Environmental Justice

Peter S. Wenz on Environmental Racism

Peter S. Wenz, in looking at environmental racism, focuses on the issue of hazardous wastes (both industrial and consumer) and the”disproportionate shares of environmental hazards” (Wenz 667) that adversely affect non-whites both in the United States and beyond our borders.
Wenz first looks at a defense of this current waste practices. Essentially, the argument points out that because many non-whites cannot afford to live in areas without LULUs, one could not consider this to be a issue of racism, but rather an issue of poverty. Wenz responds to this, saying, “even if the only discrimination is economic, justice requires redress and significant alteration of current practices,” and that, “the disproportionate impacts on poor people violate principles of distributive justice, and so are not justifiable in the first place” (Wenz 668). The principle of Commensurate Burdens and Benefits, Wenz suggests, in one way of ameliorating this issue without a total reformation of current waste management/disposal practices: those adversely affected by LULU’s should be considered to be shouldering a burden for which they should receive monetary compensation form those living further away from LULU’s.

"Rejected Theories of Justice"

Wenz then looks at several theories of justice which have failed to solve this problem:

  • Libertarianism, which claims that “each individual has an equal right to be free of interference from other people” (Wenz 671), is completely impractical, requiring the agreement of every individual that is at risk of being affected by hazardous waste, and even if this could be done, the refusal of one person could “override all other interests of all other individuals” (671).
  • Utilitarianism, which holds that justice is found in the greatest good from the greatest amount of people, fails in the sense that it can offer no guarantee that a group of people (non-whites, for instance) could not be sacrificed for the greater good of the majority. Wenz also points out the impossibility to perform the calculations needed in utilitarianism (671).
  • The Free Market Approach would place LULU’s “where residents accept them in return for monetary payment” (672). The problem, Wenz tells us, is that this approach fails to take “equal consideration of everyone’s interests” (672), resulting in a continuation of disproportionate distribution of wealth.
  • Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) is an economic take on utilitarianism where, instead of measuring the greater good as a sum of satisfaction or happiness, “the sum [is] to be maximized in society’s wealth, as measured in monetary units” (273). CBA, according to Wenz, would hardly change the current situation because it would typically find that the most economically beneficial locations for LULU’s are near poor communities because the land in those communities is already less valuable than the land in more wealthy communities (673).

LULU Points

Finally, Wenz presents LULU points as his solution to the problem of hazardous wastes. Points would be given to all communities which “would be identified by currently existing political divisions, such as villages, towns, city wards, cities, and counties” (673) that would ensure that each community would have a number of LULU points that corresponded with their ability to finically shoulder their burdens—the wealthier communities would get more, the poor less. This, presumably, would provide for a just distribution of hazardous wastes and, Wenz suggests, would result in a decrease of waste production because if everyone has to live with LULU’s, society as a whole will agree to produce less (674). In addition, communities would not be allowed to sell/trade away their points, solving the problem of exported pollution to poor countries (674).
While the idea of a LULU point system is interesting and would theoretically solve many of the problems surrounding industrial and consumer waste, it seems unlikely, though, that the wealthy (who hold a great deal of political influence) would allow this system to go into effect. If they generally dislike the idea of paying more taxes than the rest of the population, how might they feel about taking on a larger share of hazardous waste?

Global Environment and International Inequality - Henry Shue

Shue argues that "whatever needs to be done…about global environmental problems…the costs should initially be borne by the wealthy industrialized states" (545). He outlines 3 "commonsense principles of fairness" and claims that all 3 show that forcing less developed countries (LDC) to alter their development in order to "avoid adopting the same form of industrialization by which [developed countries (DC)] themselves became rich" is unfair (531). This fact thereby supports his final conclusion that the DC are - at least initially - responsible for altering their own practices and cleaning up the environment.

Before outlining the principles several issues must be addressed. First, Shue defines several terms which are essential to understanding his argument.

