Friday, July 24, 2009

Reflections on the Upcoming Environmental Justice CloseUp

(The CloseUp on EJ has since launched - check it out!)

As collections assistant, I spend the month or two before each CloseUp collection exploring a whole new field, compiling a list of relevant research and then contacting the organizations that produce it. Each time, I immerse myself in a field I knew very little about just a short time ago, diving headfirst into the wide ocean of work that exists in cyberspace. The August/September CloseUp is on the topic of environmental justice, and I'm certainly learning a lot. Like, for example, what environmental justice is.

I now know environmental justice (EJ) is (very generally) how environmental policy and practices affect disadvantaged or minority groups disproportionately. This is not to say that once I understood the definition it was a piece of cake from there. I wish it was--I love my job, but if it included more cake, I wouldn't mind. Each CloseUp presents its own set of challenges. Some observations I've made while delving into Environmental Justice:

  • Lack of online forums: In an effort to acquaint myself with an issue, I will look at forums and online communities that serve as resources or communication venues (through listservs, forums, blogs, etc). Despite a very large section of environmental justice being driven by local activists, I could find few central, well-designed online gathering places. However, these do exist for the larger topic of environmentalism, so there are opportunities for EJ discussions within those venues.
  • Fewer central directories: One of the most valuable resources for me as I look for research-producing non-profit organizations are directories or extensive "related resources" sections on non-profits sites. Though many EJ sites include these sections, and I was able to locate a few directories (like this one), there were significantly fewer than I've come across in other CloseUp topics.
  • Design: Though plenty of websites devoted to EJ and local movements exist, often they can be hard to navigate. I would not deem most of these websites to be "user-friendly". Since most people don't dwell when information is not readily available, this could result in people not finding what they need, even if that information is there.
  • Prevalence of university research centers: Neither a good or a bad thing, a lot of the results and links lead to university based centers. IssueLab accepts work from both nonprofits and university-based research centers, though they can be different beasts. This work tends to be more dense and formal, and generally comes in more traditional, longer formats

I am very excited about the CloseUp on Environmental Justice. Personally, I'm so used to hearing about environmentalism that I sometimes feel like I've heard it all. Exploring the subtopic of environmental justice was a valuable reminder that there are issues within the environmental field (and every field for that matter) that are not getting the exposure they require to instigate wholesale change.

If you produce research on environmental justice, or know of an organization that may want to contribute research to this CloseUp, please create an account or e-mail me at

(Image provided under a cc licence by Knokton)

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