Start Geo Dictionary | Overview | Topics | Groups | Categories | Bookmark this page.
geology dictionary - geography encyclopedia  
Full text search :        
   A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   U   V   W   X   Y   Z   #   



environmental justice

  A socio-political movement that seeks to articulate environmental issues from a social justice perspective. Such justice concerns include the well-being and rights of future and past generations, equity considerations based on race, gender, class and nation, and, to a lesser extent, our rights and obligations towards non-human forms of nature. The movement for environmental justice developed in response to the limitations of mainstream environmentalism, in particular its role in reproducing structures of inequality, and is thus considered an oppositional, or counter-hegemonic form of environmentalism. (See also ecofeminism; environmental movement; environmentalism; hegemony.) The movement for environmental justice was born in the 1980s as marginalized communities across the globe confronted various environmental problems and realized that dominant forms of environmentalism were not only unable to address their social and environmental struggles effectively, but also that their solutions and policies often worked to the detriment of such populations in an exclusionary manner. In effect, the environmental justice movement is an attempt to broaden the definition and scope of environmentalism to include the basic needs of poor and politically less powerful groups. Consequently, it locates environmental problems on an explicitly moral terrain, in an effort to resist the economic rationality of mainstream environmentalism, capital and the state (cf. moral geographies). Although the movement is quite heterogeneous, it seeks to build an inclusive movement based on anti-racist, anti-corporate, anti-imperialist and feminist politics.

As a movement, environmental justice gained momentum and coherence during the 1980s, inspired by several distinct but converging political currents. One major impetus was the rise of the anti-toxics movement, which initially began in more industrialized countries, but has since spread throughout the world. The anti-toxic movement consists of communities threatened by various forms of pollution who have united upon realizing that neither the state nor mainstream environmentalism was prepared to address their problem. Activists named their struggle as the movement for environmental justice, as they sought justice against the forces that undermined the well-being of their communities. A second development was the proliferation of ecological/peasant/ livelihood struggles in less industrialized countries, including both pollution and resource-based conflicts (Escobar, 1992). A third influence was the growing trend in social theory to challenge and unpack hegemonic concepts and institutions, including environmentalism. This has provided a useful framework in which to uncover a whole series of unacknowledged problems with mainstream environmentalism. In turn, environmental justice activists have defined themselves in opposition to the following criticisms: a reliance on \'expert\' scientists; a willingness to accept the dominant model of environmental management versus pollution reduction; a tendency to speak on behalf of others; plus the whiteness of the environmental movement, its \'insider\' status, and its narrow conception of the environment and environmental concerns.

Some of these critiques are similar to those voiced by ecofeminists, another counter-hegemonic form of environmentalism. But while both challenge the ideology and practice of mainstream environmentalism, ecofeminism\'s critique is based largely on gender, whereas environmental justice is centred on community. In many ways, the difference parallels that between \'First\' and \'Third\' world feminisms (see feminist geographies; gender and geography; Third World). In short, at times the two converge, and at others they do not.

While the term \'environmental justice\' clearly evokes a broad political position, the concept is frequently associated with a somewhat more narrow set of political and scholarly concerns: the inequitable distribution of environmental quality among various human groups. Scholars and activists alike have not only called attention to the fact that native peoples, people of colour, women and children, and the poor are most vulnerable to environmental hazards, but also that they are excluded from institutional decision-making. Moreover, while such groups may bear the least responsibility for environmental degradation, they often bear the brunt of its consequences. These insights have been applied to cases as diverse as deforestation in India (Shiva, 1989), pesticide use in Latin America (Perfecto, 1992), the export of hazardous waste to poor countries throughout the world, and the disproportionate exposure of people of colour in the \'First world\', including indigenous nations, to various forms of pollution (Bullard, 1993). As a result, activists from across the world have identified the commonality of their struggles, have mobilized, and seek to create a global movement for environmental justice, that is, an environmental movement rooted in the everyday concerns of the poor and marginalized of the world.

The term Environmental Racism covers a subset of environmental justice and refers to the environmental struggles of people of colour primarily in the US, but increasingly in other places as well. Environmental racism was coined by Ben Chavis and developed in conjunction with the United Church of Christ\'s seminal study documenting that people of colour in the US (African-Americans, American-Indians, Asian-Americans, and Chicanos/Latinos) were disproportionately exposed to various forms of pollution. Their Toxic waste and race in the United States (UCC, 1987) was a critical development in that it not only inspired a great deal of research on the part of scholars who sought to investigate claims of environmental racism (Bowen et al., 1995), but it also offered activists a new way of framing their struggle.

Environmental Equity is often used as a synonym for environmental racism. Besides being a less overtly politicized term, it refers to both racial and income inequality in the distribution of pollution. Despite the fact that many activists organize around a racial definition of the problem, almost all research on environmental racism also examines income data, in order to assess whether race or class is a more powerful indicator in the distribution of pollution. While this is the primary thrust of environmental justice research, scholars have also examined these issues from a variety of other perspectives, including questions of justice and equity (Lake, 1996), the legal arena (Been, 1993), urban development (Pulido, Sidawi and Vos, 1996), and in terms of pollution reduction and class politics (Heiman, 1990). Because of the close relationship between research, policy, and grassroots struggles, environmental justice has become an important site for activism and thus presents an opportunity for geographers to make a difference beyond the academy. (See also NIMBY.) (LP)

References Been, V. 1993: What\'s fairness got to do with it? Environmental justice and the siting of locally undesirable land uses. Cornell Law Review 78: 1001-85. Bowen, W., Salling, M., Haynes, K. and Cyran, E. 1995: Toward Environmental Justice: Spatial Equity in Ohio and Cleveland. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 85: 641-63. Bullard, R., ed., 1993: Confronting environmental racism: voices from the grassroots. Boston: South End Press. Escobar, A. 1992: Imagining a post-development era? Critical thought, development, and social movements. Social Text 10: 20-56. Heiman, M. 1990: From \'Not in my Backyard!\' to \'Not in Anybody\'s Backyard!\': grassroots challenge to hazardous waste facility siting. Journal of the American Planning Association 56: 359-62. Lake, R. 1996: Volunteers, NIMBYs, and environmental justice: dilemmas of democratic practice. Antipode 28: 160-74. Perfecto, I. 1992: Pesticide exposure of farm workers and the international connection. In B. Bryant and P. Mohai, eds, Race and the incidence of environmental hazards. Boulder: Westview Press, 177-203. Pulido, L., Sidawi, S. and Vos, R. 1996: An archaeology of environmental racism in Los Angeles. Urban Geography 17: 419-39. Shiva, V. 1989: Staying alive: women, ecology and development. London: Zed Books; United Church of Christ, Commission on Racial Justice 1987: Toxic waste and race in the United States. New York: United Church of Christ.

Suggested Readings Bullard, R. 1991: Dumping in Dixie: race, class, and environmental quality. Boulder: Westview Press. Cutter, S. 1995: Race, class, and environmental justice. Progress in Human Geography 19: 107-18.



Bookmark this page:



<< former term
next term >>
environmental impact assessment
environmental movement


Other Terms : variable revenue analysis | public services, geography of | gentrification
Home |  Add new article  |  Your List |  Tools |  Become an Editor |  Tell a Friend |  Links |  Awards |  Testimonials |  Press |  News |  About
Copyright ©2009 GeoDZ. All rights reserved.  Terms of Use  |  Privacy Policy  |  Contact Us