Environmental justice

Concept of environmental justice

In the last decades, transportation has enormously increased in quantity, improved in quality, and lowered its cost. As a result, production, consumption, and disposal of goods are more and more separated in space. A major part of environmental pollution caused by production, consumption and disposal is now geographically mobile, may be redistributed and concentrated, e.g., in "ethnic neighborhoods", industrial regions, and underdeveloped countries. In these places, a kind of "ecological pauperization" may occur, and cause residential and geographical mobility (or even flight). The assumption that - due to global distribution - environmental pollution is equal for all regions and social groups, is obviously false. Instead, in this respect, social inequities (from local to global scale) seem rather to increase.

In the EJ (environmental justice) debate, socio-spatial differences of pollution are not only registered as environmental inequality, but also valued as environmental inequity, resp. discrimination. To counter this, preventive and compensatory provisions need to be developed.

Unequal socio-spatial distribution of environmental pollution may follow different distributional "logics":


Distributional logic Distribution of environmental pollution
politicalconcentration in areas with politically weak population, because less resistance
economicconcentration in unattractive areas, because cheaper (sites, infrastructure, restoration, liability, etc.)
technicalregional concentration, because infrastructure cheaper, synergies possible
environmental no regional concentration, because risk of irreversible environmental damage higher
medicalno concentration in poor population, which is anyhow exposed to more health risks, thus increasing the probability of irreversible health damage
socialno concentration in politically weak population, because this would impede the convergence of social conditions of life, which is imperative in the concept of welfare state

Unequal socio-spatial distribution of environmental pollution may be planned in advance, but can also develop after new environmental hazards have been introduced into an area, whereupon high-income groups move away ("the rich live, where they want, the poor, where they have to"). This is supported by still other processes:

EJ is related to

Lack of EJ may cause inequities in health, which are central research topics and activity domains of public health. Environmental pollution can impede health in many ways - from asthma to toxic neuropathy, hearing loss to infertility, multiple chemical sensitivity to leukemia. Pollution influences bodily and mental resources, well-being, ability to work, life quality, and social competence. Pollution may also cause selective mobility, reduce investments, jobs, and thus positive social relations, as a kind of "community-level immune system".


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