File Name: environmental justice and racism in canada an introduction .zip
- Environmental Injustice and Racism in Canada: The First Step is Admitting We Have a Problem
- Environmental Injustice and Racism in Canada: The First Step is Admitting We Have a Problem
- Conclusion: Critical Environmental Justice Struggles
Environmental Injustice and Racism in Canada: The First Step is Admitting We Have a Problem
Jeffrey R. Spatial disparities in environmental quality and practices are contributing to rising health inequalities worldwide.
To date, the field of health promotion has not contributed as significantly as it might to a systematic analysis of the physical environment as a determinant of health nor to a critique of inequitable environmental governance practices responsible for social injustice—particularly in the Canadian context.
In this paper, we explore ways in which health promotion and environmental justice perspectives can be combined into an integrated movement for environmental health justice in health promotion. Drawing on Canadian experiences, we describe the historical contributions and limitations of each perspective in research, policy and particularly professional practice.
We then demonstrate how recent environmental justice research in Canada is moving toward a deeper and multi-level analysis of environmental health inequalities, a development that we believe can inform a comprehensive research, policy and advocacy agenda in health promotion toward environmental health justice as a fundamental determinant of health.
Lastly, we propose four key considerations for health promotion professionals to consider in advancing this movement. Human-produced environmental risks result from both exposures to hazards and limitations on access to environmental opportunities. Globally, myriad human impacts on the environment have become an international crisis and are said to be responsible for up to one-quarter of the global burden of disease Smith et al.
The distribution of this disease burden, as well as broader threats to wellbeing, is almost invariably skewed as a consequence of structural inequalities that discriminate against society's most socially and economically disadvantaged populations Pellow, ; Taylor, ; Corburn, ; Cutter, Given the considerable evidence of the population health impacts of socio-economic inequality Wilkinson, ; Wilkinson and Marmot, ; WHO Commission on Social Determinants of Health, , it is clear that climate change is and should be a key health promotion concern.
Yet, the lukewarm political leadership of richer nations at the United Nations Climate COP15 Conference in Copenhagen, particularly juxtaposed with the significant citizen mobilization in support of strong government action on climate change, highlights the disparity between global environmental concerns and the willingness of governments to act collectively to address their disproportionate impacts on the poorer nations and populations of the world.
To close this gap between persistent inaction and growing global environmental health inequalities, we must find pathways for a more systemic response within health promotion research, policy advocacy and community action than presently exists see Howze et al.
In this paper, we present a critical assessment of health promotion's contribution and as-yet largely unfulfilled potential within the environmental arena, arguing for a more concerted synergy between health promotion and the global movement known as environmental justice.
More specifically, we suggest a collective movement toward the promotion of environmental health justice as a future priority for systemic public health action on environmental health inequalities on a variety of spatial scales. It is clearly recognized in both health promotion and environmental justice literatures that marginalized populations face a double burden: inequality resulting from stratified social environments lead to non-random variability in the quality of physical environments, and vice-versa Bullard, ; Hancock, ; Poland, Yet, even with the increasing prevalence and severity of such inequalities and their health impacts, health promotion has been slow to adequately scrutinize the key role of the environment as a mediating factor of the social determinants of health Cole et al.
Cole et al. However, most analyses, to date, have not yet addressed the distinctive differences in values between adherents of environmental justice and that of mainstream environmentalism. Indeed, proponents of environmental justice are critical of the many ways in which the voices of the oppressed are absent or marginalized within most environmental discourses Gosine and Teelucksingh, ; Agyeman et al.
We believe that health promotion can and should draw on the rich history of scholarship and activism of environmental justice.
This could have the double benefit of linking not only common theoretical and value-based approaches to social justice and equity, but also helping to move past several limitations within each perspective. For example, many environmental justice researchers in recent years have focused largely on quantifiable hazard distributions e. Second, a heavy reliance on evidence narrowly defined as a small subset of variables in the physical environment obscures a larger picture of the full range of environmental impacts on people's lives.
On the other hand, health promotion has not always paid sufficient attention to the environment in its application of the social determinants of health, with the majority of government-funded initiatives favouring instead more programmatic strategies focused on risk behaviours aimed at specific disease categories. Yet, as the WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health has recently affirmed, the settings approach within health promotion that connects healthy people to healthy places is an essential ingredient for reducing health inequities WHO, While the Healthy Cities Movement has captured this tradition in the context of recognizing the importance of urban ecosystems on health Tsouros and Green, , the field as a whole has been slow to move beyond treating settings workplaces, schools, etc.
