South Coast Sociologist, Author Says Environmental Justice Movement Often Misunderstood

Feb 20, 2018

It’s a term you’ve heard a lot recently in the news on the Central and South Coasts. People have been fighting for “Environmental Justice.”

The label has been used extensively in the battle in Oxnard as many members of the community have rallied to fight a proposal to build a fourth power plant in the city. A U-C Santa Barbara sociologist who's written a new book on the subject says while the issue isn’t a new one, the label for it is relatively recent.

Dr. David Pellow is Director of UCSB’s Global Environmental Justice Project. Pellow says the term “environmental justice” is often misused. He says some communities call themselves environmental justice communities, when in fact they don’t have justice, and that’s what they are seeking.

The researcher notes most communities don’t want potentially polluting or damaging things like power plants or dumps. But, some communities simply have much more political clout, and it is often low income and minorities communities which get saddled with less desirable infrastructure or commercial projects.

Pellow says the concept applies to thinks we might not even consider at first, like the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, and even Black Lives matter.

He’s written a new book about the subject, called “What is Critical Environmental Justice?”

Pellow says we need to look at ways of making environmental justice more inclusive. He also notes that research shows that even in low income communities where families struggle with basics like adequate food and housing, the environmental quality issue is a big one. In fact, he says in heavily Latino communities, the research shows it ranks as a higher concern than it does in predominantly white communities.