Iss 310, Section 3 Spring 2002

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Environmental Inequalities
Andrew Hurley

  1. ISS 310, Section 3

  2. Spring 2002

  3. Tuesday, March 18

  4. Prof. Alan Rudy

Preface to Hurley

  1. The age of ecology is also the age of environmental inequality… why isn’t he surprised?

  2. The issue for him is more “who benefited and who suffered” from social changes in relations with the environment than the recovery of a “pristine nature” or previous “ecological equilibrium state.”

Ch.1: Class, Race and the Shaping of the Urban Landscape

  1. Tell me about his description of the Gary Products, Inc., chemical spill.

  2. What happened?

  3. How did people respond?

  4. How does he interpret that response?

  5. What is the importance of “the structure of power relations” in the production of the spill and responses to it?

Normal Accidents, Environmental Dislocation and Political Power

  1. For Gary Products, a manufacturer of cleaning solvents and antifreeze, the spill was a minor inconvenience, an expected cost of handling hazardous materials.

  2. For the afflicted population, the acid leak was one of many environmental mishaps that caused tremendous social dislocation and disruption, occasionally of tragic proportions.

  3. More striking, however, was the way in which the events of that April morning highlighted the hierarchy of environmental power in this manufacturing city.” (2)

Urban Landscape Uses

  1. While some have sought to control urban space for the purpose of accumulating profits, others have displayed more variegated motives, including habitation, recreation and the assertion of social status.” (3)

  1. Historically, the ability to control others through the political process and through the dynamics of the capitalist marketplace gave certain groups a decisive advantage in the struggle to organize and manipulate the urban landscape.” (3)

Class, Ethnicity, Race and Urban Landscapes/Environments

  1. “Although commercial capitalism had driven a sizable wedge between haves and have-nots much earlier in the nation's history, the limited skill requirements of mechanized manufacturing rapidly expanded and defined the laboring class by creating a virtual army of interchangeable workers with little bargaining power.” (3)

  1. The history of class relations is important in terms of the history of environmental relations because of the relations between class, race and environmental geography.

  1. “With the slowing of European immigration after the outbreak of World War 1, manufacturers increasingly turned to African Americans to fill the lowest ranks of the industrial hierarchy, thereby adding a racial dimension to urban social arrangements.” (4)

Race, Class and Landscape

  1. 5 million African-Americans migrated to the north between 1919 and 1960, replacing European immigrants in the lowest rungs, and most dangerous and polluted areas, of the industrial division of labor (and urban neighborhoods).

  1. Further complicating the urban social structure was the emergence of a distinct white-collar middle class in the early-to-mid twentieth century. (4)

  2. The development of ethnically and racially divided industrial divisions of labor necessitated the development of a managerial class from the higher ethnic, racial and income ranks of the working class.

The Middle Class and Landscape

  1. Whereas [small] proprietors had once set the standards of appropriate behavior and aspirations among these of the middling rank, salaried [managerial] employees working for large corporations and government institutions now defined middle-class values and styles according to their distinctive needs.”

  2. Proprietors = C-M-C + Productive Ownership

  3. Tend to reinvest in their businesses

  4. Salaried Workers = C-M-C w/o Prod. Ownership

  5. Tend to increase consumption

  1. In contrast to the business class, which championed an ethic of hard work and thrift, members of the white-collar middle class [generally] satisfied their social aspirations through participation in the expanding culture of consumption….” (4-5)

Class, Race and Landscape

  1. By the twentieth century, large-lot zoning and the liberal use of restrictive covenants in many cities ensured that elite neighborhoods would retain their [white] homogeneity....

  2. Working-class whites, on the other hand, relied on discriminatory real estate practices to separate themselves from racial minorities of comparable economic standing.” (5)

  3. Residential separations and discrimination = divisions of consumption.

Class, Race and Safety,
Health and Amenities

  1. Hurley argues that the power of industry was such that they were 1) able to obtain all the natural resources and industrial landscapes they desired, 2) generate pretty much all the pollution that was cost effective, and (implicitly or explicitly) 3) control the courts and legislatures to maintain that power.

  1. He argues that this situation left the working class struggling within itself for relative workplace safety, environmental health and residential amenities… all of which made race/class divisions worse.

Struggles over Landscape
-- from Hurley

  1. Immigrant Eastern Europeans in Chicago

  2. Poor African-Americans in East St. Louis

  3. Pennsylvania mill town workers

  4. Gary’s immigrant, Black and, later, Mexican-American worker-residents

Post-WWII Pollution/Pollutants

  1. The post-war boom increased to volume of pre-war pollution (particularly in relation to depression-era reductions in production).

  1. Also: “The postwar boom in plastics chemicals, drugs, food additives, fabrics, and pesticides, for example, introduced a host of synthetic compounds into the environment. Many of these new chemical compounds, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), dichloro-diphenyl-trichloro-ethane (DDT), and Kepone, were later linked to serious medical disorders such as cancer, brain damage, and liver failure.” (7)

  1. Many of these were more toxic and more stable than older pollutants… making where one lived that much more important.

Class, Race and Pollution

  1. The processes of economic growth and increased pollution generated greater class-based, union-style or civil rights focused struggle (for a piece of the pie) than it did environmentally-based struggle (for a more healthy work and residential environment) but that there was an increase in environmental and social health concerns.

  1. If you got your piece of the pie, you ought to earn a cleaner workplace and be able to buy a cleaner residence… if you didn’t you couldn’t.

Class, Race and Environmentalism

  1. Hurley also argues that the middle class culture of consumption meant that visible “environmental” concerns were about life outside of production -- wilderness, parks, “first nature” -- rather than about industry, communities and “second nature.”

  2. This meant that those who could afford, and those who would be welcome and comfortable in wilderness and rural settings (white, middle class outdoorsmen and white rural hunters and fishermen) were the environmentalists.

  1. Although mainstream environmental activists claimed to represent the general public interest, we should probe carefully for any social biases in either the movement's popular base or its stated objectives.”

Class and the Aesthtic vs. Productive Consumption of Environments

  1. The mainstream environmental movement spoke most directly to the needs and aspirations of white, affluent Americans focused in the aesthetic, athletic and reproductive consumption of landscapes rather than on the productive use of urban and rural land as a means for earning or maintaining a living.

  1. In fact, unions and civil rights activists were often (but not always) opposed environmentalists.

  1. The countervailing tendency, however, was the eventual development of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Acts -- and Sierra Club-NAACP cooperation on highway construction.

More countervailing instances:

  1. “Many African American leaders recognized that industrial pollution was a serious health hazard for blacks who lived in congested inner-city neighborhoods. Thus, when prominent African American leaders from across the nation convened in Gary in 1972 to chart a course for independent black politics, they included several planks about industrial pollution in their manifesto for change.” (12)

  1. “Efforts to improve occupational health and to equalize access to urban resources, although not considered part of the mainstream environmental agenda, nonetheless reflected the deep-seated concerns of workers and minorities about the quality of physical surroundings. Simply measuring commitment to environmental reform against a middle-class standard is inadequate.” (12)


  1. “Because liberal doctrine [Democratic and Republican] held that economic growth was the most effective, and no doubt most convenient, route to social justice, policy makers at all levels of government tended to defer to private capital on important matters….

  2. Liberalism might broaden political representation and deploy public resources on behalf of social welfare, but it would neither disturb fundamental property rights nor intrude on the managerial prerogatives of industrial capitalists.” (13)

  3. However regulatory, until these relations change nature and the poor will remain not only economically exploited and exhausted but environmentally so as well.

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