May Environmental Pledge: Environmental Justice
“You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.”
– Pirkei Avot 2:21
Thank you to everyone who joined BJ’s Environmental Pledge during the 5782 shemita year! Several hundred of you signed up and committed to making both an individual and communal investment in the land that sustains us all: Planet Earth.
You can still join us for this final month of the pledge! Commit to the pledge by taking on (at least) one recommended action this month. And don’t forget: our work conserving and preserving our world continues even after this pledge ends, and we urge you to maintain the actions and commitments you’ve made throughout the pledge, share them with your community, and continue the essential work of protecting our environment.
Judaism commands us to pursue justice in all aspects of our society and our lives, as the Torah tells us, “tzedek, tzedek tirdof,” “Justice, justice you shall pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20). Maimonides offers a compelling insight into why the word “tzedek,” “justice,” is repeated: to emphasize the need to consult with others and to gather as many perspectives as we can before deciding on a course of action.
In this year of shemita, as we grapple with and attempt to address the interconnected injustices of our environment, economy, and social structures, we must look outwards beyond ourselves and our own communities. We must find and engage with people who are most impacted by environmental and social injustices, who are radically reimagining what our future can and should look like, and who possess wisdom about how to move us closer to that vision. Justice, justice you shall pursue—and let us all do so in a way that considers all perspectives and prioritizes all peoples’ health, happiness, and wellbeing.
Environmental justice calls for all people to have equal access to a healthy, safe, and sustainable environment, as well as equal protection from environmental harm. Issues of racism and socioeconomic justice are central to the issue of environmental justice.
While environmental degradation affects us all, the most harmful impacts are disproportionately experienced in the United States by low-income, immigrant, and Black communities. Indigenous communities all over the country face violence as they fight to protect their lands from environmentally harmful industry development. Fossil-fueled power plants and hazardous waste sites are disproportionately located in Black and Brown neighborhoods, leading to poorer air quality, higher rates of asthma, and increased risks of disease, including COVID-19. Black farmers have been pushed out of land ownership with the rise of the industrial agricultural system; that same system is also dependent on the underpaid labor of immigrant farmers, who are exposed to harmful pesticides and other health risks.
In addition, Black communities in the United States face high rates of hunger and food-related illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, due to excessive junk food marketing coupled with reduced access to healthy food infrastructure.
Mask Recycling: Recycle your disposable masks in BJ’s Zero-Waste Box, located in the lobby of the BJ Community House. We’re collecting all used non-woven disposable plastic-based masks (including surgical, dust masks, KN95, and N95 masks) so they don’t end up in our landfills, city streets, and oceans.
To protect our planet and our world, we need to fight for a system of justice that protects and benefits all people. We must do so by educating ourselves, centering the voices of those most impacted by environmental harm, and engaging in actions that help redistribute power back to vulnerable communities.
We encourage you to engage in all of the pledge actions this month and make them ongoing practices in your life. Only by acknowledging the harms caused by the overlapping injustices of our world and taking initiative can we begin the real work of building a just future.
This month and every month going forward, I will:
- Practice Self-Education. I will read books or articles or listen to podcasts, interviews, etc. in order to help me better understand the links between structural racism, economic inequities, and environmental threats, especially those focusing on local and federal policies that perpetuate issues of environmental injustice.
- Become an ally and use my voice, time, and power. I will engage with other advocates, allies, and accomplices working towards environmental justice to see how I can best join or support their work, making sure to uplift the voices of those most impacted.
- Donate. I will donate my money directly to organizations advocating for environmental justice and/or lend my time as a volunteer.
- Hold my representatives and government accountable. I will stay informed about local environmental issues such as land-use planning, farmworker’s rights, industrial development, grant awards, etc. I will advocate for my representatives to not perpetuate environmental injustices with their power, and I will use the power of my voice and my vote to hold them accountable.
- Be intentional about my spending. I will investigate the environmental practices of institutions and corporations before I give them my spending money. I will also invest and spend my money locally as much as possible.
Learn about how the federal government is working on environmental justice here.
Check out and follow these NYC organizations working on environmental justice:
- WE ACT for Environmental Justice
- NYC Environmental Justice Alliance
- New York Lawyers for the Public interest