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Environmental Justice; Action Research; Public Participation; Environmental harms


This posting outlines the concept of "environmental justice" as I recently described it for an encyclopedia entry in the field of "Action Research". In this discipline, the term "environmental justice" describes more than a fair outcome. It is a social movement, and a theoretical lens, that is focused on fairness in the distribution of environmental benefits and burdens, and in the processes that determine those distributions. In both cases, an attention to environmental justice means amplifying the voices of poor, racialized and Indigenous communities in environmental and natural resource policy-making venues -- places that have typically produced decisions resulting in those communities bearing more than their "fair share" of environmental harms. It also means, increasingly, paying attention to the manner through which disadvantaged and historically oppressed peoples within those communities will often be disproportionately harmed, often along familiar social gradients of gender, class, sexuality, caste, and (dis)ability. Effective research in the environmental justice framework has tended to involve robust partnerships between local communities, organizations and/or groups of activists seeking to achieve environmental justice, and university-based researchers employing participatory-action methodologies. These collaborative efforts have proven to be very fruitful in many cases, but should not be understood as easy or straightforward to implement. New models are emerging that seek to combine and enhance the expertise, capacities and perspectives of the partners in order to meet primarily, the needs of communities, and secondarily, the aims of researchers.