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Environmental Justice

The environmental justice movement seeks equitable access to unspoiled natural resources for all communities and to address past wrongs of environmental racism and other forms of discriminatory environmental degradation. This guide provides resources to learn more about the environmental justice movement and environmental racism.

An Introduction to Environmental Justice

Here are a few introductory articles on environmental justice and environmental racism:

"Environmental Justice and Environmental Racism" by Thomas Clarkin in Salem Press Encyclopedia, 2021.

"Environmental Justice" by A. A. Lehtinen in International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, edited by Rob Kitchin and Nigel Thrift, vol. 3, Elsevier, 2009, pp. 535-539.

"Environmental Racism" by James Sterling Hoyte in Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History, edited by Colin A. Palmer, 2nd ed., vol. 2, Macmillan Reference USA, 2006, pp. 725-726.

"Environmental Racism" by Mark Sherry and Anna Neller in People of Color in the United States: Contemporary Issues in Education, Work, Communities, Health, and Immigration, edited by Kofi Lomotey, vol. 2: Employment, Housing, Family, and Community, Greenwood, 2016, pp. 98-104.

"Environmental Justice and Interventions to Prevent Environmental Injustice in the United States" by A. Lubitow and D Faber in Encyclopedia of Environmental Health, edited by Jerome O. Nriagu, vol. 2, Elsevier, 2011, pp. 433-440.

Reading Room

A selection of books available at Gleeson Library

Toxic Communities: Environmental Racism, Industrial Pollution, and Residential Mobility (Dorceta E. Taylor)

Uncovers the systemic problems that expose poor communities to environmental hazards From St. Louis to New Orleans, from Baltimore to Oklahoma City, there are poor and minority neighborhoods so beset by pollution that just living in them can be hazardous to your health. Due to entrenched segregation, zoning ordinances that privilege wealthier communities, or because businesses have found the 'paths of least resistance,' there are many hazardous waste and toxic facilities in these communities, leading residents to experience health and wellness problems on top of the race and class discrimination most already experience. Taking stock of the recent environmental justice scholarship, Toxic Communities examines the connections among residential segregation, zoning, and exposure to environmental hazards. Renowned environmental sociologist Dorceta Taylor focuses on the locations of hazardous facilities in low-income and minority communities and shows how they have been dumped on, contaminated and exposed. Drawing on an array of historical and contemporary case studies from across the country, Taylor explores controversies over racially-motivated decisions in zoning laws, eminent domain, government regulation (or lack thereof), and urban renewal. She provides a comprehensive overview of the debate over whether or not there is a link between environmental transgressions and discrimination, drawing a clear picture of the state of the environmental justice field today and where it is going. In doing so, she introduces new concepts and theories for understanding environmental racism that will be essential for environmental justice scholars. A fascinating landmark study, Toxic Communities greatly contributes to the study of race, the environment, and space in the contemporary United States. Published in 2014.

Indigenous Environmental Justice (Edited by Karen Jarratt-Snider and Marianne O. Nielsen)

This volume clearly distinguishes Indigenous environmental justice (IEJ) from the broader idea of environmental justice (EJ) while offering detailed examples from recent history of environmental injustices that have occurred in Indian Country. With connections to traditional homelands being at the heart of Native identity, environmental justice is of heightened importance to Indigenous communities. Not only do irresponsible and exploitative environmental policies harm the physical and financial health of Indigenous communities, they also cause spiritual harm by destroying land held in a place of exceptional reverence for Indigenous peoples. With focused essays on important topics such as the uranium mining on Navajo and Hopi lands, the Dakota Access Pipeline dispute on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, environmental cleanup efforts in Alaska, and many other pertinent examples, this volume offers a timely view of the environmental devastation that occurs in Indian Country. It also serves to emphasize the importance of self-determination and sovereignty in victories of Indigenous environmental justice. The book explores the ongoing effects of colonization and emphasizes Native American tribes as governments rather than ethnic minorities. Combining elements of legal issues, human rights issues, and sovereignty issues, Indigenous Environmental Justice creates a clear example of community resilience in the face of corporate greed and state indifference. Published in 2020.  

