Teaching my first environmental justice class

I taught the first of what I hope will be a long career of classes in environmental justice this quarter.  It was a 40-student upper-divison sociology course formally titled “Environmental Inequality.”  My advisor Andy Szasz usually teaches it, but he had other responsibilities this year so I got to teach it instead.  I had a great time coming up with my own syllabus, and Andy kindly sat in one day to observe and offer tips based on his many years of classroom experience.  My father’s death in late January made this a difficult quarter, and Andy, Kevin Cody, Bradley Angel and Flora Lu helped get me through it with last minute guest-lectures and help with grading.

Since it was my first time teaching the class, I focused on getting the syllabus and lectures in order and didn’t get particularly creative with the class assignments and evaluations (5 pop quizzes, a take-home midterm and a take-home final).  Hopefully there will be opportunities for that later.  Instead, I chose a fairly straightforward lecture format interspersed with discussion, small group-work, movies and multi-media clips.

I’ve pasted the readings below, and added links and short descriptions of some of the things I did in class.  You can also find a complete version of the syllabus with the rest of my syllabus collection here.

I.       Understanding Environmental Inequality

January 9th               Introduction

  • Perkins, Tracy and Julie Sze. 2011. “Images from the Central Valley.” Boom:  A Journal of California 1(1):70-80.

Ice-breaker: Share Squares

Video: Youth On Fire

January 11th             Toxic distribution

  • Lerner, Steve. 2010. Sacrifice Zones: The Front Lines of Toxic Chemical Exposure in the United States. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
    • Introduction
  • Bullard, Robert, Paul Mohai, Robin Saha and Beverly Wright. 2007. Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty: 1987-2007: Grassroots Struggles to Dismantle Environmental Racism in the United States. Cleveland, OH: United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries.
    • Ch. 4: A Current Appraisal of Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States – 2007

Lecture activity: My Town, Your Town.  I adapted the activity for use in lecture as described at the bottom of the link.

Visual: I showed some of my photos from the Voices from the Valley exhibit

January 13th               Conceptualizing the environment and environmentalism

  • Gottlieb, Robert. 1993. Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.
    • Introduction: Where We Live, Work and Play
  • Rechtschaffen, Clifford, Eileen Gauna and Catherine A. O’Neill. 2009. Environmental Justice: Law, Policy and Regulation. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.
    • Ch. 1, pgs 22-25.
    •  Letter, Circa Earth Day 1990.
    • Principles of Environmental Justice. The First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit. 1991

Lecture aid: What Is the Environment and What Do People Do There?

Video: Bird Like Me (5:48). I asked the students the following questions to get discussion going: What tensions did you see in the film? What different conceptions of the environment did you see? How does Wyatt Cenac feel about the Audubon Society’s involvement in Turkey Creek?  How do the residents feel? You can read my other posts on using this Daily Show clip in the classroom here and here.

January 16th              Holiday

January 18th             Cumulative impacts of toxic exposure      

Guest speaker: Jonathan London (UC Davis)

  • London, Jonathan, Ganlin Huang and Tara Zagofsky. 2011. Land of Risk/ Land of Opportunity: Cumulative Environmental Vulnerability in California’s San Joaquin Valley. Davis, CA: UC Davis Center for Regional Change.

January 20th             Resource Extraction

Guest speaker: Flora Lu (UCSC – Latin American and Latino Studies)

  • Lu, Flora. “Petroleum Extraction, Indigenous People and Environmental Injustice in the Ecuadorian Amazon.” In International Environmental Justice.  Frederick Gordon and Gregory Freeland, Co-Editors. ILM Publishers. Forthcoming.       

January 23rd              Accidents and Disasters

  • Harrison, Jill. 2006. “’Accidents’ and Invisibilities: Scaled Discourse and the Naturalization of Regulatory Neglect in California’s Pesticide Drift Conflict.” Political Geography, 25(5), 506-529.

Activity: I asked the students to 1.) create a definition of an accident and come up with examples and 2.) discuss and take notes on when something ceases to be an accident and becomes ‘something else,’ and to come up with more examples of what the ‘something else’ might look like.

