Environmental justice

Introduction

In Germany, social justice has been much debated in recent years. Usually, it is interpreted as a levelling of social conditions of life. In this context, social inequity is regarded as a problem, but not inequity in health, or in respect to the environment. From this viewpoint, the US discussion of socio-spatial inequities of environmental conditions as (lack of) environmental justice is somewhat surprising.

Historical background of this US discussion were - in the seventies - well publicised cases of socially and/or ethnically discriminating distributions of environmental "bads" that violated objectives of the civil rights, anti-poverty, and union movement. There seemed to exist a relation between skin color, poverty, environmental pollution, and health - "black, brown, red, poor and poisoned". This has been attributed to environmental discrimination or racism. In the eighties, many grass-root groups (NIMBYs: Not in my backyard!) were founded, which focussed on environmental discrimination, often cooperated, and developed considerable political pressure on a local, regional, and even national scale.

Environmental justice (EJ) is concerned with the socio-spatial distribution of environmental "bads". It is analyzed, whether socially or racially discriminated individuals are also exposed to more environmental pollution (e.g., LULUs, locally unwanted land uses). And if so - why? With what kind of (social, health, etc.) consequences? With what opportunities to prevent or compensate for this discrimination? This interface of environmental, health, and social policy has been discussed in the USA since 30 years, and in Great Britain for more than 10 years (much longer, when older work on the "geography of poverty and deprivation" is taken into account).

In 1994, former US president Clinton issued an executive order to federal agencies to promote EJ. New York City included EJ as an objective in its city charter. In New Jersey, planning of technical infrastructure with strong environmental impacts requires beforehand consideration of sociodemographic structure and actual environmental exposure of the affected population. Texas created a "Task Force on Environmental Equity and Justice". The federal Environmental Protection Agency (US-EPA) set up various commissions and programs that deal with EJ. The "Superfund" program of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), and the "Brownfield Initiative" of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) take EJ into consideration.

Under the Bush Jr. administration, some of these activities continue, despite clear set-backs.


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