(un)Just Sustainabilities online Exhibit

This online exhibit for Professor Heather Bedi’s Environmental and Social Justice class allows Dickinson College students to reflect on environmental injustices and demographic trends in their neighborhood, town, city, or state. In defining just sustainabilities, Agyeman et al. (2003) argue that social and economic inequalities across place exacerbate environmental injustices. They advocate for human equality to be central in sustainability efforts. Students explore (un) just sustainabilities in their place through a paper and a publicly exhibited zero-waste visual or audio project.

Unjust Sustainability in Baltimore

I looked at Baltimore city and its surrounding Baltimore county to see where hazardous waste sites are located. Hazardous waste encapsulates many types of pollutants, but particulate matter is of great concern here. Particulate matter (PM) is small compounds of particulates which are caused by electricity generation, waste disposal, industrial sites, and more (National Research Council 2010). It causes many adverse health effects and is encountered in extremely high concentrations in and around hazardous waste sites. These sites are located almost exclusively in neighborhoods with high concentrations of minority households living below the poverty line; households which already struggle to receive affordable health care and access to medications that are needed to treat illnesses (EPA 2019). These issues are then further compounded by an incredibly high exposure to particulate matter which causes serious health impacts as a result of both short and long-term exposure including lower respiratory issues, cardiovascular disease, decreased lung function, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and decreased life expectancy (Puett, et al. 2014). Baltimore particulate matter maps reveal concentration of these pollutants in impoverished neighborhoods with high minority concentrations (EPA 2019). This relates directly to the theory of unjust sustainability, the inequitable relationship between demographics and their environments. Race, income, and housing affect how people interact with their environment and disadvantaged household often experience a disproportionate amount of environmental bads. In Baltimore, there is evidence that poor minority households are at a disproportionate environmental health risk because of hazardous waste sites surrounding their households, making hazardous waste sites in Baltimore an unjust sustainability. This visual shows these patterns through households below the poverty line and people who have high school diploma, GED, or an equivalent; I used recycled plastic to create this visual based on EJ mapper demographic maps.

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