Peter Wenz

"Just Garbage"



2.       Environmental justice asks whether our current distributions of environmental hazards are just

3.       Environmental hazards: Include toxic chemicals in factories, toxic herbicides/pesticides in agriculture, radiation from uranium mining, lead from paint in older buildings, illegally dumped toxic wastes, legally stored toxic wastes, air pollution, etc.

          a.       Lead, arsenic and cadmium near homes of children can result in mental retardation

          b.       Navaho teens exposed to radiation from uranium mine tailings have reproductive organ cancer 17 times greater than national average

          c.       EPA estimates that toxic air pollution in South Chicago increases cancer risk 100 to 1000 times

          d.       Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma related to living near stone, clay, and glass industries

          e.       Leukemia related to living near chemical/petroleum plants

          f.       In general, cancer rates higher near industries that use toxic substances and discard them nearby

4.       Environmental racism: Practices that expose racial minorities and people of color to disproportionate shares of environmental hazards

          a.       This is the current practice in this country (and around the world)


          a.       Because economic factors and not racial discrimination accounts for disproportionate impacts on nonwhites, current practices are neither racist nor morally objectionable.

6.       This defense relies on the Doctrine of Double Effect:

          a.       An effect that would normally be wrong to cause is permissibly caused if it is an "unintended (though known) byproduct" of a morally justifiable effect you intend to cause

          b.       Hysterectomy/abortion example: Pregnant woman has uterine cancer. A commonly accepted treatment for cancer of the uterus is removal of the uterus. This will predictably end the pregnancy (as would abortion). Roman Catholic scholars usually consider abortion blameworthy but consider this instance blameless because it is merely incidental to the hysterectomy, which is a morally justified method to treat cancer of the uterus.

                    i.        Because the hysterectomy would be performed in absence of pregnancy, the abortion effect is produced neither as an end in itself, nor as a means to reach the desired end, which is the cure of cancer

7.       Racial effects of toxic waste sitings are blameless because they are unintended side-effects (of siting environmental hazards in poor communities)

          a.       They are sought neither as ends in themselves nor as means to reach a desired goal

          b.       Merely predictable side effects of economic and political practices that disproportionally expose poor people to toxic substances

          c.       Locally undesirable land uses (LULUs) (e.g., buried toxic wastes) lower property values; people who can afford to move do so and are replaced by predominately poor who can't afford to live in more desirable areas

          d.       Nonwhites are disproportionately burdened due primarily to poverty, not racism

          e.       An important legal defense against charge of racism, for racism is illegal in U.S., while economic discrimination is permitted; so if nonwhites disproportionately exposed merely because they are poor, no legal remedies available

8.       III. WENZ REJECTS THIS DEFENSE: It is still unjust for racial minorities to suffer disproportionate environmental hazards, even if it is accounted for by economics and not race because it is wrong/unjust for the poor to suffer disproportionate environmental hazards

9.       Even if racism plays no part in disproportionate exposure of nonwhites to environmental hazards and this can be accounted for solely by economic reasons, justice still requires alternation of practice (it is still wrong/unjust)

10.     Unlike the hysterectomy case where the intended effect is morally permissible (to prevent cancer), it is not morally permissible (because it is unjust/unfair) to place disproportionate environmental hazards on poor people

                    i.      But those who site environmental hazards don’t intend to target poor (rather they are trying to dispose of the waste most cheaply)

          b.       Thus current practices of disproportionately exposing nonwhites to toxic substances are not justified even if this is simply an unintended by product (incidental) of the disproportionate exposure of poor people to environmental toxins (for that is unjust too).

          c.      But what if the poor are targeted not because they are poor but because economic reasons suggest this is a better policy?

          d.      Just as this is not intentional discrimination against the non-whites, it is not intentional discrimination against the poor (rather it is a foreseen but unintended side effect)

11.     Another response to the economic justification is to reject the doctrine of double effect and argue that people are responsible for the known effects of their actions even if they don’t intend them

          a.       Though it is true that you don't intend to heap all the environmental toxins on nonwhites (or the poor), you fully realize that is the result of your actions and thus you are morally responsible for that (unjust) outcome.

