USP515 Session 4 Notes

September 14th and 16th
Session Four: Environmental Justice
This session will focus on the concept and root causes of environmental injustice. We will be guided by the following questions: 

  1. How would you define the concept of “environmental injustice”?
    • Disparate impact
    • Social movement in relation to environmental movement with social justice component
    • Poorer nations bear the burden of externalities for rich nations
    • Complex concept made up of multiple intersecting dimensions
      • Impact of institutional racism on land based policies
      • Dynamics of power: where, how, who makes decision related to who is protected from harm
      • Race, class, and equity inequalities
      • Distributional dimensions: disparate impact
    • Factors come together to protect some people more/better from harm than others
    • Film
      • “Reimagining the system”
      • Demographic factors mentioned
        • Race
        • Wealth
        •  Language
          • Associates you closer or further from the dominant culture
      • Land use policies help explain why some groups and locations are better protected from harm than others.
        • Legacy of slavery is a factor in determining land use policies
        • City of San Francisco owns lots of land around the state which are used to deliver services and utilities to the city
          • This makes those lands vassals which serve the needs of San Francisco, suffering harms from dumping and other problems for the benefit of people living in San Francisco
  2. What factors explain the root causes of environmental injustice?
    • Capitalism frames the economy
    • The constitution frames the laws
    • Systemic inequality/ oppression
      • Legacy of slavery
      • Redlining
      • Chinese exclusion act
      • Concentration camps
      • Immigration laws
      • Prison industrial complex
  3. Why are zip codes meaningful factors to understand when trying to understand environmental injustice?
    • They tell you where people live
    • They have histories of redlining
    • Associated with property, infrastructure, services, etc.
    • Political representation
    • Policy implementation
  4. What did you learn from the radio broadcast on Flint, Michigan?
    • balance of power shifted away from flint and to the state
      • laws changed
      • idea of receivership enacted
    • laws applied inequitably and along racial lines
      • many cities insolvent
      • these receivership laws applied only black cities
    • all the public and private commercial offices were informed about the contaminated water and switched to filtration and bottled sources
      • residents were not informed and continued to drink the contaminated water
      • vital information was withheld from marginalized communities
    • governor appoints unelected leaders and decision makers whose interests do not represent the community, and whose demographics do not represent the community
    • put policies into practice which harm the people
    • they denied the harm
    • community members started to notice problems
      • pediatricians noticed heavy metal poisoning symptoms
    • contamination confirmed through testing by virginia tech
    • whistle blew
    • state denied the problem by changing the standards so that the toxic levels no longer qualified as toxic.
  5. Give an example of an environmental injustice that you see happening today and explain the root causes of this environmental injustice?
    • The 580 freight ban
      • Rich white people in the Oakland hills ban freight traffic through their neighborhoods in order to protect themselves from harm
      • Harm is shifted to poor black neighborhoods
      • Those neighborhoods have a 14 year average difference in life expectancy and thirty times higher incidence of respiratory disorders

Other Notes

  • WW2 and wealth redistribution
    • War veterans were supposed to get many benefits
      • Mortgages including free down payment
      • Education
      • Access to veteran healthcare
      • Hiring incentives for employers
      • This mostly only for white people and only for men
      • Black people could get debt, where white people got free money for these things.
    • This gave trillions of dollars to white people and funded the creation of the suburbs
  • Talked about red lining and segregation
    • Green book
    • Hegemonic food culture
  • Small group discussion about “Which came first, people or pollution
    • It’s complicated
    • Siting versus post-siting effects for hazardous waste facilities and why they are sited in certain places
    • I live in West Oakland because it’s cheap
      • It’s cheap because it’s polluted.
        • It became polluted because it was mostly black.
    • In this case, the hazardous waste sites were placed in certain kinds of marginalized neighborhoods. The people came before the pollution.
    • LULU: Locally unwanted land uses
      • Zoning and permitting
        • Institutional discrimination can decide where hazardous things are permitted.
      • land values are more affordable
      • political process – access to information, representation
      • commingled factors – transportation, workers, air quality, utilities, space — large buildings
    • people came second: demographic changes after siting have led to increasing concentration of minorities and the poor around these sites
      • employment opportunities
      • cost of housing less expensive
      • social networks
      • culture
      • law, politics, housing covenants, laws, redlining


  1. Which came first, people or pollution? — Mohai and Saha
  2. Making the Case for Linking Community Development and Health