The Gulf Oil Spill: An Environmental Justice Disaster

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This year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was clearly a disaster for the environment. But it has also been a disaster for people, and it did not affect everyone equally.

The spill’s impact has been felt most keenly by low-income people and people of color. African Americans and Southeast Asians in the region are heavily dependent on the seafood industry for jobs. But the spill affected Gulf residents beyond just robbing them of income. Research by Robert Bullard at the Environmental Justice Resource Center shows that BP—with the government’s approval—has been disposing of oil-related debris at landfills in neighborhoods where mainly blacks, Latinos and Asians live.

So the oil spill has become an environmental injustice as well as an economic one. Students need to understand this, and they need to understand what can be done about it. The Gulf Oil Spill: An Environmental Justice Disaster provides students with information about how people of color have borne the brunt of waste disposal from the spill. In this lesson, middle and high school students study the data, calculate the unequal distribution of waste, draw conclusions about the importance of their findings and then present the results to others.

Teachers can help ensure that students learn from the Gulf oil spill while pointing out how to recover from the ill effects of pollution.

Weiss is a curriculum writer who lives in Maine.