The Future of Environmental Justice

Tuesday 7 November 6.00pm - 7.30pm

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New Law School Lecture Theatre 101, Eastern Avenue, University of Sydney



Sydney Ideas

Reflecting on the meaning, and potential, of environmental justice as an idea, as an organising discourse, and as a political demand.

Presenting in partnership with Sydney Ideas as part of the Environmental Justice Conference 2017.

Environmental justice has been one of the central organising discourses of environmental and climate change movements over the last 30 years. While initially focused on the inequity of the distribution of environmental bads (and goods), especially as they impacted poor communities and communities of colour in the US, the idea has expanded to take on a broad range of issues, and a range of demands for justice, in movements across the globe.

The idea of, and movements around, environmental justice continue to grow. From lead contamination of water in Flint, to infringement of Aboriginal rights for coal mines in Queensland, to the impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities in the global south, environmental justice is embraced as a powerful organising discourse and demand.

What is the future of Environmental Justice? What are some current trends and directions in both scholarship and activism? How can the idea of environmental justice be used to respond to new and ongoing environmental crises – and continued economic and political power arrayed against safe, just, and sustainable environments? 

This panel, made up of both longstanding leaders in environmental justice scholarship and new important voices, reflects on the meaning, and potential, of environmental justice as an idea, as an organising discourse, and as a political demand.

Robert Bullard, Texas Southern University
Maxine Burkett, University of Hawaii
Kyle Powys Whyte, Michigan State University
Lauren Rickards, RMIT

David Schlosberg, Sydney Environment Institute

Robert Bullard is Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning and Environmental Policy in the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University in Houston, Texas. He is often described as the father of environmental justice. Professor Bullard received his Ph.D. degree from Iowa State University. He is the author of seventeen books that address sustainable development, environmental racism, urban land use, industrial facility siting, community reinvestment, housing, transportation, climate justice, emergency response, smart growth, and regional equity. He has also published a number of works on environmental justice issues in communities of colour in the U.S. and globally.

His book, Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality (Westview Press, 2000), is a standard text in the environmental justice field. His most recent books include Just Sustainabilities: Development in an Unequal World (MIT Press, 2003), Highway Robbery: Transportation Racism and New Routes to Equity (South End Press, 2004), The Quest for Environmental Justice: Human Rights and the Politics of Pollution (Sierra Club Books, 2005), Growing Smarter: Achieving Livable Communities, Environmental Justice, and Regional Equity (MIT Press, 2007), and The Black Metropolis in the Twenty-First Century: Race, Power, and the Politics of Place (Rowman & Littlefield, 2007).

Maxine Burkett, joined the William S. Richardson School of Law in 2009. She teaches Climate Change Law and Policy, Torts, Ocean and Coastal Law, and International Environmental Law.  She has written extensively in diverse areas of climate law with a particular focus on climate justice, exploring the disparate impact of climate change on vulnerable communities in the United States and globally. Professor Burkett has presented her research on the law and policy of climate change throughout the United States and in West Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Caribbean. Her work has been cited in numerous news and policy outlets, including BBC Radio, the ABA Journal, the New York Times, and Nature Climate Change.

Kyle Powys-Whyte holds the Timnick Chair in the Humanities at Michigan State University. He is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Community Sustainability, a faculty member of the Environmental Philosophy & Ethics graduate concentration, and a faculty affiliate of the American Indian Studies and Environmental Science & Policy programs. His primary research addresses moral and political issues concerning climate policy and Indigenous peoples and the ethics of cooperative relationships between Indigenous peoples and climate science organizations. He is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. His articles have appeared in journals such as Climatic Change, Sustainability Science, Environmental Justice, Hypatia, Ecological Processes, Synthese, Human Ecology, Journal of Global Ethics, American Journal of Bioethics, Journal of Agricultural & Environmental Ethics, Ethics, Policy & Environment, and Ethics & the Environment.

Lauren Rickards is an interdisciplinary researcher with a background in human geography and ecology. Her work focuses on interpretations of key concepts such as human, planet, urban, future and resilience. Conceptual, critical and empirical, much of Lauren’s work examines how experiences or images of disaster illuminate and generate competing perspectives. A Rhodes Scholar with extensive industry experience and networks, Lauren is a Senior Research Fellow with the Anthropocene and Resilience networks of the Earth System Governance program, Deputy Chair of the Australian Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network, an Associate of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute at the University of Melbourne, an Associate of the Institute of Livelihoods and Environment and Charles Darwin University, and a fellow and past Chair of the Centre for Sustainability Leadership.

David Schlosberg is Professor of Environmental Politics in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney, and Co-Director of the Sydney Environment Institute. He is known internationally for his work in environmental politics, environmental movements, and political theory – in particular the intersection of the three with his work on environmental justice. Professor Schlosberg’s current research includes work on climate justice – in particular justice in climate adaptation strategies and policies, and the question of human obligations of justice to the nonhuman realm. He is also examining the sustainable practices of new environmental movement groups – in particular their attention to flows of power and goods in relation to food, energy, and sustainable fashion. And he continues with theoretical work at the interface of justice, democracy, and human/nonhuman relations in the Anthropocene.