Refusing Death: Immigrant Women and the Fight for Environmental Justice in LA (Nadia Y. Kim)

The industrial-port belt of Los Angeles is home to eleven of the top twenty oil refineries in California, the largest ports in the country, and those "racist monuments" we call freeways. In this uncelebrated corner of "La La Land" through which most of America's goods transit, pollution is literally killing the residents. In response, a grassroots movement for environmental justice has grown, predominated by Asian and undocumented Latin@ immigrant women who are transforming our political landscape--yet we know very little about these change makers. In Refusing Death, Nadia Y. Kim tells their stories, finding that the women are influential because of their ability to remap politics, community, and citizenship in the face of the country's nativist racism and system of class injustice, defined not just by disproportionate environmental pollution but also by neglected schools, surveillance and deportation, and political marginalization. The women are highly conscious of how these harms are an assault on their bodies and emotions, and of their resulting reliance on a state they prefer to avoid and ignore. In spite of such challenges and contradictions, however, they have developed creative, unconventional, and loving ways to support and protect one another. They challenge the state's betrayal, demand respect, and, ultimately, refuse death. Published in 2021.

Lessons in Environmental Justice: From Civil Rights to Black Lives Matter and Idle No More (Edited by Michael Mascarenhas)

Lessons in Environmental Justice provides an entry point to the field by bringing together the works of individuals who are creating a new and vibrant wave of environmental justice scholarship. methodology, and activism. The 18 essays in this collection explore a wide range of controversies and debates, from the U.S. and other societies. Published in 2021.  

Packing Them In: An Archaeology of Environmental Racism in Chicago, 1865-1954 / (Sylvia Hood Washington)

This important new book by Sylvia Washington adds a vital new dimension to our understanding of environmental history in the United States. Washington excavates and tells the stories of Chicago's poor, working class, and ethnic minority neighborhoods such as Back of the Yards and Bronzeville that suffered disproportionately negative environmental impacts and consequent pollution related health problems. She provides a new frame for interpreting the social, political, and administrative initiatives of the early 20th century that influenced public health and urban revitalization movements in some of Chicago's most disenfranchised communities. This pioneering work will be essential reading not only for historians, but for urban planners, sociologists, citizen action groups and anyone interested in understanding the precursors to the contemporary environmental justice movement." Published in 2017.

Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States (Carl A. Zimring)

Clean and White offers a history of environmental racism in the United States focusing on constructions of race and hygiene When Joe Biden attempted to compliment Barack Obama by calling him "clean and articulate," he unwittingly tapped into one of the most destructive racial stereotypes in American history. This book tells the history of the corrosive idea that whites are clean and those who are not white are dirty. From the age of Thomas Jefferson to the Memphis Public Workers strike of 1968 through the present day, ideas about race and waste have shaped where people have lived, where people have worked, and how American society's wastes have been managed. In the wake of the civil war, as the nation encountered emancipation, mass immigration, and the growth of an urbanized society, Americans began to conflate the ideas of race and waste. Certain immigrant groups took on waste management labor, such as Jews and scrap metal recycling, fostering connections between the socially marginalized and refuse. Ethnic "purity" was tied to pure cleanliness, and hygiene became a central aspect of white identity. Carl A. Zimring here draws on historical evidence from statesmen, scholars, sanitarians, novelists, activists, advertisements, and the United States Census of Population to reveal changing constructions of environmental racism. The material consequences of these attitudes endured and expanded through the twentieth century, shaping waste management systems and environmental inequalities that endure into the twenty-first century. Today, the bigoted idea that non-whites are "dirty" remains deeply ingrained in the national psyche, continuing to shape social and environmental inequalities in the age of Obama. Published in 2015.

