MicroSyllabus: Environmental Justice in the United States

Community Engagement

Environmental Justice (EJ) scholarship in the United States emerged in tandem with social movement activism during the 1980s. Environmental Justice activism and scholarship responds to the spatial violence of racism and capitalism, which reproduce both uneven development across racially segregated communities and high levels of toxicity—physical and social—in communities of color. Though sociologist Robert Bullard is considered the “father of EJ” because of his early research, grassroots organizing of impacted communities is a linchpin of EJ scholarship.  The fight for EJ is a grassroots fight against the toxicity of various industries, the military, corporate greed, profit-driven governance, and, increasingly, policing and systems of incarceration. Beyond its 17 principles, first formed during the 1991 First People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, EJ can locate its roots in several historic and ongoing social movements, from the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s to the farmworker and labor movements in the 1960s and 1970s to current battles for fair housing and habitable neighborhood conditions. Outside of the U.S., where the grassroots EJ movement is now arguably much more active than in the U.S., fights to stop socioecological destruction from oil companies in Ecuador, for Black and indigenous land sovereignty in Colombia and Brazil, and for basic infrastructure access in India, are bound by the extractive forces of globalized economies and the persistence of colonial violence from Europe, the U.S., and Canada.



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