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Earth Day 2021: What is Climate Justice?

Publish Date: April 22nd, 2021

As Earth Day 2021 comes just a few days after a police officer was convicted for the murder of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, Minn., we encourage people to continue to reflect and act on racial injustices. As a company focused on sustainability and renewable solar power, we want to be part of a clean energy revolution that works for everyone in our society. That’s why we believe it’s important to discuss how the climate crisis and racial injustices overlap.

What is climate justice?

If you’ve ever researched or paid attention to the climate crisis, you may have heard the phrase “climate justice” used. Climate justice is where social justice and the climate crisis meet. Climate justice activists advocate for communities of color and low-income communities that are disproportionately affected by climate change and pollution.

Perhaps one of the most well-known cases of climate injustice in America is the water pollution of Flint, Michigan. In 2011, Flint, a city where 45% of its primarily Black residents live below the poverty line, cut costs by pumping water from the polluted Flint River instead of treated water from Detroit. The water was never treated properly, thus, thousands of people were exposed to high levels of lead and other toxic pollutants in their drinking water as a result.

Unfortunately, there are thousands of similar stories to this one across the world where Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) are disproportionally impacted by pollution and carbon footprints. For example, according to Princeton University, Black Americans are 75% more likely than White people to live close to areas that produce pollution, odor, and noise – known as “fence-line” communities.

What does climate injustice look like?

Within a city, communities are generally separated by race, income, and language. Whiter and wealthier parts of a city tend to have more green spaces, fewer pollutants, and better access to nutritious foods. On the other hand, areas of a city with more poverty and racial diversity tend to be located near more pollutants like factories, waste disposal, and freeways and don’t have as much accessibility to grocery stores or healthful foods (areas known as “food deserts”). This can be traced back to racist zoning laws as well as poor land-use planning.

Climate injustices take place in rural communities as well. These areas, often home to Indigenous and low-income communities, host commercially harvested resources like uranium and oil. These extractions can lead to contamination of a rural population’s water supply, soil, and air, severely affecting the health of these communities by increasing the residents’ risk for issues like cancer, infant mortality, infectious disease mortality, and birth defects.

Next steps

Awareness of an issue is an important first step. Awareness then calls for action and advocacy. Below are a few resources to learn more about climate justice as well as ways you can make an impact in your communities:


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