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Kenneth A. Gould Department of Sociology St. Lawrence University Canton, New York 13617 USA E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: 315-229-5395 Fax: 315-229-5803
Abstract : The distribution of environmental hazards by social class is a normal outcome for capitalist economies. Markets left to function on their own will normally distribute goods and services on the basis of wealth. The economic benefits of production are distributed upward in the stratification system. Conversely, the environmental hazards generated by production are distributed downward. Because owners, managers and investors are able to live in relatively clean environments, they are at the lowest risk of bearing the health and quality of life costs resulting from production processes. These same individuals have the greatest power to change production processes to reduce environmental risks. Because of their insulation from the consequences of their production decisions, owners, managers and investors have the least incentive to make pro-environmental changes to production practices. Conversely, workers, who have the greatest exposure to environmental hazards and therefore have the greatest incentive to change production practices, have the least power to institute those changes. As a result, those empowered to make pro-environmental change are the least likely to see the necessity of doing so. Those most likely to see pro-environmental change as necessary are least empowered to effect those changes. Therefore, adequately addressing environmental injustice will require shifting the balance of production decision-making power away from an affluent minority and toward the working-class and the poor. As such efforts to shift the class basis of control of the means of production are likely to meet intense resistance, environmental injustice will not be eliminated without substantial class conflict. Key words: environmental justice, class conflict, distribution, environmental movements
real estate markets. Bullard 1990. At the same time. A. 2 . cultural and individual racism in directing environmental and public health hazards toward politically disenfranchised racial and ethnic groups (Bryant and Mohai 1992. Numerous studies have clearly indicated that in the United States. who reap a greater share of the economic benefits of production while shifting the ecological and health costs to communities of color. Bullard 1994). Grigsby and Lee 1994).Class Conflict and Environmental Justice K. This system of „residential apartheid“ is a key factor in allowing the owners of and investors in production and disposal facilities to target communities of color for a disproportionate share of the environmental and public health costs of production (Bullard. the existence of racially segregated housing patterns allows for the environmental protection of European-American communities. Bryant 1995. 1993. lending institutions and employment generate extreme levels of racial segregation in residential patterns (Massey and Denton 1993). Various manifestations of racism in environmental policy. The term „environmental racism“ was originated to specifically describe race-based discrimination in the siting of hazardous facilities and the remediation of environmental hazards in the United States. race is a better predictor of where environmentally hazardous facilities will be located than is social class (Bryant and Mohai 1992. Roberts and Toffolon-Weiss 2001). 1994. Gould Introduction: Environmental Racism Most of the literature addressing issues of environmental justice focuses primarily on the role of institutional.
and racial discrimination more generally. will normally distribute goods and services on the basis of wealth. Gould In addition to environmental racism acting as a factor in and of itself. education and other sectors was allowed to continue. ending environmental racism will only relieve a portion of the disproportionate environmental burden directed toward communities of color. Environmental Justice Economics The distribution of environmental hazards by social class is a normal outcome for capitalist economies. Markets. Underlying cultural racism and its institutional manifestations is an economic structure that routinely and regularly distributes environmental hazards downward toward the lower socioeconomic strata. While it is the obligation of those engaged in ecological resistance struggles to fight to end environmental racism per se.Class Conflict and Environmental Justice K. The elimination of specifically environmental racism would still leave communities of color in the United States with a disproportionate share of the environmental costs of production as long as racial discrimination in employment. Only the elimination of racial discrimination in all sectors of society can produce a racially equitable distribution of environmental hazards. A. by structurally forcing a disproportionate share of people of color into the lower socioeconomic strata. As a result. left to function on their own without state intervention. race plays a key role in the distribution of environmental hazards in its synergistic impact on class stratification. housing. even success in those struggles would not eliminate environmental injustice. The treadmill of 3 .
