Championing Environmental Justice: A Short Letter from Kevin J. Patel, Climate Justice Activist, Age 23

In today’s world, the fight for environmental justice is more critical than ever. As communities around the globe grapple with the devastating impacts of climate change, it’s essential to recognize that these effects are not distributed equally. From marginalized neighborhoods to indigenous lands, the burden of environmental degradation falls disproportionately on those who are least responsible for causing it. Climate and environmental sustainability are deeply personal and professional priorities for me, as they represent the core values that drive my life’s work. Growing up in Los Angeles, in the United States, I witnessed firsthand the environmental challenges faced by communities, especially those disproportionately affected by climate change. Due to the air and smog pollution that ravaged Los Angeles, my community of South Central was one of many that suffered from injustices.

However, my passion came much earlier, at a very young age. Understanding the journey my parents took to leave India, where entire generations of their families were farmers, and having learned from my mother and father how to grow my own food on a small plot of land in South LA taught me to be the person who I am today. The seeds we plant always end up being what nurtures us and the land, but we must care for them in order for them to thrive. Living in a community where access was one of the biggest barriers, I got involved with opening up a community garden during my first semester of sixth grade, and that is where my journey begins.

In the second semester of sixth grade, I was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat,  caused and exacerbated by the heavy pollution in LA, and I will have to live with it for the rest of my life. This ignited a passion within me to address the urgent need for sustainable solutions and environmental justice. I understood then that it’s not just one injustice, but a multitude of injustices, and I had to use my voice and encourage my community to use theirs to make a difference.

I have dedicated my life to advocating for those who are most affected by environmental injustice. Growing up in a community where pollution and environmental hazards were all too common, I witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of living in an area overlooked by policymakers and corporations alike. For too long, marginalized communities have borne the brunt of environmental degradation, facing higher rates of pollution, exposure to toxic chemicals, and limited access to clean air and water. This environmental injustice is not merely an unfortunate coincidence but a result of systemic inequalities that perpetuate poverty, racism, and discrimination.

My commitment solidified with the establishment of the Youth Climate Commission, a groundbreaking initiative that amplifies the voices of young activists in the fight against climate change. The pressing nature of the climate crisis and its impacts on marginalized communities motivated me to dedicate my career to fostering climate solutions.

In my work as an activist, I have strived to address the root causes of these disparities. This means pushing for stronger regulations on polluting industries, advocating for equitable access to renewable energy and sustainable infrastructure, and centering the voices and experiences of frontline communities in decision-making processes.

Environmental justice is not just about addressing the immediate impacts of pollution and environmental degradation; it’s also about addressing the underlying inequities that perpetuate these injustices. This means challenging systems of power and privilege that prioritize profit over people and perpetuate environmental racism and discrimination.

As we work towards a more just and sustainable future, it’s essential to recognize that environmental justice is intrinsically linked to social justice and racial equity. By addressing the root causes of environmental injustice, we can create healthier, more resilient communities for all.

Achieving environmental justice requires collective action and solidarity. It requires individuals, communities, and policymakers to come together to demand change and hold polluters and decision-makers accountable. It requires recognizing that the fight for environmental justice is inseparable from the broader struggle for social and racial justice.

Remember that together, we can build a world where everyone has the right to clean air, clean water, and a healthy environment – regardless of their race, income, or zip code.

In closing, let us remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” When it comes to environmental justice, we must recognize that we are all connected – and that our collective future depends on our willingness to fight for justice for all. Together, let’s continue the fight for environmental justice and build a better world for the next seven generations.

Note: Kevin is founder of OneUpAction and a member of The Ocean Project’s Advisory Council. To learn more and do more for environmental justice, click here.