Environmental justice (EJ) is understood in many different ways, but all definitions affirm the importance of equitable access to a clean and healthy environment for all people, as well as opportunities for meaningful participation in shaping healthy communities.
- The current legal definition of EJ, used by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) is, “…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” (US EPA, 2012).
- A broader definition views EJ as “both a field of study and a social movement that seeks to address the unequal distribution of environmental benefits and harms and asks whether procedures and impacts of environmental decision making are fair to the people they affect” (Bryant and Callewaert, 2003).
In the last two decades, the EJ movement has broadened from its early (and ongoing) struggles against unjust siting of hazardous waste sites in minority communities to seek broad improvements in ecological and socioeconomic conditions in communities, such that all people can achieve their full potential. Contemporary environmental justice struggles involve questions as diverse as land use; access to amenities such as healthful food, green space, dignified housing, and transportation; renewable and job-creating energy policies, and access to opportunities for connection with nature. This represents an opportunity for ecologists in many specialties to support communities in advancing environmental justice, through collaborative research to advance human environmental sustainability, society-wide ecological education, and policy engagement (Middendorf et al., 2003).
To learn more about the EJ movement, we recommend the 2007 report by Robert Bullard and colleagues, Toxic wastes and race at twenty: 1987 -2007. This report contains an excellent overview of the history of the American EJ movement, the current status of environmental injustice in the US, and potential policy responses. It also features essays from a diverse group of people reflecting on the impact of the EJ movement on their life-work and communities in the US and abroad.
Bryant, B. and J. Callewaert. 2003. Why is understanding urban ecosystems important to people concerned about environmental justice? pp. 46-57. In A.R. Berkowitz, C.H. Nilon and K.S. Hollweg (eds.) Understanding urban ecosystems : A new frontier for science and education. Springer-Verlag, New York, NY.
Bullard, R.D. 1990. Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Bullard, R.D., P. Mohai, R. Saha and B. Wright. 2007. Toxic wastes and race at twenty: 1987 -2007. United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries, Cleveland, OH. Available at: http://www.ucc.org/assets/pdfs/toxic20.pdf, 2 January 2010.
Middendorf, G., B. Grant, J. Cubit, G. Love, C. Nilon, G. Peterson, L.M. Jablonski and T.C. Poling. 2003. The challenge of environmental justice. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 1:154-160.
Middendorf, G. and J.P. McCormick. 2006. Roots of environmental justice. In: Encyclopedia of Earth. Ed. CJ Cleveland. Available at: http://www.eoearth.org/article/Roots_of_environmental_justice?topic=49477, 12 December 2012.
US EPA. 2012. Environmental justice. Website of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Available at: http://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/index.html, 11 September 2012.