5 Ways Young Adults Can Get More Involved With Environmental Justice in NJ

Group of people from environmental organization helping at a garden called, ISLES

What is your first thought when you think about Environmental Justice? Is it how the environment affects marginalized or overburdened communities? Is it how the environment is taking multiple hits from production and industry with little repercussions? Or is it simply, “I have no idea what to think!” Well if it’s any one of those, you are valid in thinking this way.

Don’t be worried if you aren’t sure of these concepts, issues, or laws. As a young adult within a higher education system, after asking some students expressed that they were unaware of the extent of these issues that were happening to these communities. Environmental justice began to arise as a concept within the 1950s but the overall movement continues today. As a result of this growing movement and awareness, there have been new laws and legislation being passed as a result.

One notable law that was passed recently was in September 2020 when Governor Phil Murphy signed the Environmental Justice Law which attempts to address the disproportionate effects of polluting facilities on overburdened communities in New Jersey. This law attempts to put more regulations on polluting facilities when it comes to asking for permits and other restrictions to lessen the amount of polluting facilities and their effects on those marginalized communities.

While this law was passed in 2020, a recent draft addition to the law draws attention to the lack of proper enforcement of the law and implementation within the industry and these facilities. With this in mind, how can young people, especially those within communities most affected by these environmental injustices, stand up and combat these disproportionate effects?

Addressing these issues is no simple feat but below are 5 ways young adults and youths can get more involved and learn about environmental justice within New Jersey.

1. Programming through Isles

Founded in 1981, this is an organization based in Trenton to help develop the community and environment. Their goal is to create sustainable communities and offer effective services to help make a difference. There are many ways through Isles that youths and young adults can participate in to make a difference. Through after-school programming, youths can learn about rebuilding the community and service. There are also other programs such as the Trenton Climate Corps which partners with “a variety of residents, businesses, and other stakeholders to offer empowering youth programming and increase the sustainability and climate resilience of the City and its residents,” (Isles, 2022). As a whole, Isles is a great resource for students and young adults to become closer to their community and apply different helpful programming.

2. Youth Inclusion Initiative from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP):

This program was created and launched in the Summer of 2021 by Commissioner of Environmental Protection Shawn M. LaTourette and has a borne partnership with Isles and Newark’s Ironbound Community Corporation. Within the past summer, of 2022, they partnered with Groundwork Elizabeth, Rutgers University Camden, and Newark’s Ironbound Community Corporation. This is a six-week Summer program designed for youth ages 17-24 from the Newark and Trenton areas to become engaged and interact with the community and the environment through the State Park Service. Some of the departments that the program touches include, water resource management, parks and forestry, air quality, energy, and sustainability, and the NJDEP’s Executive Team. Commissioner LaTourette says in an interview regarding this program, “Programs like this help to build a pipeline of environmental professionals from diverse backgrounds who will be ready and excited to tackle the challenges of tomorrow,” (NJDEP, 2022).  

3. Ironbound Community Corporation (ICC) Programs and Resources:

This location has been historically known for being an overburdened community and this organization has been combatting these injustices in many different ways. To start, they offer many after-school programs for children to learn more about inequities occurring within the community as well as offering other opportunities in the Summer as well. The ICC created the Environmental Justice Youth Leadership group to volunteer and help at Down Bottom Farms. Down Bottom Farms is a half acre of land that includes tree orchards, vineyards, fruit patches, and art pieces from the community and is the newest addition to ICC’s Urban Agriculture Program. Future plans include adding a “Learning Barn” to “facilitate educational programming year-round,” (ICC, 2022).  The ICC plans to continue moving forward to integrate youths back into the community.

4. Join Fridays For Future

This is a Youth-led and organized global climate strike movement. This movement was rooted in 15-year-old Greta Thunberg’s school strike for climate change in 2018 after students started to join Greta and create the hashtag #FridaysForFuture. Their goal is to put moral pressure on policymakers and make more people aware of the issue at hand. They are able to do this through peaceful protests like strikes and speeches. Why strike you may ask? They answer, “We strike because we have no choice… We strike because there is still time to change, but time is of the essence,” (Fridays For Future, 2022). While this organization is more globally based, there are strikes happening all over in different areas. The website includes an interactive map that can be used to figure out when the next strike will be and if there is one in the area!

5. Practice Self-Education

While this is not a particular organization or movement, it is still essential to understand the importance of being knowledgeable and aware. The only way you can talk about these topics is by understanding them to the fullest and researching the actions that have been taken or will be taken in the future. Especially when holding policymakers and industry leaders accountable, it is important to create claims based on factual information. Additionally, the connection between structural racism and disproportionate environmental hazards found in underprivileged communities is a rising issue and needs to be brought to the forefront. A blog post from Yale Sustainability mirrors this sentiment by saying, “… it is important to realize that even within major environmental groups and nonprofits, the leadership tends to be middle class and white. Be careful not to blindly assume that these organizations, policymakers, and leaders are advancing environmental justice for all,” (Yale Sustainability, 2020). Research and explore the knowledge and information available. Maybe even one day you can start your own movement or initiative! 

While these are only 5 ways you can get involved, there are many other organizations and resources available to become more knowledgeable and involved. The page for environmental justice is turning slowly while more people, especially youths, are becoming more aware and advocating for environmental initiatives.

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