We submit that a health promotion movement can usefully learn from the historic accomplishments of the grassroots-driven environmental justice movement over the past quarter century.
Here, the successes in environmental justice in mobilizing communities to address environmental inequalities Weinberg, ; Bullard, is more in tune with the socio-ecological, community-based tradition of health promotion and offers the potential for coordinated global political action on environmental determinants of health inequality.
To achieve theoretical and practical integration, we argue that there needs to be a re acknowledgement of the need to work in solidarity with geographically, ethnically and socially based communities who are already pursuing environmental justice goals within their respective jurisdictions. In the pursuit of justice, we need to develop coordinated global priorities that aim to redress ongoing legacies of environmental discrimination and to promote in environmental governance more equitable participation and recognition of those groups who have been relegated to society's margins.
To make our case for this paradigm shift, we draw on our own experiences as social scientists closely attuned to Canadian environmental problems as well as knowledge gained from working within health promotion research and policy development over the past several years.
Since the earliest articulation of health promotion Lalonde, , the physical environment has figured prominently in the new ways of thinking about the non-medical determinants of health Lalonde, and the global Health-for-All movement WHO, Similarly, the WHO's Sundsvall Statement on Supportive Environments for Health WHO, made clear early on that reaching Health-for-All was contingent on continued action in the face of growing environmental degradation, especially in the most socioeconomically marginalized places of the world.
Yet Canada's institutional response within health promotion, as embodied in the academic foci of many but not all health promotion scholars and operationalized in many but again not all governmental health promotion practices, has never reflected a sustained emphasis on environmental determinants of health, environmental policy development, or community goals of environmental health justice.
In Canada, for example, rather than expand health promotion into new territory, governments at all levels redirected finances and policy priorities away from an expanded Ottawa Charter-style health promotion in order to address perceived acute care shortages waitlists, bed closures while simultaneously absolving the state of responsibility for meeting the health needs of society's most vulnerable populations Canadian Public Health Association, ; Poland, In so doing, mainstream government-sponsored health promotion policies and programs have avoided pressing environmental issues, leaving many groups unsupported in their efforts to coalesce against the significant and disproportionate health impacts of environmental inequalities on our nation's most vulnerable populations Masuda et al.
While health promotion policies in Canada have continued to be insufficiently attentive to environmental inequalities, some health promoters working with communities across the country have nonetheless been mobilizing as knowledge increases of the persistent hazards that mediate environment, socioeconomic inequality and health Potvin and Hayes, ; see Chaudhuri, for an example of the nationally recognized environmental health promotion work of the South Riverdale Community Health Centre.
Unfortunately, many of these initiatives have gone undocumented and insufficiently profiled in education and practice circles where the argument for sustained attention to environmental health injustice remains only partially and sporadically articulated, particularly among Canadian researchers and practitioners.
The environmental justice movement has made significant progress since its birth in the collective acts of civil disobedience against a landfill for polychlorinated biphenyls PCBs in the predominantly African-American community of Warren County, North Carolina Weinberg, ; Bullard, Environmental justice is now both a global movement that includes collaborations among researchers, non-governmental organizations, public health professionals, legal advocates and community leaders as well as a theoretical paradigm that links environmental research to debates around rights, human dignity and social equity Taylor, ; Scandrett, While much of the early focus of environmental justice research was on the distributional outcomes of hazardous facility siting in minority and low-income communities, the focus has also broadened to include a deeper and multi-level structural analysis of the social, economic and political processes involved in the production of environmental health injustices, both in relation to hazards exposure and to limitations on access to environmental opportunities Pellow, ; Lambert et al.
In turn, the increase in scrutiny of inequities that vulnerable populations face in environmental decision-making has drawn attention to a more fundamental question of recognitional environmental injustice Schlosberg, Recent work in this area highlights the subversive ways that epistemology operates within the currently technoscientific and deliberative nature of environmental procedures to render invisible the traditional expertise, values and identities of First Nations and other non-western peoples Haluza-Delay, ; Agyman et al.
