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JUSTICE AND THE ENVIRONMENT: CONCEPTIONS OF ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY AND THEORIES OF DISTRIBUTIVE JUSTICE

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.1     Background of Study

The idea of environmental justice has been a central concern for academics in a range of disciplines, and both the concept and its coverage have expanded substantially in the past two decades. Clearly, the discourse of environmental justice has been broadening and expanding in scope far beyond its initial application to inequities in the distribution of environmental risk, and here I examine this development in three key ways. First, the researcher explores how the early work on environmental justice pushed beyond simple boundaries. The idea of environmental justice challenged the very notion of ‘environment’, examined multiple reasons for the construction of injustice, and illustrated the potential of varied and pluralistic conceptions of social justice. More recently, there have been numerous ways in which the discourse has expanded. As key reflections have argued, there has been a spatial expansion of the use of the term, both horizon-tally into a broader range of issues and vertically into examinations of the truly global nature of environmental injustices (Sze and London 2008, Walker 2009).

This expanding sphere of the environmental justice discourse has, I argue, been extended further with the application of the frame to climate change and climate justice, as well as growing concerns and movements around local food and energy that have become the centre of some environmental justice organising. Climate change has pushed environmental justice to more broad considerations of both the environment and justice. The turn to a growing focus on sustainable materialism illustrates a sophisticated analysis of power and injustice on the part of environmental justice movements and an important development in transformative politics and practice. Both trends extend a conception of environmental justice into a new realm – where environment and nature are understood to create the conditions for social justice.

While it has been previously argued (Schlosberg 2004) that theories of environmental justice, and academic work on the concept in general, were often detached from the innovations of both movements and theory, the broadening and deepening work on environmental justice in the past decade shows much more thorough engagement with these innovations.

According to Leuenberger, environmental sustainability offers an opportunity to move beyond market-based decision-making mechanisms toward plans that allow long-term and concurrent benefits for multiple stakeholders (Leuenberger). Moreover, Leuenberger and Wakin’s “Sustainable Development in Public Administration Planning: An Exploration of Social Justice, Equity and Citizen Inclusion” explores the prospect of sustainable development as a tool for increased social justice, equity and citizen inclusion in public administration decision making (Leuenberger). The paper suggests that equity and social justice built on meaningful citizen participation needs to be a part of sustainable development. To be able to focus on long-term change, incremental steps may not be the solution, but rather transformational changes may be required (Leuenberger).

Conceivably a definition of steady-state society can be integrated into sustainability. Ophuls and Boyan define steady-state as preservation of a healthy biosphere, the careful husbanding of resources, self-imposed limitations on consumption, long- term goal to guide short-term choices and a general attitude of trusteeship toward future generations. Ophuls and Boyan, Similarities amid the sustainability of economic systems and environmental systems are evident in understanding the significance of the concept of carrying capacity (Catton and Dunlap and Rees). This refers to the greatest load of human use that can be sustained by an environmental without diminishing its future suitability for supporting an equal load. In this case, human load is a function not only of population numbers but also of per capita use. The limitations of an environmental carrying capacity is particularly problematic in the United States since our increasing population, changing population profile, and per capita consumption rates are making greater demands on our ecological resources and natural capital at the national and global levels. Elliot, Wackernagel and Rees and Rees described the connections between sustainability and natural capital in this way:

Sustainability implies that nature’s capital should be used no more quickly than it can be replenished. Nonetheless, trade and technology have enabled mankind progressively to exploit nature far beyond sustainable levels at a rapid rate so that present consumption exceeds natural income (the “interest” on our capital). This condition leaves the next generation with depleted capital and less productive potential even as the population and material expectations increase (Wright and Lund).

