Syllabus: Environmental Justice

X:XX-X:XX Xday and Xday, Room XXX
Prerequisite: One other course in Geography, Environmental Studies, or Philosophy

Prof. Stentor Danielson
Office: XXX Building, Room XXX
Phone: xXXX
Office hours: Tuesday 2:00-5:00 or by appointment

About this class

Human interactions with the natural environment raise a variety of difficult dilemmas of justice. Does pollution unfairly affect some groups more than others? Do we have moral obligations toward animals or ecosystems? Do conservation policies help or hurt local people? In this class, students will explore the answers to such questions and examine the ways that people have resolved them (or failed to resolve them) in practice.

The overriding goal of this class is for you to be able to recognize instances of environmental injustice in the world around you and suggest what would constitute a just solution. To do this, you will first need to be able to identify when decisions about our environment are based on debatable principles of justice. You will understand the perspective from which those decisions have been made, and be able to argue for a decision based on your own philosophy.

The course opens by giving you a taste of the issue that drove the rise of the environmental justice movement in the United States -- racial disparities in exposure to hazardous facilities. We then take a step back and consider a variety of more abstract theories of justice. The bulk of the semester is then spent exploring a series of particular issues -- from wilderness to indigenous people to climate change -- that have been identified as salient sites of environmental injustice. We end with a consideration of democracy, and how environmental justice can be implemented in practice. In the course schedule, each week's readings are accompanied by several big questions to guide your reading and discussion.


General assignments policies

Assignments will be docked one +/- grade (e.g. from a B+ to a B) for each school day they are late, unless a documented excuse is provided. This includes late submissions of written assignments as well as make-up exams. Since you have the entire semester's schedule now, please plan your time so as to complete all assignments early, so that you are prepared if something unexpected happens. Written assignments may be printed double-sided or on old paper (i.e. paper that has had something else printed on the other side, available in all campus computer labs), or submitted by email in .doc, .rtf, or .odt format.

1. Current events assignments: due throughout the class

Environmental justice is not just an academic issue -- it's something that plays out every day in countless places around the world. As a college student, you should be reading a newspaper or news magazine several times a week. If you aren't already, this class will be a good time to start! The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Boston Globe are all good papers that often report on environmental justice issues. More specialized sources (such as National Geographic) are also acceptable, but the stories you use should have been reported in general-audience publications, not just in advocacy sources.

Once a week, beginning in Week 2 and ending in Week 9, you will be required to hand in a Current Events paper. For this paper, you will have to identify one news story about an instance of environmental justice or injustice. Your paper should then discuss:

Papers should be approximately 700 words long. They are due in my office mailbox or emailed to me by 5 pm on Friday. Each paper should include the complete citation of the story (including either a URL or a photocopy of the story itself).

2. Major research assignment: Due at the end of class

This assignment is meant to give you experience analyzing an environmental justice issue in greater detail. Numerous progress checks will be made throughout the semester to ensure that you are making good progress. At the end of the class, each person will make a 15-minute oral presentation of their research.

The paper should cover the same three basic questions as the Current Events assignments (though obviously in much more depth!):

During week 4, all students must make an appointment to discuss their paper idea with the professor. Before the meeting, please skim over the reading packet for the remainder of the class to get ideas. You need not have a detailed topic worked out in advance, but if you come to the meeting completely unprepared, it will not be a productive use of your time or mine! You are not limited to the topics covered in this class, but you must be able to justify why the topic you choose is relevant to environmental justice. Most papers will be "case studies" -- for example, of the controversy over uranium mining on the Navajo reservation or of the impact of the Green Revolution on farmers in India.

In weeks 6, 8, and 10, you must submit a "progress report." These progress reports will not be graded on content, so don't be afraid to turn in unpolished ideas or prose. However, 5% of your final class grade will be based on turning them in on time. The progress reports are meant to keep you from putting off your paper until the last minute, and to allow me to give you feedback on the development of your ideas before grading time arrives. Progress reports may include one or more of the following:

During Week 12, each student will make a 10-minute presentation on their research. Remember that you only have 10 minutes -- so it is important to focus in on the most important aspects of your research and be concise! Questions asked of student presenters will help your classmates to improve their final written paper. If you want to use audiovisual technology (such as PowerPoint), that is fine -- but delays for technical difficulties will be counted against your 10 minutes, so make sure you come to class early and test your equipment.

Written papers are due by 5:00 on the last day of classes. Your paper should be 6000-10,000 words long -- but remember that saying everything necessary to make your point without adding extraneous information is more important than stretching or squishing to fit the word count.

An "A" paper/presentation will have the following characteristics:

3. Final exam: TBA

The final exam will be a 2-hour exam, held during the time slot that the university assigns to this class. The goal of the final exam will be to ensure that you understand all of the philosophies and issues raised in the class -- e.g. students who subscribe to deep ecology and use it as their perspective in their Current Events assignments and final paper should still be able to describe utilitarianism and know what actions it would entail. The exam format will be mostly short answer (1-2 sentences) and short essay (1-2 paragraphs). You should be able to refer to specific examples from the class readings to support your ideas in the essay questions.