Here we provide some specific contours for what an environmental health justice orientation in health promotion might look like. As in the USA and elsewhere, Canadian environmental justice analyses are beginning to throw light on socio-historically fault lines that have structured environmental inequalities on the basis of ethnoracial marginalization, class exclusion and neo colonialism Teelucksingh, ; Eichler and Burke, ; Haluza-Delay, Among these, we can discern three distinct ways in which an environmental health justice approach in health promotion might be articulated.
First, environmental health justice can focus on dismantling what we might call functional discrimination— that is, the notion that environmental inequalities produced as a result of policy and planning gaps are actually seen to be in the best interest of non-marginalized populations, the so-called public interest.
For example, Teelucksingh Teelucksingh, has used environmental justice as a critical lens to trace how the formation of neighbourhood inequalities in the city of Toronto has been a function of a discriminatory pattern of urban development. Her study demonstrates how people's daily struggles among the urban minority and immigrant underclass are not so much a sign of dysfunction in the community, but are rather symptomatic of hegemonic power structures in Toronto that function for the interests of more privileged social groups.
The functional discrimination perspective illuminates how the urban vision in places like Toronto views inner cities as requiring strategies for the containment of poverty, violence and racialized people. Yet, as recent research shows, in the face of this portrait of the derelict inner city is always a strong community and history of resilience and social activism directed toward the improvement of neighbourhood health Masuda and Crabtree, In Press.
In a landmark Canadian study, Cruikshank and Bouchier Cruikshank and Bouchier, examined the historical development of the city of Hamilton, Ontario, a post-industrial city on the southern shore of Lake Ontario with a legacy of working class immigration, socioeconomic marginalization and environmental degradation in its highly industrialized north end.
Their research focuses on how the development of spatial inequalities in environmental quality imposed on north end communities must be seen not only in terms of exposure to hazards, but also in terms of limited access to environmental amenities, including public beaches and clean water.
Yet, even in the face of continuing environmental pollution and neighbourhood degradation, Hamilton's north end community also supports a strong level of environmental justice activism that seeks to re-affirm the right of north end residents to the same quality of living conditions as enjoyed in other parts of the city see www.
Third, an environmental health justice approach can mobilize community knowledge. While often excluded from environmental decision-making, community-based expertise has proven to be immensely helpful in improving the political and yes even the scientific legitimacy of conventional environmental knowledge rooted in the ecological sciences.
For example, Lambert et al. Lambert and Lane ; Lambert et al. Their research has shown how community participation in the research process was instrumental in constructing scientifically rigourous and socially relevant knowledge that helped to legitimate community environmental justice efforts to consider a more extensive tar pond remediation than was originally considered by officials. And yet, as the Hamilton North End example also illustrates, the Sydney case simultaneously highlights the exceptional efforts of residents and a handful of researchers to generate relevant and actionable knowledge; and also a lack of appropriate knowledge generation from those in traditional positions of power in a system prone to denial of harm.
Community struggles in Canadian cities such as Hamilton, Toronto, and Sydney illustrate how environmental health justice can challenge the historical reproduction of places which relegate socio-economically disadvantaged groups to the margins, exposing them to hazards and depriving them of access to health promoting amenities enjoyed by others.
All three studies illustrate how working with more inclusive definitions of environment, health and place can be instrumental in identifying the uneven power relations embedded in institutional policies and practices that reproduce and legitimate social and spatial inequities in environmental health.
Further, the authors of these studies also point to a strong sense of community pride and attachment to place that is rooted in history, culture and hope. Herein lies the focal point for a concerted movement toward environmental health justice in health promotion, one that is focused on supporting marginalized groups in their struggles against systemic exclusion and discrimination in economic and environmental policies that have functioned against their best interests. We propose a definition of environmental health justice as a three-fold process for enabling groups to reorient economic, health and environmental systems in ways that redress past and present discrimination and ensure that there is: 1 equity at all jurisdictional levels in the distribution of environmental hazards and amenities; 2 access to information and meaningful participation in decisions that influence the optimal conditions for health and wellbeing; and 3 recognition of and respect for the diversity of people and their experiences in communities traditionally marginalized from mainstream environmental discourse see Schlosberg, ; Center for Environmental Policy and Law, , for complementary definitions.
