Environmental Justice
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Environmental Justice

Key Issues

Brendan Coolsaet, Brendan Coolsaet

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eBook - ePub

Environmental Justice

Key Issues

Brendan Coolsaet, Brendan Coolsaet

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About This Book

Environmental Justice: Key Issues is the first textbook to offer a comprehensive and accessible overview of environmental justice, one of the most dynamic fields in environmental politics scholarship.

The rapidly growing body of research in this area has brought about a proliferation of approaches; as such, the breadth and depth of the field can sometimes be a barrier for aspiring environmental justice students and scholars. This book therefore is unique for its accessible style and innovative approach to exploring environmental justice. Written by leading international experts from a variety of professional, geographic, ethnic, and disciplinary backgrounds, its chapters combine authoritative commentary with real-life cases. Organised into four parts—approaches, issues, actors and future directions—the chapters help the reader to understand the foundations of the field, including the principal concepts, debates, and historical milestones. This volume also features sections with learning outcomes, follow-up questions, references for further reading and vivid photographs to make it a useful teaching and learning tool.

Environmental Justice: Key Issues is the ideal toolkit for junior researchers, graduate students, upper-level undergraduates, and anyone in need of a comprehensive introductory textbook on environmental justice.

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1 Introduction

Brendan Coolsaet
As this book goes to press, we are leaving a decade in which the environment has (finally) become one of the main issues of global concern. From extreme bushfires in Australia to massive flooding in Indonesia, the turn of the decade coincided with a series of dramatic events, painfully reminding us of the urgency of environmental action.
While current greenhouse gas emission levels leave little room for optimism, the United States (US) and the European Union (EU), the two main historical contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, nevertheless experienced a major shift in public opinion over the last decade. In the US, 53% of the population now considers climate change to be “an urgent problem” warranting immediate action (ABC News/Stanford/University Resources for the Future, 2018). In the EU, 60% thinks climate change is one of the most serious problems facing the world, ahead of international terrorism (54%) or the economic situation (40%) (European Commission, 2019).
The most visible expression of this heightened awareness in recent years has undoubtedly been the Fridays for Future movement. The youth-led movement, led by Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, has inspired school students across the world to take part in so-called “school strikes” for the climate, in which an estimated 9.6 million strikers in 261 countries have participated in the last two years. Some of the readers of this book have likely been a part of this.
Beyond the sheer magnitude, and the fact that it was led by young school students, a striking feature of the movement was the language it was using. Climate justice, a theretofore little-used term in public debates on the environment, became the rallying cry for millions of likeminded kids. In a letter published by the British newspaper The Guardian in March 2019, the coordination group of Fridays for Future demanded “justice for all past, current and future victims of the climate crisis” and promised to “rise until [seeing] climate justice” (The Guardian, 2019). In August 2019, the movement laid out its official demands in the Lausanne Climate Declaration (2019, p. 3), including a call to “ensure climate justice and equity”. While undoubtedly implicit in their demands, the group did not call for agenda items like “stopping dangerous climate change” or “halting biodiversity loss” but, instead, chose to focus on the idea of justice.
Although the injustices at hand were never clearly identified or expressed, the movement’s word choice did provide visibility to the idea that social difference and environment intertwine. Wittingly or not, claims like the ones made by the Fridays for Future movement are drawing on the long-standing struggles of the numerous environmental justice movements around the world. The purpose of this book it to help the reader make sense of such justice-related claims in the context of the environment. It helps to understand their emergence and their political implications but also to spot the limits of certain types of discourses, including the one used in the previous example.
The book sets out to offer an introductory overview of the field of environmental justice, understood either as a political discourse, a grassroots movement, or a field of study. Written in an accessible style, it incorporates numerous features and elements to make it a useful teaching and learning tool. The chapters of the book include:
  • learning outcomes introducing the main topics and allowing for a focused and structured reading of the chapters;
  • themed boxes illustrating the main text with case studies and historical events, summarizing important concepts or diving deeper into critical issues related to the chapter;
  • bolded key terms throughout the text help identify and learn new terms;
  • cross-chapter references help the reader draw connections between different approaches, subjects, actors, and issues of environmental justice; and
  • end-of-chapter material, including follow-up questions, references for further reading and chapter bibliographies, assists the reader to reflect and engage further with specific issues and find more detailed coverage on the subject of the chapter.
The book also contains a series of vivid photographs to illustrate the realities of some of the numerous ongoing environmental justice struggles across the world.