Equity - legal term, similar and nearly equivalent to what ordinary people call "fairness"
Fairness - a universal concept that requires the even distribution of good, work, resources, burden

Second, Shue makes several assumptions:

  1. dignity and respect must be kept equal (532)
  2. it "may be equitable for some good things to be distributed unequally…" (532)

Principle 1: Fundamental Fairness and Acceptable Inequality

  1. using others for your benefit is not justified (533)
  2. doing so harms those who are being exploited (533)

Principle 2: Unequal Burdens

  1. those who are best off should incur a greater burden of responsibility (i.e. they should pay more because they are able) (535-6)
  2. flat rates are not equitable - they do not take into consideration the final outcome (537-8)
  3. progressive rates are equitable and should be employed (538).

Incentives will be necessary when instituting a progressive rate of payment because such are method makes those with more pay more. Therefore, there needs to be incentives so they do not feel their work/progress is useless. Yet, Shue cautions against limitless incentives stating that there is no need (539-40).

Principle 3: Guaranteed Minimum

  1. radical inequalities are unjust (543-4)
  2. no one should have to pay if doing so will reduce their quality of life below the minimum standard UNLESS aid is guaranteed (543-4).

Critique of Shue:

Shue's ideas of equality and burden-bearing seem to make sense. In theory, the idea of progressive taxation and taking responsibility for the messes you make should be natural. If this is so, then why do Shue's ideas of equality not play out on the international stage? I think Copenhagen is a prime example: the U.S. and China both wouldn't negotiate without assurances of the other's participation. No country wants to take on the burden without assurance that other countries will follow suit.

Since this seems to be the case, how then do we incite countries to act? Shue thinks incentives are the wrong way. But what's the right way? So far there seems to be lots of talk but little actual action. If incentives will spark action are they wrong? Is it possible that they are what is needed in the beginning to get the ball rolling and can be slowly reduced as time goes on?

Sustainability and Intergenerational Justice

The main point Brian Barry is discussing is environmental human rights and justice. This is a very hot issue right now because the many slogans promoting environmentally friendly, sustainable, and alternative actions to reduce our carbon footprint say that we re doing it for future generations and that the past generations never wasted or used as much as our current one. It’s a question of “Is justice between generations the issue so much as the fact that common humanity should intrinsically be cautious in respect for future generations?

Intergenerational justice is hard to define and is a hard theory to fully grasp since it involves the future, which is unknown, but it is possible and reasonable to argue. What do we honestly owe those who are coming after us? Why should we care? Well, everyone has a right to the basics of clean air, water and dirt. Yet some people in today’s society are not guaranteed this, so why should we try and guarantee it for future generations? Many people look at this argument and say it’s morally right to try and provide basic needs for future generations. To not do so would be an extremely selfish act and that we in a sense owe the future generations a chance at surviving so we should make sure they are still able to get these 3 basic human rights.

There is a conflict of interest when discussing if it is just for us to preserve certain natural goods for future generations. We may be obligated by considerations of justice not to pursue policies that create benefits for ourselves but impose costs on those who will live in the future because that does not appear to be just. Yet, at the same time, why not do something to benefit the present since we are not totally sure of the future? I believe that we do have a duty and inherent moral obligations to future generations as past generations had with us.

The indirect reciprocity theory that is explained by Barry sums up the solution of this intergenerational justice dilemma. Barry argues that we are obligated to return to others what we have received from them. Likewise, we are obligated to return to the earth what we have taken from it, so as not to negatively impact the future generations. Since we received something from out parents, we are obligated to return something to our children. There is the other argument that we are only borrowing what belongs to our children. We should pass onto the next generation what we inherited from the previous generation and then some. It is a pay it forward type of attitude. By doing this, we are insuring we did what we could to preserve what we have been given for the future.

