Environmental Justice

19 Pages   |   5,418 Words
Table of Contents
  1. Introduction. 3
    1. What is Environmental Justice. 3
    2. Aims and Objectives of Environmental Justice. 4
  2. Environmental challenges. 4
    1. Environmental crisis. 5
  3. Environmental Justice. 5
    1. Benefits of environmental justice. 5
    2. Burdens of environmental protection. 6
    3. Critics for Environmental Injustice. 6
  4. Environmental Justice Movements. 6
    1. Social Movements. 7
    2. Civil Right Movements. 7
    3. Political Movements. 8
  5. Environmental Justice and Sustainability. 8
    1. One Species, One Planet. 9
    2. Aspects of environmental justice. 10
  6. Issues in Enforcement of Environmental Justice. 10
    1. Denial of Environmental Injustice Charges. 11
    2. Human Rights and Animal Rights. 12
    3. Nuclear Waste Issue. 13
    4. The environment and limits of Cost Benefit analysis. 13
  7. Way Ahead for Enforcing Environmental Justice. 13
    1. Practical Steps: Working with NGO.. 14
    2. Citizens' Responsibilities for Environmental Justice. 14
    3. Responsibility through Ability. 15
    4. Effects of Environmental Regulations. 15
    5. Environmental Justice Advocacy. 16
  8. Conclusion. 16
Bibliography. 18


Environmental justice will be defined keeping in mind the different perspectives that different sectors of the society and organizations hold such as the view of the Environmental Protection Agency which defines it as “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.” (Dutt,  1978)1.
Seeking Environmental Justice emerges from a larger inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary come up with the aims to explore the role of ecology and environmental ideas in the context of contemporary society, international politics and global economics, and to begin to assess the implications for our understandings of fairness, justice and global citizenship. Environmentalists recognized that poor and minorities have been especially damaged by societal threats such as environmental pollution, runaway development, and resource depletion. Environmentalists have tended to focus on protecting the earth rather than the humans who live in it (Dutt,  1978)[1].

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What is Environmental Justice

The term environmental justice refers to policies and practices by which existing environmental inequities can be corrected and prevented in the future. The achievement of environmental justice among communities is also called environmental equity, the situation in which environmental risks and benefits among all groups of people are about similar. It is basically the equitable distribution of various resources at the disposal of mankind such that its usage does not make another person worse off in terms of health hazards, human rights and economic quality. A brief overview pertaining to the establishment of Environmental justice as an important part of the society will be provided (Marples, 1999)[1]. It is the attempt to equalize the burdens of pollution, wicked development, and resource exhaustion. Environmental justice requires both equitable distribution of environmental good and bad and greater public participation in evaluating and apportioning these goods and bad. Environmentalists focused on leisure activities and environmental scholars wrote about ivory-tower topics, the grassroots environmental movement began to notice society's most vulnerable groups. They recognized that poor and minorities have been especially damaged by societal threats such as environmental pollution, runaway development, and resource depletion.

Aims and Objectives of Environmental Justice

The main aim of environmental justice will be provided and defined with special focus on its ability to abolish or mitigate the abuse of power which causes the deprived and underprivileged people of the society to suffer as a result of the unfavorable decisions made by the elites in terms of different investment projects undertaken (Dutt, 1978)1.
The other objective is to examine the changing relationship between nature, culture, and society and will look at the impact of environmental thinking and ethics on issues such as animal/species welfare and rights, conservation and preservation, sustainable resources, food and feeding, space and air space, present and future needs, human ‘rights', and our obligations to future generations (Pellow, 2005)[2]. The major aims and objectives of environmental justice are listed below:-
  • To protect the environment and to avoid the environmental tragedy
  • To gain national economies of scale
  • To avoid regional disparities in effective representation of all sides to a dispute
  • To compensate the victims of one region for spillovers from another locale and to facilitate "the politics of sacrifice" by imposing equal burdens on all areas.

