Trevor Fuller, SUNY Oneonta – What is Environmental Justice?

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Trevor Fuller, Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Sustainability at SUNY Oneonta, photographed January 14, 2020..File#: 20-A00322

On SUNY Oneonta Sustainability Week:  What is environmental justice?

Trevor Fuller, associate professor of geography and environmental sustainability, explains.

Dr. Fuller worked for almost 10 years as an environmental scientist prior to pursuing advanced degrees in geography. Prior to accepting a position at SUNY Oneonta, he was a Ph.D. student in the geography department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dr. Fuller’s interests lie in environmental justice in both urban and rural settings and his research interests focus on how several U.S. cities have begun to embrace the concept of sustainable development. In his book, Environmental Justice and Activism in Indianapolis, Dr. Fuller examines how place attachment, social capital, and perceptions influence citizen responses when their communities are environmentally threatened.

What is Environmental Justice?

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Sustainability is an approach to development that seeks environmental, economic, and social equity. “Environmental Justice”, a notion that low-income and/or minorities endure an undue proportion of environmental hazards, encompasses these same goals. Many municipal governments in the U.S. have codified sustainability to some extent. However, moving from policy to practice has proven difficult. Cities struggle to realize all three components of sustainability. City governments are more easily able to produce change in the ‘environmental’ portion of sustainability than the economic and social portions. While problematic in pursuit of sustainability, it still offers hope for environmental justice communities. Sustainability as an approach to urban redevelopment has often been implemented via simplistic economic mechanisms (like brownfields) which only produce a new form of inequitable distribution manifested in a newly gentrified neighborhood, or a less polluted neighborhood still lacking jobs and social equity for locals. Sustainability holds great promise for one day righting the historic wrongs endured by low income and/or minority populations in our cities. However, all three components must be equally and concurrently pursued.

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