Social Justice in an Age of Environmentalism

On Monday, April 13, Professor J. Aaron Simmons of Hendrix College came to provide a lecture on “Social Justice in an Age of Environmentalism”. His lecture dealt with the question of whether our current environmental situation should motivate us to change how we understand environmental and political philosophies as they apply to social justice. Some suggestions that he started with were to allow environmental issues that effect humans to be considered under the realm of political philosophy. Also, perhaps it would be good to consider taking political items that deal with humans and apply them to non-humans, particularly animals. One of the main issues with both ideas, however, is anthropocentrism. Simmons argued that nonanthropocentrism will not provide any motivation despite it likely being a bonus when it comes to ethics. Simmons further justifies his stance on anthropocentrism by arguing that it is the only argument most people would listen to. Serious environmental degradation must happen to kickstart the changes necessary. Also he said that anthropocentrism could simply lead to bad public policy and that speciesism should not be a serious issue in our society. He argued that in an effort to reach social justice, all possible theories must be both politically viable and environmentally sustainable. Given the short amount of time we have to correct these environmental problems he says, the ethic in question must be something that can take effect quickly and easily. He argues that the we need to be able to convince people like Sarah Palin who are seriously influential to adopt these policies. Without a politically viable option that can convince these kinds of people, there will be no change. The question is, however, is it is possible to meet these conditions within the framework of political liberalism? In the end, Simmons presented the Capabilities Approach which was formulated by Martha Nussbaum. This “approach” is a slightly differed version of political liberalism, and a critique of Social Contractarianism which has a few necessary ontological requirements. These include rationality, reasonableness, and being “free, equal, and independent”. Nussbaum provides a list of 10 Capabilities which are necessary.
1) Life
2) Bodily Health
3) Bodily Integrity
4) Senses, Imagination, Thought
5) Emotions
6) Practical Reason
7) Affiliation
8) Other Species
10) Control Over One's Environment

Simmons liked this system because it is “both politically viable yet still basically anthropocentric” and “avoids species extremism”. While an interesting concept, it still has a few flaws. Such as issues with ascription, the structural importance of sentience, and it still tends to come off as somewhat anthropocentric. Simmons suggests trying to push the Capabilities Approach beyond what it currently reaches and attempt to extend it to as many organisms as possible. The final point of the lecture was that both environmental and political philosophy should be considered members of the same conversation as opposed to two entirely separate issues. A problem he claims most politicians seem to forget, (He cuts to a picture of Glen Beck).
I tended to agree with Simmons on most of these points. Overall I enjoyed the lecture although perhaps it was a bit overwhelming at times. One issue that really stood out and I think is worthy of more discussion is the issue of anthropocentrism. Is there really any way we can attempt to understand the environment in a nonanthropocentric way? Or do we really just think we are being nonanthropocentric when we can’t really help it because we don’t really know how to go about it differently? I think that it is important to try and think outside the box as it were but I am finding it difficult to imagine coming up with a truly nonanthropocentric way of going about this. However I agree with a point that Simmons pointed out in class on the importance of an anthropocentric ethic for the environment. He pointed out that very soon the environment will be damaged beyond the point of repair, and currently most people have an anthropocentric view on things. The reason why a non-anthropocentric view on nature would not work is because it would require changes an entire culture of thought which would take way too long. He points out that anthropocentrism is necessary if we have any chance of changing the way we effect the environment in time.

A main problem i have with this approach is that it seems like it would be very difficult to measure what qualifies as meating those different capabilities. How do you measure dignity in comparison to others, or health. How do you know when all of these are being met and when they can be sacrificed.

Environmental Policy

In David Schmitz’s "A Place for Cost-Benefit Analysis," he describes how individuals impose costs on others through common occurrences in life while neglecting the possible impact their actions may have on these individuals. These costs are created through not only our humanity in conforming to society, but also because we are simply unaware of the effects of our actions Schmidtz explains, “Decision maker are naturally tempted to ignore external costs. It is only human” (479). An example of an individual’s neglect to think how his or her actions may impact others is the notion of throwing garbage alongside the highway. Eventually it will be necessary for someone to come pick the trash up. Cost-benefit analysis (CBA) compels individuals to not only look at the destructive effects of their actions, but also look at themselves, “” (Schmidtz 480). CBA comes in a variety of forms, but Schmidtz only goes into great detail on one, Full Cost Accounting. Schmidtz defines Full Cost Accounting Cost Benefit Analysis as, “a commitment to take responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions” (480). There are two different circumstances in which an individual may find CBA helpful Schmidtz says, “First, when one group pays the cost of a piece of legislation while another group gets the benefit; second, and more generally, whenever decision makers have an incentive not to take full costs into account” (Schmidtz 480).

