Environmental Justice Movement

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James K. Boyce:

"The environmental justice (or EJ) movement is a prime example of such efforts. In combating disproportionate pollution burdens imposed upon low-income communities and people of color, the EJ movement today is claiming – or reclaiming – the right to a clean and safe environment.

An important tool for EJ activists, indeed for everyone who cares about the quality of the air they breathe and the water they drink, is right-to-know legislation such as the U.S. Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA), passed in 1986 in the wake of the chemical disaster in Bhopal, India. EPCRA requires industrial polluters to disclose their releases of hundreds of toxic chemicals, and makes this information available to the public through the annual Toxics Release Inventory. The simple fact that polluters know that the public has access to this information sometimes is enough to change their behavior – particularly when the right to know is coupled with communities actively voicing the demand for a clean and safe environment.

When communities stand up against polluters, they are sometimes accused of “nimby-ism,” the not-in-my-back-yard philosophy that simply deflects pollution burdens onto other communities. The environmental justice movement has a clear and compelling reply to this charge: “Not in anybody’s back yard.”

But it would be utopian to imagine that we will be able prevent all pollution anytime soon. We can and must continue our efforts to reduce pollution, but we cannot expect to eliminate it altogether, at least not in our lifetimes.

What does the common heritage principle have to say, then, about the pollution that will not be prevented in the foreseeable future?

I believe there is a two-part answer to this question. First, pollution burdens should be distributed fairly, as advocated by the EJ movement, rather than concentrated in particular communities.

Second, polluters should pay for their use of the limited waste-absorptive capacities of our air and water. When polluters pay, they have an incentive to cut pollution above and beyond what is required by regulations. In keeping with the principle that the environment belongs in common and equal measure to us all, the money the polluters pay should be distributed fairly to the public, as we are the ultimate owners of the air and water." (http://bollier.org/environment-our-common-heritage)


EJM and the Commons

Marybelle Nzegwu:

"Environmental Justice is a movement that fights for the “common”-ing of the environment – that is, to achieve just outcomes for humans and their environment by involving the people who live on the land in decisions impacting their environment in a meaningful way. EJ seeks to remove the environment from the regime in which decisions are made solely by corporate actors in the market and remind us that our environment is where we live, play, eat and work; if we don’t protect it, who will? EJ is a movement founded on the value of each person’s contribution to the political, social and economic spheres he or she inhabits. EJ seeks to strengthen democracy by advocating for greater citizen involvement in the political arena – emphasizing the importance of local actions and involving each citizen in the management of scarce resources and the creation of local abundance. EJ seeks to effectuate principles embodied in permaculture and indigenous models of creating local abundance sufficient to meet the needs of a community. In applying these principles, each person’s labor becomes infinitely more valuable than mere dollars an hour and is a profound political and economic act that has the power to reduce dependence on harmful activities, create new efficiencies and new models to counter the status quo which is based on peak oil and the idea that capital is only in the hands of a few. Furthermore, the EJ movement challenges contemporary environmental impacts based on a critique of environmental law’s failure to take into account the intimate connection between environmental decision-making in the corporate and political arenas and the effects of social injustice.' (http://www.commonssense.it/s1/?p=684)