Environmental injustice

Anthro 25a | University of California


Courses are open to all UC students (see cross-campus enrollment)


Code: 60070

You can search for the course at https://summer.uci.edu or click here to enroll directly.


Code: 60090

If you are a UCI student, register here.

If you are a student on another UC campus, search for the course here.

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Cite as:

Kim Fortun, Rabach, Kaitlyn, Tim Schütz, Prerna Srigyan and Maggie Woodruff. 2020. Environmental Injustice Fall 2020. Disaster STS Network. University of California Irvine.

Environmental Injustice is a lower-division undergraduate course offered by the Department of Anthropology at the University of California Irvine. Students from all majors and all UC campuses are welcome!

Students in this course do research to produce case studies of environmental injustice in diverse communities across California. They learn to use environmental, health and social data provided by the US EPA and CalEPA, the US Center for Disease Control, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and other organizations. They learn to design qualitative research and about ways different kinds of data can be brought together for holistic understanding.

Students also learn to work with important concepts, including“social determinants of health,”  “historic disadvantage,” “the precautionary principle,” “greenwashing” and “media injustice.” Student case studies are published online so that they can be useful in efforts to address environmental injustice. Students’ published case studies and the skills they learn in producing them can be important additions to student resumes.  

We focus on three kinds of environmental disasters -- fast, explosive disasters (that kill quickly), slow disasters like everyday air and water pollution, and combo disasters linked to climate change.  We study how these disasters impact human health, worsen social inequalities and are entangled with systemic racism.  We also study how people have become environmental activists to find and advocate for solutions.

Many different factors contribute to environmental problems (social, political, economic, biochemical, technological). This course thus  gives students in different majors (in the social and natural sciences, public health, engineering, urban planning and the humanities) the opportunity to work together in interdisciplinary research teams, leveraging their different skills.

Through collaborative work with other students, engaging different points of view, students also develop their own political perspectives and learn how ethical values can be translated into action.

In the course, students produce case studies about three different kinds of disasters in communities in California, working with the following set of questions:

1) What is the setting of this case?

2) What environmental threats (from worst case scenarios, pollution and climate change) are there in this setting?

3) What intersecting factors -- social, cultural, political, technological, ecological -- contribute to environmental health vulnerability and injustice in this setting?

4) Who are stakeholders, what are their characteristics, and what are their perceptions of the problems?

5) What have different stakeholder groups done (or not done) in response to the problems in this case?

6) How have environmental problems in this setting been reported on by media, environmental groups, companies and government agencies?

7) What local actions would reduce environmental vulnerability and injustice in this setting?

8) What extra-local actions (at state, national or international levels) would reduce environmental vulnerability and injustice in this setting and similar settings?

9) What kinds of data and research would be useful in efforts to characterize and address environmental threats in this setting and similar settings?

10) What intersecting injustices produce environmental injustice in this setting?

Work to address environmental injustice is needed across many disciplines.  Read about differe career profiles focused on environmental justice below: 

Kartik Amarnath describes the “oppressive roots of illness” and how work on environmental justice led him to medical school. 

Misbath Daouda, an Environmental Health Sciences Phd student, explains the importance of social science and understanding people’s lives when developing new energy technologies. 

Jan-Michael Archer, a doctoral student in the University of Maryland’s Community Engagement, Environmental Justice and Health Laboratory, works on digital mapping tools to help characterize environmental injustice. 

OreOluwa Badaki, a Phd Candidate in Literacy, Culture, and International Education, writes about the importance of working across generations on environmental problems.