CBA creates awareness of the environmental, and also the full human cost, of individual’s actions.
Schmidtz describes CBA as a way of organizing a public forum expressing respect for other individuals: “those present at the forum will speak not only on behalf of other persons, but on behalf of whatever they care about…” (481). CBA gives society a way to promote the best available balance of costs and benefits, however, not all circumstances give way to maximizing what is valuable. Schmidtz defines the most fundamental argument in favor of CBA to be, “based on CBA’s role as a means of introducing accountability into decisions that affect whole communities” (480). CBA is a way of organizing a public forum expressing respect for persons: persons present at the meeting as well as others whose behalf those present can speak (481). Organized public forums allow for individuals to say no when they do not agree with the proposed plan of action, “In treating us as rights-bearers, our laws enable us simply to decline proposal that would benefit others at our expense” (482). The importance of an individual’s ability to say no, Schmidtz explains, causes people to search for ways of making progress that benefits all. CBA is working properly when it is not used as a system of approval through which good proposals are approved, instead, it becomes a way to filter out bad proposals and prevents individuals from treating others as mere means (Schmidtz 483).

The need for CBA can arise anywhere and at anytime, even if the case is discussing environmental quality, an object that has no physical value but instead are valued for their own sake. Schmidtz gives a great example when referring to the need for CBA when environmental quality is the only value being argued, “suppose the recycling process in question saves paper (and therefore trees), but saving trees comes at a cost of all the water and electricity used in the process; gasoline is used by trucks that collect the paper from recycling bins, and so on. Therefore, the very recycling process that reduces pollution and natural resource consumption in some respects also increase pollution and natural resources in other respects” (483). Schmidtz makes the case through this example that although environmental quality does not contain any particular physical worth, our reason to use CBA is because we care about environmental quality, “it would be a mistake to assume that all values are reducible to costs and benefits” (484).

When analyzing the flaws of CBA critics are quick to point out objects in life that are invaluable to individuals as well as society. These critics believe that they argue on behalf of the moral high ground when favoring the belief that certain things are beyond price (485). An example of this being the lives of a woman’s daughters or certain areas of ever-glades that can never be replaced, these things may be irreplaceable; however, this does not allow them to escape choice. When things are presented ultimatums a choice will need to be made, no matter how difficult. In the case of the daughters previously mentioned, if a mother has to choose to save one of her two daughters from drowning, knowing that she cannot save both without dying herself, she will undoubtedly has to choose which daughter to save. Schmidtz offers a similar example regarding the novel, Sophie's Choice when a Sophie's two children are soon to be executed by a concentration camp commander, "The commander says that he will kill both children unless Sophie picks one to be killed, in which case the commander will spare the other one" (486). Although each child is beyond price Schmidtz explains, Sophie is still faced with the choice. Schmidtz point in this example is that, "The values were incommensurate, but not incommensurable" (486). Implying that both children were beyond price, but when forced to choose, Sophie was able. Therefore, in cases where lives are not at stake, but individuals, such as critics of CBA, bolster that a choice can never be made when attempting to choose between two goods, for it is not debatable that any object is incommensurable.

