How To Overcome Environmental Injustices


Zinta Heunis

We are currently living in a time where human activity has a dominant influence on the environment and climate change.[1] Recorded environmental injustices started in the 1960’s when toxic waste was dumped in poor and mostly African-American communities in America.[2] Studies were made about these injustices and it came about that there was a link between race, poverty and environmental risk. The reason for this link could be argued that during this period the environmental concerns were more related to the ‘wilderness’ instead of poor and vulnerable communities affected by the money-hunger countries of the North.[3] Studies proved that poor and black communities were and still are exposed to more vulnerability than richer and whiter communities.[4]

A homeless person is more vulnerable to rain than a person inside a house when it rains. In the same way, poor countries are more vulnerable to climate change than wealthy communities.[5]

Climate change has a direct and indirect impact on vulnerable communities.[6] Climate change impacts the ecosystem which results in declining agricultural activity, water shortages and rising conflicts over land.[7]

An occurring and recurring problem with climate change is that personal wealth is seen as more important as the well-being of humans. For example, the abuse of energy by big governmental companies and the government’s chosen ignorance towards detrimental impacts it holds for the community and the people who live in it.[8]

An important relationship should be established and recognised especially between ‘cultural practices, sovereignty rights, and lives immersed in diverse and threatened ecosystems… [that is] at the heart of indigenous environmental justice.’[9]

Climate justice means preventing serious consequences of climate change in a fair and equitable way. Climate justice is the inclusion, fair treatment and involvement of all people regardless of race, income and origin when implementing climate policy. To achieve climate justice urgent solutions need to be evaluated.

A new social community where climate justice includes the inequitable distribution of environmental risks and governmental protection should be created.[10] We should insist on an economy that is based on a clean source of energy that does not come from fossil fuels. Lastly, we need to insist on renewable energy that respects the sovereignty of indigenous people and nature. Environmental law is important as it is linked to humans’ survival on Earth. Earth’s resources are limited and we need to institutionalise it and have respect for it.[11]

The world has a ‘duty of assistance’ and a ‘duty of humanitarianism’.[12] The sooner we accept that we have common ownership of the earth and move away from selfish individual-country gain the better the lives of all people around the world will be – especially considering the irony that the people who leave the smallest carbon footprint are the worst affected by climate change.[13]

[1] LJ Kotze ‘Rethinking Global Environmental Law and Governance in the Anthropocene’ (2014) Journal of Energy & Natural Resources Law, 32:2, 121, 121.

[2] D Schlosberg and LB Collins ‘From environmental to climate justice: climate change and the discourse of environmental justice’ 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

[3] Schlosberg and Collins (note 1 above).

[4] Schlosberg and Collins (note 1 above).

[5] CanadianYCC ‘Intro to Climate Justice’ 23 September 2011 (Accessed 6 September 2017).

[6] Schlosberg and Collins (note 1 above).

[7] Specifically referring to Donald Trumps’ decision to possible withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

[8] Schlosberg and Collins (note 1 above).

[9] Schlosberg and Collins (note 1 above).

[10] Schlosberg and Collins (note 1 above).

[11] Michael Kidd Environmental Law (2nd ed) 2011, 14.

[12] (See note 9 above), p222.

[13] (See note 9 above), p222.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice.

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