Our definition builds upon the socio-ecological approach in health promotion that recognizes how action on our social environments improving community resilience, reforming democratic institutions, promoting cultural autonomy not only increases capacity to ensure environmental risks and opportunities are distributed more equitably, but ultimately better positions us to reduce our overall impacts on the physical environments that constitute the settings of our lives neighbourhood quality, food security, ecosystem sustainability.
In this last section, we offer considerations for how we operationalize such a definition in our approach to health promotion. The first step toward environmental health justice is to carry forward health promotion's successes in broadening the determinants of health into new policy terrain.
In Canada, finding support for health promotion intervention in environmental matters is complicated by disconnections between health, economic and environmental jurisdictions at all levels and by the absence of clear commitment to equity principles in current environmental policy [see, for example, the keystone Canadian Environmental Protection Act Government of Canada, ].
For communities such as Sydney, Nova Scotia, this has meant a perpetual and perplexing avoidance of accountability by industries and governments and long delays in site remediation Lambert and Lane, Likewise, in environmental impact assessment legislation, now the foundation for regulating environmental development worldwide, it is most often the interests of citizens with sufficient social and economic capital that can influence the inevitably complex, technical and protracted public consultative processes that are required by provincial and federal legislation, leaving less-resourced communities at the margins of planning, visioning and decision-making Palerm, For residents of Hamilton, Ontario, the exclusion of low-income residents from decision-making processes may account for much of the ongoing failure to abate the downwind impacts of air pollution as well as the continuing allocation of new hazardous facilities including waste incinerators and biodiesel facilities in the city's north end.
We submit that a more meaningful commitment to healthy public policy within the environmental arena would ensure that disadvantaged groups have the capacity and resources to engage effectively in environmental policy decisions. There is also a need to encourage politicians and regulators to consider the full range of implications of management decisions on the wellbeing of impacted communities by broadening the metric for the evaluation of environmental activities beyond one-off environmental impact assessments and narrowly defined physical health measures in regulation.
We need to learn how to measure not only what is breathed and ingested, but also what is experienced in people's everyday environments and monitor the impacts of policy implementation and practice with these things in mind. A more comprehensive approach to environmental policy would address neighbourhood aesthetics and safety, recreational opportunities, safe and affordable housing, and other contributors to community health and quality of life that often fall outside of the officially defined scope of public health departments.
Recent advances in health impact assessments, now common in Europe and increasingly the USA, show promise in improving environmental governance by including broader determinants of health inequities in policy decisions beyond the health sector Scott Samuel, ; Banken, ; Lock, ; Douglas and Scott Samuel, ; Kemm, ; Cole and Fielding, However, to date, such models are in their infancy and efforts to increase buy-in to health promotion principles may be required before such models could be incorporated into environmental policy here Frankish et al.
In the meantime, further research on determining the range of environmental impacts on communities is needed, particularly with an explicit purpose of legitimating community-based knowledge and concerns and ensuring those are well represented within existing and new governance processes. A second consideration for an environmental health justice approach is to interrogate political and economic systems at all levels.
It has been widely argued that there has been too much emphasis in North America, on the local, the individual and particular when it comes to health promotion efforts in the environment Hancock, We believe that action at all levels, from individual to societal, is important to ensure that pressing environmental problems are addressed, as well as the root causes of environmental health inequality are uncovered.
Recent work in the USA has highlighted the many connections between micro, meso and macro levels in the analysis of social inequalities and environmental health. The framework proposed by Schulz and Northridge Schulz and Northridge, highlights the web of connections in the production of health inequalities, including individual e.
It should also be noted that interventions by communities working alone can have unexpected consequences in other jurisdictions and across scales—a hazard that is successfully blocked in one jurisdiction often ends up in a more disadvantaged community down the road Baxter et al.
Specific problems are interconnected to whole ecosystems. For example, one community's fight against the siting of a natural gas fired electrical generating plant in relatively wealthy GTA suburban Town of Oakville, for example, has been argued not as opposition to power generation among residents with above-average levels of consumption or opposition to the province's plan to phase out coal-fired power plants, but rather on the basis that the facility should be sited elsewhere where, it is suggested, the jobs might be more welcomed and the potential health impacts less extensive or problematic in an area with an airshed already heavily taxed by extensive private motor vehicle traffic Reinhart, As such examples demonstrate, communities often focus on resolving singular environmental problems without considering the broader social and political forces that connect to the local level Lieberman and Hager, While taking local action is often worthwhile for those affected, such efforts when considered at the inter-local, regional or global levels may result in nothing more than a redistribution of environmental burdens rather than their reduction or elimination.