In theory, Schmidtz says, CBA with Full Cost Accounting is just another way of trying to introduce accountability to society (487). CBA is just another way of organizing topics for public debates that respect all members of society and valued non-persons as well. If CBA were to work to its full potential it would usually result in, “an effective resolution to hold decision makers and policy makers accountable for all costs would, in theory, make for a cleaner, safer, more prosperous society,” and this is something that all parties can agree on (487). CBA, like many others theories, has flaws. CBA does not account for corrupted inputs, nor does it stop people from applying CBA cases in which CBA does not apply. If the process of CBA remains public, certain biased inputs will be negated by individuals who feel their own interests being ignored. CBA is itself an activity that has costs and benefits, some of the benefits being stated previously, while the costs in some cases CBA can be a waste of time, not all problems can be solved through community policy (487). Schmidtz concludes that CBA done in public view helps, “to give democracies a fighting chance to operate as democracies are supposed to operate” (490). Although, CBA is not perfect in all aspects, it’s pretty close. CBA does not calculate human biased, human emotion or various other aspects; this is usually the case in most areas of life. Yet, it does a very good job in organizing a way to reduce these missed calculations drastically by placing individuals in a position to argue for what is best, and to ensure that there are policies enacted that do not use others as means to an end, therefore causing people to discover ways that will benefit all those affected.

The Tragedy of the Commons by Garrett Hardin

Garrett Hardin’s argues that humanities population problem is unsolvable in, The Tragedy of the Commons. He begins the article by clarifying the conclusion he has succumb to, “there is no technical solution to the problem [population]” (The Tragedy of the Commons 1243). Instead of simple stating there is no solution to the problem, Hardin distinguishes the problem as having no “technical solution”. A solution and technical solution are one in the same, but also very different as well, “a technical solution is one that requires a change only in the techniques of the natural science, demanding little or nothing in the way of change in human values or ideas of morality” (The Tragedy of the Commons 1243). The distinction being that a solution requires substantial human change, whereas a technical solution does not. Hardin claims that “no technical solution problems” have members, and one of these members is humanities “population problem,” this being the thesis to his discourse (The Tragedy of the Commons 1243). Hardin argues that it is critical for the population problem to find some way of correcting itself before it becomes its very own “Tragedy of the Commons”, if it has not done so already.

The world is finite, allowing it to only support a finite population, therefore the population growth in this finite area (Earth) must eventually reach equilibrium. Thus, leading Hardin to question whether it is possible for, “the greatest good for the greatest number,” be realized? Two explanations arise when attempting to solve this problem. The first is theoretical, in that it is not mathematically possible to maximize for two (or more) variables simultaneously. The other option, based on fact as well, comes from the knowledge that any organism must have a source of energy in order to survive. Hardin describes that the process to accomplish this task and maximize population is through the limitation of calories necessary in order for the person to perform the maintenance of life, all other calories, “we must make approach as close to zero as possible” (1244). This approach to the maximization of population would ultimately lead to the prohibition of any activity unnecessary to ensure maintenance of life. Therefore, Hardin concludes that maximizing population does not maximize goods and that the optimum population is less than the maximum (1244).

In working towards discovering the optimum population size, little progress can be made unless the ideas of Adam Smith are thoroughly taken into account (1244). In, The Wealth of Nation (1776), Smith popularized the idea of the “invisible hand”, the notion that a person, “intends only in his own gain,” is, as it were, “led by an invisible hand to promote…the public interest”. Although Smith did not believe this to be necessarily true, he did cause, “the tendency to assume that decisions reached individually will, in fact, be the best decisions for an entire society” (1244). If we hold this belief, then man will produce an optimum population through their own will. If this belief were to be wrong, individuals will require an examination of their own defensible freedoms.

Hardin describes “a little known” pamphlet in 1833 by a mathematical amateur named William Forster Lloyd called, “The Tragedy of the Commons” (1244). The word “tragedy” is used by philosopher Whitehead as, “The essence of dramatic tragedy is not unhappiness. It resides in the solemnity of the remorseless working of things…This inevitableness of destiny can only be illustrated in terms of human life by incidents which in fact involve unhappiness. For it is only by them that the futility of escape can be made evident in the drama” (1244). This statement by philosopher White is entails that the tragedy of the population problem does not reside in unhappiness, instead it can only be proven through human experiences that result in unhappiness, thus moving individuals to action. When referencing a herdsman and his desire to increase his herd without limit, Hardin describes the herdsman negligence in only pursuing his individual concern, “Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all” (1244). Although this may be logical it is somewhat common. This natural ignorance of the “big picture” can be counteracted through education, but the inexorable succession of generations requires that the basis for this knowledge be refreshed repeatedly (1245).

