A collaboration between Duke University scholars and the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise (ACRE) has focused on environmental justice questions in rural Alabama. In this essay, the partners describe their research on how sewage and related environmental problems intersect with broader social structural issues, and consider how to address these challenges. The authors also reflect on the process by which scholars and community-based organizations can work together, and what goes into a mutually rewarding partnership.
Deborah Cheng, curator of “Just Environments,” concludes the series with a look back at the diverse set of essays that connect environmental justice to social-structural, political, and cultural inequalities. Cheng reviews the ways in which contributors to the series addressed the nature of environmental (in)justices, touching on a wide range of subjects across various regions. The authors also analyzed how individuals, communities, and social movements strategized and acted to redress injustice, and the ways knowledge and research can be part of both deepening and reversing inequalities at the intersection of environmental change and political and economic forces.
Jaskiran Dhillon continues the “Just Environments” series with a reflection on the Standing Rock Sioux’s resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline, asking us to consider what this struggle teaches us about the dominant environmental justice movement. Pointing to a longstanding history of settler colonialism, which has heavily relied on environmental destruction and extraction, Dhillon argues that environmental justice must be framed as a struggle for Indigenous sovereignty. She connects Standing Rock to multiple frontlines of resistance around the world, highlighting broader linkages between political strategies advancing decolonization and the environmental justice movement.
This “Just Environments” contribution from Rick Hendriks, Philip Raphals, Karen Bakker, and Gordon Christie focuses on the adverse environmental, socio-legal, and economic impacts of Site C, a large-scale hydropower project in British Columbia. Based on in-depth analysis, the authors suggest that construction of Site C would violate First Nations Treaty rights, result in a loss of biodiversity, and generate greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, Site C is more expensive than other renewable alternatives. They call for the cancellation of the Site C project, raising broader questions about the role of hydropower in a carbon-constrained world.
In this “Just Environments” essay, Ebunoluwa Popoola examines the transfer of environmental lawsuits from Nigerian courts to European ones as a means of circumventing legal obstacles at the national level. Communities in the Niger Delta face multiple barriers when suing multinational oil companies in Nigerian courts, in part because of high costs, delays, and a restrictive interpretation of legal standing. Moving these cases to foreign jurisdictions, where the multinational companies are based, has been one avenue through which environmental justice has been achieved.
Sarah Vaughn’s contribution to the “Just Environments” series examines the relationships between climate change adaptation, forms of expertise, and histories of modernization. Focusing on flooding in Guyana, Vaughn describes how bureaucratic forms of engineering expertise are challenged by citizens and NGOs, who demand more transparency and accountability in the execution of these projects. Climate adaptation projects are thus sites of political action, shaped by public debates about expertise.
In this “Just Environments” essay, Celeste Gagnon, Alicia Boswell, and Patrick Mullins examine the impact of devastating El Niño storms on small, rural communities in the Peruvian Andes. Largely overlooked by the federal government, these communities have relied on grassroots responses to the rains, in effect building new social structures of resilience. As climate change increases the potential for more frequent and intense rains, it is clear that new forms of resilience will become ever more essential to the well-being of these communities.
Veronica Herrera continues the “Just Environments” series by examining the ways in which low-income communities that are impacted by toxic contamination mobilize grassroots movements as forms of resistance and vehicles for claims-making. Focusing on neighborhoods in Buenos Aires and Bogotá, Herrera notes that community residents partner with better-resourced actors to frame environmental protections as legal rights, effectively forging new types of environmental citizenship.
Nikhil Anand’s contribution to the “Just Environments” series examines the making of urban inequality, focusing on water infrastructure as a key site for banal yet fundamentally political decision-making that neglects or harms poor citizens. In both Flint and Mumbai, environmental injustice is generated through bureaucratic routines that rarely take into account the humans they affect. Challenging these injustices, Anand argues, requires engaging in the "boring" technopolitics of infrastructure.
Alexa Dietrich co-launches the “Just Environments” series by reflecting on the environmental challenges faced by transnational communities—in this case, families that live on opposite sides of the US-Mexico border, whose lives are separated by stringent immigration policies. In highlighting the connections between immigration and the environment, Dietrich argues that a more humane approach to legal residency is critical to bolstering local resilience to climate change on both sides of the border.