Editor’s note: This post was authored by Lauren Noeker. Lauren served as ICL’s Andrus Scholar in 2022. Lauren lives in Boise, Idaho, and is contributing to the ICL blog for a series on Environmental Justice. This is part 1 of 3 in the series.

Human activity deeply affects the natural world and the natural world deeply affects humans. Human beings and natural systems are inextricably linked, creating a complex and dynamic relationship between people and planet.

Knowing that humans and the environment are connected, it’s important to realize that global environmental issues – namely climate change – have far-reaching consequences on humans as well. Beyond this, not all humans are impacted equally from the international climate crisis. Instead, certain groups are disproportionately affected by environmental perils, a concept called environmental injustice. 

To combat these injustices faced by certain groups – including people of color, low-income groups, indigenous peoples, and other marginalized communities – the environmental justice movement works to improve these issues by ensuring the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies

The Spirit of the Waters Totem Pole Journey makes a stop in Fort Hall. The journey was in support of the Indigenous-led movement to remove the four lower Snake River dams and restore to health the Snake River salmon runs and the Southern Resident Killer Whales that depend on them.

Fair treatment means that no individual nor group bears a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences we as a global community are facing. Meaningful involvement assures that if groups/individuals are affected by an action – including a policy, law, development project, etc. – they are involved in the decision-making process for said action and that policymakers prioritize public involvement. 

Although climate justice issues have garnered more attention in the last few years, the movement goes back decades. The Civil Rights Movement planted the seeds for the environmental justice movement in a variety of ways. The Civil Rights Movement was a struggle for social justice, in particular for Black Americans to gain equal rights under the law in the United States during the 1950s and 1960s. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Activists from both civil and environmental groups, academia, and religious groups came together to bring awareness and action to the intersection of environmental and social rights, creating the environmental justice movement.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

Environmental justice not only emphasizes involvement in policy and decision-making, but also highlights equal access to the environment. Environmental exclusion is when certain groups are not granted equal access to the natural amenities of the earth. Historically, natural recreationalists have been predominantly white, affluent, and male. Underrepresentation of marginalized communities continues to be a pressing issue in outdoor recreation. Living in a state like Idaho where outdoor recreation is the lifeblood of culture, equal access to public lands for all Idahoans is essential. It is also what is fair.

Understanding the meaning of environmental justice is the first step in creating a society and culture that revolves around the equal treatment of all individuals and groups. ICL’s vision is an Idaho where public lands remain public and are well managed, air is clean, lakes and rivers are healthy, fish and wildlife thrive, and a prosperous, sustainable future exists for all Idahoans. Our work on diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice moves us toward this vision, creating a conservation community that represents and includes all.