Wastelanding: Legacies of Uranium Mining in Navajo Country ( Traci Brynne Voyles)

"Wastelanding "tells the history of the uranium industry on Navajo land in the U.S. Southwest, asking why certain landscapes and the peoples who inhabit them come to be targeted for disproportionate exposure to environmental harm. Uranium mines and mills on the Navajo Nation land have long supplied U.S. nuclear weapons and energy programs. By 1942, mines on the reservation were the main source of uranium for the top-secret Manhattan Project. Today, the Navajo Nation is home to more than a thousand abandoned uranium sites. Radiation-related diseases are endemic, claiming the health and lives of former miners and nonminers alike. Traci Brynne Voyles argues that the presence of uranium mining on Dine (Navajo) land constitutes a clear case of environmental racism. Looking at discursive constructions of landscapes, she explores how environmental racism develops over time. For Voyles, the wasteland, where toxic materials are excavated, exploited, and dumped, is both a racial and a spatial signifier that renders an environment and the bodies that inhabit it pollutable. Because environmental inequality is inherent in the way industrialism operates, the wasteland is the other through which modern industrialism is established. In examining the history of wastelanding in Navajo country, Voyles provides an environmental justice history of uranium mining, revealing how just as civilization has been defined on and through savagery, environmental privilege is produced by portraying other landscapes as marginal, worthless, and pollutable." Published in 2015.

Toxic Debt: An Environmental Justice History of Detroit (Josiah Rector)

From the mid-nineteenth until the mid-twentieth century, environmentally unregulated industrial capitalism produced outsized environmental risks for poor and working-class Detroiters, made all the worse for African Americans by housing and job discrimination. Then as the auto industry abandoned Detroit, the banking and real estate industries turned those risks into disasters with predatory loans to African American homebuyers, and to an increasingly indebted city government. Following years of cuts in welfare assistance to poor families and a devastating subprime mortgage meltdown, the state of Michigan used municipal debt to justify suspending democracy in majority-Black cities. In Detroit and Flint, austerity policies imposed under emergency financial management deprived hundreds of thousands of people of clean water, with lethal consequences that most recently exacerbated the spread of COVID-19. Toxic Debt is not only a book about racism, capitalism, and the making of these environmental disasters. It is also a history of Detroit's environmental justice movement, which emerged from over a century of battles over public health in the city and involved radical auto workers, ecofeminists, and working-class women fighting for clean water. Linking the histories of urban political economy, the environment, and social movements, Toxic Debt lucidly narrates the story of debt, environmental disaster, and resistance in Detroit. Published in 2022.

Polluted Promises: Environmental Racism and the Search for Justice in a Southern Town (Melissa Checker)

Association for Humanist Sociology 2007 Book Award co-winner and Julian Steward Award 2006 Runner-Up. One community's fight against industrial contamination and environmental racism Over the past two decades, environmental racism has become the rallying cry for many communities as they discover the contaminations of toxic chemicals and industrial waste in their own backyards. Living next door to factories and industrial sites for years, the people in these communities often have record health problems and debilitating medical conditions. Melissa Checker tells the story of one such neighborhood, Hyde Park, in Augusta, Georgia, and the tenacious activism of its two hundred African American families. This community, at one time surrounded by nine polluting industries, is struggling to make their voices heard and their community safe again. Polluted Promises shows that even in the post-civil rights era, race and class are still key factors in determining the politics of pollution. Published in 2005.

