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The Meaning Of Environmental Justice Environmental Sciences Essay

Environmental justice revolves around the idea that every human has the right to a safe, healthy and ecologically-balanced environment, as well as the right to environmental protection.It requires all humans should be fairly treated regardless of their nationality or socioeconomic group, especially in regards to environmental laws, regulations, and policies. In this essay I will expand on the notions related to environmental justice. Secondly I will present two examples that explore a lack of environmental justice. The first case I will be presenting is associated with the importation and treatment of electronic waste (e-waste), and the other example is an Australian case related to the Tullamarine landfill. I will be bringing up the health, socioeconomic, policy-making and environmental aspects in these cases.I will also investigate the relevancy of environmental justice in understanding of people’s relationships with each other and their both within and between countries by illustrating how these injustices have complicated these relationships, which I will follow up by outlining the objectives and strategies in order to achieve environmental justice in respect to these cases.

The meaning of environmental justice

Environmental justice can ultimately be described as a basic human right that requires the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all. The understanding and acknowledgement of environmental justice helps identify environmental injustices, and helps address the environmental socio-political objectives that need to be implemented in order to achieve or sustain a flourishing and healthy environment. The Environmental Protection Agency defines environmental justice as the ‘unbiased treatment and significant involvement of people of all races, incomes, and cultures with respect to the development, execution, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies’1. It seeks to ensure that ‘minority and low-income communities have access to public information relating to human health and environmental planning, regulations and enforcement’1. Environmental justice revolves around the principle that no one should be forced to bear the significant burden of the negative human health and environmental impacts of pollution. It is often associated with the term ‘environmental rights’, which is the idea that everyone has the right to a clean, sustainable, productive and healthy environment. Environmental rights require that individuals and community needs and dignities are well-looked-after, fulfilled, and respected. For that reason, it calls for the need for protecting environmental relationships that link to the provision of people’s needs. Similarly, it requires protecting communities from environmental hazards. In addition, the cases that I will be presenting demonstrate the violation of these principles and the incapacity to move towards a more environmentally just society.

1 Ecological Society of America (2006). ‘Environmental Justice’

E-waste Case Study

The importation and treatment of electronic waste is a global problematic occurrence. E-waste relates to discarded electronic appliances such as computers, televisions, printers and mobile phones. The global volume of e-waste generated in 2011 was approximately ‘41.5 million tonnes’4. The amount of e-waste being generated is increasing in alarming rate; in fact in 2016 it is expected to reach ‘93.5 million tonnes’4. A large proportion of this waste is traded from industrial nations to developing countries. ‘China receives 70% of all exported e-waste while significant quantities are also exported to India, Pakistan Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Nigeria and Ghana, and possibly to Brazil and Mexico’3.

E-waste has caused widespread substantial environmental degradation in poor countries and has negatively affected the relationship between numerous communities and their environment. Not only are the workers affected in processing e-waste centres but the local residents also face the risk of health problems, due to serious environmental pollution. Residents in parts of India, China, Indonesia, and the metro Manila area of the Philippines have been exposed to toxic risks because of the unsound processes e-wastes is being processed, resulting in the release of various toxic substances. It has also caused serious food problems due to the shrinkage of agricultural activities and has contaminated drinking water.The international NGO Basel Action Network (BAN) has documented that toxic substances in communities that treat ewaste are in ‘concentrations hundreds of times higher than those considered safe in the US and Europe and environmentally’3.

A town that has been significantly affected by e-waste is a village in China called Guiya. Since 1995 it has undergone a significant transformation ‘from a poor, rural, rice-growing community to a booming E-waste processing centre’4. This has resulted in the contamination of the entire region. Hazardous substances have seeped into rivers and polluted groundwater has contaminated the soil, therefore contaminating the food chain. For that reason since 1997 this has forced residents to visit nearby towns to get hold of drinkable water. This environmental pollution may also be the cause of the disappearance of their native fish. Another concern is the health risks that they are being exposed to. There has been a rapid increase in respiratory diseases within Guiya residents, as well as other communities with recycling centres in China and countries like Japan. Teachers at Guiyu schools have even reported that over 50% of their students have breathing problems. Furthermore, elevated levels of dioxins, posing a serious health risk, ‘were found in human milk, placentas and hair, which indicated dioxins are coming into contact with humans, from the air, water, or foodstuffs’3.

