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Native Americans have fought to protect their land and water resources from oil and gas extraction and from pipelines and fossil fuel export terminals that traverse their reservation lands, off-reservation lands and public lands to which they hold historical and cultural ties. The Trump administration reversed tribes’ hard-won successes and exacerbated centuries of prior injustices. Trump asserted disputed presidential powers to permit the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, to shrink national monuments, including the Bears Ears National Monument, the first national monument proposed and co-managed by Native American tribes, and to open former monument lands to drilling. In their fight against these decisions, tribes advanced legal arguments based on federal laws, including environmental laws, and asserted their rights to reservation lands and their treaty hunting, fishing and gathering rights on off-reservation lands. Within reservations, tribes, like other Americans, are grappling with whether to rely on fossil fuels or to transition to renewable energy. The appointment of Representative Debra Haaland, who led Congress’s efforts to protect Native American lands and public lands, as the first Native American secretary of the Interior offers hope for a reset in US government relations with the first sovereign nations.
The Trump administration inflicted long-term damages on America’s health, economy and environment. But America can still reset its path toward an energy transition that shares benefits with local communities hosting renewable energy projects and that supports the economic diversification of communities reliant on oil and gas extraction. The Biden administration reorientated federal agencies’ actions under existing laws to support the clean energy transition. These actions – strengthening environmental regulations, requiring mandatory corporate disclosure on climate risks and aligning federal leasing of public lands and seas and permitting-processes to value conservation and climate mitigation – can help incentivize investment flows into renewable energy and low-carbon economic activities. Ambitious federal investments into clean energy infrastructure and assistance to oil- and gas-reliant communities requires legislative actions. With Republicans who support both economic progress and environment and climate protection no longer a strong voice in Congress, the budget reconciliation process may well be the unique avenue for Democrats to enact legislation on public investments to accelerate the energy transition. The voices of younger Republicans who favor climate protection, alongside those of their Democrat counterparts, offer some hope that Congress will be forced to return to bipartisan stewardship of America’s air, water, lands and seas.
Using historical, ethnographic, and archival research, this chapter examines the intersection of environmental policies and community well-being through the lens of community psychology, particularly its attention to the entwinement of socioeconomic and environmental conditions. Focusing on the Gowanus community in Brooklyn, New York, which is midway through a federally mandated environmental cleanup as a Superfund site, we describe how advancing the collective well-being at the scale of the neighborhood can also entail challenging entrenched power structures that have supported systemic inequalities and working within a diverse group. The collective efforts of the Gowanus Canal Community Advisory Group illustrate how chronic toxic environmental degradation can be addressed within an extended collaborative process. We conclude that while endeavoring to improve the surrounding physical environment, the Group’s efforts have also strengthened collaborative engagement across groups to foster community well-being and social justice.
While forests are among the most classic common resources, urban forests are generally not thought of as commons, or even as forests. Instead, urban trees are divided up by ownership – private trees, street trees, park trees. They are typically planted and managed individually – truly a case where we fail to see the forest through the trees.
The value of urban forests is clear. Trees that thrive offer significant amenities to their immediate neighbors. Together these trees form the urban canopy, which provides multiple ecosystem services – improving air quality, moderating the heat island effect, managing stormwater, and providing habitat.
As the value of urban trees has become clearer, cities have invested in ‘million tree’ planting initiatives. Unfortunately, these programs too often reinforce social inequalities. Looking at New York City, this chapter examines tree planting through an environmental justice lens, and proposes that considering the urban forest as a unified public commons can be a path forward towards a more equitable city.
Chapter 5 uses the pan-Indian 2016 anti-pipeline protests at Standing Rock as a launching off point for discussing the complicated relationship between Indians and the environment. It shows why stereotypes about Indians as environmental stewards are misleading while also affirming the special connection that Indians often have to their land. As the chapter shows, tribal sovereignty provides a way of dealing with both tribal environmental justice concerns and tribal decisions to pursue development that harms the environment. Included in the chapter are discussions of everything from coal-fired power plants to large solar energy facilities.
We review 1982–1984 articles identifying Superfund sites in three national
newspapers. Articles almost never identify the race of nearby residents. Based
on sites receiving disproportionate coverage, readers might conclude that
Superfund generally affected white, working-class families, but results do not
support this narrative. In a pooled sample, neither race nor income predicts the
number of times a site gets mentioned. When the sample is partitioned by
newspaper or by each newspaper's coverage of nearby sites, a positive
relationship emerges between the proportion of Hispanic or nonwhite residents
and the number of articles about a site. We discuss this apparent
Chapter 2 maps out major theories in peace and conflict studies dealing with the interaction between nature, war, and peace. While acknowledging that the field is characterised by a broad diversity of research traditions and methodological approaches, the aim of the chapter is to offer a review of the research that has had most influence on international policies and legal development. Although legal scholars often think of this literature as monolithic, what will emerge from this chapter is that there is a vivid debate on the linkages between environment and conflict, which is explained by the different underlying paradigms and concepts. It is important to pay attention to the contested nature of these analytical frameworks to better understand (and challenge) the approaches that emerged at the international level. The second part of the chapter introduces environmental justice as an alternative framework to move beyond certain problematic assumptions about environmental scarcity/abundance that have fed into international law. Environmental justice perspectives will be used in subsequent chapters to think about justice accordingly and beyond international law.
