The most efficient means of defining environmental justice is as a legal framework ensuring fair and equitable treatment to everyone affected by environmental issues, laws and social concerns. Beyond such a broad-based definition is the narrower extension of the meaning given to environmental justice which covers specific factors such as ensuring that economic status does not obstruct equal protection from health hazards that result from political decisions that ultimately result in negative and harmful impacts. Coincident with this particularity, of course, is the assurance of providing justice in the form of equality at the level of political decision-making as well. Essentially, the movement toward adopting concepts of environmental justice can be connotatively defined as a retroactive institution of laws design as a kind of historical apology for singling out certain oppressed social groups for discriminatory policies related to negative environmental impacts of the past. Examples of environmental justice issues range from the patently obvious to those that meet the definition in a far murkier manner. One of the most obvious examples of the need to apply environmental justice to a broad swath of geography dealing with an equally disparate array of specific issues was the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The oil that spewed forth into the Gulf as a result of that disaster effective impacted citizens of nearly every known nationality residing along the coast and caused significant damage to both natural resources, business interests and domestic situations. Clearly, the BP disaster presented problems in ensuring equal and fair application of environmental justice to a degree rarely experienced during its adoption, institution and implementation.
A more common occurrence in metropolitan areas in which the recognition of treating a large and diverse population with a greater awareness of equitable treatment that was shown in the past is related to the expansion of transportation infrastructure. Whereas the history of such expansion is one in which those without an influential voice routinely were victimized out of house and home, the situation today is quite different. No longer are the dispossessed automatically expected to bear the brunt of shouldering all the risk for environmental disasters when highways, railroad lines and airports construction locations are chosen. Less typical examples of issues that could be impacted by environmental justice range from international trade agreements to the establishment of climate change legislation.
It is precisely these issues that represent an expansion of the terms and a globalization of the application of environmental justice that has resulted in the formulation of what has come to be known as the Environmental Justice Atlas. As the name implies, the Environmental Justice Atlas is comprehensive mapping strategy to target sites around the globe that have become embroiled in conflicts over environmental issues. Although not technically an interactive map in the truest sense of the word, Environmental Justice Atlas is hardly static, either. Filters can be applied based on broad categories such as the project that is creating a situation where justice is at issue, the nature of the conflict such issues are stimulating and the impact of the conflict. Within those broader categories are the opportunities for further filtering based on such things as the type of impact (environmental, health, socio-economic), the level of intensity of the resistance against the project and, of course, essential demographic data such as the country, region and population type that stands to be impacted by whatever the outcome of the conflict may be. The motivating entities behind the push for the development of the Environmental Justice Atlas provides a great deal of insight into just how expansive the issues that now have the potential to become points of conflict over fair treatment on environmental initiatives has become: the Centre for Civil Society is devoted to justice on matters relating to climate, GRAIN (Genetic Resources Action International) focuses on fairness within the realm of biodiversity food systems and the central focus of the World Rainforest Movement is self-explanatory.
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