The final grade for this class will consist of:

Current events assignments: 35% (5% each)
Final paper progress reports: 5%
Final paper presentation: 15%
Final paper, written version: 25%
Final Exam: 20%


This is a discussion-oriented class. I expect all students to attend every class, because class discussions will be key to learning the material. You should think of your classmates as a resource to help you understand the ideas covered. While attendance is not factored into your grade, priority for outside-of-class help (such as office hours) will be given to those students who attend class regularly.


There is no book for this class. Because the class is structured around debates, readings are made up of articles and chapters presenting varying aspects of problems. A reading packet is available from the campus bookstore, and additional optional readings may be posted on Blackboard.

Academic honesty

Cheating and plagiarism (representing others' work as your own) will not be tolerated, and I will be alert for signs of both. In your papers, any idea that you take from any person other than yourself must be properly cited, and any words or phrases that you take from others must be clearly marked as quotations. You may discuss ideas with your classmates, or get help proofreading, but all of the writing must be your own. Review the section in your Student Handbook on Academic Honesty for a more detailed explanation of the university's procedures for handling cheating and plagiarism.

Schedule of topics and readings

Week 1: Environmental racism

Where did the environmental justice movement come from? How are the poor and racial minorities impacted by industry and pollution?

Bullard, R. D., P. Mohai, R. Saha, and B. Wright 2007. Toxic wastes and race at twenty: 1987-2007: grassroots struggles to dismantle environmental racism in the United States. Cleveland: United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries. Read the Executive Summary (x-xv) and look over the rest, especially Chapters 1 and 4.

Cutter, S. L., D. Holm, and L. Clark 1996. The role of geographic scale in monitoring environmental justice. Risk Analysis 16(4): 517-526.

Pulido, L. 2000. Rethinking environmental racism: white privilege and urban development. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 90(1): 12-40.

Week 2: Theories of justice I: anthropocentrism

First Current Events assignment due by 5 p.m. on Friday.

What is justice? How should we decide whether an act is right or wrong? How do conservatism, libertarianism, liberalism, and socialism deal with environmental questions?

Kasperson, R. E., P. Derr, and R. W. Kates 1983. Confronting equity in radioactive waste management: modest proposals for a socially just and acceptable program. In Kasperson, R. E., ed. Equity issues in radioactive waste management. p. 331-368. Cambridge MA: Oelgeschlager, Gunn, and Hain Publishers.

Bliese, J. R. E. 1997. Traditionalist conservatism and environmental ethics. Environmental Ethics 19(2): 135-151.

Anderson, T. L., and D. T. Leal 1998. Visions of the environment and rethinking the way we think. In Dryzek, J. S., and D. Schlosberg, ed. Debating the Earth: the environmental politics reader. p. 207-223. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

de-Shalit, A. 1995. Is liberalism environment-friendly? Social Theory and Practice 21(2).

O'Connor, J. 1986. Capitalism, nature, socialism: a theoretical introduction. Capitalism, Nature, Socialism 1: 11-38.

See the Appendix for suggested additional readings on the various theories of justice. You may want to consult these when writing your final paper.

Week 3: Theories of justice II: non-anthropocentrism

Current Events assignment due by 5 p.m. on Friday.

Do we have obligations toward non-humans? What are the basic characteristics of the animal rights, land ethic, deep ecology, and bioregional views?

Singer, P. 1993. Practical ethics. New York: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 3: "Equality for Animals?"

Leopold, A. 1947. A Sand County almanac, and sketches here and there. New York: Oxford University Press. Part IV, Chapter 1: "The Land Ethic"

Naess, A. 1995. Self-realization: an ecological approach to being in the world. In Sessions, G., ed. Deep Ecology for the twenty-first century. p. 225-239. Boston: Shambhala.

Snyder, G. 1990. The place, the region, and the commons. The practice of the wild. San Fransisco, North Point Press.

See the Appendix for suggested additional readings on the various theories of justice. You may want to consult these when writing your final paper.

Week 4: Wilderness and conservation

Current Events assignment due by 5 p.m. on Friday. You must make an appointment to discuss your final paper topic this week.

What is wilderness, and is it valuable? Can environmental conservation be unjust to people?

Leopold, A. 1947. A Sand County almanac, and sketches here and there. New York: Oxford University Press. Part IV, Chapter 1: "Wilderness"

Denevan, W. M. 1992. The pristine myth: the landscape of the Americas in 1492. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 82(3): 369-385.

Fairhead, J., and M. Leach 1995. False forest history, complicit social analysis: rethinking some West African environmental narratives. World Development 23(6): 1023-1035.

Havlick, D. 2006. Reconsidering wilderness: prospective ethics for nature, technology, and society. Ethics, Place and Environment 9(1): 47-62.

Week 5: Gender

Current Events assignment due by 5 p.m. on Friday.

Do environmental issues affect men and women differently? What is the link between sexism and environmental protection or destruction?

