"How can we teach one another to keep our power and use it together for the betterment of all?"
Marie Harrison, environmental justice activist, March 4, 1994
The environmental justice movement grew out of the Civil Rights movement, led primarily by Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) in the 1980s who wanted to call attention to polluting industries, power plants and waste disposal areas and their proximity to communities of color.
In 1994, the federal government defined environmental justice as 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. To learn more about the history of environmental justice in the US, you can visit the U.S. EPA's Environmental Justice Timeline.
Environmental justice can be a complex and sensitive topic to learn and teach. The resources on this page can provide some guidance. Whether you are teaching about environmental justice to youth or adults, review some recommended practices and discussion agreements.
These lessons can be adapted to online distance-learning platforms, and can be integrated into environmental science, social studies, government, geography, and health classes, among others. Visit the Coastal Commission's Resources for Educators page for additional resources on this and other topics.
A flexible five-lesson unit for grades 9-12. Students learn about environmental justice in California and elsewhere in the US by studying communities struggling with environmental inequities and how those communities have fought for justice. Supports California Next Generation Science, Common Core, and History-Social Science standards. Includes lesson plans, slides, student response Google forms, and printable worksheets for in-person or remote instruction. Written by Coastal Commission staff and reviewed by Rachel Faulkner (anti-racism consultant), Laura Diaz (Educators Collective for Environmental Justice), and Estrella Risinger (Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education). Download the unit (PDF). This PDF includes links to all elements described above. Updated August 23, 2022. Please send feedback on this unit to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A challenge for middle and high school students to create a video answering the question "What is your vision for a thriving future?"
A story map created by CalEPA racial equity team, to help staff across the agency and the public explore the connection between racist land use practices of the 1930s and the persistence of environmental injustice. Grades 9-12.
Investigate the history of racist land use policies and environmental inequalities, and explore the present-day realities of environmental injustices in four US cities. A collaboration of the Digitial Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond, The Science Museum of Virginia, and ESRI. Grades 9-12.
A mapping tool created by CalEPA Office of Environmental Health Hazards Assessment to identify California communities most affected by multiple sources of pollution. CalEnviroScreen uses environmental, health, and socioeconomic information to produce scores for every census tract in California, which are mapped to compare how pollution burden varies among communities. Prior knowledge of percentiles and geography may be helpful. Grades 6-12. Activities to consider:
A project-based unit in California Coastal Voices from the California Coastal Commission, for grades 6-12. Explores the physical, political, economic and social obstacles that prevent public access to beaches and other outdoor areas as students create an access plan for a specific park.
A resource from Teaching Tolerance for grades 6-12. Explore how pollution disproportionately affects people who are poor and members of racial and ethnic minorities, and use a map to locate environmental injustice.
A resource from Teaching Tolerance for grades 6-12. Examine an editorial cartoon which addresses the connections between poverty and damage to the natural environment.
A classroom resource guide for various ages, from NAACP