@theAAG 2019: Rebekah Breitzer on Environmental Justice in the Anthropocene

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Date(s) - 04/04/2019
8:00 am - 9:40 am

Virginia C, Marriott, Lobby Level


Scientists argue that we have entered a new epoch in planetary history—the Anthropocene. For the first time in our planet’s existence, a single species, homo sapiens, is driving planetary-scale changes (Steffen, Grinevald, Crutzen, & McNeill, 2011). Scholars also agree that the scale and intensity of the changes in the Anthropocene, and more importantly, the leading role that humans play in these changes, necessitate rethinking some of the fundamental questions about what it means to be a human, what binds us together, and how we want to live on this planet (Gibson-Graham, 2011; Palsson et al., 2013; Schmidt, Brown, & Orr, 2016). Understandings of the Anthropocene are radically changing perspectives and action “in terms of human awareness of and responsibility for a vulnerable earth” (Palsson et al., 2013, p. 4). At the same time, this irreversible global transformation has pressing and profound implications for environmental injustice, the unfair treatment of vulnerable communities through unequal distribution of environmental harms (Agyeman et al., 2016; Bullard, 1983; McGurty, 1997).

From its origins as a social movement against environmental racism, the concept of environmental justice has evolved to cover a diversity of issues (e.g., food, energy, climate, urban planning) and geographic scales (e.g., the global manifestations of environmental injustice), as well as environmental injustice claims in relation to the non-human world (Schlosberg, 2013). Global environmental justice scholarship and activism are moving beyond demands for equity in the distribution of environmental harms and benefits, toward calls for the structural transformation of economic systems, and the reimagining human-environment relationships amid social, political, economic and environmental crises. This panel aims to stimulate the interdisciplinary conversation around what implications the analytical construct of “the Anthropocene” can have on environmental justice scholarship. What changes must we make as environmental justice– in discourse and activism– is increasingly concerned with carbon? Panel participants will propose and discuss some of the ontological, epistemological and methodological questions they deem relevant to studying environmental justice within the political and imaginative contexts of the Anthropocene.

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