Human Rights and Duties to Alleviate Environmental Injustice: The Domestic Case

To the degree that citizens have participated in, or derived benefits from, social in- stitutions that have helped cause serious, life-threatening, or rights-threatening envi- ronmental injustice (EIJ), this article argues that they have duties either to stop their participation in these institutions or to compensate for it by helping to reform them. (EIJ occurs whenever children, poor people, minorities, or other subgroups bear dis- proportionate burdens of life-threatening or seriously harmful pollution.) After briefly defining “human rights,” the article defends the four-premise responsibility argument. The argument is that people have duties to compensate for the serious, life-threatening, or rights-threatening EIJ from which they benefit, and that this compensation ideally ought to take the form of helping to reform social institutions that help cause EIJ. As such, this responsibility argument relies on two basic claims. One claim is that because citizens have benefited from, and therefore contributed to, EIJ they bear ethical respon- sibility to help stop it. The second claim is that because citizens participate in nations and institutions whose policies and practices help cause EIJ, they also have democratic responsibility to help stop it. The article closes by responding to four basic objections to this argument.
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