 

1.2     Statement of Problem

The natural environment has become an important domain in which to examine issues of justice (Clayton & Müller, 2013; Clayton & Opotow, 2003). Research on environmental justice first came into focus in the 1970s against the background of the New Environmental Paradigm (Dunlap & Van Liere, 1978), and in the 1990s became a broader research field within environmental psychology (Clayton, 1996; Horwitz, 1994; Montada & Kals, 1995; Opotow & Clayton, 1994). Among the public, growing awareness of a shortage in environmental resources such as clean water and arable land has brought attention to the question of how those resources are distributed (Hegtvedt & Flinn, 2000; Lerner, 1981; Syme, 2012; see also United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization [UNESCO], 2006). Increased scientific understanding of the interdependence of ecosystem elements means that people are more likely to recognize the causal link between an action and its environmental consequences, and to make a judgment about the ethics of that action, embracing considerations of justice as well as responsibility. Perhaps most important, the rapid rate of ecological change provides a reference point that may frame the current situation as unjust: the exponential growth in human population and the urban development and pollution that are associated with it are affecting the quality of our natural environment and our climate so rapidly that people are able to perceive the change during their own lifetime and even to anticipate further degradation.

The enhanced salience of justice in regard to environmental challenges complements the fact that many people believe that there is a moral or ethical component underlying the distribution and treatment of environmental entities (Hussar & Horvath, 2011; Kahn, 2001; Kempton, Boster, & Hartley, 1995). However, existing models of justice cannot be simply extended to address environmental issues. Environmental goods and services are unlike many other resources, such as financial benefits, that have been the focus of justice research. People of future generations will be affected by ecologically relevant decisions made today. Geographically specific actions may have effects that diffuse across boundaries. The indivisibility of environmental resources, and the complex interdependence of ecosystems, makes it impossible to isolate an individual or even national share of environmental resources for people to utilize as they wish. Thus, environmental issues comprise a particularly rich area for justice researchers and considerations of environmental justice challenge us to think about contexts that are not clearly bounded in time, space, or scale.

A justice perspective on environmental issues illuminates the reasons that these issues are so contested and emotional. An environmental perspective on justice research challenges us to recognize some of the ways in which current theories are insufficient. By reviewing the research and writings surrounding justice and the natural environment in this chapter, we hope to raise new questions that inspire more work in this area. This chapter will review empirical research on individual justice judgments, justice-related emotions (like indignation and outrage), and their attitudinal and behavioural implications. The scope of empirical research ranges from integrative issues of moral inclusion to targeted analyses of local environmental conflicts from a justice perspective. This research project considers justice judgments with regard to behaviour and attitudes of individuals and groups in political, economic, and social domains, as well as issues surrounding political instruments that impact ecologically relevant behaviours and decisions.

 

 

 

1.3     Objectives of the Study

The general objective of this research work is to analyse justice and the environment; conceptions of environmental sustainability and theories of distributive justice. However, the following specific objectives are formed for the purpose of the research project;

  1. To evaluate the concept justice and the environment
  2. To assess environmental sustainability and theories of distributive justice
  3. To consider justice judgments with regard to behaviour and attitudes as well as issues surrounding political instruments that impact environment relevant behaviours and decisions

 

1.4     Research Questions

  1. What are the concept justice and the environment?
  2. What is environmental sustainability and what are theories of distributive justice?
  3. What are the justice judgments with regard to behaviour and attitudes as well as issues surrounding political instruments that impact environment relevant behaviours and decisions?

 

 

1.5     Significance of Study

This research project would be utilized by the government at both federal and state levels through their various ministries like, Ministry of Environment, Education, Health and Information. It will be beneficial for these ministries in the area of policy formulation, most especially in the area of educating the public and assisting them in the process of laws formulation to promote human health and protect the environment especially in the aspect of Justice and the environment. This work will add to the existing body of knowledge and serve as a reference for future researchers and research work.

 

1.6     Scope of Study

The research project is focused on justice and the environment; conceptions of environmental sustainability and theories of distributive justice. Thus study considers justice judgments with regard to behaviour and attitudes of individuals and groups in political, economic, and social domains, as well as issues surrounding political instruments that impact ecologically relevant behaviours and decisions.

 

 

 

1.7     Definition of Terms

Distributive Justice: this concerns the nature of a social justice allocation of goods. A society in which inequalities in outcome do not arise would be considered a society guided by the principles of distributive justice.

 

Environmental Sustainability: Environmental sustainability is defined as responsible interaction with the environment to avoid depletion or degradation of natural resources and allow for long-term environmental quality.

 

Environment: refers to the total surrounding of humans that support life.

 

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