Justice in Environmental Geography
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Published: Thu, 19 Oct 2017
Outline what you understand by the term justice, and critically assess how it has been integrated into the field of environmental geography.
In relation to the essay title, environmental justice as a concept emerged in the 1980s, and since then, the concept of environmental justice has been closely linked to and integrated into the field of environmental geography, in describing and explaining the spatial aspects of the interaction between the environment and humans. In this essay, before assessing how it has been integrated into the field of environmental geography, I will first have to define the concept and meaning of environmental justice. Furthermore, by referencing to several academic studies and case studies, I will attempt to highlight the significance of the connection between term justice and environmental geography, in providing evidence to demonstrate how the term justice is applied in the field of environmental geography, as well as limitations in relation to the concept of environmental justice, which limits the usage and significant of the concept in the field of environmental geography.
The core concept of environmental justice suggests that, no one regardless of their demographics, should bear a disproportionate amount of the negative environmental hazards or risks induced by commercial, industrial and governmental decisions or actions in relation to their operations, development and the implementation of environmental laws and policies (Holifield 2001; Schlosberg, 2007; EPA 2012).It also signifies that people should be involved and entitled to have a chance to form or provide opinions on activities that can impact their environment, and that the regulatory agency will consider the opinions provided by the public when decision-making (EPA, 2012). In relation to that, environmental geographyis a school of geography, which primarily focuses on examining the spatial aspects of interactions between humans and the environment; to understand the dynamic, ever-changing relationship between human activities and the environment (Castree et al.,2009). As pointed out by Reed & George (2011), environmental justice as a research theme are popular among other subjects and schools, and are not solely researched by environmental geographers. However, they argued that geographers’ position is rather unique, as their role is to understand the dynamic human-environment relations, to consider the social and spatial distributions of environmental effects, risk, impacts or hazards, and to identify the cause and factors that contribute to the continued occurrence of inequality (Reed et. al, 2011). One case study example which can demonstrate how environmental justice has been integrated into the field of environmental geography is the study carried out by Pastor, Sadd & Hipp (2001).
In the study, by referred to the earliest work in this field; researchers had identified that in predominantly industrialized societies, a disproportionate share of environmental hazards often occur in minority neighborhoods (Bullard, 1990; Been 1995; Pastor et al., 2001). One of the location highlighted by the studies is Los Angeles County in the US, as evidences suggested that disproportionate exposure to toxic storage and disposal facilities and toxic air releases associated with the industry is present (Burke, 1993; Sadd, Pastor, Boer, & Snyder 1999; Pastor et. al, 2001). With the findings as a foundation, and Los Angeles County as a case study location, the researchers proceeded to address the ” minority move-in or disproportionate siting ” question; to find out whether the disproportionate exposure of minorities to toxic storage and disposal facilities was due to the moving- in of minority residents, triggered by the siting of the facility which increases perceived risks of exposure to environmental hazards, and reduces the actual quality of the environment, which causes land values to diminish, or whether it was solely due to disproportionate siting of these facilities (Pastor et. al, 2001). Subsequently, after statistical hypothesis tests and census data were utilized, they were able to confirm that demographics of the population within an area affects the siting of the facilities, and areas with a high low-income and minority population were most likely to be subjected to the implementation of toxic storage and disposal facilities (Pastor et. al, 2001). However, toxic storage and disposal facilities do not tend to attract minorities to move-in; in-fact, unexpectedly, the facilities tend to repel and not attract minorities to move in (Pastor et. al, 2001). This suggests that there is a need to implement policies and changes to protect the minorities subjected to hazard, as the results seemed to suggest that disproportional exposure was not due to minority moving-in to take advantage of cheaper housing, but in-fact the facilities were actively causing the disproportional exposure due to their siting decision (Pastor et. al, 2001).
The concept of Environmental justice and related case studies were integrated in environmental geography, as it provided an explanation to geographers, on the implication of human- induced activities and decisions on the environment, and to provide theories in attempt to explain why spatial variations on level of pollution across different parts of the environment occur, in relation to spatial inequality and injustice (Castree et al., 2009; Reed et al., 2011). Furthermore, by referring to the spatial distribution of pollution, policy- makers could use Statistical Methods to monitor Environmental Pollution and calculate the risks involved, which aids the introduction and implementation of emergency measures, or redevelopment plans for contaminated land, to focus on minimizing the increased risks of environmental hazard and reduce the overall level of pollution that minorities are exposed to, in order to reinforce environmental justice (Gilbert, 1987; Alloway et. al., 1997; Smith, 2013).
However, one could argue that the concept might not have been perfectly integrated in the study of environmental geography. Reed & George (2011) had highlighted the fact that the concept of environmental justice stemmed from America in the 1980s, and researches revolved around the concept had since then, remained centralized in the United States of America, supported by the fact that out of 114 articles on environmental justice found in GeoBase in 2009, there are only 46 literature which involves case studies outside USA, plus there were only 15 pieces of literature which involved the research on two developing countries. The researchers had also pointed out that most environmental justice research conducted between the years of 2005 and 2009, were in-fact by American researchers, or researchers in America (Reed et al., 2011). Moreover, Reed & George (2011) had also identified that, in 2009, about 50 percent of the authors involved in publishing articles related to environmental justice, identified in Geobase, were associated with at least one American institution. In contrast, the amount of literature published by researches from New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and Australia were significantly lower (Reed et al., 2011). Furthermore, the concept remained heavily skewed research, as less than 10 percent of all articles were published by researchers in the developing countries.
Additionally, many studies were focused on a single country or an area within a country; Walker & Burningham’s (2011) study on flood risks focused on examples within the UK, whereas Pastor, Sadd & Hipp’s (2001) study focused solely on the spatial differences and other factors within the LA county. As stated by the researchers, the finding mentioned in the research mentioned previously in this essay may apply for the LA county, but it might be far from accurate when applied to explain the spatial difference of hazards and risks within a different country, hence prevent researchers to apply the concept of environmental justice, and identify a model to highlight the spatial difference in hazards globally (Pastor et al., 2001). This is due to the variations in spatial distribution of the population and industry among different countries, as well as the difference in political policies which affects urban development and planning (Reed et al., 2011). These could imply that environmental justice is integrated in the studies of environmental geography in a regional scale, and not in a global scale. Also, the concept of environmental justice might not apply to other countries other than America, due to the fact that it contains a skewed representation from American researchers, meaning that the empirical and conceptual focus of environmental justice had only expanded marginally since the establishment of the concept, thus preventing environmental geographers to study the global spatial aspects on the interactions between human activities and the environment in a wider context (Reed et al., 2011).
In conclusion, the concept of environmental justice and relevant case studies on the surrounding this concept are integrated into environmental geography. This is mainly because through using this concept, it helps environmental geographers in their research by highlight how environmental decisions induced by humans can induce a hazardous environment, and why some part of the population are more prone to be affected by the hazards as a result. However, the limitations as mentioned above, in regards to most of the researches on environmental justice were done focusing on America and are heavily skewed, means that environmental justice as a concept might not be significant to the study of environmental geography, as the concept cannot relate well to countries outside the US, nor is it significant when applied globally, for geographers to highlight global spatial difference, and to study the dynamics between human- induced actions and the environment on a global scale.
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