Environmental Justice
Instructor: Ryan Heryford

In our own current historical moment, often referred to as an era defined by ecological crisis, when global climate change and resource scarcity are drastically altering the lives of a vast majority of the world’s people, where the term genocide now refers not only to aggressive acts of killing, but also to the exclusion of the many from the right to survival, why is it that in the United States, we often think of ‘environmentalism’ as a bourgeois, apolitical terrain, embedded in practices of corporate ‘green’-washing and a sustainability discourse that, as ecocritic Stacy Alaimo notes, more often than not works to “render the lively world a storehouse of supplies for the elite”? In this course, we will look at the way in which environmentalism as a ‘privileged’ space of activism has been challenged throughout the 20th and early-21st centuries by cultural texts documenting ecological harm and crisis as they continue to play out along uneven divides structured by gender, race, ethnicity, class and national/cultural difference. Focusing on a transnational range of contemporary cultural producers like Cherrie Moraga, June Jordan, Kelly Reichardt, Indra Sinha, and Amitov Ghosh, we will explore issues of the environment as they are inherently tied to questions of social activism and historical redress. We will encounter terms and fields of study such as environmental justice, eco-feminism, environmental racism, and critical species theory. Additionally, we will be concerned with how different cultural forms are able to articulate, what ecocritic Rob Nixon has referred to as, the slow violence of environmental catastrophe, highlighting “disasters that are slow moving and long in the making, disasters that are anonymous and that star nobody, disasters that are attritional and of indifferent interest to the sensation-driven technologies of our image saturated world.” In charting these different historical and cultural shifts, this course will ultimately work toward new definitions of environmentalism, ones similar to Graham Huggins and Helen Tiffin’s assertion that there is “no social justice without environmental justice; and without social justice – for all ecological beings – no justice at all.”