Equity Mapping: A Powerful Tool for Environmental Justice Across the US

What if digital technology and large-scale data could be harnessed to visualize key social and economic inequities across America- in one map?

Enter federal equity mapping– a groundbreaking digital tool that environmental justice groups across the US are advocating for as the incoming Biden Administration presents long-needed hope for climate action and social justice. From Kamala Harris to Deb Haaland, Biden’s chosen team speaks for itself– there is light on the path to righting historical wrongs and ensuring social and environmental justice is at the forefront of US federal policy.

What is an Equity Map?

The purpose of an equity map is to conduct sweeping data collection and synthesis on environmental exposures that specific communities face- such as being located in coastal areas in danger of rising sea levels, or near toxic waste facilities, or power plants. Transforming this data into an interactive, dynamic digital mapping tool, an Equity Map shows how these vulnerable communities are distributed geographically and spatially, and how their environmental risks overlap with other social, and economic exposures (like income level). In other words, the Equity Map provides a powerful, real-time map to educate America’s policymakers on where the communities most threatened by environmental, social and economic exposures are across the country. Policymakers can then direct greater resources towards these communities and prevent current policies from causing further harm.

This kind of digital tool can be of immense importance to the incoming Biden Administration, as over the next four years it works to make good on its promises of sweeping climate action and social justice policy. The starting point: Biden has promised 40% of his $2 trillion climate plan’s funds towards social justice.

“As the United States prepares for a future fundamentally marked by climate instability, it is an economic and moral imperative to build true climate justice today.”

Evergreen Action, “Designing a New National Equity Mapping Program”

A History of Profits Before People is as Abominable and Ugly as it Gets

“In many cases, environmental justice represents deeper patterns of unequal access to political power, justice and capital”

– Evergreen Action, “Designing a New National Equity Mapping Program”, October 2020

All across the country, people of color disproportionately reside in communities that are located close to toxic release facilities (ranging from the chemical, mining, paper, to oil and gas industries). The few policy acts that attempt to protect these vulnerable communities from environmental exploitation were weakened by the Trump Administration and now must be repaired. See my followup blog post on many fantastic environmental justice groups- both new and well-established- across America whose voices and work are incredibly inspiring and paving the way for a sustainable and just society. For the former simply cannot exist without the latter.

Evergreen Action’s Push For a First-Of-It’s-Kind, Federal Equity Map

Evergreen Action is a group of former staffers and supporters for Washington State Governor Jay Inslee who ran in the 2020 Presidential Race- with climate action as the basis of his platform. Evergreen was formed in 2019 with a mission to “elect a new president to build support for an all-out national mobilization to defeat the climate crisis and create 8 million jobs in a clean energy economy.” Evergreen is carrying on Jay Inslee’s impressive legacy, to put climate action at the top of America’s agenda, in the form of an Action Plan for national mobilization. One of Evergreen’s top priorities is ensuring the Biden administration addresses climate change through the Action Plan’s roots in social justice and economic inclusivity.   

Image Source: Evergreen Action

To this end, in October 2020 Evergreen published a proposal for a national “Equity Mapping Program,” to help the new Biden Administration form a path to climate justice in America. The idea of their mapping program is to “identify communities that face environmental injustice, using lessons learned from state equity mapping programs.” To read further on Evergreen’s federal equity map proposal, and learn why the Biden Administration-and its new domestic climate Czar- should learn from it, click here.

Equity Maps are an important tool that can be adopted by states to geographically identify disadvantaged communities across the US. California, New York, Washington and Maryland have already developed an Equity Map. Evergreen is now calling for the new federal government to adopt a nation-wide Equity Map to “track the cumulative impacts of exposure to pollution, health disparities and economic instability.”  Something like this tool exists federally already, called EJSCREEN. However, Evergreen notes EJSCREEN’s significant limitations particularly in failing to analyze the cumulative impacts of the link between pollution and social disparities.

Enter groups like Greenlink, a partnership of environmental consulting and data analytics, who in 2020 unveiled the very first of its kind large-scale equity map across the US.  

Greenlink’s Groundbreaking Equity Map Spanning 50 US Cities

The Greenlink Equity Map was developed in partnership by Greenlink Analytics, an Atlanta-based energy consulting organization, and Upright Consulting, a platform to advance racial equity, economic justice and deep sustainability. These two organizations have recently developed a first-of-its-kind tool to evaluate over 70 equity indicators at the neighborhood level across 50 US cities. I can only imagine the monumental effort and collaboration that went into this remarkably informative and dynamic project. See Greenlink’s snapshot of the equity map below, including various indicators on the lefthand sidebar.

IMAGE SOURCE: https://www.equitymap.org/equity-map

From Greenlink’s Website: Range of Indicators Provided by the Equity Map:

“When these GEM maps are coupled with stories of communities’ experiences, the resulting shared data analysis can serve as a foundation for unlocking strategies to close racial equity gaps. It can also help create solutions for climate preparedness, public health, and other crises”. 

Greenlink- https://www.equitymap.org/equity-map

The incoming Biden Administration would be wise to take heed to leading environmental justice groups like Evergreen Action and the Greenlink Partnership, among others, advocating for this kind of digital mapping platform, alongside first-hand stories of communities unique experiences.

It will be exciting to see such powerful and informative tools as this leveraged by policymakers, as- finally, finally!- dawn breaks on a new era of climate action and social justice reform.

To support Evergreen Actions work, click here

To support/for more information on the Greenlink project and the 50 US cities it involves, click here

One thought on “Equity Mapping: A Powerful Tool for Environmental Justice Across the US

  1. Pingback: Access and Equity Must be at the Forefront of Canadian Electric Vehicle Policy – Wild Peak Consulting

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