Environmental justice (EJ) movement against environmental racism in the capitalist world

The position of environmental justice (EJ) has emerged as a constructive discourse to combat environmental issues plagued with racial oppression. However, although EJ encompasses a framework of “fairness and justice, and civil and human rights,” it is not recognized as a legitimate issue by political and economic powers because its discourse is determined by people of colour (Agyeman, Schlosberg, Craven, & Matthews, 2016, 325).

“Trends and Directions in Environmental Justice: From Inequity to Everyday Life, Community, and Just Sustainabilities” and “Environmental Justice in the 21st Century: Race Still Matters” both give examples to demonstrate why EJ is “integral to the civil rights identity” and how its framework connects to multiple environmental fronts (Agyeman, Schlosberg, Craven, & Matthews, 2016, 325). However, the articles do not discuss how capitalism succeeds at targeting rights-barring people of colour for economic growth, at the expense of environmental racism. Capitalism’s role is integral to understanding EJ in the civil rights identity, and will be analyzed through the 2020 Wet’suwet’en protests.

The Wet’suwet’en protests is a grassroots environmental justice movement led by indigenous youth to show solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en chiefs’ decision to stop the federal pipeline from accessing indigenous lands. These protests are integral to civil rights identity because it encompasses similar principles demonstrated in the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King. Specifically, King’s “environmental and economic justice mission” for African Americans (Bullard, 2015, 72). However, regardless of nationwide demonstrations, rallies, and civil progress, African Americans continue to face environmental and economic oppression due to capitalism.

Indigenous peoples share this oppression as the government of Canada is proceeding with construction on indigenous lands despite similar civil rights motions for recognition. In the case of the Wet’suwet’en protests, the emphasis on environmental justice by youth focuses on the environmental racism created by capitalism. The Wet’suwet’en community is located on remote land prime for mass industrial mobilization. The pipeline will impose numerous environmental risks, but mainly the risk of “human exposure to harmful chemicals” (Bullard, 2015, 76). Therefore, EJM’s “fluid” approach to environmental issues must narrow down to one particular case to expose the civil rights and environmental injustices taking place by capitalism (Agyeman, Schlosberg, Craven, & Matthews, 2016, 328).

By narrowing on colonialism, the connection between capital growth and oppression against the Wet’suwet’en community will expose past and present environmental injustices experienced by Indigenous peoples. Colonialism has created an airtight path for capitalism to continuously target Indigenous peoples.

It allows mass exploitation of Indigenous resources and land because there is minimal space for indigenous peoples to voice their opinions and position against treaties, acts, and laws. Procedural justice is argued as a “form of spatial justice” to ensure the EJM maintains fluidity (Agyeman, Schlosberg, Craven, & Matthews, 2016, 327).

However, the action of fluidity, although underlines many fronts, does not maintain the consistency necessary to breakdown the collective environmental issues people of colour experience. For example, the similarities of EJ and the Civil Rights Movement are mentioned in each article with the primary link being protest, rallies, and boycotts (Agyeman, Schlosberg, Craven, & Matthews, 2016, 325). However, unlike the Civil Rights Movement, the actions carried out by the EJM are prioritized “on the basis of local pressures, political situations, and community input” opposed to organized efforts and demonstrations to show how capitalism is affecting Indigenous peoples.

The EJM must organize direct action to expose colonialism’s role in capitalism because the treaties, acts, and laws designed to protect Indigenous rights only create paths for capitalism to continuously expropriate land and resources (Agyeman, Schlosberg, Craven, & Matthews, 2016, 328). The EJM must move forward by bringing attention to environmental injustice created by colonialism, as the Wet’suwet’en protests have, opposed to making “fluid” appearances (Agyeman, Schlosberg, Craven, & Matthews, 2016, 328). Fluidity will maintain “the ‘throw-away’ lifestyle” because as progress is made between Indigenous peoples and the government, capitalism will move past those agreements though negotiations (Bullard, 2015, 86).

Ultimately, the EJM must move from fluid prioritization to direct action to combat capitalism from threatening the environment near people of colour. Direct action, such as Wet’suwet’en blockades, will help to reclaim colonial space and recognize how colonial oppression is legitimized through capitalism and places civil rights at risk for economic growth.