Part 3: Climate crisis & the struggle for environmental justice (Human Rights in the United States: 2023 Report)

Source: Alliance for Global Justice


Ecological justice is social justice…and economic justice…and racial justice…and gender justice…and class justice…and all other forms of justice that we struggle to bring into being. Ecological justice underlies all human rights issues, because without clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, healthy land, waterways, and thriving and healthy networks of living things that uphold sustainable and just means of living, no other forms of justice are possible. 

Decades after what can be deemed the start of the environmental justice movement, the struggle continues on hundreds of fronts throughout the United States. People in Louisiana’s Cancer Alley battle petrochemical corporations to stop cancer-causing pollution. People in Jackson, Mississippi – a largely Black city – suffered a catastrophic breakdown of their water systems that resulted in stranding 160,000 people along with hospitals, fire stations and schools, without safe drinking water. In February 2021 an extreme winter storm event caused a massive electricity generation failure in the state of Texas that resulted in a loss of power for more than 4.5 million homes, the first of which to lose electricity were often working class communities of color, resulting in at least 57 deaths and prompting Texans to demand a change to the systems and policies that prioritize maximizing profit margins over the protection of human life.

The Heat, Health & Equity coalition in Manhattan simultaneously works to give relief to people suffering in heat emergencies, and to mitigate harm by addressing climate change, housing issues and governmental programs. WE ACT for Environmental Justice is working to reduce the amount of waste from NYC that goes into landfills and pollutes the soil, air and water. Water protectors in the Dakotas struggle to stop pipelines from encroaching on sacred lands, waterways and communities. As climate catastrophes come, the people continue to fight back for a just and sustainable future.

This section reviews the root causes and intersections of environmental struggles in the United States and their implications for human rights:

Violations of international human rights law

Violations of the Universal Declaration of Human RightsViolations of international human rights treaties

Identified articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights violated by the United States Federal Government:

  • Article 1: that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights 
  • Article 2: that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race or class 
  • Article 3: that everyone has the right to life, liberty and security
  • Article 25: that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of themselves and their families, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and social services
  • Article 28: that everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this declaration can be fully realized

Identified core international human rights treaties violated by the United States Federal Government:

  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination requires that countries revise governmental and other public policies and rescind laws and regulations that perpetuate racial discrimination and pass legislation for prohibiting such discrimination; particularly that which pertains to rights necessary for the advancement of social, economic and cultural rights; such as the right to improvement in all aspects of environmental hygiene.
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights establishes a universal framework for the protection and preservation of the most basic economic, social and cultural rights inherent to all human beings, including the right to work in just and favorable conditions, to social protection, to an adequate standard of living, to the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health, to education and to the enjoyment and benefits of cultural freedom. The United States has not ratified this treaty.
  • Convention on the Rights of Child, the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history not ratified by the United States, establishes a universal framework for the protection and advancement of the rights of children to grow, learn, play, develop and flourish with dignity. The treaty recognizes climate change as one of the greatest global challenges of future generations and a direct threat to a child’s human right to life. It affirms the responsibility of the state to take action against environmental policies and practices that inhibit the full realization of children’s human rights. 

Featured articles

Our environment: enough for everyone’s need…but not everyone’s greed

Source: Azul Dahlstrom-Eckman (KQED)

By Camille Landry (National Co-Coordinator)

“The most fundamental human right is the right to live. This includes the right to breathe clean air, drink clean water, eat food that does not contain poison and to live in a world that is in balance ecologically, socially, economically, and in other ways. Our political and economic systems wreck the balance of our communities and of the entire planet.

The struggles we engage in are not driven by an abstract desire for justice. Our very survival and the survival of our siblings and all other life in this world are at stake. Despite our technology and our hubris, we are animals living in a closed ecosystem on the only planet that we have access to. Our future depends on ceasing ‘business as usual’ and changing the way we live and act. Global capitalism, consumerism and exploitation of the environment and people are a danger to our very existence. We must act now to save ourselves, our future generations, and virtually every animal and plant on the earth.” (Read more)


It’s all connected: racism, poverty, environmental assault

Source: Sophia Germer (The Times and The Advocate)

By Camille Landry (National Co-Coordinator)

“Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Fair treatment means no group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental and commercial operations or policies. It includes the equitable distribution of environmental harm and environmental benefits. Environmental racism is the disproportionate impact on the lives of Black, Brown and Indigenous people caused by living near hazardous pollution.

Black and Hispanic communities and Indigenous lands are exposed to more air pollution, landfills, lead poisoning, water pollution and industrial pollutants than their white counterparts. BIPOC communities also experience a higher degree of neglect than white communities have.” (Read more)

Over 530 years of struggle & solidarity: Indigenous resistance in the U.S.

Source: Manuel Ceneta (Associated Press)

By Camille Landry (National Co-Coordinator)

“Indigenous people of the Americas have experienced many different forms of domination and continue to resist them through a wide range of decolonizing processes that are commonly misidentified, ignored, or misstated by U.S. political and social analysts. Indigenous people’s legitimate concerns about structural inequality and oppression have been cast as cultural or ethnic issues rather than as intrinsic elements of an economic, social, institutional, legal, and governmental system whose very origins are rooted in the removal of Indigenous people from their land and the commission of genocide against them.” (Read more)

This chapter is part of a series in AFGJ’s Human Rights in the United States: 2023 Report

Subscribe Donate

Contact us

 email: [email protected] | phone: (202) 540-8336 ext. 603