Book Notes

Readings on Environmental Justice

Confronting Environmental Racism: Voices from the Grassroots
Edited by Robert D. Bullard
Boston: South End Press, 1993
259 pp.; $16.00

MINORITY COMMUNITIES IN THE UNITED STATES disproportionately house toxic dumps, incinerators and polluting factories; people of color hold a disproportionately high number of the country's most hazardous jobs, as farmworkers and in factories; and children of color exhibit much higher levels of lead contamination than white children.

 Much of this disparity, Confronting Environmental Racism convincingly shows, is due to conscious efforts by polluters to target poor and people of color communities for their operations. Exhibit number one in support of this claim is a 1984 consultants' report to the California Waste Management Board, Political Difficulties Facing Waste-to-Energy Conversion Plant Siting, which stated, "All socioeconomic groupings tend to resent the nearby siting of major facilities, but middle and upper socioeconomic strata possess better resources to effectuate their opposition. Middle and higher socioeconomic strata neighborhoods should not fall within the one-mile and five-mile radius of the proposed site."

Housing segregation also exacerbates the disparity, editor Robert Bullard argues. Discriminatory government and private real estate policies may confine minorities to areas near industrial facilities, limiting the ability of even higher-income people of color to move away from environmental hazards.

 And poverty takes it toll by limiting options. Most whites will not work as farmworkers, but Mexican immigrants may have few alternatives.

 As the segment of the U.S. population most severely affected by pollution and environmental degradation, people of color have taken a leading role within the grassroots movement for environmental justice. Confronting Environmental Racism documents "the environmental revolution taking shape in the United States," in the words of editor Robert Bullard, a revolution which "has touched communities of color from New York to California and from Florida to Alaska.

 The book complements its overview of the problem of environmental racism and the growing resistance movement with a series of case studies of minority communities' struggles against environmentally destructive projects. The case studies emphasize the inextricable link between environmental and social justice concerns in the grassroots environmental justice movement.

 In Southern Colorado, Devon Pena and Joseph Gallegos detail, rural Chicanos have fought a protracted fight against the mining multinational Battle Mountain Gold (BMG). BMG has opened a strip-mine and cyanide-leach milling operation which has polluted local waters and threatens to drain the regional aquifer and encroach onto land to which the Chicanos have asserted a communal claim. Local residents, organized into the Costilla County Committee for Environmental Soundness (CES), have drawn on their tradition of struggling to maintain communal control over local lands in their battle against BMG. Local residents have resisted company efforts to silence opposition to the mine by offering jobs; CES has even forged an alliance with the local miners. CES has had notable success, raising BMG's costs by forcing the company to agree to adopt cleaner mining technologies, so that, with the current low world gold price, BMG operations are not profitable. The company may be forced to permanently shut the mine down earlier than anticipated if world gold prices remain depressed.

Not all of the case studies tell positive stories, however. In Alabama's Blackbelt, Conner Baily, Charles E. Faupel and James H. Gundlach write, the efforts to oppose a Chemical Waste Management hazardous waste incinerator have been hindered by a failure to forge a genuine alliance between the African-American civil rights movement and the white, local environmental movement. They attribute the failure to a multitude of factors, but conclude that "white activists have made conscious efforts to reach out to progressive forces in the African- American community, but they need to play a more active part in helping improve the social, economic and political conditions of the black majority."


Toxic Struggles: The Theory and Practice of Environmental Justice
Edited by Richard Hofrichter
Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1993
260 pp.; $16.95

THE COMMON ELEMENT of the diverse and provocative essays inToxic Struggles, a compilation of short pieces offering theoretical and analytic perspectives on environmental justice, is that real progress in resolving the environmental crisis cannot be achieved by environmentalism alone.

"Ecological faultlines follow structures of economic power: from white to people of color, men to women, rich to poor, North to South," writes Mary Mellor. Because the environmental crisis is rooted in struggles over the right to use and control natural resources and over the right to shape production processes, the authors in Toxic Struggles argue, ecological problems must be addressed from a social justice perspective.

 The theoretical contributions to the book focus on concentrated corporate and government power as the primary perpetrator of environmental harms, and grassroots movements as the best hope for containing corporate abuses. The contributors agree that corporate freedoms must be restricted and governments made more accountable to the citizenry.