After we discussed their work, I asked the students to consider why it matters if something is determined to be an accident or not. We then made two lists of words on the chalkboard.  In one column we put words that are used to describe problems as individual and unique, and in the other column we put words used to describe broad societal problems.  Column A filled up with words like “bad apple,” “bad actor,” “individual,” “accidental,” “the exception, not the rule,” “local,” and “outlier.”  Column B filled up with words like “structural,” “widespread,” “patterned,” “everyday,” etc.

January 25th             International development

  • Agyeman, Julian, Robert D. Bullard, and Bob Evans, eds. 2003. Just Sustainabilities: Development in an Unequal World. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
    • Ch. 1: “Environmental Space, Equity and the Ecological Debt” by Duncan McLaren

January 27th              Barriers to political participation

  • Cole, Luke and Sheila Foster. 2001. From the Ground Up: Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement. New York: New York University Press.
    • Ch. 5. Processes of Struggle: Grassroots Resistance and the Structure of Environmental Decision-Making
January 30th              Using science, contesting science
  • Corburn, Jason. 2005. Street Science: Community Knowledge and Environmental Health Justice. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
    • Introduction
  • Shearer, Christine2011. Kivalina: A Climate Change Story. Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books.
    • Ch. 1: Blueprint for Denial

Video: A Debilitating Medical Mystery (7:23) I asked the students to analyze the video based on the content of the reading assignment.

February 1st               Women and advocacy

  • Wallace, Aubrey. 1993. Eco-Heroes: Twelve Tales of Environmental Victory. San Francisco, CA: Mercury House.
    • Mrs. Gibbs Goes to Washington.
  • Perkins, Tracy. 2012. “Women’s Pathways Into Activism: Rethinking the Women’s Environmental Justice Narrative in California’s San Joaquin Valley.” Organization & Environment 25(1):76-94.

February 3rd                 Take home midterm

II.      What Causes Environmental Inequality?

February 6th               Regulations, the market, social capital and discrimination

  • Rechtschaffen, Clifford, Eileen Gauna and Catherine A. O’Neill. 2009. Environmental Justice: Law, Policy and Regulation. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.
    • Ch. 3: Theories of Causation

Activity: The Story of Luis.  See pages 3-4 in chapter 26 of Helping Health Workers Learn.  I used this story to help train the students to analyze root causes of social problems. I read the story aloud and then asked the question, “Why did Luis die?” However, since I did not think the students would answer in the linear fashion modeled on pg. 4, I had them call out as many possible causes of Luis’s death as they could think of in no particular order.  As they called them out, I wrote down their answers on the board in loose columns. The columns on the left were the most individualized (“he stepped on a thorn”) and the columns on the right were the most social (“global capitalism fosters social inequality”).

February 8th               Regulatory Failure

  • Bernstein, M. 1955. Regulating Business by Independent Commission. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Pgs. 74-95.
  • Rechtschaffen, Clifford, Eileen Gauna and Catherine A. O’Neill. 2009. Environmental Justice: Law, Policy and Regulation. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.
    • Ch. 5: Regulation and the Administrative State, pgs. 140-143

February 10th             Colonialism                                                    

  • Cronon, William. 1983. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. New York: Hill and Wang.
    • Ch. 4: Bounding the Land
    • Ch. 5: Commodities of the Hunt

Movie: In the Light of Reverence (77 min., available on Netflix)

February 13th             Commodification of land and labor

  • Polanyi, Karl. 1944. The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
    • Chapters 3-6 

February 15th             Capitalism

  • Faber, Daniel. 2008. Capitalizing on Environmental Injustice: The Polluter-Industrial Complex in the Age of Globalization. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.
    • Ch. 1: “Not All People Are Polluted Equal: The Environmental Injustices of American Capitalism.”

Video: Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground (20:29)

III.          What is being done?

February 17th             Protecting individual communities

  • Cole, Luke and Sheila Foster. 2001. From the Ground Up: Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement. New York: New York University Press.
    • Preface: We Speak for Ourselves: The Struggle of Kettleman City

February 20th             Holiday

February 22nd            Policy advocacy, electoral politics and the courts in the US

  • Website: Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. http://www.crpe-ej.org/crpe/. Read entries under “Campaigns” including: Civil Rights, Clean Air, Dairies, Climate Justice, National, Forgotten Voices, Don’t Waste the Valley, Pesticides, and Power to the People.
  • Website: The Women’s Foundation of California – Women’s Policy Institute. http://www.womensfoundca.org/site/c.aqKGLROAIrH/b.982359/k.8397/Womens_Policy_Institute.htm
  • Website: Communities for a New California. http://www.anewcalifornia.org/
  • Pellow, David Naguib and Robert J. Brulle, eds. 2005. Power, Justice and the Environment: A Critical Appraisal of the Environmental Justice Movement. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
    • Ch. 10: “Environmental Justice and the Legal System” by Holly D. Gordon and Keith I. Harley.

