Is Environmental Justice the Main Force for Local Sustainability?
Ciencia Política y Sociología Universidad Carlos III de Madrid Getafe, Spain
One of the tragedies of recent times is the uneven burden of negative environmental impacts endured by the less advantaged communities in our society. The different dimensions of this tragedy have been widely acknowledged by a broad range of research on what has become to be known as 'environmental justice'. Therefore, for some authors, such as Agyeman, Bullard and Evans (2003) the issue of environmental quality has more and more turn out to be unable to be separated to that of human equality. They argue that "[W]herever in the world environmental despoliation and degradation is happening, it is almost always linked to questions of social justice, equity, rights and people's quality of life in its widest sense" (Agyeman, Bullard, and Evans, 2003: 1). These authors (2002: 78) suggest that the concept of environmental justice should become an integral feature of sustainability efforts because "[A] truly sustainable society is one where wider questions of social needs and welfare, and economic opportunity are integrally related to environmental limits imposed by supporting ecosystems".
A growing number of cities worldwide are addressing the future of urban areas in terms of the concept of sustainable development by adopting Local Agenda 21 principles. Many foremost environmental authors assert that attempts in the local level are essential for achieving sustainability (Warner, 2002). Cities represent a vital proving ground for both environmental justice and sustainability since a large percentage of the world's population live in urban areas and cities devour great quantities of resources (Agyeman and Evans, 2003). However, most existing programs for achieving urban sustainability, although they are well-intentioned, fail to address social justice and equity concerns as essential within these programs (Yanarella, 1999). This paper aims to analyze whether environmental justice is the main force for local sustainability by exhaustively discussing the relationship between environmental justice and sustainability. It also discusses how environmental justice could contribute to the adaptability of cities to the problem of climate change. In practice, the study examines the ways that environmental justice is and is not being incorporated into urban sustainability efforts in the Spanish urban context.