Environmental challenges

The pressures faced by countries regarding the widespread environmental degradation experienced will be discussed in detail. Main emphasis will be on the recent human impacts on the atmosphere, land degradation, over-exploitation of resources, toxic emissions and other factors contributing towards the environmental damage (Tyler, 2000)[3].
The new challenges that observe may include and examine the ethical and political impact of environmental thinking, looking at its emergence and role in political contexts, the factors which influence the formation of environmental policy, what (if any) is the place of economic methods and considerations, differing perspectives on the interpretation of scientific data, and the ability of national and international communities to successfully implement environmental policies (Tyler, 2000)4.

Environmental crisis

The outcome of such environmental degradation around the globe has resulted in rampant poverty, which has been most prominent in under developed countries as they try to cope with the fast pace of capitalism (Dutt, 1978)1. Other crises have also been observed such as the drastic changes in climate which has resulted in global warming, with the earth’s temperature having risen by 2 degrees, resulting in massive hurricanes and earthquakes.

Environmental Justice

To ensure that the whole community or the society at large have an equitable distribution of resources, a movement was started so as to bring about the required change in the attitudes of the people. Moreover, awareness was also brought about concerning the rapid changes that the earth was facing due to the environmental degradation taking place and the way capitalists pursued their interests by over-exploiting the resources (David,  1996)[4]. The benefits and limitations that arose when carrying out the procedure to bring about environmental justice have also been observed.

Benefits of environmental justice

The benefits that are reaped through the implementation of environmental justice acts are significant. The most major impact that environmental justice can bring about is a reduction in the level of poverty and hence leading to an increase in the health of the individuals thus ensuring a better standard of living for all by re-establishing the balance between humankind and the natural environment (Dutt, 1978)1.

Burdens of environmental protection

Due to the establishment of laws so as to protect the environment, it will then result in posing different costs to the producer as well as the consumer. The most immediate result of such legislatures would be an increase in the prices of the commodities sold by the producer due to the increase in the costs faced by the producer leading to inflation which would then disrupt the workings of the economy. Other impacts that would be felt would be the un-availability of certain resources in order to conserve them thus leading to shortages of the product which would then lead to a decrease in national income            (Herbert 1992)[5].

Critics for Environmental Injustice

There are some arguments for injustice into perspective, which may include:-
  • Victims may benefits from living near noxious facilities and also suffer from higher unemployment     and housing costs if they did not live near dangerous sites.
  • The presence of poor or minority communities does not prove that racism or injustice actually caused the sitting there.
  • Ignores the ultimate balance of costs and benefits (such as more employment)
  • Forget principles of equal human rights
  • Race and risky facilities does not prove inequity
  • Correlation between race and risky facilities does not prove discrimination, is correct.
  • Governments deliberately discriminate against poor people or minorities in citing decisions and therefore cause them to live in polluted areas. liven if minorities moved to an area after it was polluted, the issue is whether some citizens ought to have less than equal opportunity to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and be protected from environmental toxins. (Melvin, 1989)[6].

Environmental Justice Movements

Environmental Justice Movements would pertain to the legislations and acts being currently imposed within different nations and countries worldwide in order to bring about environmental equity. It will also deal with the different works of various organizations bringing about awareness. It is the attempt to equalize the burdens of pollution, noxious development, and resource depletion. Critics of the Environmental Justice movement who use this "excuse" response seem to forget principles of equal human rights and instead to use utilitarian grounds to attempt to defend injustice. Such a defense is obviously flawed because all people, especially innocent potential victims, have rights to exercise their preferences regarding what threatens their welfare—particularly when others profit from the threats (Kuper, 2003)[7].

Social Movements

This will basically focus on the works of the society across the globe to bring about environmental justice. The social movements would pertain to the protests that have been waged and the acts that have been carried out by the society in order to preserve or conserve their environment. The main problem with the social progress argument, however, is its presupposition that there is no in-principle obligation to recognize individual rights—that there are ethical grounds for sacrificing the welfare of some people for the sake of the majority. This presupposition is questionable in part because it is inconsistent with basic principles of justice, including those underlying the liberal, democratic traditions that are embodied in the U.S. Bill of Rights. Act utilitarian’s even admit that, on their view, every individual would not be protected from capricious or expedient denials of justice (Lambert 1987)[8].