and their consequent negative impacts on human health disproportionately impact workers and the unemployed. Workers tend to live close to production facilities. and downwind and down stream from effluent flows (Mumford 1934). managers and investors are able to use the wealth gained from production to purchase housing in environmentally safe areas. Similarly. land and air by toxic industrial effluents. each round of economic growth tends to increase the gap between rich and poor. the environmental hazards generated by the production of goods and services tend to be distributed down in the stratification system (Schnaiberg and Gould 1994). Schnaiberg and Gould 1994). while the dirtiest and most hazardous jobs are reserved for the poor. Gould production generates both economic benefits and environmental hazards (Schnaiberg 1980. Those whom cannot afford to move to such areas are forced to live with environmental hazards.Class Conflict and Environmental Justice K. Managers tend to live at some distance from potentially hazardous production facilities. managers and investors reap a greater share of the economic benefits generated by the production of goods and services than do workers. Owners. A. and usually upwind and upstream from industrial effluent flows. while owners. Conversely. The economic benefits of production tend to be distributed up in the stratification system. while the wealthy remain relatively protected in both locations (Szasz 1994). The poor and working-class therefore find themselves at the greatest environmental risk both on the job and at home. Workers and their families are thereby exposed to carcinogens and other toxins resulting from 4 . as well as increase the gap between environmentally safe and environmentally hazardous residential spaces (Schnaiberg and Gould 1994). The contamination of water. In this way. the best jobs in the production process tend to be awarded to the already wealthier individuals.
Because of their insulation from the consequences of their production decisions. Gould Because owners. they are often at the lowest risk of bearing the health and quality of life costs resulting from production processes. These are the same individuals who have the greatest power to change production processes to reduce environmental and health risks. managers and investors able to direct environmental contamination toward the lower socioeconomic classes and away from themselves. owners and investors are not. environmental hazards and their negative public health impacts 5 . What makes it possible to distribute environmental hazards to workers and the poor is the class segregation of housing locations. Only by segregating the working-class and the poor into specific residential locations away from those of the wealthy are owners. but is inversely related to the distribution of environmental risk. managers and investors are able to live in relatively clean environments.Class Conflict and Environmental Justice production. Were residential patterns not segregated by class. Schnaiberg and Weinberg 1996). owners. workers. K. those empowered to make pro-environmental change occur are the least likely group to see the necessity of doing so. A. Conversely. Those most likely to see pro-environmental change as necessary are the least empowered to effect those changes (Gould. The distribution of power in production facilities mirrors the distribution of wealth. who have the greatest exposure to environmental hazards and therefore have the greatest incentive to change production practices to be more protective of human health and the environment. while managers. managers and investors have the least incentive to make changes to production practices that would reduce negative environmental and health impacts. have the least power to institute those changes. As a result.
As a result. and sewage treatment plants. managers and investors can afford to live in relatively environmentally sound locations. With the option to do so. Gould would by necessity tend to be distributed evenly across the stratification system. Those earning higher wages or receiving their income from investments have greater freedom to choose among more and less desirable housing locations. In terms of the siting of new potentially hazardous facilities. A. waste dumps. Lower land values will be found in precisely those locations where the poor and working-class can afford to live. those with greater wealth will be able to move to a less hazardous location. Higher land values will be found where owners. Housing costs tend be lower in areas in close proximity to environmentally hazardous facilities such as industrial plants. wealthy individuals will tend to choose to live where environmental risks are lower. similar processes operate.Class Conflict and Environmental Justice K. In general. Those with less wealth will be forced to remain in the contaminated area (Szasz 1994). The class-based segregation of housing is a normal outcome of the functioning of a capitalist economy in which housing is distributed on the basis of wealth. the lower the cost of housing. Production facilities will tend to locate where land values are lowest in order to reduce construction costs. New environmental hazards are therefore likely to be placed in close 6 . those earning no or low wages are constrained in their choice of housing location and restricted to living in those areas with greater environmental and health risks. the higher the known and obvious environmental risks in an area. If an area previously believed to offer low risk of exposure to environmental hazards is later found to be contaminated. Housing costs in relatively environmentally safe areas at greater distances from hazardous facilities tend to command a higher price in housing markets.