February 24th             International advocacy

  • Carmin, JoAnn and Julian Agyeman. 2011. Environmental Inequalities Beyond Borders: Local Perspectives on Global Injustices. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
    • Ch. 7: “Global Environmental Governance and Pathways for the Achievement of Environmental Justice” by Beth Schaefer Caniglia
  • Keefe, Patrick Radden. 2012. “Reversal of Fortune.” The New Yorker, Jan. 9, 38-49.

February 27th             Research

  • Pellow, David Naguib and Robert J. Brulle, eds. 2005. Power, Justice and the Environment: A Critical Appraisal of the Environmental Justice Movement. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
    • Ch. 4: “Mission Impossible? Environmental Justice Activists’ Collaborations with Professional Environmentalists and with Academics” by Sherry Cable, Tamara Mix, and Donald Hastings.

Activity 1: We made a list of common problems that arise between activists and academics in one column, and in a second column listed explanations for these problems.

Activity 2: Students got a chance to see a real world example of how one group of academics and activists are trying to work together productively. I handed out copies of the San Joaquin Valley Cumulative Health Impacts Project’s “Principles of Collaboration” document. You can see them here.  Students read them individually and identified where they saw the activists’ interests being protected and where they saw the academics’ interests being protected.

Lecture aid: Voices from the Valley project overview.  An alternate example of an academic (me) trying to work productively with activist groups.

February 29th             Market-based vs. command-and-control environmental management

  • Rosenbaum, Walter A. 2008. Environmental Politics and Policy. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.
    • Ch. 5: More Choice: The Battle Over Regulatory Economics

Video: The Story of Cap and Trade (9:56)  I asked the students to watch for 1) tensions between market-based and command-and-control regulation and 2) potential environmental justice implications of cap-and-trade regulation of greenhouse gases.

March 2nd                   Government Responses

  • London, Sze, Liévanos. 2008. “Problems, Promise, Progress and Perils: Critical Reflections on Environmental Justice Policy Implementation in California.” UCLA Journal of Environmental Law and Policy 26(2):255-290.

March 5th                   Cross-movement organizing

Guest speaker: Catalina Garzón (Pacific Institute)

IV.   Broadening the Lens

March 7th                   Renewable Resources

Guest speaker: Bradley Angel (Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice)

March 9th                   Climate Justice

March 12th                 Food Justice

Guest speaker: Alison Alkon (University of the Pacific)

  • Alkon, Alison and Julian Agyeman, eds. 2011. Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class and Sustainability. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
    • “Introduction: The Food Movement as Polyculture” by Alison Alkon and Julian Agyeman
    • “Conclusion: Cultivating the Fertile Field of Food Justice” by Alison Alkon and Julian Agyemen

V.    Looking Back, Looking Forward

March 14th                    Outcomes

  • Pellow, David Naguib and Robert J. Brulle, eds. 2005. Power, Justice and the Environment: A Critical Appraisal of the Environmental Justice Movement. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
    • Ch. 1: “Power, Justice, and the Environment: Towards Critical Environmental Justice Studies” by David Naguib Pellow and Robert J. Brulle
    • Ch. 5: “Who Wins, Who Loses? Understanding Outcomes of Environmental Injustice Struggles” by Melissa Toffolon-Weiss and Timmons Roberts

March 16th                 Moving forward

  • Bullard, Robert, Paul Mohai, Robin Saha and Beverly Wright. 2007. Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty: 1987-2007: Grassroots Struggles to Dismantle Environmental Racism in the United States. Cleveland, OH: United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries.
    • Ch. 2: Environmental Justice Timeline – Milestones 1987-2007
  • Solnit, Rebecca. 2000. Hope in the Dark. New York: Verso.
    • Ch. 1: Looking into Darkness
    • Ch. 10: Changing the Imagination of Change
    • Ch. 12: The Angel of Alternate History
    • Ch. 14: Getting the Hell Out of Paradise

Take home final

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