GEOG 430
Human Use of the Environment

Introduction

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The first seven weeks of the course have given us an overview of schools of thought on Nature, what it is, and how we should use it. Now that we've thought critically about how we understand the environment, we will use these broad ideas to ask deeper, more specific questions about inequality: Who gets to make decisions about human use of the environment? Who benefits from these decisions? Who bears the negative impacts?

Assignments Due During Week 8:

  • Take the Quiz Week 8 by Tuesday at 11:59 pm Eastern Time.
  • Submit Week 8 Questions and Reactions by Tuesday at 11:59 pm Eastern Time.
  • Respond to at least 2 of your classmates' Q&R posts by Thursday at 11:59 pm Eastern Time.
  • Start working on Current Event Essay #3 (it's due on Thursday in Week 9).

Materials for Week 8

Remember:

You are expected to include the full citations for these materials in your assignments, as detailed in our Quick Guide. You should look up the missing information not provided with the materials, which, if it is not to be found in the document or opening film credits, can easily be located through a quick online search.

  • TED Talk: Marjora Carter. (2008). "Greening the Ghetto"
  • Michele Morrone and Geoffrey Buckley. (2011). Introduction: Environmental Justice and Appalachia. Mountains of Injustice.
  • Laura Pulido. (2000). Rethinking Environmental Racism: White Privilege and Urban Development in Southern California. Annals of the Association of American Geographers.

Note:

It is important to pay close attention to how each author/speaker is defining racism, as this is an important concept in environmental justice, and their definitions may be very different from popular uses of the term that you are more familiar with. All three of the authors are analyzing racial and class inequality at a structural level, instead of at the level of individual people. This means that they are NOT focused on the kind of racism that manifests as one individual hating and intentionally discriminating against another person because of her race. So, read carefully: how do these authors define environmental racism?

Bit of Background on the Environmental Justice Movement in the United States

Struggles over unequal exposure to environmental hazards have been taking place for a very long time in societies all around the world, but the origins of environmental injustice as a concept can be traced back to 1982, when the State of North Carolina needed to clean up highly toxic waste (Polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCB, which is so dangerous to the environment and human health that the US banned it in 1979) that a company had been illegally dumping along highways across the state. After sending the perpetrators to jail, North Carolina decided to clean the highways and to relocate the toxic PCB-laden soil to a landfill, which they sited in the African American community of Afton, Warren County. The landfill was not a safe way to contain PCBs, and it represented a severe threat to the health of this community. However, African Americans have historically had very little political power in North Carolina, and it took over twenty years of lawsuits, protests, and public appeals for the state to take responsibility. In 2003, state and federal agencies detoxified the 81,500 tons of PCB-laden soil by burning it in a kiln that reached over 800 degrees. The residents' struggle in Warren County remains a powerful symbol for the environmental justice movement.

In response to this experience, and others around the country, the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice commissioned a study of the geography of hazardous waste sites, landfills, incinerators, and other polluting industries around the country. This study, published in 1987, found that race is the primary determining factor in the location of these hazards and that economic class is also highly significant. Polluting industries and waste disposal sites are placed in communities of African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, farm workers and the working poor, because these communities are perceived as politically weak and less able to resist these unwanted impositions.

If you are unfamiliar with the Environmental Justice Movement in the United States, you can find a summary of key historical moments, as well as detailed data and analysis on race and class as deciding factors in exposure to environmental hazards, in the report "Toxic Waste and Race at Twenty, 1987-2007" prepared by the Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ, a leader in the environmental justice movement.

You can also read a very short piece containing the "Principles of Environmental Justice" drafted and adopted by the delegates to the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit held on October 24-27, 1991, in Washington DC. These principles continue to serve as a guiding framework for the growing grassroots environmental justice to this day.

These documents are not mandatory, and you will not be tested on them, but they may be helpful to you and are rich resources on a very important issue!

The Environmental Justice movement in the United States has become a powerful force influencing human use of the environment in recent decades, and it resonates with struggles over natural resource rights and waste disposal around the world. The readings for this week will introduce you to the central concepts of environmental justice and demonstrate the implications of environmental justice for people and environments at a local and global scale.

Key Definitions

  • Environmental Justice: the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.
  • Environmental Injustice: unequal protection from environmental and health hazards and unequal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.
  • As you'll notice in the assigned material, the environment in environmental justice is defined as the surroundings in which people live, work, and play, as well as the natural world.

Week 8 Objectives:

At the end of this week, you should be able to:

  • discuss the problems that an environmental justice framework helps to identify, and the solutions that it proposes;
  • give examples of environmental inequality and discuss the intersecting forms of inequality (race, class, etc.);
  • give examples of some historical causes of persistent spatial patterns of environmental inequality;
  • discuss the meaning of structural environmental racism and explain why this is different from an individual's racial prejudice;
  • explain, compare, and contrast various proposals for action toward environmental justice.

Let's dive in!