Class Conflict and Environmental Justice K. Those areas that are attractive as residential locations for those with the wealth to avoid environmental hazards are likely to be the least attractive locations for installation of new production facilities that are associated with increased environmental and public health costs. As a result. but with little need for additional local economic 7 . Because capitalist economies normally generate class-segregated communities. Concentrating the unemployed and underemployed in specific locations creates communities of economic desperation. Conversely. Gould proximity to the residential areas inhabited by those near the bottom of the stratification system. but rather that they have less structural freedom to act on their environmental and health concerns when faced with the consequences of absolute poverty. poor and working-class communities are structurally coerced into accepting any economic development initiative promising an increase in local employment. poor communities are less free to reject specific proposals for the siting of production or disposal facilities within their communities than are wealthier communities where new employment opportunities are a less pressing concern. the poor and working-class are concentrated in areas typified by high levels of environmental risk and low levels of wealth. the more likely it is to be accepting of new environmental hazards where those hazards come with the promise of economic benefit. A. The less wealthy a community. Under such condition. Poor communities face limited economic options in terms of type of employment and remuneration from that employment. It is not that poor communities are less concerned about the protection of their health and environment. wealthy communities are no more environmental or health conscious than poor communities.
The ability of wealthy communities to reject hazardous facilities due to low economic need. combined with the desperation of poor communities for any increase in employment opportunity. Left to its own logic. but rather a normal part of a capitalist economy. Class segregated residential housing patterns generate a spatial distribution of economic development need. A. In this treadmill of production. the less economic benefit you receive from production. Environmental Justice Politics 8 . they are more structurally free to prioritize their environmental values under conditions where their basic needs are already being met.Class Conflict and Environmental Justice K. reinforces the downward distribution of environmental hazards. This class-based distribution of housing allows industry to injure the health of lower socioeconomic classes while generating wealth for higher socioeconomic classes and protecting their health and environment. the more your health is injured by that production. Gould development. It is important to bear in mind that these distributional processes are not unfortunate accidents. market forces will normally produce residential environmental protection for the wealthy and residential environmental degradation for the working-class and poor. increasing both the environmental protection of the rich and the environmental degradation of the poor. Environmentally hazardous facilities will be most attractive to communities with the highest level of economic desperation (Gould 1991).
Power to control patterns of capital investment. even in ostensibly democratic political systems (Domhoff 1998). The distribution of distinct spatial locations of political power within and between various communities is a normal outgrowth of the functioning of a capitalist economy. Residential segregation by class concentrates the politically powerful in specific communities. A. to control the creation and distribution of employment. This lack 9 . The more powerful communities will be home to politicians. greater wealth also accrues to those with greater political power. to finance electoral campaigns. The less powerful less wealthy communities are less likely to have such human capital resources immediately at their disposal. While greater political power accrues to those with greater wealth. and to bribe officials provides the wealthy with greater access to. lawyers. In theory. The class-based distribution of political power and the class-based distribution of housing location synergistically generate a spatial distribution of power. Gould In capitalist societies. This result produces communities with limited capacities to reject the imposition of environmental hazards while simultaneously creating communities with enormous capacity to control their own economic development and environmental trajectories.Class Conflict and Environmental Justice K. Those with greater economic power have a greater ability to influence the state. wealth is a primary component of power. while simultaneously concentrating the politically less powerful in other communities. it should be possible to map this distribution as a social geography of political power. doctors and other professionals whom may be mobilized as a political resource in efforts to repel the siting of an environmentally hazardous facility. and influence over public policy decision-makers.
Such communities will need to organize politically and mobilize resources both internal and 10 . more powerful communities. will be less able to mount a successful rejection campaign. those seeking to locate a hazardous facility may apply their sense of the spatial geography of power to choose siting locations where low levels of effective political resistance are likely. Gould of professional human capital resources makes those communities more vulnerable to state and industry efforts to site a locally unwanted land use in close proximity to their residential location. Less powerful poor communities. the existence of potentially mobilizeable power is sufficient to keep environmental hazards out of wealthier communities. Second. Poorer. less powerful communities are therefore more likely to be targeted for hazardous facility siting as decision-makers anticipate the political resistance of more powerful communities. The outcome of the unequal spatial distribution of political power is a further reinforcement of the economic tendency to distribute environmental and public health risks to poor and working-class communities. and professional human capital resources which may bolster an effort to prevent a facility siting. lacking the economic resources. Given that the class-based distribution of environmental and public health threats is a normal outcome of the every day functioning of capitalist societies. A. In this way. if chosen as the preferred location for the siting of such a facility may mobilize their economic and political resources to effectively defeat the siting effort.Class Conflict and Environmental Justice K. only political intervention aimed at disrupting the normal functioning of capitalist economies can protect or remediate environmental hazards in poor and working-class communities. First. political connections. This unequal spatial distribution of power may operate in two ways.