One of the most effective ways that health promoters have integrated research with social action is through community-based participatory research CBPR.
Indeed, CBPR has become the approach of choice among researchers working in solidarity with communities on issues of environmental health injustice. It is an effective method of building community capacity with respect to the complex legal and policy environments in which these struggles are fought Minkler et al.
And it has been championed by a number of respected authors within the environmental justice movement e. Corburn, ; Agyeman et al. In addition to its traditional emphasis on community-specific issues, it is possible that CBPR can support multiple communities, even at great distances from each other, in mobilizing together against political power and systems of expertise that are unapproachable and undermining of their individual and collective efforts.
Through broader research-based partnerships, communities can learn to expose power inequities embedded within economic, labour market, environmental and social policies that prioritize capital accumulation at the expense of the wellbeing of society's most disadvantaged populations Baum, ; Israel et al. Such research can also reveal the institutional contexts of environmental governance where priority-setting, resource allocation, eligibility criteria, decision-making processes and accountability mechanisms favour those with affluence and influence and exclude those lacking in resources and displaced from their homes as a consequence of hazards or gentrification.
Ultimately, research that acknowledges the voices of the community can help expose and overcome the individual and interpersonal manifestations of racism, classism and sexism that are all too often left unscrutinized in relations between dominant and marginalized groups.
Environmental Injustice and Racism in Canada: The First Step is Admitting We Have a Problem
Lasting change will require a shift in individual behaviour and perspectives. However, the law can help move this change along and can be protection for those who need it most, it just has to be good law. Along with increased study of environmental justice, there are numerous recommendations and suggestions for how our laws can be improved. Although this is by no means an exhaustive list, it should give you an idea of some of the ways that improvement is possible. Increasing environmental justice for marginalized communities can be facilitated by:.
This paper is organized around two points. The first concerns the literature on environmental justice EJ studies and its lack of incorporation of social scientific theories and concepts concerning racism. This is surprising, given EJ studies' strong interest in challenging a form of racism - environmental racism. This, in turn, allows for a critique of theories of racism for their lack of attention to the ways in which society-environment relations structure racist practices and discourses, and a critique of scholars who have understated the continuing impact of racism on communities of color. The second point concerns the degree to which modernization has led to an improvement in the environmental impacts associated with market economies and their production systems. Drawing on ecological modernization, risk society, and the treadmill of production theories, I argue that, as with popular and scholarly views on racism, many scholars have overstated the level of progress society has made on this front.
Conclusion: Critical Environmental Justice Struggles
Jeffrey R. Spatial disparities in environmental quality and practices are contributing to rising health inequalities worldwide. To date, the field of health promotion has not contributed as significantly as it might to a systematic analysis of the physical environment as a determinant of health nor to a critique of inequitable environmental governance practices responsible for social injustice—particularly in the Canadian context. In this paper, we explore ways in which health promotion and environmental justice perspectives can be combined into an integrated movement for environmental health justice in health promotion. Drawing on Canadian experiences, we describe the historical contributions and limitations of each perspective in research, policy and particularly professional practice.
The article provides a review of the literature on environmental justice, aimed at showing the multifaceted character of the concept and how it has been used since the mids, with special reference to its shift across the Atlantic and over time. It should help to clarify the concept of environmental justice. Several authors have pointed out that the concept has been understood in different ways and it is necessary to have a clear definition of its meaning. I discuss the origins of the term environmental justice in the United States, analyze its use in the specialized literature, and examine how its meaning has changed in Europe, in other countries and through time.
This chapter shows how these aspects of justice are relevant to waste disposal, air pollution, climate change, ecological footprints, and other environmental problems. After discussing how issues of justice arise, the chapter explores the work of environmental justice: ways to articulate, guide, and justify judgments of justice; ways to articulate and foster forms of responsibility; and ways to change social institutions and individual conduct to respond more adequately to environmental injustices.
Edited by Anna C. Mastroianni, Jeffrey P. Kahn, and Nancy E. Kass
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