Which came first, people or pollution? A review of theory and evidence from longitudinal environmental justice studies

Paul Mohai, Robin Saha

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

146 Scopus citations

Abstract

A considerable number of quantitative analyses have been conducted in the past several decades that demonstrate the existence of racial and socioeconomic disparities in the distribution of a wide variety of environmental hazards. The vast majority of these have been cross-sectional, snapshot studies employing data on hazardous facilities and population characteristics at only one point in time. Although some limited hypotheses can be tested with cross-sectional data, fully understanding how present-day disparities come about requires longitudinal analyses that examine the demographic characteristics of sites at the time of facility siting and track demographic changes after siting. Relatively few such studies exist and those that do exist have often led to confusing and contradictory findings. In this paper we review the theoretical arguments, methods, findings, and conclusions drawn from existing longitudinal environmental justice studies. Our goal is to make sense of this literature and to identify the direction future research should take in order to resolve confusion and arrive at a clearer understanding of the processes and contributory factors by which present-day racial and socioeconomic disparities in the distribution of environmental hazards have come about. Such understandings also serve as an important step in identifying appropriate and effective societal responses to ameliorate environmental disparities.

Original languageEnglish
Article number125011
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Volume10
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 22 2015

Keywords

  • environmental disparities
  • environmental justice
  • environmental justice evidence
  • environmental justice theory
  • environmental racism
  • longitudinal studies
  • racial disparities

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