it will be necessary to mobilize the poorest and therefore most vulnerable communities first. A. those communities with greater political resource mobilization capacity may be able to repel or remediate environmental threats to their communities. As a result. This local political mobilization will have to take the form of sustained resistance in perpetuity as long as the underlying economic structure remains unchanged (Gould et al 1996). Single victories in specific environmental justice struggles will be insufficient to ensure the long-term ecological integrity of communities. any political demobilization will result in the reimposition of environmental hazards on the lower classes. but may do so at the expense of more disempowered communities. Because there is an unequal distribution of power even among communities of the poor and working-class. who are likely to have lower capacities for generating effective ecological resistance. In such a political economy.Class Conflict and Environmental Justice K. External political resources must focus on 11 . Gould external to those communities to resist the imposition of ecological risks and remediate existing hazards existent within those localities (Levine 1982). The distribution of political mobilization combined with the distributional logic of capitalism will direct environmental hazards to the poorest communities with the lowest capacities for political resistance. The logic of the capitalist economy necessitates that poor and working-class communities will be under constant threat as increasing levels of environmental disruption are continually structurally directed downward in the socioeconomic stratification system. the success of the working-class in generating effective political resistance to the capitalist distribution of environmental threats may come at the expense of the poor. As long as the industrial treadmill of production remains in place.
This requires that those who are engaged in ecological resistance struggles but who are external to the threatened communities harness and direct their resources toward those communities and those conflicts in which effective resistance appears to be least possible. Gould increasing the ecological resistance capacity of the most vulnerable communities in order to begin to reverse the downward distribution of ecological threats. However. it should be quite clear that those conflicts are precisely the ones where victory is least probable. By empowering communities from the bottom up toward the middle and upper classes. A. directing environmental costs toward those reaping the economic benefits resulting from production. and ultimately across the globe will be necessary to force those who control the system of production to live with and address the negative ecological and public health consequences of their economic 12 . Only by beginning with the communities occupying the lowest level of the socioeconomic stratification system will it be possible to chase environmental risk up that stratification system toward those empowered to change the nature of production systems. The political task facing those who would prevent the downward distribution of environmental risk within the context of a capitalist economy is gargantuan.Class Conflict and Environmental Justice K. This implies that ecological resistance strategies must focus on those environmental conflicts in which the imbalance of power between those reaping the economic benefits of production and those paying the ecological costs is greatest. the downward distribution of environmental harm necessitated by the logic of capitalism can be constrained. Nothing less than the effective mobilization and political empowerment of every working-class and poor community with a given society.
if that level of empowerment of the poor and working-class were ever achieved. requires a reduction or elimination of political intrusion into the functioning of market forces (Daly 1996). would further redress the imbalance of power between class-based communities. in violation of neoliberal ideology. as any demobilized community will immediately become the target for environmental hazards. And that level of political empowerment would have to be maintained indefinitely. Gould growth agendas. A more equitable distribution of the economic benefits of production. and education. states must be forced by citizen-workers to intrude on those market forces in the arena of environmental protection 13 . adequate housing. A. Of course. States will have to intervene in the free market to reduce or eliminate environmental harm done to poor and working-class communities. In such an economy. now under the banner of global neoliberalism.Class Conflict and Environmental Justice K. in order to preempt more structurally directed efforts to reform or replace capitalist economies. The distributional logic of capitalism. adequate nutrition. environmental harm is simply added to the list of sanctions against the poor along with lack of access to health care. it might then be conceivable to move from addressing the downward distribution of environmental costs to issues of the upward distribution of economic benefits. What is clearly implied in such a discussion of changing the patterns of distribution of ecological costs and economic benefits is a fundamental transformation of national and transnational economic structures. for which the ecological costs are incurred. Those market forces dictate that class-based environmental injustice remain a normal feature of social life on this planet. If class-based environmental injustice is a normal result of market forces operating without state constraint.
