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Your zip code matters (Thinkstock)

The environmental issues that we deal with aren’t always discussed as we have conversations about justice, but this Earth Day, we need to pay attention to how our zip code impacts our overall health and quality of life.

A few weeks ago, I joked on Instagram that it was time for people to get right with God.  While the concept itself is not necessarily a joke, the reference being made was to the fact that on that particular Sunday it was 62 degrees in Washington, D.C. and the next day they were predicting snow.  It’s been a common occurrence, especially this past winter, with wild weather and related occurrences happening throughout the world. The culprit is climate change, but it doesn’t affect everyone equally.

We know that place matters.  Where you live, what your zip code is affects many things that you deal with from education, healthcare, transportation, access to social services and many other issues.  But what isn’t always discussed is how your zip code impacts your health and quality of life because of environmental factors like waste disposal, energy production facility placement, locations of highways and transportation hubs and more.

My zip code growing up was 08105 – East Camden, N.J.  The impacts of the environment there included lead paint, excessive dust and allergens and pesticides, among others.  My sister had asthma and I developed it by age 12.  My dad and I both had allergies that were incessantly aggravated but when we moved out of Camden, they lessened considerably.  When I lived in New York, my zip code was 10030 – Harlem.  There, I interacted with several bus depots, and the smog created by them would fill the air.

It’s issues like these that we need to not only pay more attention to, but demand justice for.  Environment justice isn’t exactly a new idea, but it’s one that people don’t always understand when they are demanding justice within their communities.  It affects overall quality of life and is intertwined with so many other issues that we have to focus on it more.  If a child develops severe asthma that causes her to miss multiple days of school, overall, that impacts her education.  Her family, which is likely already struggling, now has added medical bills and her mother has to work extra hours in order to buy her medicine.  The impacts of the mother being away from the home are felt by the family in many ways that we can all imagine.

Earth Day is April 22.  On this day, let’s not think of what we imagine environmental activists to be, let’s lift up the mantle of environmental justice and demand better from our government.  The president has already created a climate action plan.  It’s our turn to take that plan and make sure it’s implemented by state and local elected officials in communities across the country.  We already know place matters, now it’s time to show that it matters to us.

RELATED STORY: Being My Brother’s Keeper

Janaye Ingram is the Acting National Executive Director of the National Action Network.

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