The Routledge Handbook of Environmental Justice (edited by Ryan Holifield, Jayajit Chakraborty and Gordon Walker)

The Routledge Handbook of Environmental Justice presents an extensive and cutting-edge introduction to the diverse, rapidly growing body of research on pressing issues of environmental justice and injustice. With wide-ranging discussion of current debates, controversies, and questions in the history, theory, and methods of environmental justice research, contributed by over 90 leading social scientists, natural scientists, humanists, and scholars from professional disciplines from six continents, it is an essential resource both for newcomers to this research and for experienced scholars and practitioners. The chapters of this volume examine the roots of environmental justice activism, lay out and assess key theories and approaches, and consider the many different substantive issues that have been the subject of activism, empirical research, and policy development throughout the world. The Handbook features critical reviews of quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methodological approaches and explicitly addresses interdisciplinarity, transdisciplinarity, and engaged research. Instead of adopting a narrow regional focus, it tackles substantive issues and presents perspectives from political and cultural systems across the world, as well as addressing activism for environmental justice at the global scale. Its chapters do not simply review the state of the art, but also propose new conceptual frameworks and directions for research, policy, and practice. Providing detailed but accessible overviews of the complex, varied dimensions of environmental justice and injustice, the Handbook is an essential guide and reference not only for researchers engaged with environmental justice, but also for undergraduate and graduate teaching and for policymakers and activists. Published in 2018.

Environmental Racism in the United States and Canada: Seeking Justice and Sustainability (Bruce E. Johansen)

From Flint, Michigan, to Standing Rock, North Dakota, minorities have found themselves losing the battle for clean resources and a healthy environment. This book provides a modern history of such environmental injustices in the United States and Canada. From the 19th-century extermination of the buffalo in the American West to Alaska's Project Chariot (a Cold War initiative that planned to use atomic bombs to blast out a harbor on Eskimo land) to the struggle for recovery and justice in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria in 2017, this book provides readers with an enhanced understanding of how poor and minority people are affected by natural and manmade environmental crises. Written for students as well as the general reader with an interest in social justice and environmental issues, this book traces the relationship between environmental discrimination, race, and class through a comprehensive case history of environmental injustices. Environmental Racism in the United States and Canada: Seeking Justice and Sustainability includes 50 such case studies that range from local to national to international crises. Provides comprehensive coverage and analysis of the far-reaching specter of environmental racism in the U.S. and Canada, using numerous case studies that extend across the U.S. and Canada from the 19th century into the present day Examines the confluence of climate change, natural resource conflicts, political and corporate corruption, and racism Reflects a regional arrangement to better highlight patterns and types of injustices as well as victims Is written by a prolific author and expert on environmental and Native American issues. Published in 2020.

What Is Critical Environmental Justice? (David Naguib Pellow)

Human societies have always been deeply interconnected with our ecosystems, but today those relationships are witnessing greater frictions, tensions, and harms than ever before. These harms mirror those experienced by marginalized groups across the planet. In this novel book, David Naguib Pellow introduces a new framework for critically analyzing Environmental Justice scholarship and activism. In doing so he extends the field's focus to topics not usually associated with environmental justice, including the Israel/Palestine conflict and the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States. In doing so he reveals that ecological violence is first and foremost a form of social violence, driven by and legitimated by social structures and discourses. Those already familiar with the discipline will find themselves invited to think about the subject in a new way. This book will be a vital resource for students, scholars, and policy makers interested in transformative approaches to one of the greatest challenges facing humanity and the planet. Published in 2018.

As Long As Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight For Environmental Justice From Colonization To Standing Rock (Dina Gilio-Whitaker)

The story of Native peoples' resistance to environmental injustice and land incursions, and a call for environmentalists to learn from the Indigenous community's rich history of activism. Through the unique lens of "Indigenized environmental justice," Indigenous researcher and activist Dina Gilio-Whitaker explores the fraught history of treaty violations, struggles for food and water security, and protection of sacred sites, while highlighting the important leadership of Indigenous women in this centuries-long struggle. As Long As Grass Grows gives readers an accessible history of Indigenous resistance to government and corporate incursions on their lands and offers new approaches to environmental justice activism and policy. Throughout 2016, the Standing Rock protest put a national spotlight on Indigenous activists, but it also underscored how little Americans know about the longtime historical tensions between Native peoples and the mainstream environmental movement. Ultimately, she argues, modern environmentalists must look to the history of Indigenous resistance for wisdom and inspiration in our common fight for a just and sustainable future. Published in 2019.

