John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (1971) seeks to explain that morals are based on right and wrong decisions that may or may not lead to good and bad behaviors that are often unrelated to justice and fairness. Rawls’ “Justice as Fairness” theory considers that the two meaning justice and fairness go hand in hand and that neither justice nor fairness can exist without the other. Rawls reiterates that justice and fairness should include everyone having equal access to services, goods, and liberties. However, morality often prevents equal access and distribution of goods, services, and liberties to people because moralities are not the same for everyone. Moralities are codes of conduct and behaviors that have been accepted by an individual, society or group. Based on these conclusions, Rawls argues that people would have to be under a “veil of ignorance” to make fair and just decisions in society.
According to Rihanna Gunn-Wright, climate crisis and environmental justice has placed people of color in an unfair advantage due to the fact that many people of color are intentionally placed in harmful and toxic environments because of their race and economic status (“How Climate Change and Environmental Justice Are Inextricably Linked”). The article concludes that environmental justice has been created in a manner that concludes that environmental justice is in fact about racism. Rihanna based her conclusion on the historical issues that are related to classism. Classism is a system that works to keep certain communities in a disadvantaged socioeconomic position where economic mobility is prevented within the community due to redlining. Rihanna states that “racism doesn’t necessarily show up as someone calling you the n-word. It shows up in how a district is zoned or what they are willing to put in a neighborhood.”
Unfortunately, due to lack of knowledge, many people of color are not even aware of the housing discrimination that automatically places them in neighborhoods that are zoned for industrial and fuel plants. Furthermore, these plants cause pollution and other underlying health conditions.
Environmental justice is defined by the environmental protection agency as the fair treatment of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies. According to Rawls, the difference lies in morality. As stated earlier, morality is the essential basis that is learned, or adaptive behaviors or attitudes that are established and used to make decisions about one thing or another. Just as research, theory and society have proven that it is impossible to have climate justice without environmental justice. Research theory and society have also proven that it is also impossible to have justice without fairness.
Therefore, a fair treatment of the vulnerable minorities relies on the idea justice, which is now affected by a corrupt systematic behavior and segregation. As Gunn-Wright stated “you cannot address climate change without addressing environmental justice and climate justice, because otherwise you are leaving the landscape that can again be exploited” (Parker 2). The problem with exposed sites lies deeply in the social justice area. Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities. In the case discussed by Gunn-Wright, people of color are victims of social injustice. They are deprived of their social rights to live in healthier neighbourhoods that are not affected by pollution. In order to change that, simple climate change will not be enough.
Current flawed morality placed people of color in a weak position that “weakened their voices”. Therefore, current ideas of what seemed to be just and fair once, are not relevant. With social justice firmly in place, people of color will have ability to move into better neighbourhoods. Moreover, they can be heard about the matters that bother them. In order to achieve social justice in the situation of climate crisis and flawed environmental justice, vulnerable and exposed communities firstly have to have their rights improved and firmly established. Social movements like BLM are doing a good job in making minorities to be heard, although there is much more work to be conducted.
Disproportionate allocation of recourses and liberties, in this case – unpolluted land and ability to relocate, goes against the idea of fairness and justice. This goes against the notion of the concept of social justice. Systematic racism that located the minorities into vulnerable areas still prevails, thus the core ideas have to be changed to reflect the modern social approach of equality. If the allocation of recourses was done based on the fairness and justice, all communities would live in similar neighbourhoods that would be free from pollution to the possible extent. Industrial zones would be located away from the people, which would lead to healthier lives.
The approach that is aimed at changing the contaminating plants by solar panels, which will give the community an access to the clean and cheap power source also indicates that the members of the community will be able to save finances and relocate if they ever want to. The house prices of such neighborhoods have a chance of increasing, which will also help to vanish the redline. As Rawls have argued the decisions to located industrial plant to the areas, where minorities live were made under the “veil of ignorance”. Thus, social justice will also enable the communities to have an access to better facilities and have a positive impact on climate change. Therefore, social justice has to be aimed not only at helping the minority communities but also at adjusting the established beliefs and moral codes of conduct.
In conclusion, as it has been stated justice and fairness are linked to one another, and first cannot exist without the second one. However, the morality that is based on the established behaviors does not follow the notion of justice. The concept of redlining which seemed just to the powerful but ignorant part of the population at some point in the past is now irrelevant and socially unjust. Thus, the exposure of minor communities to the pollution and their inability to relocate has to be changed. However, the environmental and climate change are not the first issues that have to be addressed. The main issue is hidden in the notion of social justice. With the concept of social justice applied, the communities would be able to have an ability to relocate. Moreover, there would be no vulnerable and polluted neighborhoods, where communities are exposed to the contamination. Social justice would correct the flawed morality and enable true justice and fairness to take place, where everyone will have an equal access to the goods, services and liberties.
“Justice.” Merriam Webster, Web.
“How Climate Change and Environmental Justice Are Inextricably Linked.” The Washington Post, interview by Robin Rose Parker, Web.
Gert, Bernard and Joshua Gert, “The Definition of Morality”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2020 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Web.
Maiese, Michelle. “Distributive Justice.” Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Web.