Rocky Mountain Section - 64th Annual Meeting (9–11 May 2012)

Paper No. 3
Presentation Time: 9:15 AM


MAXSON, Julie, Department of Natural Sciences, Metropolitan State University, 700 East 7th St, Saint Paul, MN 55106,

Environmental Justice is both a recognition and challenge to the observation that the burdens of environmental degradation fall disproportionately to communities of colors, to the politically disenfranchised, or to low income communities. This challenge plays out in multiple arenas, from political activism to public health to academic discourse. Yet in the realm of academic discourse, as played out in typical undergraduate geoscience curricula, discussion of Environmental Justice is conspicuously absent.
In the four most popular Environmental Geology texts currently in print, only one mentions issues of social justice, despite full discussions of
  • the impacts of mineral extraction
  • impacts of coal mining in general and mountaintop mining in particula
  • the problem of nuclear waste storage
  • groundwater and surface water contamination
  • earthquake, hurricane and tsunami preparedness
  • desertification
  • global climate change.
Yet the impacts of each of these phenomena are directly influenced by political, economic, and cultural contexts in which they occur, and the social context determines the degree to which people and communities suffer the environmental consequences.
By teaching about these phenomena as strictly physical processes, by treating the science as something apart from human experience, we miss out on a tremendous opportunity to draw students in to the relevance of the science to their lives. If we wish to engage a more diverse spectrum of students in the geosciences, establishing this relevance is likely to be a key element in our curricula.