Clearly, the resistance of local residents to international pressure for environmental regulation will rise if this level of environmental pollution continuously occurs. In fact, this has occurred in April 10, 2005, when a large-scale riot occurred in Huasi village in China. This conflict involved ‘30,000 local residents who opposed the increase of environmentally polluting factories in the village’5 .Additionally, in Zhansha village, ‘a fierce demonstration and collision were reported in June 2005, which were related to the issue of environmental pollution’5.

4 Naguib, D . (2007). ‘Resisting Global Toxics: Transitional Movements for Environmental Justice’.

3Robinson, B. H. 2009. ‘E-waste: An assessment of global production and environmental impacts’.

5 Kim, J. (2006). ‘E-waste transboundary movement violating environmental justice’

Clearly, the construction and operation of environmentally hazardous e-waste sources or facilities in economically poor areas is an environmental injustice. The UN Commission on Human Rights addressed the relations between the environment and human rights, by concluding that ‘everyone has the right to live in a world free from toxic pollution and environmental degradation’5. However, due to economic reasons primary environmental rights are not being respected; various community needs and dignities are being violated. The importation of e-waste to developing countries is the violation of the environmental justice of developing countries, as these countries benefit most from activities degrading the environment and therefore the burdens this degradation creates is not being fairly distributed. Through the recycling of hazardous e-waste many jobs are created for simple labourers who are economically disadvantaged. The temptations posed by the short-term economic benefits to developing countries therefore results in economic injustice, undermining environmental justice, it obstructs long-term development bringing with it environmental damages and dangers to people’s health. Additionally, developing countries make huge savings on disposal costs of hazardous substances and increased economic benefits the transboundary movement of hazardous waste is not actively regulated. So even though most developing countries support the restriction of transboundary movement of e-waste based on the Basel Convention some developed countries are in conflict with its ratification and oppose it.

Tullamarine Case Study

‘The Tullamarine Hazardous Waste landfill commenced operations in 1972 and for the next 15 years it received an extensive range of hazardous wastes’6 , including millions of litres of liquid wastes from around Victoria. The landfill contained numerous toxic substances including heavy metals, polychlorinated biphenyls and dioxins. By the mid-eighties it became apparent that nature of dumping liquid wastes in this site was environmentally dangerous and it could have considerable impacts on human health. ‘The Tullamarine Area Community Link for Environment (TACLE) ’6 was formed in 1983 in response to these concerns. Hazardous waste dumping continued over the next two decades in spite of multiple Government promises to close the dump. During this period it received ‘more than double the permitted wastes in clear breach of its license conditions6’.‘Although the landfill was scheduled to close in 2001 it was given a license extension until 2003 by EPA’6. No action was taken to prevent this. ‘Instead the Victorian EPA supported an application by Cleanaway in December 2005 to further expand the site’6. This resulted in widespread community outrage and led to the formation of a new group, the ‘Terminate Tullamore Toxic’6 .The project of expanding the site was eventually abandoned as a result of community and council opposition, and the fact that the landfill had more than doubled its permitted intake of waste. ‘The dump subsequently ceased to receive further wastes in May 2008’6.

5 Kim, J. (2006). ‘E-waste transboundary movement violating environmental justice’.

6 Environment Defenders Office, Victoria (2012). ‘Environmental Justice Report- Final Report’

In addition to the amenity impacts on residents of Tullamarine, like the ‘unbearable smells7, they faced significant health risks. During an interview one resident said- “There were stories about illnesses amongst workers and nearby residents, who grew convinced that the exposure to the fumes from the dump were making them sick”7. The community raised concerns about the high incidence of miscarriages in the area and residents were convinced that their child's illnesses or disabilities were caused by being exposed to the toxic dump. Health studies were requested on several occasions but were never undertaken. On September 1985 TACLE expressed concerns to the Industrial Waste Strategy for Victoria. Their concerns involved the ‘health impacts on children who had been exposed to smoke and fumes from chemical fires at the dump’7 and ‘the EPA’s failure to keep abreast of changes to definitions of new toxic chemical compounds and their hazard impacts’7. Similarly, on 29 October 1988 TACLE advised the State government of community health about their concerns about ‘airport workers suffering nausea, burning eyes and throats’7. And a concern in that ‘there was still no definitive statement of the extent and composition of the polluted air’7. Despite the fact these concerns were submitted to the state government, as previously mentioned, the landfill continued to operate over the next two decades.

