What Is Environmental Justice?

BIPOC communities across America pay the highest price for environmental justice issues brought upon by polluters.

The following is a transcript of the video:

Anjali Waikar, staff attorney, NRDC Environmental Justice Program: Environmental justice really reflects the fundamental reality that vulnerable communities are all too often subject to the disproportionate burden of pollution and contamination.

At the end of the day, when we're talking about environmental impacts, at the heart of it are real people's lives.

And if you think about one child who's in her home that maybe has lead paint on the walls; she's drinking water from the tap that might have lead contamination in it; she plays in a playground that has arsenic in the soil and is developing asthma because of the polluting facilities next door; she goes into her school that has mold inside.

These are real things to happen on an everyday basis. Not everybody has the ability to simply uproot themselves from a community where they've lived for decades, where their families raised them, where they raised their children. People don't have the financial mobility necessarily to simply get up and go.

How do we combat environmental injustice? There are things like litigation, that means continue fighting in the courts, continue fighting to strengthen existing legislation, fighting to ensure that existing legislation is actually being enforced.

Things like community organizing, public education, mobilizing the base, and elevating voices. There's also things like using media as an outlet to get your point across. In today's day and age, especially with this administration, I think there are an enormous amount of hurdles in how to address environmental injustices, but the reality is, we have to keep fighting.

You know, great gains do not occur overnight; they take sometimes decades. I truly believe that environmental justice is the modern-day civil rights issue of our time.

This NRDC.org story is available for online republication by news media outlets or nonprofits under these conditions: The writer(s) must be credited with a byline; you must note prominently that the story was originally published by NRDC.org and link to the original; the story cannot be edited (beyond simple things such as time and place elements, style, and grammar); you can’t resell the story in any form or grant republishing rights to other outlets; you can’t republish our material wholesale or automatically—you need to select stories individually; you can't republish the photos or graphics on our site without specific permission; you should drop us a note to let us know when you’ve used one of our stories.


Chicago activist Andrea Chu is helping to bridge the gap between Asian American advocacy and environmental justice.


This National Poetry Month, four writers champion the legendary local activist who launched a movement while they continue to grapple with the work left to be done.

onEarth Story

Reducing air pollution isn’t just something to strive for. COVID-19 is illustrating why it’s a moral imperative.


NRDC’s Dawone Robinson discusses how social, political, and economic inequities lead to environmental injustice.

Action Figure

Whether they are delivering food or climate justice or standing up for clean air or access to nature, these activists are uplifting communities across the country.

onEarth Story

Princeton is displaying iconic paintings, photography, and furniture in a new light (and it’s not always flattering).

Policy Primer

Trump likens our “inner cities” to war zones . . . then guts the programs geared to safeguard clean air and water for low-income communities of color.

onEarth Story

Today’s young people are finally realizing just how much power their voices actually wield. These millennial climate activists have every intention of using it.

Policy Primer

Industrial polluters have gone to great lengths to stifle environmental advocacy, but their expansion of censorship laws has finally crossed a line for some federal judges.

onEarth Story

A recent ruling on methane emissions serves as a smackdown to Pruitt’s EPA—and a way forward for environmentalists.

NRDC in Action

NRDC’s chief counsel explains the best way to beat back the Trump administration’s attack on our health and environment: sue.


As America’s national monuments come under attack by President Trump, Los Angeleno Robert Garcia shares the story of his personal connection to San Gabriel.

NRDC in Action

When social inequity is the issue, NRDC campaigner Rob Friedman falls back on the basics: people skills.

On Location

Partnering with NRDC and ACLU, residents of this Michigan city took their local government to court in a battle for safe drinking water.

What's At Stake

The regulations that protect Americans’ health, economy, and environment now need our protection.

Personal Action

Turn your city into a climate sanctuary, rally on Main Street, and other ways to make change globally by acting locally.

NRDC in Action

NRDC’s Sasha Forbes talks environmental justice, and why women are often at the helm of this work.

onEarth Story

Environmental awareness and social justice mix provocatively at the Whitney Museum’s new show, “Between the Waters”

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.