Civil Right Movements

This movement pertains to the actions carried out by the society to register their claims on the impact they have felt through environmental degradation brought about by the capitalists whose actions have negatively affected the community. Do corporations and nations simply have an obligation to provide whatever protection is legally required in the country to which they export? Perhaps the dominant attitude toward transfers of hazardous technologies is that environmental justice in developed nations is isolated or separate from analogous moral requirements in developing countries ( Edsall 1975)[9] .

Political Movements

This movement discusses the extent to which political parties have established their concerns over environmental degradation and have carried out a movement in order to establish their votes within the community as well as reduce the impact of environmental degradation (Lazarus, 2005,)[10].

Environmental Justice and Sustainability

Perhaps the most popular catchphrase making the rounds among environmentalists on an international scale today is sustainable development. Over the past two decades, the significance of sustainable development as a guiding principle in policy making around the world has been increasingly accepted by international, regional, and national organizations and agencies. In spite of any uncertainty about the exact meaning of the term sustainable development, its connection with the field of environmental justice has long been clear and unquestionable to many observers (Chance, 1995)[11].
The concept of a world in which all people live safely and comfortably without devastating the environment is an overwhelmingly attractive idea. However, the precise mechanisms by which such a goal can be reached have never been entirely clear. The task for individuals and organizations, then, is to find the specific points at which the goals and methods of sustainable development intersect with those of environmental justice (Marples, 1999)[12]. The major points are listed below:-
  • the right to life, including the right to a healthy environment
  • the traditional and customary property rights of indigenous and other local communities, especially those in the global south; and
  • Participatory and procedural rights

One Species, One Planet

We may understand Environmental Justice and Sustainability by picking up an example of One Species, One Planet. In this a significant portion of One Species, One Planet is devoted to an analysis of the way in which environmental justice and sustainable development intersect in these three areas. In the first case, the report emphasizes the fact that the right to life is the most basic of all human rights and, by its very nature, implies a right to a healthy environment (CIEL,2002)[13]. Without such an environment, a healthy life, and even life itself, may not be possible. Many nations have now adopted constitutional or legal guarantees for a safe and healthy environment that may also include the right to a safe workplace, the right to organize, the right to an adequate standard of living, and the right to participate in decision making that affects peoples’ lives. One Species, One Planet points out the importance of community rights in addition to the rights of individual persons! It takes special note of the fact that, in many nations, this concept is still largely lacking.
When a national government places resource recovery over the needs of individual communities, the rights of those communities have been violated. The critical role of community participation in making decisions related to community survival and livelihood. Currently, hundreds of millions of natural resource dependent poor and indigenous people, primarily in the global south, have essentially no control over the environmental factors that affect their lives. Neither environmental justice nor sustainable development can have any meaning at all unless local communities develop the skills for analyzing and solving the environmental and social problems they face. The challenge for both environmental justice and sustainable development groups today is to find specific ways in which objectives from both areas of concern can be achieved at the same time. People around the world are trying various programs to achieve this goal (CIEL, 2002)[14].

Aspects of environmental justice

There are two practical aspects in Environmental justice, first is - how public environmental resources and all the environmental benefits and costs can be distributed among different groups in the society (it’s a distributive aspect); and second one is how environmental decisions are made in terms of public access and participation (it’s a procedural aspect) (Dutt, 1978)1. For example, the most notable changes in the social and natural environments of post-Soviet Estonia, the distributive and procedural aspects of environmental justice as it is perceived there.
We may examine Environmental Justice and Sustainability issue more in detail as, people who opposed the facility—and who opposed tribal leaders' promoting it—became victims of retaliation who were likely to lose their housing and their jobs on the reservation. The same fallacy of bifurcation when he simplistically asserts that people ought not to advocate and open processes involving fair compensation and at the same time oppose the projects when poor communities step forward to host the facility. On the contrary, people can and do advocate open processes, yet they consistently oppose the projects that victimize vulnerable people. In cases of medical ethics and rules for experimenting on human subjects, the laws provide for open processes involving fair compensation but, at the same time, do not allow poorly informed, economically constrained, or socially deprived individuals to volunteer for the experiments.  It is illegal, for example, to experiment on prison inmates precisely because their life conditions make their free informed consent unlikely (Paustenbach, 1989)[15].

