USP 515 Session 6 Notes

September 28th and 30th
Session Six: Unequal Protection from Harm

Discussion Questions

In this session we will examine the concepts of “unequal protection”, “environmental racism”, and environmental justice” in relation to theory, policy and practice. We will address the following questions:

  1. What do we learn from reading Lawrence Summer’s memo?
  2. Why is it important that people know about Lawrence Summer’s memo?
  3. What does David Harvey mean when he talks about an “environment of justice”?
  4. What did you learn from the readings about the relationship between place and health?
  5. What it meant by the concept “protection from harm”?
  6. Is it important for public officials to explicitly protect people from harm? Why or why not?
  7. What are the implications of not protecting people from harm?
  8. What are the implications of protecting some people and groups from harm more than others?


  1. GEP Memorandum – Summers
    1. The author claims that we should try to move dirty industries to poor countries because it’s cheaper to choose to endanger the public in poor countries.
    2. Polluters can get away with paying less wages in poor countries.
    3. Countries in Africa are “UNDER-polluted.”
      1. Therefore we should shift pollution from developed countries to balance out the lack of pollution in Africa.
    4. Only rich people care about the health risks of pollution.
    5. Response from a Brazilian official, “Your reasoning is perfectly logical but totally insane… Your thoughts [provide] a concrete example of the unbelievable alienation, reductionist thinking, social ruthlessness and the arrogant ignorance of many conventional ‘economists’ concerning the nature of the world we live in…. If the World Bank keeps you as vice president it will lose all credibility.”
  2. The Environment of Justice – Harvey
    1. First, we recap the previous memo and the response from Brazil which was mirror by other world leaders.
    2. “The Economist,” which Lenin called “A tabloid that speaks for British millionaires,” agreed with the Memo and its logic.
    3. Harvey characterizes the memo as an endorsement of “Toxic colonialism ” or the idea of leveraging the displacement and extermination of indigenous populations by adding toxic waste.
    4. Harvey touches on the fact that in the United States, the most reliable predictor of LULUs/toxic waste dumps is the presence of communities of color, and indigenous communities.
    5. Harvey connects environmental justice to civil rights, and shows that many black groups in particular define environmental justice this way.
    6. There seems to be more to the conversation but the text ends here.
    7. Differences Justice as Spatial/Institutional
    8. Five main points
      1. Summers’ argument is class-situated: Representing affluent groups and threatening non-affluent groups.
      2. Questions of how and why hazardous wastes are produced are never even mentioned.
      3. Summers’ economic logic assumes pre-discursive construction of his neoliberal perspective.
      4. First National People of Colour Environmental Leadership Summit drafted a manifesto of environmental justice with seventeen clauses
        1. Sacredness of mother earth, ecological unity
        2. Demands cessation of production of toxins, hazardous wastes
        3. Affirms the need for urban and rural ecological perspectives
        4. Opposes the destructive operations of multinational corporations, military occupation
        5. Requires that individuals make personal decisions to consume less (de-growth)
      5. In 1994, responding to reports that minority communities were disparately impacted by environmental hazards, the Clinton administration issued an order asking federal agencies not to do that.
  3. Almost Everything You Need to Know About Environmental Justice — the United Church of Christ
    1. UCC claims to have founded the environmental justice movement
    2. UCC defines environmental racism as the siting of hazardous waste sites, landfills, incinerators, and polluting industries in ethnic and racial minority communities.
    3. They list the many common environmental issues
      1. The placing of hazardous and other noxious facilities
      2. Lead poisoning among children
      3. Asthma and other respiratory illnesses
      4. Unsafe, indecent, and exploitative workplace condition
      5. Cancer, birth defects, and developmental illnesses
      6. Pesticide poisoning of farm workers
      7. Contaminated sites and properties
      8. Transportation thoroughfares
      9. Congested and decaying housing conditions
      10. Lack of protection of spiritual grounds and indigenous habitats
      11. Pollution and lack of sound economic development
      12. Lack of access to quality health care
      13. Unequal enforcement of environmental laws
      14. Lack of people of color in the environmental professions
      15. Inadequate community participation in the decision-making process
    4. They list several major historical events
      1. 1982 Warren County, NC
      2. 1983 US General Accounting Office Report
      3. 1987 UCC Toxic Waste and Race in the United States Report
      4. 1990 Dana Alston publishes We Speak For Ourselves: Social Justice, Race, and the Environment
      5. 1990 Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality
      6. 1990 University of Michigan Symposium on Race and the Incidence of Environmental Hazards
      7. 1991 First National POC Environmental Leadership Summit
      8. 1989 ATSDR Minority Health Initiative
      9. 1992 Establishment of EPA Office of Environmental Justice
      10. 1994 Federal Interagency Symposium on Health Research and Needs to Ensure Environmental Justice
      11. 1994 Environmental Justice Executive Order
      12. 1994 National Environmental Justice Advisory Counsel