12.     IV. PRINCIPLE OF COMMENSURATE BURDENS AND BENEFITS (CBB) : Those who get the benefits should get the burdens as well

          a.       Unacceptable interpretation: The more benefit you get the more burdens you get

          b.       This seems wrong, for if the benefits don't involve any burdens, why should those who benefit get unrelated burdens?

          c.       So it is not that those who benefit should necessarily get commensurate (same degree of) of burdens

          d.       They should get whatever burdens their benefits actually cause

                    i.        One ought to suffer the consequences of one's actions; suffer the negative effects caused by one's actions

13.     People who benefit from a harmful activity should be the ones suffering that harm

          a.       And those who benefit more should receive more of the related harm

14.     Examples of commensurate burdens and benefits (CBB):

          a.       Work (a burden) due a benefit (money)

          b.       People on welfare criticized for receiving modest amounts of taxpayer money w/o shouldering the burdens of work

          c.       Grumbling that many professional athletes & corporate executives are overpaid; Though they shoulder the work, their benefits are disproportionate to their burdens

15.     Exceptions to commensurate benefits/burdens require justifications

          a.       People can inherit money w/o working

                    i.        Justification: Inheriting w/o work is justified because that is a benefit owed to those who want to give their wealth to their offspring

          b.       Use of taxpayer money to protect public from hazards associated with use of private property (e.g., revamping of superfund legislation, taxpayer pays instead of polluter pays) disassociates benefits of ownership from burden of tort liability

                    i.        Justification: Using taxpayer money to protect public from dangerous private property is justified as a way to encourage private industry /commerce (which is supposed increases public wealth)

                              (1)    Also protects victims in cases where private owners become bankrupt (Times Beach Missouri, where government bought homes made worthless due to dioxin pollution and responsible company was bankrupt)

          c.       Government supports people who are unemployed (benefit of money is dissociated from burden of work) (Justification: Some basic goods are something all people have a right to.)

16.     Principle of CBB applied to environmental hazards: The burdens of ill health associated with environmental hazards should be related to the benefits derived from the processes and products that create these hazards


          a.       To assess the justice of the current distribution of environmental hazards, the benefits of their generation must be considered

          b.       Toxic wastes come from many manufacturing processes: Paints, solvents, plastics, petrochemical based materials, in our homes, refrigerators, clothing, plumbing, garbage pails, etc.

18.     Toxins released into our environment in greater quantities than ever before because we have a consumer-oriented society, where acquisition, use, disposal of individually owned items is greatly desired

19.     Wenz's diagnosis of our consumer society

          a.       We associate dollar value of the items at our disposal with our standard of living

          b.       Assume higher standard of living (more consumption) is a better life

          c.       Toxic wastes are produced as byproducts of pursuit of what our country considers valuable: consumption of material goods

          d.       Our economy requires increased consumer demand to keep people working (to produce for that demand)

          e.       At Christmas, people worried that shoppers won't buy enough; Patriotic duty after Sept. 11, to shop keep economy going....

          f.       If there is not enough demand, people put out of work

          g.       Demand must increase (and not hold steady) as improved labor efficiency (same output with less labor) requires fewer workers to produce desired objects

          h.       Need more demand, more items desired, so don't have unemployment due to this increase in efficiency

          i.        Keep demand high by convincing people their lives require improvements that can be achieved by consumer purchases

          j.        Blur difference wants and needs

                    i.       If we can make people feel they need X rather than just want it, more likely to buy

                    ii.      Creep of perceived needs: Easy for people to see they need food, clothing, housing, then becomes indoor plumbing, then stylish indoor plumbing, then 2nd/3rd bathroom, kitchen disposal, refrigerator attached to plumbing so ice can be made automatically in freezer, cold water obtained w/o opening refrigerator door, and on and on

          k.       All this needed to keep economy growing w/o limits

          l.       Our cultural value system that sees good life as consuming more and more produces huge amounts of environmental hazards

          m.      Get NIMBY, Not In My Back Yard, as knowledge of health impairment due to toxic substances increases, people less tolerant of risks associated with their proximity


          a.       Principle. of Commensurate Burdens and Benefits indicates who should suffer burden of proximity to toxic wastes

21.     Those who benefit most from the production of waste should shoulder the greatest share of burdens associated with its disposal

22.     Consumption of goods is the principal benefit associated with generation of toxic wastes

23.     This consumption is generally correlated with income and wealth

24.     So, justice requires that people's proximity to toxic wastes be related positively to their income and wealth

          a.        This is exactly the opposite of the predominant tendency in our society