Chapter 4 delves into the practice of the international judiciary and, specifically, international war crimes tribunals and the International Court of Justice (ICJ). By analysing the approaches of post–World War II tribunals, the committee established to review the 1999 NATO bombing campaign in the Former Yugoslavia, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and the International Criminal Court, the first part of the chapter reflects on the conceptual, normative, and practical limitations of international criminal law. The second part provides a critical reading of two important ICJ cases, the Nuclear Weapons Advisory Opinion and the Armed Activities case (Congo v. Uganda), dealing respectively with the ecological devastation of nuclear weapons and pillage of natural resources in the Congo. The chapter ultimately contends that international justice, both in its criminal and inter-state dimensions, is concerned about individual/state agency, quantifiable harm, and its proximate causes. Thinking in these narrow terms about the ecological impacts of militarism and resource extraction associated with conflict fails to grasp the structural dimensions of the problem, the plurality of actors involved, and the obligations owed to other human and non-human beings.
The final chapter brings together the main findings and arguments of the book, identifies its broader implications, and formulates some ideas for future research. Building upon insights from political ecology, it suggests that a useful way forward is through reframing questions away from assuming fatalistic relationships between nature and conflict, and starting to ask questions that illuminate the broader social/political/economic dynamics involved. By considering how different environmental injustices play a role in shaping contemporary conflicts, international law scholarship may also expose and challenge the utilitarian/instrumental view of nature that underpins the field. If environmental ‘scarcity’ and ‘abundance’ are not external factors leading to conflict, but the outcomes of socio-economic processes, often linked to historical grievances and unequal power relations, entirely different notions of justice, peace, and security are needed.
China's climate governance is distinguished by the contrast between an abundance of policies on climate change and the lack of legally binding laws. This article argues that Chinese courts bridge this difference, which fosters a ‘rule of climate policy’ rather than a strict rule of law. The effective authority of Chinese climate policy is made possible in practice both by provisions of the Chinese Constitution and the prevailing use of legal reasoning. China's constitutional design of ‘ecological civilization’ delegates the duty and the power of managing climate change issues to the executive branch of its government. Most Chinese documents on climate governance have no binding legal force, which means, according to positive law, that they cannot serve as legal grounds for judicial decisions. Chinese judges, in deciding climate-related disputes, must combine legal provisions and non-binding materials to achieve regulatory goals. They use non-legal materials to support statutory or contractual interpretations and determine the existence or limits of rights, which alters the meaning and scope of existing legal terms and principles. This rule of climate policy is possible in the courtroom because judges justify public policy considerations with arguments of principle that are substantiated in various non-binding climate plans.
Over the past two centuries, apocalypse and extinction have become powerful secular tropes, and have been given new urgency in the context of escalating global heating and biodiversity loss. This chapter examines how the environmental humanities can analyse, complicate, democratise, and challenge these tropes. It addresses present-day speculations about the future of the biosphere, both within the field, and in wider culture through the activities of groups such as Extinction Rebellion. It explores the entanglements of these speculations with questions of justice, and offers an analysis of relationships humanity, inequality, and catastrophe in Mary Shelley’s novels Frankenstein (1818) and The Last Man (1826). The chapter ends with some suggestions about the role of the environmental humanities in an ecological emergency. In particular, it addresses how the field might contribute to the communal task of finding urgent solutions for social-environmental problems, while at the same time maintaining focus on issues of justice and rigorous critique of totalising narratives, including the language of solutions and of apocalypse itself.
Scholars from across the humanities and sciences have deepened our understanding of the relationship between environmental and human health, revealing the centrality of race as a critical variable. Historians, sociologists, and anthropologists have revealed the centrality of race in disparities in access to healthy environments and medical care. Structural inequalities that stem from the legacies of slavery, colonialism, and imperial violence are embedded with racial ideologies that supported those systems. The growth of biomedicine and Western medical institutions in the context of slavery, colonialism, and empire produced medical ideologies of racial difference in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Similarly, environmental movements that emerged in the context of European and US empires emphasized conservation at the expense of indigenous land rights. The long-term impacts of slavery and colonial policies are apparent in studies of environmental damage and health disparities. In the late twentieth century, environmental activists in the Global South and southern USA challenged racism and postcolonial development, and advocated for environmental justice.