    5. The collective and individual health of members of a community is the direct result of a set of physical, social, cultural and spiritual factors. The emphasis of looking into the importance of the comprehensive health and well being of a community was directly initiated by the Environmental Justice movement. The Environmental Justice movement represents a new vision created through a series of community processes whose main objective is a transformative public conversation about what is necessary for sustainable, healthy and vital communities. The Environmental Justice movement envisions the development of a community based, multi-task integrative paradigm that facilitates the unification, development and permanency of healthy and sustainable communities.
    6. War is another major contributor to environmental harms
    7. UCC gives a list of things individuals should do about environmental justice
      1. Talk to members of your church and others
        in the community
      2. Research all the facts
      3. Develop a good description of the problem
      4. Collect good documentation of issues and
      5. Consult with other communities with similar issues; don’t reinvent the wheel
      6. Select the most appropriate resource persons and organizations
      7. Identify government agencies who are supposed to help
      8. Clarify the legal, scientific and medical issues involved
      9. Hold community meetings to share information and strategize
      10. Prepare educational materials for your community
      11. Formulate an action plan
      12. Form partnerships with university, environmental, health and other groups
      13. Devise a media strategy
      14. Don’t be intimidated or overwhelmed; you are the expert on your community
      15. Network with other environmental justice groups
    8. UCC gives a list of 17 guiding principles for environmental justice
      1. Environmental Justice affirms the sacredness of Mother Earth, ecological unity and the interdependence of all species, and the right to be free from ecological destruction.
      2. Environmental Justice demands that public policy be based on mutual respect and justice for all people, free from any form of discrimination or bias.
      3. Environmental Justice mandates the right to ethical, balanced and responsible uses of land and renewable resources in the interest of a sustainable planet for humans and other living things.
      4. Environmental Justice calls for universal protection from nuclear testing, extraction, production and disposal of toxic/hazardous wastes and poisons and nuclear testing that threaten the fundamental right to clean air, land, water, and food.
      5. Environmental Justice affirms the fundamental right to political, economic, cultural and environmental self-determination of all peoples.
      6. Environmental Justice demands the cessation of the production of all toxins, hazardous waste, and radioactive materials, and that all past and current procedures are held strictly accountable to the people for detoxification and the containment at the point of production.
      7. Environmental Justice demands the right to participate as equal partner at every level of decision-making, including needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement and evaluation.
      8. Environmental Justice affirms the right of all workers to a safe and healthy work environment without being forced to choose between an unsafe livelihood and unemployment. It also affirms the right of those who work at home to be free from environmental hazards.
      9.  Environmental Justice protects the right of victims of environmental injustice to receive full compensation and reparations for damages as well as quality health care.
      10. Environmental Justice considers governmental acts of environmental injustice a violation of international law, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and the United Nations Convention on Genocide.
      11. Environmental Justice must recognize a special legal and natural relationship of Native People to the United States government through treaties, agreements, compacts, and covenants affirming sovereignty and self determination.
      12. Environmental Justice affirms the need for urban and rural ecological policies to clean up and rebuild our cities and rural areas in balance with nature, honoring the cultural integrity of all our communities, and providing fair access for all to the full range of resources.
      13. Environmental Justice calls for the strict enforcement of principles of informed consent, and a halt to the testing of experimental reproductive and medical procedures and vaccinations on people of color.
      14. Environmental Justice opposes the destructive operations of multi-national corporations.
      15. Environmental Justice opposes military occupation, repression and exploitation of lands, people and cultures, and other life forms.
      16. Environmental Justice calls for the education of present and future generations which emphasizes social and environmental issues, based on our experience and an appreciation of our diverse cultural perspectives.
      17. Environmental Justice requires that we, as individuals, make personal and consumer choices to consume as little of Mother Earth’s resources and to produce as little waste as possible; and make the conscious decision to challenge and reprioritize our lifestyles to insure the health of the natural world for present and future generations.
    9. UCC concludes with a list of suggestions for the future including careers people should pursue in order to contribute to the cause of environmental justice.

Other Notes

  • Learned the difference between framing relationally, spatially, institutionally
    • Relationally/Individually: Individual police vs individual victims of brutality
    • Institutionally: The institution of the police
    • Spatially: The way the police are different in different places
      • ZIP Code is the most important indicator of success in life
        • Wealthy people can buy in the zip code they want
        • ZIP code, race, and class are analytically similar


No homework