Environmental Justice: Concepts, Evidence and Politics (Gordon Walker)

Environmental justice has increasingly become part of the language of environmental activism, political debate, academic research and policy making around the world. It raises questions about how the environment impacts on different people's lives. Does pollution follow the poor? Are some communities far more vulnerable to the impacts of flooding or climate change than others? Are the benefits of access to green space for all, or only for some? Do powerful voices dominate environmental decisions to the exclusion of others? This book focuses on such questions and the complexities involved in answering them. It explores the diversity of ways in which environment and social difference are intertwined and how the justice of their interrelationship matters. It has a distinctive international perspective, tracing how the discourse of environmental justice has moved around the world and across scales to include global concerns, and examining research, activism and policy development in the US, the UK, South Africa and other countries. The widening scope and diversity of what has been positioned within an environmental justice 'frame' is also reflected in chapters that focus on waste, air quality, flooding, urban greenspace and climate change. In each case, the basis for evidence of inequalities in impacts, vulnerabilities and responsibilities is examined, asking questions about the knowledge that is produced, the assumptions involved and the concepts of justice that are being deployed in both academic and political contexts. Environmental Justice offers a wide ranging analysis of this rapidly evolving field, with compelling examples of the processes involved in producing inequalities and the challenges faced in advancing the interests of the disadvantaged. It provides a critical framework for understanding environmental justice in various spatial and political contexts, and will be of interest to those studying Environmental Studies, Geography, Politics and Sociology. Published in 2011.

Environmental Justice in Postwar America: a Documentary Reader (edited by Christopher W. Wells)

In the decades after World War II, the American economy entered a period of prolonged growth that created unprecedented affluence--but these developments came at the cost of a host of new environmental problems. Unsurprisingly, a disproportionate number of them, such as pollution-emitting factories, waste-handling facilities, and big infrastructure projects, ended up in communities dominated by people of color. Constrained by long-standing practices of segregation that limited their housing and employment options, people of color bore an unequal share of postwar America's environmental burdens. This reader collects a wide range of primary source documents on the rise and evolution of the environmental justice movement. The documents show how environmentalists in the 1970s recognized the unequal environmental burdens that people of color and low-income Americans had to bear, yet failed to take meaningful action to resolve them. Instead, activism by the affected communities themselves spurred the environmental justice movement of the 1980s and early 1990s. By the turn of the twenty-first century, environmental justice had become increasingly mainstream, and issues like climate justice, food justice, and green-collar jobs had taken their places alongside the protection of wilderness as "environmental" issues. Environmental Justice in Postwar America is a powerful tool for introducing students to the US environmental justice movement and the sometimes tense relationship between environmentalism and social justice. Published in 2018.

From the Ground Up: Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement (Luke W. Cole and Sheila R. Foster)

A critical look at the movement for environmental justice. When Bill Clinton signed an Executive Order on Environmental Justice in 1994, the phenomenon of environmental racism--the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards, particularly toxic waste dumps and polluting factories, on people of color and low-income communities--gained unprecedented recognition. Behind that momentous signature, however, lies a remarkable tale of grassroots activism and political mobilization. Today, thousands of activists in hundreds of locales are fighting for their children, their communities, their quality of life, and their health. From the Ground Up critically examines one of the fastest growing social movements in the United States--the movement for environmental justice. Tracing the movement's roots, Luke Cole and Sheila Foster combine long-time activism with powerful storytelling to provide gripping case studies of communities across the US--towns like Kettleman City, California; Chester, Pennsylvania; and Dilkon, Arizona--and their struggles against corporate polluters. The authors use social, economic and legal analysis to reveal the historical and contemporary causes for environmental racism. Environmental justice struggles, they demonstrate, transform individuals, communities, institutions and the nation as a whole. Published in 2000.

Screening Room

A sampling of documentary films available online at Gleeson Library

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