Issues in Enforcement of Environmental Justice

Those who  involved in the environmental justice movement would like to demonstrate that environmental harm has come about as a result of decisions and actions taken by business, industry, or Governmental bodies and then to obtain some relief from that harm from the appropriate body. That is, an environmental justice organization might like to prove that Company X placed its hazardous waste landfill adjacent to a predominantly African American community because that was the easiest decision for the company to make. The organization might then argue that health effects to the community resulting from the company’s decision were the company’s responsibility, and that the company should be forced to pay a financial penalty for its decision. And in some cases, this approach has worked, and companies have paid large fines or made large financial settlements to members of communities harmed by their activities. But such instances are relatively rare. One reason is that a stringent standard of proof is often required by courts in cases of environmental harm (Steger, 2007)[16].

Denial of Environmental Injustice Charges

Environmental Justice critics two responses, one denying environmental injustice and another excusing it. The "denial" implies Environmental Justice to identify particular instances of environmental injustice. The "excuse" implies to admit the instances of environmental injustice.  Critics of Environmental Justice research says public health risks, commercial waste treatment, storage, and disposal facilities probably are higher near noxious facilities, and research is   needed to determine their level. Environmentalists assume actual risks near hazardous facilities are higher than elsewhere. While it is wrong to assume that risks always are higher near dangerous facilities. Advocates of the isolationist strategy characteristically reject environmental injustices close to them in space or time but sanction those that are distant from them (Dutt, 1978). The effective action to safeguard citizens in the Third World may demand not only individual efforts but also coordinated political activity, particularly through nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
The Bloody Loaf may consider as-although it would normally be wrong to transfer technologies known to cause injury and death, recipients of risky technologies are better off than they would have been without them: a bloody loaf of bread is better than no loaf at all. Proponents of this argument admit that although there are health costs, for example, to Third World asbestos workers or victims supplied with banned U.S. pesticides and toxic wastes, there also are associated benefits, and these benefits outweigh the costs. They argue that the Mexican asbestos worker might not have a job if he did not work in substandard asbestos production facilities (Savchenko 1995)[17].

Human Rights and Animal Rights

All persons in all generations have an equal, prima facie right to life and therefore to bodily security, as the most basic of human rights. Then allowing one group of persons to be put at greater risk—without adequate compensation and for no overriding, morally relevant reason—amounts to violating rights to life and to bodily security. Although there is no ethical requirement always to treat everyone the same, one needs to have relevant moral grounds for treating persons differently. WTO requirements, any member nation can challenge health, safety, environmental, child labor, or human rights regulations of other nations on the grounds that they are barriers to "free trade." The social progress argument also is doubtful because often the prosperity alleged to follow from ignoring health, environmental, or human rights concerns never materializes, just as the touted economic benefits of GATT and NAFTA have not materialized (Peterson, 2001.)[18]. One of the strongest arguments for recognizing equal, transnational rights to security is that human interdependence, across national boundaries, creates transnational moral obligations to recognize basic human rights.  All law presupposes a social contract guaranteeing equal rights. Therefore, without the recognition of basic human rights, it would be impossible for Developing Nations and the Limits of anyone to enjoy any particular right (e.g., to property) that is legally guaranteed. It also seems reasonable to believe that there are ethical, as well as prudential, duties to provide some standard of equal protection to those outside our national borders. After all, the WTO specifically disallows importing governments from providing health, safety, environmental, and human rights information—about particular products— on the grounds that such information is a barrier to free trade.
On the other hand, all animals have the same rights as humans. The close ties between humans and animals dates back many centuries. Animals have helped to build lives and support families like from horses pulling carriages and farm equipment, to dogs herding sheep. Still Animal Rights are the main issue today compared to centuries ago. Today, animals are still a big part of several humans’ lives, acting as sources of food, protection, work etc. Animal Rights are recognized as especially the right not to be exploited for human purposes, the rights to kind treatment claimed on behalf of animals. These rights are such important issues because both humans and animals exist together and depend upon each other for survival (O’Reilly, 1996)[19].  This complicated issue contains many different views by activists, religious groups, and theoretical organizations, making them one of the most controversial and debated issues of today. For example, many animal rights activists believe that animals have the same legal and moral rights that humans do.

