The Environmentalism of the Poor

The Environmentalism of the Poor

A Study of Ecological Conflicts and Valuation

Joan Martinez-Alier

The Environmentalism of the Poor has the explicit intention of helping to establish two emerging fields of study – political ecology and ecological economics – whilst also investigating the relations between them.

Chapter 8: Environmental Justice in the United States and South Africa

Joan Martinez-Alier

Subjects: economics and finance, valuation, environment, ecological economics, valuation


Since the late 1980s and early 1990s, ‘environmental justice’ has come to mean an organized movement against ‘environmental racism’. The movement has been succesful. In principle, this description of environmental justice applies only to the USA although, as we shall see in this chapter, it has also been used in South Africa and it could be extended to the world. There are books on ethics with the title ‘environmental justice’ (Wenz, 1988) that discuss the norms to be applied to the allocation of environmental benefits and burdens among people including future generations, and between people and other sentient beings. The subject includes the extension of Rawls’ principles of justice to future human generations (under the somewhat fanciful assumption that we are behind a veil of ignorance as to which generation we belong to), and the discussion on whether animals have ‘rights’. However, ‘environmental justice’ is an expression which belongs more to environmental sociology and to the study of race relations than to environmental ethics or philosophy. For instance, the catalogue of the Yale University Library states (in 1999–2000) that, under environmental justice, ‘are entered works on equal protection from environmental and health hazards for all people regardless of race, income, culture or social class’. Works on animal rights are entered elsewhere. Librarians are not worshippers of fashion. They acknowledge what they hope will be permanent classificatory realities. Environmental justice is, then, the organized movement against ‘environmental racism’, that is the disproportionate allocation of toxic waste to Latino...

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