluters, and the politicians that enable them, by holding them accountable through community education and the power of our civic engagement, including our votes! Learn more about CNC’s powerful change-making methods here.
Where there is agriculture, there are workers, who are oftentimes undocumented workers. What do our farmworkers get in return for nourishing our families? Unfortunately, it is often these agricultural communities and farmworkers who must deal with contaminated water, plagued by pesticides.
This kind of pollution has been years in the making and will take even longer to reverse. Farmworkers and agri-communities deserve equal protection from contaminants – and they don’t just deserve this because they work so hard to sustain our nation. They deserve protection as human beings that have the right to happy and healthy lives. This issue sits directly at the intersection of social and environmental justice, and we will not let our communities be left behind.
CNC is fighting to eliminate the use of and reliance on dangerous pesticides and to expand and protect the public’s right to know about pesticide use, exposure, and impacts. Our families have a right to safer, ecologically sound, and more socially just forms of pest management. CNC is a proud member of the Californians for Pesticide Reform statewide steering committee.
Parks 4 All
The City of Fresno highlights a phenomenon prevalent throughout all the communities that CNC serves: lack of green spaces in our own neighborhoods, despite beautiful parks on the other side of our city. Outdoor space is crucial to the wellbeing of our communities, as one of the most critical essentials to a healthy city is a well-designed and well-maintained parks system.
Accessible parks are a social justice issue: city planning for marginalized communities oftentimes does not include the same type of green spaces that are prevalent in more affluent neighborhoods. Parks keep families healthy: safe outdoor spaces in nature offer opportunities to lead active lifestyles that reduce stress and obesity, improve analytical thinking, and even lower the risks of heart disease and diabetes. Even students’ academic abilities are improved by having park access!
Parks also help to boost our economy. High-quality parks spur economic development by attracting homebuyers and boosting property values by as much as 15 percent. In turn, well-maintained parks promote community engagement and pride. Additionally, parks increase community safety and foster robust neighborhoods, with data indicating that there is less crime in residential areas close to parks, resulting in stronger and safer communities. Neighborhood unity is increased as parks offer a space for community centers, afterschool programs, and social activities that build neighborhoods.
When an entire city is treated equally, like having quality parks accessible to everyone, we all rise. The more greenery and trees planted throughout our communities positively impacts the environment and community health, and the innumerable benefit of parks helps to create a more even playing field for families and children, regardless of their zip code.
CNC works nonstop to mobilize community members to call for stable funding to guarantee equitable access to parks with amenities, services, and landscaping that will ensure their benefit to the community.
Finishing our neighborhoods means fighting for environmental justice. We won’t stop until our families have healthy neighborhoods where we and our children can thrive.