What exactly is environmental justice?

“Environmental justice is the fair and consistent distribution of environmental benefits and burden, without discrimination on the basis of socio-economic status, race, ethnic origin, or residence on an Indigenous reserve.” [1] Studies conducted in both the United States and Canada have found that poor and minority communities bear a disproportionate burden of potential or actual exposure to environmental hazards, ranging from air pollution to toxic waste. [2] To counter this, environmental justice sets out to ensure that all people, regardless of race, class, or gender have equal opportunities to access the benefits of the environment, along with equal opportunity to avoid environmental burdens.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency also defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” [3] The theory of environmental justice is dedicated to promoting the equitable distribution of environmental harms and benefits – harms such as landfills or chemical plants and benefits such as green spaces or urban forests. In Canada, a lack of environmental justice is particularly an issue for those people living on First Nation reserves. [4]

On the legal side of things, environmental justice is concerned with the prevention of discrimination in environmental policymaking, in the enforcement of laws and regulations, in the siting of polluting industries, and in the official sanctioning of the life-threatening presence of poisons and pollutants in communities of colour. [5]

However, environmental justice is hard to accomplish. One of the issues facing the environmental justice movement is that environmental racism is not easy to detect and it is not as obvious as other forms of racism or discrimination. Often, environmental racism is structural, which means that it is embedded in our social structures and leads to underlying bias during the discretionary decision making of government or appeal boards – for example during an environmental assessment. However, the fact that it is hard to see does not mean that it does not exist.

In the next section we share some examples of environmental racism in Canada and connect this concept with other topics covered on this website.

<< Environmental Justice

Environmental Justice in Canada >>

[1] Shirley Thompson, Flooding of First Nations and Environmental Justice in Manitoba: Case Studies of the Impacts of the 2011 Flood and Hydro Development in Manitoba (2015) 38 Man LJ 220 at 222.

[2] Shirley Thompson, Flooding of First Nations and Environmental Justice in Manitoba: Case Studies of the Impacts of the 2011 Flood and Hydro Development in Manitoba at 222.

[3] United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Environmental Justice” United States Government online: https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice.

[4] Kaitlyn Mitchell & Zachary D’Onofrio, “Environmental Injustice and Racism in Canada: The First Step is Admitting We Have a Problem” (2016) 29 J Env L & Prac 305.

[5] Kaitlyn Mitchell & Zachary D’Onofrio, “Environmental Injustice and Racism in Canada: The First Step is Admitting We Have a Problem”.

 

 

 

Environmental Justice

Lesson Plan: Fundamentals of Environmental Law
Lesson Plan: Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Lesson Plan: Tragedy of the Commons
Lesson Plan: Climate Litigation

Curriculum Connections

Newsletter

Join our new AlbertaEnviroLaws Facebook group to ask questions, participate in discussions and other online engagement. Please share this widely so that the high school teachers and students in your circles hear about this great new resource for supplemental online learning. AlbertaEnviroLaws Facebook Group