This case depicts the unfair treatment of a community, the violation of meaningful involvement and the lack of environmental protection. For decades the residents of Tullamarine have been shouldering a great burden of the impacts produced by an environmental harmful industry. These socially and economically disadvantaged residents had very little time, as well as funds, to dedicate in the action of forcing regulators to respond to their concerns. This itself is a significant barrier in itself to accessing environmental justice. Moreover, this case demonstrates a lack of voice in the decision-making processes, a failure to be kept informed about the site, and the power imbalance between community activists, the government and private industry bodies.The unfair distribution of environmental risk was never acknowledged, and the residents were denied sufficient information about the impacts of the dump. It was only through ‘informal’ participation, like protesting and holding community meetings, which the residents’ group TTTDAG was able to force itself into the process on behalf of the community. When they achieved publicity the government reached the point of not being able to ignore them any longer.

7 Western Region Environment Centre for the Tullamarine Community Group TTTDAG (2010) ‘Preliminary Health Study of Residents Near the Tullamarine Hazardous Waste Landfill’.

The objectives needed to achieve environmental justice

The e-waste and Tullamarine land-fill case studies represent how environmental justice can be utilized in identifying the environmental injustice and consequently addressing the objectives that need to be implemented to achieve a to a clean, sustainable, productive and healthy environment. These cases are classic examples of distributive injustice in an environmental justice context and emphasize the need for the protection of environmental rights. They highlight the importance of the distributive and procedural elements of environmental justice. These elements involve the equal distribution of environmental risk and degradation, and the ability of communities to participate in the decision-making processes, between countries and within different communities.

The Tulmara case highlights that more is needed from the Australian government in to move towards a more environmentally just society. There is a need for specific legislative requirements that seek to protect the interests of vulnerable communities affected disproportionately by environmental impacts. It is important for there to be a focus on explicit discussions and research into the distributional impacts of policies and actions relating to environmental pollution. There should an improvement in the tools and procedures for achieving environmental justice, and equality in access to these tools and procedures. Meaningful consultation is also an important aspect, which requires that the public be provided with sufficient information that enables the community to understand a decision being made and the risks that might result from a decision. Furthermore, more research must be done around the environmental conditions being faced by socially disadvantaged residents in Tullamarine.

E-waste is a problem that requires urgent global action. There are numerous strategies and objectives that can help overcome these problems. Most importantly e-waste needs to be equally distributed worldwide; disadvantaged communities should not bear the disproportionate burdens. It is also essential that the communities that have had their livelihoods destroyed because of e-waste are taken care of and compensated, in terms of health, safety and their needs; not overlooked as they are currently being treated. This goal, like many other goals in regards to combating e-waste, is a multifaceted challenge that requires global action. Like in the Victorian case, more detailed scientific studies, environmental testing, or public health analyses should be done in areas where there are e-waste processing and recycling centres. This case also highlights the need of government policies, community politics, and industry actions regarding electronic wastes. Every step regarding the cycle of e-waste needs to be accounted for; including the supply, design, manufacturing, and recycling chains. Strategies applied include producing electronics that are more environmentally friendly and ensuring workers in recycling chains are practicing safe methods in processing ewaste and are provided protection. What is equally important is to take in to consideration to material and technology flows which relate to the need for strategies in order to reduce the disposal of electronics to be implanted. Strategies may include promoting refurbished computers instead of buying a new computer. At the moment strategies are being implemented in response to this problem, however, further action is needed as e-waste continues to increase. Through education and advertising, more actions may be executed if the general public were made aware of the harsh reality of what happens after the disposal of their electronics.

Conclusion

Environmental justice links to the principle that everyone to be should be fairly treated regardless of their nationality or socioeconomic group. The idea of environmental justice aids in framing the conflict within the relationship of people with each other and their environment. The e-waste and Tullamarine case study demonstrates that environmental justice is a useful frame in identifying areas of unmet needs in communities that suffer from injustices associated with environmental decision-making and related processes that have led to the unfair treatments of these communities, in which governments can work towards addressing these needs. The starting point in overcoming this world’s environmental crisis is the renewed protection of environmental rights. This involves the need to provide for adequate information and participation processes in order for communities to be part of environmental decisions that affect them and the fair distribution of the environmental burdens. To ensure meaningful response to environmental pollution problems government and all those involved in the process of these impacts should approach and design their environmental policies, systems and strategies in a new light where the goal is to ensure sustainable and flourishing communities.


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