the necessity for such a transition has never been clearer.Class Conflict and Environmental Justice K. In rejecting the trade-off between ecological use-values and exchange-values imposed on citizen-workers by the existing political economy. Gould and remediation if environmental justice issues are to be adequately addressed (Gould et al 1996). and benefit from that structure (O’Connor 1998). and the consequences of failure to make such a transition have never been so ominous. The fusion of production and place politics manifest in calls for environmental equity represents a tangible threat to the logic of capitalism. Environmental justice is fundamentally incompatible with the logic of capitalism. An alternative social justice logic must be imposed upon capitalist economic systems in the arena of environmental protection. Conclusions: Revolutionary Pragmatism Along a number of dimensions. A. Ecological resistance strategies rooted in an environmental justice agenda may prove to be a key component in the Promethean effort to force a transformation of the economic structure on those whom control. 14 . maintain. environmental justice advocates have begun to forge a new vision of a socially just and ecologically sustainable social order (Gould et al 1996). or capitalism will have to be rejected in favor of an economic structure whose logic tends to produce social justice outcomes. That vision is a compelling one for the millions of people world wide who find that the existing economic order leaves their basic needs unmet. Ironically. the transition from a growth oriented capitalist economy to a social justice oriented sustainable economy appears to be less possible at this point in history than ever before.
this implies that protection of the poor will initially come at the expense of the working class. As environmental harm becomes an increasing social reality for power holders and their families. At this stage of what will inevitably be a long and difficult struggle. it is important to focus upon what is conceivably achievable in the short run without losing sight of long-term goals. The process of community empowerment must begin at the bottom and work its way up toward power holders. environmental and public health threats will become more socially visible and more politically relevant to those segments of society with greater access to the decision-making mechanisms of states and corporations.Class Conflict and Environmental Justice K. In the immediate future. there attention to the negative ecological and health consequences of their production decisions will by 15 . This implies that the political task begins in the poorest communities in those countries where socioeconomic inequality is greatest. and that protection of the working class will come at the expense of the middle class. environmental justice advocates can work to empower the most vulnerable communities as a starting point from which to force ecological degradation upward in the stratification system form those least responsible for ecological harm toward those most responsible for the creation of ecological degradation. In the longer term. However. In the short term. Gould while degrading the natural life support systems upon which they depend. the political task of engaging in a protracted and boundless conflict to replace the existing socioeconomic order has only just begun. as the political logic of environmental justice pushes back the distributional logic of capitalism. A. In an effort to socioecologically swim upstream against the normal flow of market forces such short-term outcome are perhaps unavoidable.
However. There are. managers and investors. What a successful environmental justice struggle can do is to physically and intellectually move these threats closer to the homes and consciousness of those empowered to reduce those threats. choose to live with greater environmental and health risks as part of the cost of gaining the enormous wealth and power that the capitalist economy generates for them. ecological disruption and public health threats have been conveniently out of sight and out of mind. After all. no guarantees that treadmill elites will in fact choose to reorganize production around the goal of ecological integrity simply because they and their families become increasingly vulnerable to the harms that their production systems generate. made by the logic of capitalism into a problem of the poor and working-class (Schnaiberg and Gould 1994). the trade-off between ecological integrity and economic gain is much better for them than it is for the poor and working class. Gould necessity be increased. For most owners. of course. those elites will have to either crush ecological resistance from below. as the trade-off between ecological risk and economic gain gets progressively worse for non-elites. A. If siting of hazardous facilities is moved closer to treadmill elites as a result of the effective ecological resistance of less wealthy communities. in the end. They may. Under such conditions. the process of moving that risk up through the stratification system may effectively recruit all other classes to the environmental justice struggle. or reduce the level of environmental harm generated by the production facilities which they control.Class Conflict and Environmental Justice K. 16 . The political effort of environmental justice can in that way be conceptualized as an effort to raise the consciousness of treadmill elites by raising their level of environmental risk.
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