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Haasini Potluri

Tower Hill High School
Environmental Justice

In·jus·tice noun a situation in which the rights of a person or a group of people are ignored.

Ignored and unseen.
Decimated by the impacts of climate change.
Unable to escape the harms that are perpetuated against them, the most vulnerable communities of Delaware continue to face the most disproportionate threats. The existential threat that these communities face is not of their making, but it will remake them and their futures (1).

The issue of environmental justice in Delaware is a continuous trend. Throughout history, the most vulnerable populations, already susceptible to increased poverty, starvation, and disease contraction rates, have been hurt again and again. Disparities in environmental justice are no different. It was not until recently that the state began to take real action against these harms. Years have elapsed and communities have been hurt, but it was not until 2023 that Delaware appointed its first Environmental Justice Coordinator (2). So, yeah, progress has been made, but without youth action, progress will be slow. Slow is something that we cannot accept. Slow is something that these communities simply cannot afford.

Delaware is considered to have 7 environmental justice communities, or areas where the most vulnerable are further harmed by the impacts of climate change and poor environmental conditions: Marshallton, Southbridge, Newport, Dunleith, Oakmont, Belvedere, and Cedar Heights (3). I have gone to school alongside many kids who have lived in these neighborhoods – who have had no choice but to be at an increased risk of cancer or to have lower access to healthy foods just because of where they live. A past of residential construction atop a filled marsh and near factories, and a lack of access to food puts these individuals at constant risk. Risks of flooding. Risks of industrial pollution. Risks of starvation because of poor urban planning. Delaware is already the state with the lowest average elevation in all of the United States, so an increased likelihood of perennial flooding forces these communities out of their homes, displaces them, and threatens stability within their lives. As if these dangers are not alarming enough, high industrial pollution rates have been recorded to increase cancer risk by upwards of 20% near some elementary and middle schools within these regions. These conditions are unacceptable and companies are not being held accountable (3). Currently, young children in environmental justice communities cannot go to a park and expect to breathe in the same air as their more privileged counterparts. Young children cannot even go to school without being marginalized by the impacts of their surroundings. Even with the more commonly addressed environmental justice issue of food deserts across the state, more than 65% of Wilmington residents live more than a half-mile away from the nearest grocery store (4). The problem is grave, and it can no longer be overlooked. Environmental justice and the inequities that have become ubiquitous across the field need to be addressed. But this need is not just met by legislators. It is met by the efforts within the community, and the inspired and unique perspective of youth-led efforts is crucial for these communities to thrive and survive for generations to come.

It may not seem like a single voice in the fight for environmental justice will have a very great impact, and that might be true in some ways. Your lawmakers may not acknowledge your work as an individual, and you may not go down in history books as a prominent figure. But that’s not what matters. What matters is that you cared. What matters is that your voice is one more. One more for the greater good that can be achieved, and will only be achieved with far more public support and increased awareness of the issue at hand. Your work matters, regardless of the medium that it takes. Contacting your legislators might be one of the most direct ways to see your efforts align with legal change. While it may seem like lawmakers might not read your writing, they are representing you. The future of their careers and their parties depends on your support, and they have concern about what you believe. There is currently so much happening within Delaware’s Senate that you can voice your opinions on. Whether that be the Delaware Climate Change Solution Act or the bill promoting the use of Offshore Wind as a source of energy, support for these causes has far-reaching impacts in tackling environmental injustices. But, this is far from the only way to advocate. Across Delaware and the nation, numerous young people have been unfettered by their age and come together to enact change. Within Delaware, the Youth Environmental Summit has been held annually for the past few years and has been successful in encouraging youth involvement and increasing awareness about the importance of environmentalism. More nationally, there are many youth organizations, and High Schoolers for Carbon Dividends is among one of the largest – advocating for taxes on corporations with high carbon emissions. Whatever your beliefs may be, there are so many opportunities for you to make your mark. Even on a more individual level, you can engender better conditions through an often-unacknowledged means – gardening. Not only have efforts of community and individual gardeners been seen to purify the air, but they have been fundamental in reducing ‘food miles,’ or the distance that people need to travel to access food. The impact of gardening is possibly even greater can be described: breaking through cycles of poverty and generational exposure to environmental inequities. Furthermore, advancements in gardening such as hydroponics can truly adjust to the impacts of climate change. This relatively modern, yet accessible form of gardening requires no soil (which has been depleted of nutrients), uses less land (which has been lost due to flooding), and increases overall yield. Whatever it may be, individual and collective efforts do make an impact. There is only so much that has been done to combat the harms of environmental injustice, and there is a whole echelon of undiscovered potential within advocacy and changemaking efforts that needs to be tapped into by younger generations. Change is inevitable, and it is up to us to take its reins and foster a time in which the inequities within environmental justice no longer exist.

Defining the future.

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