This chapter examines some of the more powerful encounters between feminism and environmentalism to offer the reader an understanding of both historic points of tension and opportunities for rich collaboration. Reading the environmental humanities broadly, the chapter highlights diverse lines of feminist research that drive toward more just, inclusive, and ecologically vibrant futures. It focuses on critical feminist work that challenges hegemonic conceptions of gender and nature, the body and place, and dominant understandings of knowledge production. The reader will become acquainted with key concepts such as essentialism, intersectionality, the nature/culture dualism, environmental justice, and the anthropocene, and with key subfields including ecofeminism, feminist science studies, corporeal feminism, and biopolitics.
Risk in the global economy is often borne by those with the least political agency or monetary resources, who also bear the brunt of the environmental damage inflicted by a system of unstoppered industrial development. Environmental humanities seeks greater justice and equality within human societies and in all ecological relationships; it can therefore model how risk is absorbed by those without access to economic and political advantage. We have to imagine a more equitable society before we can build it. The environmental humanities can create opportunities for creative and scholarly work to rethink its organizational and logical structure, to risk upending received rhetorical models in creative and scholarly work. Environmental humanities has a chance to reconceive how the “human” relates to the world around it, questioning the human as primary subject and imagining a way of seeing and describing the world as a horizontal shared space rather than a vertical, teleological hierarchy. It’s risky to practice new modes of expression. It’s even riskier to subordinate the human in a field where the word “human” is predominant. Environmental humanities is the place to take that risk.
Rights discourse is marked by ambivalence – the enunciation of rights alongside the attendant exclusions and violations of said rights. In the eighteenth century, for instance, the language of rights was used to justify the French and American revolutions even as women and the enslaved were excluded from the category of rights bearers. The human-based conception of rights also excluded the environment. This chapter proposes that extension of rights to both humans and nonhumans is at the core of the environmental humanities (EH). EH discourse of rights attends to the marginalization of communities disproportionately affected by the distribution of ecological risks and nonhuman ecologies threatened by anthropogenic activities such as resource extraction and energy use. Enunciations of rights in EH demonstrate a commitment to not only a select group of humans but to all humans as well as to the rights of nonhumans. However, EH discourse of rights is not without tensions, including the competing claims to rights among humans and between the interests of human and other-than-human worlds. The chapter concludes with an exploration of these tensions in Amitav Ghosh’s The Hungry Tide.
This chapter starts from the proposition that legal substance may be inherently connected to legal form. In particular, consideration is given to the claim that individualistic norms tend to be manifested in highly administrable rules while altruistic norms lend themselves to expression as standards in the legal system. An examination of specific standards in the international legal order that provide a regulatory space for altruism ensues. In doing so, the chapter builds on the insights offered in the previous chapters on substantive international law and reveals that there are certain common legal vehicles through which altruism is compelled or promoted by the law. In a context where the altruistic behaviour of individual states waxes and wanes, the chapter concludes by making a call for greater institutionalisation of altruism.
Beginning in northwestern Kenya with the story of Eregae and Aita Nakali, this chapter introduces the new science of climate extremes and extreme event attribution. Between 2015 and 2019, the “fingerprints” of climate change slapped hundreds of millions of people. Extreme heat waves, floods, droughts, and wildfires exacted a terrible toll on developed and developing nations alike. These catastrophes affected hundreds of millions of people and resulted in hundreds of billions of dollars in losses. Fire-afflicted movie stars in California and ranchers in Australia; drought-stricken South Africans; poor flooded fisher-folk in Bangladesh; Houston's middle-class families riven by flood: these are just some of the people who felt the crushing blow of more extreme climate. While humans have always faced the perils of natural disasters, the data suggest that the human and economic cost of climate and weather extremes is increasing rapidly as our population and economies expand and our planet warms rapidly. Since the early 1980s, the number of large catastrophes has quadrupled, inflicting billions of dollars in losses and impacting vulnerable populations on every continent. Understanding the link between extremes and warming is both a moral and an existential imperative.
The book concludes with a forward-looking epilogue summarizing the multiscalar complexity and potentials of Bahia’s Afro-Brazilian dendê economy. It recognizes the fundamental influence of Afro-descendants in shaping New World societies and environments just as it presents new possibilities for abundant socioecological futures. Emerging from an African diaspora of people, plants, places, and power, dendê provides a model for encouraging and enjoying convivial relationships among and within more-than-human communities and biodiverse, productive agroecosystems. It argues for the power of inclusive histories and geographies to enact more viable, equitable, and decolonial futures, and highlights current efforts toward social and environmental justice emanating from the region.
The introduction places climate disruption within histories of colonization and enslavement. A reflection on the Equal Justice Initiative’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice frames the persistence of structures of enslavement and racial apartheid that are evident in the US landscape through both presence and absence. Proposing a reparative and decolonial approach to climate justice, the introduction draws on a range of perspectives, including environmental justice, decolonial theory, and Black agrarianism. In dialogue with expressive cultures and resistance movements of frontline communities, the introduction outlines the ways that utopian narratives can express a desire to be freed from the sins of the past. In response, this introductory chapter offers narratives of revolutionary pasts and dystopian futures; practices of mourning, dissent, and hospitality; and everyday inhabitation and social care as locations where better worlds are created.