Environmental Justice

Environmental Ethics 21 (1):81-92 (1999)
Abstract
It is widely held that environmental risks which are distributed unequally along racial or socioeconomic lines are necessarily distributed unjustly. While disproportionality may result from the perpetration of procedural injustices—what might be termed environmental racism, the question I am concerned with is whether disproportionality, in and of itself, constitutes injustice. I examine this question from the perspective of three prominent theories of justice that largely capture the range of our intuitions about fairness and justice—utilitarianism, natural rights theory, and (Rawlsian) contractarianism. While each of these theories provides clear grounds for objecting to the imposition of risk on individuals without their consent, none provides grounds for thinking that eliminating disproportionalities along racial or socioeconomic lines, in and of itself, is called for as a matter of justice. As a result, I suggest that the concern of environmental justice should lie with identifying (and protecting) those at greatest risk, rather than identifying correlations between average risk levels and morally arbitrary characteristics possessed by individuals, such as race or socioeconomic status
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