Robert Bullard

Any list of environmental justice luminaries has to start with Dr. Robert Bullard, the man many consider the “Father of environmental justice.” Dr. Bullard was one of the first to understand the unequal environmental burdens faced by vulnerable communities, and he has been a leading campaigner against environmental racism. In 1991, Dr. Bullard played a key role in organizing the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, which has been described as one of the most important events in the history of the environmental justice movement. It was this summit that adopted the 17 Principles of Environmental Justice. It is hard to fathom the resistance Dr. Bullard and others must have encountered in the early days of the environmental justice movement. Every entrenched interest – corporate, government, regulatory – was lined up against him. But you don’t become the father of an entire movement unless you have the fortitude and perseverance to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Of course, as Dr. Bullard himself has said on many occasions, there is still much work to be done. 

If you want to learn more about Dr. Bullard and his role in the environmental justice movement, all you need to do is a Google search, and tons of information will come up. A great place to start is his personal website, where you will see he has received over 25 awards or honors and has authored 18 books. These books are considered seminal works in the environmental justice field. If the reading list looks a bit overwhelming, we suggest starting with Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality, or Unequal Protection: Environmental Justice and Communities of Color, or The Quest for Environmental Justice: Human Rights and the Politics of Pollution.

Dorceta Taylor

Dr. Taylor is the Senior Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and Professor of Environmental Justice at Yale University.

Prior to that she was a professor of environmental sociology at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS) for 27 years.  She was the James E. Crowfoot Collegiate Chair and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at SEAS.   She also helds a joint appointment with the Program in the Environment. Dr. Taylor is the former Field of Studies Coordinator for SEAS’ Environmental Justice Program and a past Chair of the American Sociological Association’s Environment and Technology Section.  Professor Taylor received PhD and master’s degrees from the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (now the Yale School of the Environment) and the Department of Sociology at Yale University in 1991, 1988, and 1985.

In 2014 Dr. Taylor authored a landmark national report, The State of Diversity in Environmental Institutions: Mainstream NGOs, Foundations, and Government Agencies.  She authored a second diversity report in 2014 entitled, Environmental Organizations in the Great Lakes Region: An Assessment of Institutional Diversity.

Dr. Taylor has published influential books also.  Her most recent book, The Rise of the American Conservation Movement:  Power, Privilege, and Environmental Protection, was published in 2016 during the 100th-year anniversary of the founding of the national park service.  The book examines how conservation ideas and politics are tied to social dynamics such as racism, classism, and gender discrimination.  Revelations made in the book about the ideologies of John Muir, the slave-owning past of John James Audubon and the eugenicist history of the Save the Redwoods League and the National Park Service have led to the Sierra Club, the National Audubon Society, and the Save the Redwoods League acknowledging the problematic discourses and actions of their founders. A recent congressional hearing on the lack of diversity in the Department of the Interior also acknowledged the significance of this work as well as other institutional diversity research.

Taylor’s 2014 book, Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility (New York University Press), examines the racial and socio-economic dimensions of exposure to environmental hazards in the U.S. She is also the author of The Environment and the People in American Cities: 1600s-1900s. Disorder, Inequality, and Social Change (Duke University Press). The book examines the history of environmental inequality and urban environmental activism.  It received the Allan Schnaiberg Outstanding Publication Award given by the Environment and Technology Section of the American Sociological Association in 2010.

Dr. Taylor was honored by the Smithsonian Institution in 2019.  She is the recipient of several awards including the National Audubon Society Women in Conservation Award, the National Science Foundation Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring, the Burton V. Barnes Award for Academic Excellence from the Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Charles Horton Cooley Award for Distinguished Scholarship from the Michigan Sociological Association, and the Frederick B. Buttel Distinguished Contribution Award from the Environment and Technology Section of the American Sociological Association.

Catherine Coleman Flowers

As the founding director of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice(formerly the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise), Flowers builds partnerships–from close neighbors, to local elected officials and regional nonprofits, to federal lawmakers and global organizations–in order to identify and implement solutions to the intersecting challenges of water and sanitation infrastructure, public health and economic development.

