People at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve at Sunset, by Jim Jones

Environmental Justice Resources for Educators and Students


"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.


Classroom Lessons on Environmental Justice

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.


Environmental Justice in California and Beyond

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. 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). Please send feedback on this unit to coast4u@coastal.ca.gov.


Climate Video Challenge

A challenge for middle and high school students to create a video answering the question "What does climate justice look like to me?" Entries are due March 31, 2021.


Pollution and Prejudice: Redlining and Environmental Injustice in California

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.


The lines that shape our cities: connecting present-day environmental inequalities to redlining policies of the 1930s

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.

 

Cal EnviroScreen

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:

  • Scroll to Map of CalEnviroScreen 3.0 Results.
    • Put your zip code into the search bar. What is the CalEnviroScreen 3.0 percentile and color for the neighborhood where you live? What about the surrounding areas? Why do you think your neighborhood scored how it did?
    • Find an area with a high score (overall percentile above 80%). What do you notice about this area? Why do you think it scored high? Repeat for an area with a low score (overall percentile below 20%).
  • Scroll to Indicator Maps.
    • Click on the "pollution burden" tab. Read about each pollution indicator in the sidebar. Afterwards complete the following activities and questions:
      • Zoom to the area where you live. What is the pollution burden percentile where you live? What about the surrounding areas?
      • Find one or more areas with a high percentile at or near where you live. Predict which pollution burdens these areas have.
      • Click on these pollution burdens in the tab and observe if they are present in these areas, to find your answers. Was your prediction correct? Did anything surprise you?
      • Scroll through the remaining pollution indicators to determine which indicator(s) contributes to the high percentile.
    • Click on the "population characteristics" tab. Read about each characteristic in the sidebar. Afterwards complete the following activities and questions.
      • Zoom to the area where you live. What is the population characteristics percentile where you live? What about the surrounding areas?
      • Find one or more areas where this percentile is high, at or near where you live. Predict which population characteristics that these areas have.
      • Click on these characteristics in the tab and observe if they are present in these areas, to find your answer. Was your prediction correct? Did anything surprise you?
      • Scroll through the remaining population characteristics to determine which characteristic(s) contributes to the high percentile.
  • Questions to consider:
    • Revisit the Indicator Map/Overall Results Tab for the area where you live and surrounding areas. How does this score reflect the pollution burdens and population characteristics, based on what you observed? Would you give it a same or different score?
    • Which pollution burdens are most common at/near where you live? The most uncommon? Does this surprise you? Why or why not?
    • Which population characteristics are most common at/near where you live? The most uncommon? Does this surprise you? Why or why not?
    • How do you think the Cal EnviroScreen data should be used by government agencies and elected officials? How do you think communities and individuals should use the data? What might be some limitations of using tools such CalEnviroScreen? What are the advantages?

California Coastal Voices: A Sense of Nature—Who's at the Beach?

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.


Analyzing Environmental Justice

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.


Editorial Cartoons: Poverty/Environmental Justice

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.


Teaching Intersectionality and Environmental Justice in Our Classrooms

A classroom resource guide for various ages, from NAACP


 

Streaming Videos on Environmental Justice Topics