Nuclear Waste Issue

Environmental Justice has not integrated relevant nuclear waste issue. It ignores the exploitation, discrimination, and inequities by nuclear related interests. Nuclear-related issues have soil and groundwater contamination that violates environmental laws. Environmental violations, mismanagement, and deception, nuclear waste policy is major problem. Poor waste management has occurred at all these facilities, and congressional hearings have revealed that waste policy-makers withheld safety information, penalized whistleblowers, and failed to spend the money necessary to avoid radioactive contamination (Roberts, 2006).[20] Many Governments has taken responsibility for disposal of spent nuclear fuel because the technical challenges are great and because of the enormous expenditures. It wanted to induce utilities to use commercial reactors to obtain the weapons program.

The environment and limits of Cost Benefit analysis

Cost benefit analysis usually try to trace the causes of specific problems to particular hazardous substances. Environmental Justice proponents say that scientists should assess the total risks that a given community faces because many health threats are a combination of several factors (Elizabeth, 1999)[21]. They also argue that often no one addresses the cumulative and synergistic public health and environmental burdens that minority communities often bear.

Way Ahead for Enforcing Environmental Justice

Environmental Justice Duties require a detailed analysis of the concept of collective responsibility for social problems. There are lengthy treatments of this concept elsewhere, and there is no need to repeat them here, even were there space and time. Moreover, a precise answer to the question about citizens' specific Environmental Justice duties would require a case-by-case analysis. It would require people to know their own abilities, the precise needs of their own communities, and the organizations that already exist to address Environmental Justice problems (Earthjustice, 2001)[22].

Practical Steps: Working with NGO

An individual acting alone can do little to correct social problems such as environmental injustice. As a result, the most effective methods for doing so must be collective. But collective groups such as governments, industries, and universities often are ineffective, biased, or directed at goals other than Environmental Justice (Johnston, 2001)[23].  An alternative vehicle for NGOs, voluntary associations of church, civic, political, recreational, or professional groups that are dedicated to a particular goal or political mission. A church soup kitchen, an NGO, might be dedicated to feeding the homeless. A book club might be dedicated to intellectual exchange about books the group has read. NGOs have been particularly effective recently, for example, in defeating the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) and in supporting signing a treaty to ban landmines. Negotiated in secret, the MAI was an international investment protocol that established rules favorable to investors but neither to the poor nor to the environment. After someone leaked a copy of the MAI to Public Citizen, an NGO, the group organized an internet campaign. Working with six hundred human rights, labor, and environmental organizations in 70 nations, Public Citizen stopped the MAI. Similarly, with the help of email and the internet, an NGO called "the International Campaign to Ban Landmines" (ICBL) worked to promote an international treaty to ban landmines.