The tragedy of the commons occurs in a reverse way when analyzing the problem of solution, because it is not a matter of removing something out of the commons, but of putting something in (1245). In the case of pollution, it must be taken out so that humanity does not “foul its own nest”. Hardin believes this problem to be a population problem, “as population became denser, the natural chemical and biological recycling process became overloaded, calling for a redefinition of property rights” (1245). Hardin’s point is that, if we do not assess the population problem, the pollution problem will only be the first of many areas in which humanity may begin to discover issues. The pollution issue illuminates the issue on morality in certain circumstances, “the morality of an act is a function of the state of the system at the time it is performed” (1245). Attention must be paid to the state of being at the time a decision is being made. It is logical to adhere to this principle because if ignored will lead to an increase in the problem already facing the system. The morality of system-sensitive choices has eluded the attention of most codifiers of ethics in the past, “Thou shall not…” is the form of traditional ethical derives which make no allowance of particular certain circumstances. Therefore, when looking to find solutions to problems, we must not focus on the general problem, but the circumstances within the issue, and base our decisions through these observations.

When attempting to fully understand the tragedy of the commons and its full affect on humanity, Hardin believes the tragedy of the commons to be involved in the population problem another way, freedom to breed. Hardin defends the notion that if we allow families and individuals to produce willingly, we allow these individuals to ensure our planet future problems, “To couple the concept of freedom to breed with the belief that everyone born has an equal right to the commons is to lock the world into a tragic course of action” (1246). Hardin’s views on this issue are actually quite flawed. Despite humanities inability to produce offspring at an “optimal rate”, it is in the interests of our planet to produce the highest number of individuals possible in order to combat the issues with which he discusses in “The Tragedy of the Commons”. To reduce the number of individuals on the planet would be to ensure a society which eventually would produce identical families. With a standard set on the number of children one family may contain, eventually all families would either contain the exact same number of offspring or less than every other person on the planet. I may be an opinionated individual who despises this mindset; however, I think that it would be disturbing to remove the uniqueness of any aspect in society.

Despite an undoubtedly unanimous agreement that the population issue must be addressed, many individuals will oppose the use of coercion to attempt to solve this looming issue. Hardin on the other hand is in favor with such an attempt through his belief that, “The social arrangements that produce responsibility are arrangements that create coercion, of some sort” (1247). Through coercion, responsibility is created, and because of this new found responsibility individuals will be able to be responsible in various aspects of life, including population. The only type of coercion recommended by Hardin however, is mutual, mutually agreed upon by the majority of the people affected (1247). An example of this is given pertaining to the commons, “We institute and support taxes and other coercive devices to escape the horror of the commons” (1247). Hardin suggests that we find ways to combat the population problem through coercive acts that favor the majority affected. “An alternative to the commons need not be perfectly just to be preferable” Hardin adds. A perfect system is not what is essential, but only a system that improves the problem in time, instead of allowing it to continue its present course, which will dissolve the unworkable assumption that only perfect systems are tolerable.
Hardin’s main point in his approach to enlightening others on the growing problem of population growth is that the commons is the key issue. If these commons are justifiable in any sense of the word, they are only under conditions of low population density (1248). He reiterates the point that “no technical solution can rescue us from the misery of overpopulation”, that the freedom to breed will bring ruin. Hardin ends by ensuring that, “Freedom is the recognition of necessity,” and ends his argument with his notion that it is the critical role of education to “reveal to all” the necessity of abandoning the freedom to breed campaign. Only this way will we as a society be able to cease the tragedy of the commons.

1. Barry, Brian. "Sustainability and Intergenerational Justice." Environmental Ethics. Ed. Andrew Light and Holmes Rolston III. Malden: Blackwell, 2003.
2. Schmidtz, David. "A Place for Cost-Benefit Analysis."
2. Shue, Henry. "Global environment and international inequality." International Affairs. Vol. 75, Issue 3. 531-545
2. Wenz, Peter S. "Just Garbage: The Problem of Environmental Racism."
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