"Proprietors of poisonous capital do not have the sole right to decide how their property is enjoyed once their actions endanger the public," writes John O'Conner. At the same time, the exercise of existing people's rights, O'Conner argues, can form the basis for meaningful challenges to polluters. "Publicly invoking our most basic rights often disrupts the peace. But the effort is essential, and the results can be significant. Collective action by well-organized communities can not only force changes in the behavior of antisocial industries but can also result in the acceptance of new rights."

 The theoretical pieces also claim that social values must undergo a transformation if the ecological crisis is to be solved, with the dominant individualistic and materialistic ethic replaced with an emphasis on shared responsibilities and mutual obligations. Feminist contributors to the volume argue that these are values already predominant among women, and that the political expression of these values by a feminist-oriented environmental justice movement might begin the transformation of dominant social mores.

 The analytic contributions to Toxic Struggles focus on the environmental justice issue through the prisms of people of color and women's environmental campaigns, workplace health hazards and global ecological problems, especially in the Third World.

The multiple interconnections between environmental issues and social and economic justice concerns are highlighted by these varied essays. Celene Krauss describes how "fighting toxic wastes in defense of the family becomes the lever for the transformation of consciousness and the political action of blue-collar women." Eric Mann contends that "any efforts to limit or shape production in sound ways will involve direct confrontations between mangement's right to decide what a corporation will produce and the rights of workers and communities to live and work in safety." Martin Khor rejects the path of Third World "modernization," which he labels "a code word for [people] losing their control over their resources and their rights of determining their own future." Genuine Third World development, he writes, "means recognizing land rights, putting a stop to depleting resources such as forests; and introducing clean water, health facilities, and better schools."


The New Protectionism: Protecting the Future Against Free Trade
By Tim Lang and Colin Hines
New York: The New Press, 1993
186 pp., $11.95

FAIR TRADE, NOT FREE TRADE." That's been the slogan of most of the activists trying to slow the corporate free trade juggernaut in battles against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and other free trade deals.

Tim Lang and Colin Hines warn in The New Protectionism that this might be a mistake. Whatever the tactical merits of the call for fair trade, they argue, it is a mistake for progressives to build a strategic vision around notions of fair trade. What is needed, they contend, is not fair trade but less trade.

The New Protectionism succinctly documents the limits of free trade theory and the harms of free trade practice, showing the effects of free trade on the environment, workers, public health regulations and standards and democracy. In fact, The New Protectionism argues, free trade is a misnomer for a multinational corporate deregulatory agenda that seeks to override any contrary citizen interests.

 Free trade ideology, so pervasive in the media and in academe, has not ascended because of its sound principles or because it represents the best hope for material improvements in the lives of most people. Rather, The New Protectionism shows, it has become the dominant economic ideology because its most important advocates - multinationals - are so powerful and have worked so hard to extend its influence.

While some of the ravages of free trade can be alleviated by environmental and social safeguards, and while there may be some small short-term benefits to alternative trading schemes, trade itself is the ultimate problem, The New Protectionism claims. For example, no trade safeguard or sensitivity to social concerns can address the problem of the huge amounts of energy wasted (and contribution to global warming and other problems made) in shipping goods from one side of the world to the other, when the same goods could be produced locally.

"Piecemeal efforts or bolt-on additions to existing economic policies are not enough to foster more appropriate use of the earth's resources," Lang and Hines argue. "Nor can it be left to consumers on their own to turn whole economies round to a more appropriate form. Laws need to change; aspirations need to be redirected; and policies coordinated."

 Lang and Hines call for a complete reorientation of global trading and economic policies. "The New Protectionism, as we have called this orientation, aims to protect the environment by reducing international trade and by reorienting and diversifying entire economies towards producing the most that they can locally or nationally, then looking to the region that surrounds them, and only as a last option to global international trade."

 The authors sketch a 10-point agenda in furtherance of the New Protectionism. The 10 key elements are: reorienting economic policy away from the global and towards the regional and local; building and supporting communities; promoting aid and trade for self-reliance, fostered by an exchange of appropriate technology and skills; spreading existing work to include the unemployed by shortening the work week; raising environmental and public protection standards; controlling multinationals; writing off the Third World debt; dismantling or reforming the world finance and trade bodies (including the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and GATT); curtailing the power of existing super trading blocs (NAFTA, the European Community); and changing consumption patterns.