- Gary BrynerGary BrynerDepartment of Political Science at Brigham Young University
Environmental justice brings together two of the most powerful social movements of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, environmentalism and civil rights. Despite the success in reducing pollution and improving environmental quality in many areas, the reduction of race- and income-based disparities in environmental conditions, such as the levels of pollution to which individuals are exposed, has seen limited progress. Minority and low income communities continue to bear the brunt of environmental burdens. The idea of environmental justice also helps clarify the ethical issues underlying climate change and compels action to reduce the threat even in the face of uncertainties and to help poor nations with the costs of adapting to disruptive climate change. A major challenge in environmental justice is deciding how to define the problem. Five options for framing the issue of environmental justice capture most of the approaches taken by advocates and scholars. These are the civil rights framework; theories of distributive justice, fairness, and rights; the public participation framework, social justice framework, and ecological sustainability framework. These frameworks are not mutually exclusive. They overlap considerably and proponents of one primary framework may rely on elements of others as they frame the issues. Advocates of environmental justice will find that elements of each can contribute to their goal. No one framework is sufficient, but in recognizing where those with other views are coming from, we can develop opportunities for creative solutions that bring together alternative approaches.