25.     Unjust to expose poor people to vital dangers whose generation predominantly benefits the rich


27.     LULUs include not only toxic wastes dumps, but also prisons, halfway houses, municipal waste sites, low-income housing (so poor who live there would automatically get LULU points for living in one?), power plants (nuclear/coal)

28.     Assign points to different types of LULU

          a.       E.g., Nuclear plant 25 points, municipal garbage dump 5 points

29.     Require all communities to earn LULU points

          a.       Communities existing with LULUs now automatically get those points

30.     Wealthy communities would be required to earn more LULU points than poorer ones (because their wealth/consumption creates more LULUs)

31.     VIII. Implementing this proposal (LULU points) would ameliorate injustice of disproportionately exposing poor people to toxic hazards and largely solve problems of env racism

32.     IX. LULU Proposal would benefit life on earth by reducing generation of toxic hazards: When wealthy are exposed to environmental hazards, culture will quickly evolve ways to eliminate their production.

          a.       Wealthy people control manufacturing processes, marketing campaigns, media coverage

          b.       When they are exposed to environmental hazards, culture will evolve quickly to find their production is largely unnecessary

          c.       People will discover that plastic items can be made of wood, as we discovered in late 80s that ozone depleting chemicals not necessary

33.     Proposal would not eliminate pollution entirely, since to live is to pollute

          a.       But would motivate significant reduction in generation of toxic wastes and help poor, especially nonwhites and also the environment

34.     Approach should be applied internationally: Rich countries should not ship their toxic wastes to poor countries 

                    i.       Toxic child

                    ii.       Ivory Coast Story

          b.       Prohibiting this would discourage production of dangerous wastes as it would require people in rich countries to live with whatever dangers they create



41.     Equal consideration of interests requires rejecting purely free market approaches when basic/vital needs concerned

42.     Because placement of toxic wastes affects vital interests–as do education, health care, wartime service–exemption from market decisions is required to avoid unjust imposition on poor and to respect people's interests equally


35.     Below extra detail for those interested


          a.       These theories justify locating environmental hazards in poor, nonwhite areas

37.     Free Market approach (e.g., give toxics to those who will accept them for $) violates equal consideration of interests (and is thus unjust) when it is allowed to determine the distribution of vital needs

          a.        A child dying of cancer receives little benefit from community's new swimming pool

38.     Argument: Toxic wastes (burden) should be placed where residents accept them in return for $ (benefit)

          a.       Whole communities could receive $ to improve schools, parks, hospitals and get tax revenue, jobs from business expansion when they accept environmental hazards

39.     Reply: When basic/vital goods/services at issue, equal consideration of interests requires ameliorating inequalities of distribution that markets tend to produce

          a.       Where vital needs at stake, markets should be supplemented or avoided for the sake of equal consideration of everyone's interests

40.     Examples: Education, healthcare, military service

          a.       One reason for public education is to provide every child with basic intellectual tools necessary for success; a purely free market would result in excellent education for children of wealthy parents and little ed for children of poor residents

                    i.        Poor kids opportunity would be so inferior that their interests were not given equal consideration

          b.       Medicaid for poor people, intends to supplement market transaction in health care as equal consideration of interest requires everyone be given access to health care

          c.       Military service in war: Use conscription. When national interest requires placing many people in moral danger, it is just that exposure be largely unrelated to income and market transactions

41.     Equal consideration of interests requires rejecting purely free market approaches when basic/vital needs concerned

42.     Because placement of toxic wastes affects vital interests–as do education, health care, wartime service–exemption from market decisions is required to avoid unjust imposition on poor and to respect people's interests equally


43.     Cost-Benefit Analysis (social wealth maximized by putting LULUs near poor whose land values are less) treats people unfairly

          a.       Argument for C/B approach: Maximizes society's wealth, as determined by what people are willing to pay

          b.       Will put LULUs near poor people, as LULUs lower land values (what people willing to pay) and since land already cheap where poor live, placing hazards there will not lose as much value as if placed in expensive land where wealthy people live

          c.       Overall smaller loss of social wealth by putting environmental hazards in poor communities

          d.       Reply: Violates equal consideration of interests, as does the FM approach

          e.       Vital interest at stake, so equal consideration of interests requires that people be considered irrespective of income