Explores issues of social equity associated with environmental hazards, risks, and benefits. Examines the ways social structures, environmental decision-making procedures, and scientific and technological practices distribute the burden of environmental problems, as well as community response through political action and cultural production.
How just is renewable energy? Solar, wind, hydro, nuclear, and biomass--as well as clean coal and natural gas--are all being touted as "green" alternatives to our current fossil fuel-based energy system. But would everyone benefit from transitioning to these low-carbon alternatives? Or would they, like other industrial technologies, impose disproportionate risks and harms on the people and communities who are already the least well off?
In this class, we will learn about environmental justice by doing original, empirical research on the environmental justice implications of renewable energy. In the course of asking "how just is alternative energy?"—a question for which scholars and policy makers have no ready answers—we will consider • What is environmental injustice? What social structures produce it? • What are the requirements for an environmentally just society? • How do we assess a project’s just-ness?
As a class, we will create a list of questions that need to asked of renewable energy projects in order to determine whether they advance environmental justice or perpetuate environmental injustice. Then we will work together to answer our questions by analyzing public records from Northwest communities where utility-scale renewable energy facilities have been built or proposed, and by interviewing members of those communities. Unusually for an undergraduate class, the research that we do together will contribute to scholarly understandings of renewable energy policy and its effects on environmental justice outcomes.
Student learning goals
Describe what environmental injustice is and explain the social structures that produce it;
Articulate requirements for environmental justice;
Identify information relevant and necessary to determining whether a situation meets criteria for environmental justice;
Use empirical evidence to make an argument about whether a particular situation should be considered an example of environmental justice or injustice; and
Conduct interviews that yield evidence pertaining to environmental just-ness in an ethical manner.
General method of instruction
Lecture, class discussion, and participation in social scientific research.
BIS 300; familiarity with basic sociological concepts would also be helpful.
Class assignments and grading
Reading Homework and in-class assignments - 15% Midterm exam (open-book, take-home, short essay) - 30% Analysis of public records (2-3 pgs) - 5% Interview and transcript - 15% total Final paper (3-5 pgs) - 5% for draft; 30% for final
Research updates (group assignment) Final paper (10-12 pages, group assignment)