Structure of the book

The book starts with a broad historical overview of environmental justice by Esme G. Murdock. Going back to the origins of the usage of the term as it emerged in the United States in the 1980s, Murdock in Chapter 2 tells the story of a movement concerned with the disproportionate burdening of communities of colour and low-income populations with environmental ills. This history is grounded in the lived experiences and realities of the communities experiencing multiple forms of domination and oppression and, as such, examines various forms of resistance enacted by communities to realize environmental justice. In light of this narrative, and by way of introduction to the broad diversity of approaches in this volume, Murdock asks what environmental justice for all truly means in today’s world.
The rest of the volume is structured into four parts, each with its own environmental justice theme on approaches; issues; actors and subjects; and future directions.
As this book does not aim to provide readers with a single, straightforward definition of environmental justice, Part I explores some of the most common theories and concepts used by scholars to define the “justice” of environmental justice. The first half of Part I focuses on what have arguably become the four dominant theories of environmental justice: distribution (Chapter 3), participation and procedure (Chapter 4), recognition (Chapter 5), and capabilities (Chapter 6).
Alice Kaswan starts by introducing us to the core distributive justice concepts (utilitarianism, equality, and well-being). Distributive justice theory helps us understand how the distribution of environmental goods and environmental ills follows predictable patterns of domination and oppression in our societies. One of the mechanisms identified for achieving distributive justice is a procedural one, which is the subject covered in Chapter 4 by Kimberly R. Marion Suiseeya. Drawing on key concepts such as power, representation, deliberation, and democracy, Suiseeya reminds us that meaningful involvement in decision-making bodies has long been essential to the environmental justice movement. But participation does not necessarily equate to procedural justice, which requires consideration of how power and influence work in environmental governance.
One way in which power is exerted is by recognizing the concerns of others, or by failing to do so. The next chapter, by Pierre-Yves Néron and myself, looks at how dynamics of recognition play out in the context of the environment. Working through key theories and approaches of recognition, we show how people express their differences through a multitude of relations to the world around them, and how this influences environmental action and relates to environmental injustices. In the following chapter, Breena Holland then introduces us to the capabilities approach, and how it helps us to conceptualize environmental justice concerns as broader questions about human well-being.
The second half of Part I explores three less well-established approaches to studying and enriching environmental justice. In Chapter 7, Iokiñe Rodriguez offers insight into a perspective emerging from the Global South: the decolonial environmental justice approach. While scholars have increasingly acknowledged the plurality of environmental justice, Rodriguez highlights that Indigenous peoples’ movements in the Global South have long organized their struggles on the basis of non-Western conceptions of justice, nature, culture, and identity, which require understanding the persistence of colonial values (coloniality) and modernity as a cause of current injustices.
In the subsequent Chapter 8, Julien-François Gerber, Bengi Akbulut, Federico Demaria, and Joan Martínez-Alier identify parallels between environmental justice and degrowth movements. Drawing on the rich intellectual tradition of degrowth thought, the authors contend that injustice and growth form two sides of the same coin, and that attention to both dimensions is necessary for environmental justice to be achieved. In Chapter 9, Julie Sze discusses the dominant concept of sustainability and explores its relation to environmental justice. While both concepts have developed contemporaneously, they diverge ideologically. Drawing on environmental justice and interdisciplinarity, Sze’s “situated sustainability” offers a justice-oriented and historically informed way of thinking about sustainability.
The second part of the book looks at different issues that have been the focus of environmental justice struggles. First-generation environmental justice studies were concerned primarily with injustices created by the unequal distribution of landfills and waste dumps. In the first chapter of Part II, Alice Mah reflects on the legacies of these toxic disasters and on the role of the anti-toxic movements within the broader environmental justice movement.
Subsequent environmental justice work has expanded the focus, using the environmental justice framework to explore a multitude of other environmental issues and leading to new concepts such as climate justice, energy justice, food justice, and water justice. As such, in Chapter 11 Adrian Martin focuses on biodiversity and nature conservation as a matter for justice. He shows how marginalized groups suffer, not only from the loss of biodiversity but often also from the way in which society chooses to respond to this loss. As existing conservation efforts cannot simply be abandoned, Martin suggests directions for a more just conservation.
Gareth A.S. Edwards follows in Chapter 12 with a discussion of the increasingly popular concept of climate justice. Comparing the ethical principles used by scholars to the political claims of the “climate justice movement”, he explains why climate change should primarily be understood as a fundamental justice dilemma. Climate justice connects in important ways with energy justice, discussed by Rosie Day in Chapter 13. Day explores how justice problems arise in relation to both our production and consumption of energy, not only with regard to fossil fuels but also in relation to new developments in clean energy.
Next, Kristin Reynolds explores in Chapter 14 the intersection of food, agriculture, and environmental justice. She shows how the inherent injustices in our food system long pre-date the emergence of the environmental justice movement. Addressing the justice implications of food production and consumption compels us to consider the links between rural and urban areas which are often left unexplored in the wider environmental justice literature.
Urban areas are the focus of Chapter 15 by Jason Byrne. Byrne examines some of the environmental injustices that stem from the process of urbanization, including issues of waste management and green space accessibility, for example, in a context where more than half the world’s population now lives in cities. Finally, in the last chapter of Part II, Rutgerd Boelens analyzes in Chapter 16 the consequences of the decreasing availability and the unequal distribution of water from a justice perspective. More than other resources perhaps, water has been at the heart of major environmental justice struggles in recent years.
Part III deals with some of the key actors and subjects of environmental justice. “Subjects of justice” refers to the stakeholders or users who are entitled to moral consideration, ought to be allowed a role in decision-making, or at least deserve recognition. This section was deliberately kept separate from the first two for reasons of clarity and readability, but its chapters also include important concepts, approaches, and issues which do not necessarily feature in Parts I and II. This illustrates what Robert D. Bullard notes in his foreword to this volume: that the environmental justice framework has grown out of a grassroots movement, and we, as (future) environmental justice scholars, should acknowledge this influence more.
The first chapter of Part III by Lisa Sun-Hee Park and Stevie Ruiz, Chapter 17, is devoted to racial minorities in the United States, the main historical actors of the environmental justice movement. Building on the concept of nativist environmentalism, the chapter introduces us to the ways in which race and racism have continuously shaped environmental inequality over time.
Women have been equally important actors in the environmental justice movement, and, yet, their role has long been ignored in the academic field of environmental justice, as Sherilyn MacGregor notes in Chapter 18. Writing from an ecofeminist perspective, MacGregor reminds us that women represent some of the most severely affected members of our communities and illustrates how this shapes environmental justice struggles.
In Chapter 19, Dimitris Stevis also focuses on actors who are often absent from the environmental justice narrative. He explores the idea of just transition, which he presents as the contribution of workers and labour unions to the practice and study of environmental justice. Just transition, Stevis argues, can help us challenge the dominant “jobs vs environment” discourse.
Next, Kyle White builds on his personal history as a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation in Chapter 20 to introduce us to a North American Indigenous perspective of environmental justice...

Table of contents