Flowers grew up in Lowndes County, Alabama, an area plagued by poverty and failing infrastructure, which often results in raw sewage in yards and waterways and contaminated drinking water for residents. With a deep understanding of the historical, political, economic and physical constraints that impede the implementation of better infrastructure in the region, she has engaged collaborators across a broad range of disciplinary expertise to document how lack of access to sufficient and sustained waste treatment and clean water can trap rural, predominantly African American populations in a vicious cycle of poverty and disease.

In 2011, Flowers worked with the UN Special Rapporteur to uncover the startling level of poverty in Lowndes County and the southern United States more broadly. With the Columbia University Law School Human Rights Clinic and Institute for the Study of Human Rights, she published “Flushed and Forgotten: Sanitation and Wastewater in Rural Communities in the United States”(2019), an examination of inequalities in access to sanitation and clean water within a framework of human rights. The report exposes the extent of water contamination and sanitation problems in poor, rural communities across the country, largely due to neglect by local leaders.

Flowers also spearheaded a collaboration with tropical disease researchers focused on intestinal parasitic infections spread by way of insufficient water treatment and waste sanitation. The researchers found that hookworm–long thought to have been eliminated from the South–is in fact prevalent among the residents of Lowndes County, prompting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control to undertake a similar, larger study across the rural American South. Flowers’s testimony to the U.S. Congress led to the introduction of legislation in 2019 to address neglected diseases of poverty in the United States.

April Baptiste

April Karen Baptiste is a professor of Environmental Studies and Africana and Latin American Studies at Colgate University. Her research interests includes environmental psychology, environmental justice, and natural resource management, with a focus on the Caribbean region and central NY. She has published in a number of leading environmental, Caribbean, and interdisciplinary journals, including Caribbean Geography, Geoforum, Area, The Black Scholar, Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, and the Annual Review of Environment and Resources to name a few. Prof. Baptiste’s new research is expanding to look at environmental worldviews in the insular Caribbean with a lens to understand what are the elements of Caribbean environmental worldview and the role of decoloniality in these worldviews. Dr. Baptiste is co-author of Revitalizing Urban Waterways: Streams of Environmental Justice (2018).

Check out this lecture – Climate Justice and the Caribbean – given by Dr. Baptiste.

Beverly Wright

Dr. Beverly Wright is founder and executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, the first-ever environmental justice center in the United States. As a resident of New Orleans, Louisiana, Dr. Wright has experienced environmental injustices firsthand, witnessing the deadly toxic pollution caused by “Cancer Alley” an 85-mile stretch between Baton Rouge and New Orleans along both banks of the Mississippi River that has been overtaken by more than 150 seriously polluting industrial developments—particularly those producing petrochemicals and plastics. She has guided the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice in addressing environmental injustices across this region and in coastal Louisiana, empowering communities and workers. She has also worked to develop important resources for communities, including the first-ever environmental justice map linking race and pollution later used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in building criteria for environmental justice communities. Dr. Wright has authored several important books on environmental injustice, including Race, Place & the Environment After Hurricane Katrina, and The Wrong Complexion for Protection: How The Government Response Endangers African-American Communities. She serves on many boards and committees, including the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council; and has won numerous awards for her important work.

Peggy Shepard

Peggy Shepard is executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, New York City’s first environmental justice organization, which she co-founded in 1988 with two other advocates—Vernice Miller-Travis and Chuck Sutton—who realized that their West Harlem neighborhood was a target for toxic pollution. Shepard’s personal experiences with grassroots organizing and environmental advocacy has engaged many people in underserved communities in environmental-health participatory research, advancing more just environmental policies on local, state, and federal levels—especially in urban neighborhoods like her own. Shepard is co-chair of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council as well as chair of the New York City Environmental Justice Advisory Board; serves on the Executive Committee of the National Black Environmental Justice Network and the Board of Advisors of the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health; and has won numerous awards recognizing her groundbreaking work, in addition to two honorary doctorate degrees.