The effects of hurricane Sandy in New Jersey, wildfires in California, lead contamination in Flint, Michigan, and the water crisis in Cape Town, South Africa are among many recent environmental events that have received extensive public and media attention. Each of these examples also illustrate how environmental stresses and environmental exposures often have uneven impacts across communities, households, and social groups. This course introduces the current modes of thinking about the relations between environment, society, and social justice. Situating environmental issues and challenges within the context of a highly unequal and rapidly changing world, the course demonstrates how dynamic political, economic, and technological contexts can amplify environmental inequalities yet also present opportunities for transformative responses.
In the first section of the course, we will explore the tangled histories of the environmental movement, the social justice movement, and the environmental movement, before discussing the contemporary connections between environmental justice, racism, and colonialism. In the second part, we will examine specific environmental justice problems concerning water, air, food, waste, and toxins. We will use the concepts learned in the first part to think critically about the history and spatiality of the problems at hand. Finally, in the third section we will consider the production of environmental disasters and crisis, with a focus on climate change.