Citizens' Responsibilities for Environmental Justice

If government regulation typically is needed to protect citizens and workers from environmental hazards, and if industry alone cannot do the job, then it may be neither reasonable nor possible, as the  economic reality argument notes, to expect corporations to cease transfer of hazardous or banned technologies, especially if government does not require them to do so. Because "ought implies can," corporations are morally obliged to use safer technologies only if they can do so without heroic sacrifices. Citizens in developed countries may have the greatest power, and thus also the greatest obligation, to help ensure environmental justice abroad and to help solve the problems of transferring hazardous technologies, in part because they have special duties generated by special circumstances. Environmental Injustice challenge human rights to equal protection due process, consent, and compensation! And they put people at risk virtually everywhere, in the future as well as the present, in the developed as well as the developing world (Wade, 1997)[24]

Responsibility through Ability

Citizens in developed countries arguably have a moral obligation, proportional to their ability, to help prevent transfer of hazardous technologies to underdeveloped countries. This is a "responsibility through ability." To the degree that people have the ability to make a positive difference in such situations, therefore they are obliged to do so (Tolbert, 1984)[25] . Some people thus are more obliged to help other persons because they are more able to do so and because they are human beings. The fact that people have no explicit social contract with members of other nations as they do with citizens in their own country, however, need not significantly change this obligation.

Effects of Environmental Regulations

The picture painted thus far of the environmental inequities faced by people of color and poor people seems bleak (Dutt, 1978)1. Yet, the United States has developed a much more enlightened view of the environment in the past three decades. People in general are probably much better informed and more concerned about the environment, and federal, state, and local governments have become much more aggressive about passing legislation and enforcing regulations that protect the environment.
It would be difficult to argue that no overall improvement has been made as a result of such changes. Somewhat remarkably, however, it is also clear that many new environmental regulations have actually increased the environmental hazards to which minorities are exposed. Again, the benefits of environmental regulations for some groups of people have resulted in an increased burden for other groups of people. The economic costs of new environmental regulations are more likely to have a more significant effect on low-income people than on high-income people. The costs of environmental regulation can also be measured in terms of exposure to regulated pollutants (Dutt, 1978)1.

Environmental Justice Advocacy

It is taking a stand to help victims of unjust distributions of environmental impacts or victims of unequal participation in environmental decision-making. This advocacy, often accomplished through NGOs, amounts to taking a stand in a partisan sense, in one's civic or professional writing and speaking. It amounts to critically assessing alternatives, developing an ethically defensible stance, and then defending it and amending it through open exchange. Merely pointing out the assets and liabilities of alternative positions does not constitute advocacy (Colet, 1998)[26]. Merely maintaining a stance of informed neutrality is not advocacy. Environmental justice advocacy might be exemplified by taking a stand in favor of monitored retrievable storage of nuclear waste instead of permanent disposal (Congress, 1991)[27].


In our final analysis the extent to which environmental justice has been successful in mitigating the effects of environmental degradation and the extent to which it has triumphed by creating awareness both at the individual and the global level will be discussed. Furthermore the extent to which the law suits have been beneficial for the community and whether the benefits outweigh the costs after having carried out the extensive research will be evaluated. As we believe in progress and the perfectibility of humans, because we sometimes deny the evil around us, we often are slow to recognize the need for Environmental Justice and for joining voluntary associations, NGOs that help achieve civic goals such as environmental justice (Claude 2001)[28]. We fail to recognize that unless we are the agents of democracy and social reform, there will be neither democracy nor social reform. People have an obligation to "make a difference"— to make it difficult for governments and corporations to subject unwitting peoples in developing nations to environmental injustice like that caused by transfers of hazardous technology. But the only clear way that people can "make a difference" is through coordinated political activity, especially through nongovernmental organizations and not primarily through individual efforts (See 1981)[29] . People need to put pressure on U.S. agencies, like the USAID, and on international groups like the WTO and the World Bank. People need to recognize that they have a moral obligation to public-interest advocacy designed to protect those who are at serious risk (WECD, 1987)[30].
In the concluding remark we may include the themes of justice, community and citizenship, looking at the tensions present in ecological debates, the influence of cultural values, the meaning of ethical business practice, the assessment of what counts as environmental equality, inequality, and justice, and our responsibilities toward the world in which we live(CIEL,2002)15.


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