Shiva, V. and M. Mies. 1989. Ecofeminism. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Zed Books. Chapter 1: "Introduction"

Jackson, C. 1993. Environmentalisms and gender interests in the third world. Development and Change 24: 649-677.

Miller, V., M. Hallstein, and S. Quass 1996. Feminist politics and environmental justice: women's community activism in West Harlem, New York. In Rocheleau, D., B. Thomas-Slayter, and E. Wangari, ed. Feminist political ecology: global issues and local experiences. p. 62-85. London: Routledge.

Rocheleau, D., L. Ross, and J. Morrobel 1996. From forest gardens to tree farms: women, men, and timber in Zambrana-Chacuey, Dominican Republic. In Rocheleau, D., B. Thomas-Slayter, and E. Wangari, ed. Feminist political ecology: global issues and local experiences. p. 224-250. London: Routledge.

Week 6: Indigenous people

Current Events assignment due by 5 p.m. on Friday.

How do indigenous people care for their environment? Are they the victims of special types of environmental injustice?

Berkes, F. 1998. Indigenous knowledge and resource management systems in the Canadian subarctic. In Berkes, F., J. Colding, and C. Folke, ed. Linking social and ecological systems: management practice and social mechanisms for building resilience. p. 98-128. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Milton, K. 1996. Environmentalism and cultural theory: exploring the role of anthropology in environmental discourse. London: Routledge. Chapter 5

Kuletz, V. 2001. Invisible spaces, violent places: Cold War nuclear and militarized landscapes. In Peluso, N. L., and M. Watts, ed. Violent environments. p. 237-260. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Spieldoch, R. L. 1996. Uranium is in my body. American Indian Culture and Research Journal 20 (2): 173-85

Week 7: Animals

Current Events assignment due by 5 p.m. on Friday.

What implications does our use -- or non-use -- of animals have for justice among humans and/or between species?

Naughton-Treves, L. 1997. Farming the forest edge: vulnerable places and people around Kibale National Park, Uganda. Geographical Review 87(1): 27-46.

Ilea, R.C. 2009. Intensive livestock farming: global trends, increased environmental concerns, and ethical solutions. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics.

Emel, J. 1995. Are you man enough, big and bad enough? Ecofeminism and wolf eradication in the USA. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 13: 707-734.

Wescoat, J. L. 1995. The "right of thirst" for animals in Islamic law: a comparative approach. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 13: 637-654.

Week 8: Development

Current Events assignment due by 5 p.m. on Friday.

Is "sustainable development" a desirable goal? Is environmental destruction caused by poverty, or by affluence?

World Commission on Environment and Development 1987. Our common future. New York: Oxford University Press. Introduction: "From one earth to one world"

Sachs, W. 1993. Global ecology and the shadow of "development". In Sachs, W., ed. Global ecology: a new arena of political conflict. p. 3-21. London: Zed Books.

Klepeis, P., and P. Laris 2005. Contesting sustainable development in Tierra del Fuego. Geoforum.

Shiva, V. 1993. The greening of the global reach. In Sachs, W., ed. Global ecology: a new arena of political conflict. p. 149-156. London: Zed Books.

Week 9: Climate change

Current Events assignment due by 5 p.m. on Friday.

Do changes in the global climate affect different people differently? How should responsibility for preventing or coping with climate change be distributed?

Adger, W. N., and P. M. Kelly 1999. Social vulnerability to climate change and the architecture of entitlements. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 4(3-4): 253-266.

Müller, B. 2001. Varieties of distributive justice in climate change: an editorial comment. Climatic Change 48(2-3): 273-288.

Meyer-Abich, K. M. 1993. Winners and losers in climate change. In Sachs, W., ed. Global ecology: a new arena of political conflict. p. 68-87. London: Zed Books.

Shue, H. 1996. Environmental change and the varieties of justice. In Hampson, F. O., and J. Reppy, ed. Earthly goods: environmental change and social justice. p. 9-29. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Week 10: Democracy

How should we decide on environmental policies? What should the roles of experts and laypeople be in environmental controversies?

Fiorino, D. J. 1989. Technical and democratic values in risk analysis. Risk Analysis 9(3): 293-299.

Renn, O., T. Webler, and H. Kastenholz 1998 [1996]. Procedural and substantive fairness in landfill siting: a Swiss case study. In Löfstedt, R., and L. Frewer, ed. The Earthscan reader in risk and modern society. p. 253-270. London: Earthscan Publications.

Funtowicz, S. O., and J. R. Ravetz 1992. Three types of risk assessment and the emergence of post-normal science. In Krimsky, S., and D. Golding, ed. Social theories of risk. p. 251-274. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Week 11: Environmental justice reconsidered

This week's class will be taken up by wrapping up our discussions from previous weeks and synthesizing the ideas and topics we have covered. There are no readings from the course packet, in order to give you more time to work on your final paper.

Week 12: Student presentations

Students will present the results of their research projects to the class.

Week 13: Final paper and final exam

Your final paper is due by 5:00 on the last day of classes. The time and place of the final exam is TBA by the university.