Environmental Human Rights

Environmental Human Rights

“If the Bill of Rights contains no guarantee that a citizen shall be secure against [environmental degradation] …, it is surely only because our forefathers, despite their considerable wisdom and foresight, could conceive of no such problem.”

— Rachel Carson

Every person, in every generation, deserves the right to a healthy environment. And it is one of the highest duties of the government to preserve, protect, and enforce this right. However, Maryland’s environmental laws fall short of this goal. Our rivers, bay, air, soils, continue to be degraded.  Even more, our state laws have allowed environmental degradation to inequitably impact low-income residents and communities of color.

  • For example, South Baltimore has a cluster of over 200 permitted pollution facilities in a 2.5- mile radius.
  • Brandywine in southern  Prince George’s County hosts a surface mining operations, a Superfund site, sludge lagoon, concrete batching facility, a fly ash landfill, 3500 diesel truck trips/day, and contaminated soil from the site of the new DC United Soccer Stadium in the Buzzard Point area of Washington, DC. of Washington, DC. (1)
  • In Somerset County, one of the poorest counties in the state, there are as many as 95 chicken houses, holding tens of thousands of chickens each, within a three-mile radius.

This is both unhealthy and unfair.

Over 20 states in the U.S. and 100 nations have provisions protecting the environment in their constitutions.

But not Maryland.

Maryland’s Environmental Human Rights Amendment would fix that. It would require that we work to make our environment healthy, for all of us, equitably, so that we, our families, our economy thrive. Now and tomorrow.

Its impact will be felt in three primary areas: the health of the environment, the health of the public, and environmental justice.

Environmental Health

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

— Aldo Leopold

Humankind has been given the gift of this remarkable planet we call Earth. We did not design it, we did not make it, we did not earn it. It took billions of years for Earth to become. But because it exists, so do we.  Alone amidst the vast universe, as far as we can tell, Earth has brought forth Life. And it is all interconnected. 

The essential benefits it provides – clean air, clean water, fertile soil, a stable climate  – belong to us all. Each person, in every generation, has as much right to Earth’s goodness  as any other person in any other generation.  It is our task to use the world wisely so that all who are here today, and all who come after, may equally enjoy and benefit from Earth’s goodness.

The ecologian, Thomas Berry, wrote: “The success or failure of any historical age is the extent to which those living at that time have fulfilled the special role that history has imposed upon them.” That special role history imposes upon each generation is their Great Work.  Our Great Work is the realignment of humanity’s relationship with the Earth, moving from extractive to cooperative, from consuming to borrowing, from dominance to awe.

A constitutional amendment that proclaims everyone’s right to a healthy environment would anchor this transformative vision and guide us to achieve our Great Work.

Public Health

“One does not act rightly toward one’s fellow if one does not know how to act rightly toward the earth.”

— Liberty Hyde Bailey

Healthy communities, healthy families, healthy people, cannot exist without a healthy environment. Even the economy can thrive only when the environment is healthy. We are the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat.

To care for each other requires that we care for the environment.  The Global Environment Outlook believes that poor environmental conditions “cause approximately 25 percent of global disease and mortality” (2) including 6 million untimely deaths due to air pollution alone.  The ways we build our cities and our homes, manage our forests, design our transportation all affect public health.

The MD Campaign for Environmental Human Rights works on initiatives that protect and improve the health of the environment so that we can protect and improve the health of all Marylanders.

Environmental Justice

“You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can’t have disposable people without racism.”

— Hop Hopkins

Wherever there are economic, political and social inequities, you will find environmental injustices. Maryland is no exception. From CAFO’s on the Eastern Shore (3) to  the smokestacks of South Baltimore (4) to Brandywine in Prince George’s County (5), poorer communities and communities of color suffer a disproportionate burden of environmental degradation, and thus health inequities.

The MD Campaign for Environmental Human Rights understands that to fight for the right to a healthy environment we need to fight the racism that is at the root of environmental injustice (6). To achieve that end, we are working to:

  • Create a state Environmental Justice Commission with teeth
  • Laws that require the assessment of the cumulative impact of discrete environmental permits before adding others to the mix
  • Laws that require environmental impact assessments including health impact assessments
  • Rules that give teeth to Maryland’s 1973 Environmental Policy Act (MEPA)

We can’t do this alone. Like the environment, we are all connected. Join us today.

References

  1. https://www.ceejhlab.org/mid-atlantic/projects/2019/2/1/brandywine-md-as-a-sacrifice-zone-for-the-dmv
  2. https://phys.org/news/2019-03-environment-global-deaths-disease.html#:~:text=The%20GEO%20compiles%20a%20litany,million%20deaths%20in%202015%20alone.
  3. There are 308 active CAFOs in Somerset, Wicomico, and Worcester Counties, among the poorest counties in the state, compared to 234 in the rest of the state. (Bay Journal News Service, Jeremy Cox, 3.1.19)
  4. South Baltimore has a cluster of over 200 permitted pollution facilities in a 2.5-mile radius. As a result, South Baltimore has more than 4 times the rate of asthma hospitalizations than the rest of the state of Maryland.
  5. https://www.ceejhlab.org/mid-atlantic/projects/2019/2/1/brandywine-md-as-a-sacrifice-zone-for-the-dmv
  6. UN Framework for Human Rights and Environment