Evaluating environmental justice : expanding conventional understandings through the case of unsafe water

Carr, Chloe

September 2019

Thesis or dissertation

© 2019 Chloe Carr. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

[From the introduction]:
Environmental justice is fast becoming an increasingly prevalent topic in a society whose social awareness of environmental problems has been aided and increased by interaction with digital and social media. The likelihood of such awareness continuing to grow is high alongside the increasing concerns surrounding global warming and climate change. While the concept of environmental justice is aimed at creating ‘fairness’ for all people in relation to environmental harms, decisions and policy, both the concept itself and the resulting research and literature are limited by their adherence to the earliest definitions and examples environmental justice. The definition that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (hereafter EPA) provides of environmental justice is ‘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’. The EPA further states that environmental justice will only be achieved when the ‘same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards’ and ‘equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work’ is available to all. Whilst this should have encouraged the exploration of environmental justice among all people, many of the first and most prominent authors of the field have focussed almost solely on issues of disproportionate environmental harms on African Americans, and often looked to hazardous waste siting and distribution as said harm.

With the turn of the twenty-first-century, other minority groups are increasingly being put at the centre of environmental justice studies; it is being recognised that all minorities are notoriously disadvantaged by environmental injustices, not just African Americans. Lack of understanding as a result of language barriers and poor access to education are cited as two ways in which these minorities are affected by environmental injustices, hindering their involvement in environmental decision-making. For some minority communities, such as those in Tulare County, California, officials went so far as refusing to provide translation to remove the language barriers that hindered the cooperation between the community and the officials dealing with a water injustice problem. Laurel Firestone noted that the attorney representing the water district (perpetrator) in this instance claimed that they didn’t care what a community member had to say. This is one of many instances whereby environmental justice has not been achieved due to lack of inclusion of the affected communities. Frequently, this is done to push through environmental policy or changes that are solely beneficial to a corporate or governmental body, as opposed to benefitting the community that will bear the burden of the consequences. A plethora of environmental injustices occur through unsafe water; this thesis will question whether or not justice is ever achieved by evaluating the most impactful factors.

Department of History, The University of Hull
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