13. Green Criminology

13.5 The Environmental Justice Perspective

Dr. Gregory Simmons; Dr. Mark Vardy; and Dr. Rochelle Stevenson

The seemingly indiscriminate and far-reaching nature of many environmental and ecological harms—industrial pollution, climate change, or the destruction of the natural world—can lead to the impression that everyone is harmed in the same universal way (e.g., Beck, 1992a, 1992b, 1999). In reality, the experience of environmental harm aligns with social hierarchies and the distribution of power and resources in society. Some groups are less exposed to environmental “bads” than other groups, or to the extent that they are exposed, or are better positioned to mitigate the negative consequences. The intersection of social relations of class, race and gender, for example, is important to understanding differential exposure to environmental harm (see, for example, Griefe et al., 2017; Simon, 2000; Stretesky & Lynch, 1999). The disproportionate and unequal impact of environmental harms is the primary focus of the environmental justice perspective. Intergenerational responsibility (our obligations to future generations), equity (fairness) in the distribution of environmental resources and risks, and the recognition of environmental rights that embody human freedom, social rights, and the fundamental quality of life are central environmental justice values (White, 2015; White, 2018; White & Heckenberg, 2014).

In the United States, the single biggest predictor of whether you reside near a hazardous waste site is race. Fifty-six percent of people living in the vicinity of toxic waste sites are people of colour (Covert, 2016). Such inequities demonstrate environmental racism. As discussed earlier in this chapter, Indigenous peoples in Canada and across the globe disproportionately suffer ongoing environmental injustice, including via increased exposure to environmental pollution (e.g., Brook, 2000; Rush, 2002)—a reality embedded in colonialism’s continuing legacy of discrimination, displacement and imposed structural inequality. One illustrative example is found in the experience of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation located at the heart of “chemical valley,” a stretch of southern Ontario known for having one of the highest concentrations of chemical plants in North America. Sixty industrial facilities are located within a twenty-five-kilometre radius of the Aamjiwnaang reserve (“First Nations Exposed,” 2013). Ongoing water and air pollution from the facilities is compounded by frequent spills and a lack of regulatory enforcement, oversight, monitoring and transparency (Cribb et al., 2017). The Ontario Engineers’ union (The Professional Engineers Government of Ontario [PEGO]) has claimed that the government agency charged with protecting the environment (Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks) was “muzzling and excluding key engineers that raise concerns with respect to public safety, petroleum refineries and surrounding communities such as the Aamjiwnaang First Nation” (Jarvis & Russell, 2017, para. 3). Testing has revealed elevated levels of dangerous chemicals, including toxins that can interfere with the human reproductive system (“Reproductive Toxins Discovered on Sarnia Reserve,” 2020). The Nation has experienced high rates of birth complications and a shocking 2-to-1 female-to-male birth ratio (Mackenzie et al., 2005). See “The Chemicals Are Within Us”: Toxic Tour with Aamjiwnaang First Nation for more on the plight of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation.  See Toxic waste dumping in the Gulf of Guinea amounts to environmental racism for more on the concept of environmental racism.



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Introduction to Criminology Copyright © 2023 by Dr. Gregory Simmons; Dr. Mark Vardy; and Dr. Rochelle Stevenson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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