Unit 1: Introduction to Environmental Justice
Unit 1 activities support the module goals of being able to articulate the principles of environmental justice as they relate to examples of water scarcity and contamination in varied geographic locations. The specific learning objectives for this unit align with the World Readiness Standards for Learning Languages as follows:
- Interpersonal Communication: Spanish language learners interact and negotiate meaning in spoken conversations to share information, reactions, and opinions about environmental justice.
- Interpretive Communication: Spanish language learners understand, interpret, and analyze what is heard, read, or viewed regarding major events in the development of the environmental justice movement in the United States.
- Making Connections: Spanish language learners build, reinforce, and expand their knowledge of other disciplines while using Spanish to develop critical thinking. As part of this learners will:
- Define environmental justice, and
- Describe examples of how communities may be vulnerable to environmental hazards.
Context for Use
Description and Teaching Materials
Because many students perceive "the environment" as existing only in wild nature and that what people "do" in "the environment" is nothing more than recreation, the first exploration activity encourages students to think about what we mean when we say "the environment." This quick teaching tool challenges the stereotypical notion of environment as relatively untouched nature and shares the definition of the environment used in the environmental justice movement. Its intention is to help students see "the environment" all around them and as a result develop a strong foundation for understanding that human health and well-being depend on the environment.
After this warm up, students will work with various definitions of environmental justice to clarify their own understanding of the term. They will also be introduced to the history of environmental justice in the United States and consider how the concept may apply to issues in Spain and Latin America through additional PowerPoint materials. La justicia ambiental (Powerpoint) (PowerPoint 2.4MB May17 16)
Exploration Activity (10 min): ¿Dónde está el ambiente y qué hace la gente allí? (Where is the Environment and What Do People Do There?)
- Project images from the Exploration activity PowerPoint PowerPoint about the History of the Environmental Justice Movement (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 3.1MB Apr28 16) or other images as described in the teaching tips onto a classroom screen or hold up for viewing printed versions in a small, seminar style class.
Tell students to raise their hands when they see photos of the environment.
- Show the images to your class one at a time, giving a few moments for students to raise their hands, or not, in response to each image.
- After showing all the photos, reflect briefly about the class consensus on which photos depict the environment. If most students responded affirmatively only to the wilderness and recreational sports photos, explain that this understanding reflects the mainstream view of the environment in the United States, but that the those in the environmental justice movement see the environment differently. If students raised their hands for all photos, note that this understanding reflects the view of the environment typically held by people active in the environmental justice movement. You can contrast this perspective with those of people who view the environment only as something that exists in the wilderness.
- Share the definition of the environment used in the environmental justice movement: "the places where we live, work, play and learn" ("los lugares donde vivimos, trabajamos, jugamos y aprendemos").
Think-Pair-Share Activity (10 min): Exploring the Concept of Environmental Justice
After having considered the idea of what constitutes "el ambiente" or "the environment," this activity will help students hone their definitions of environmental justice. Instructions are as follows:
- Ask students to brainstorm a definition (in Spanish) of the term "justicia" jotting down some notes as they think up their definitions. Give students a minute or two for this task.
- Ask students to get together in pairs or at most, groups with three or four students, so they can share their definitions.
- Ask for responses from some or all of the pairs or small groups. Using the students' definitions, help the class as a whole construct a general definition in Spanish for "justicia." The instructor might choose to compare the class definition with one from an encyclopedia or dictionary. For example, el Diccionario de la Real Academia offers as a definition of "justicia:"
1. f. Una de las cuatro virtudes cardinales, que inclina a dar a cada uno lo que le corresponde o pertenece.
2. f. Derecho, razón, equidad.
3. f. Conjunto de todas las virtudes, por el que es bueno quien las tiene.
4. f. Aquello que debe hacerse según derecho o razón. Pido justicia.
- Ask students to think for a moment about potential scenarios associated with the concept of "la justicia ambiental," or environmental justice. They might consider situations they have encountered personally or situations they noticed in the visuals shown by the instructor in the exploration activity. Have the students share their examples in their pair or group and then share with the whole class. Instructor may list examples on board.
- Have students combine the ideas from the discussion and their definitions of "el ambiente" and "la justicia" to derive a working definition of "la justicia ambiental." Give them several minutes to write down their definitions.
Presentation and Discussion of the Development of the Environmental Justice Movement (20 min): La justicia ambiental (Powerpoint) (PowerPoint 2.4MB May17 16)
- Show the PowerPoint on the Development of the Environmental Justice Movement. Questions embedded in the presentation can be used to stimulate questions and dialogue. For example:
¿Qué ves en las imágenes que puede indicar injusticia ambiental?
¿Por qué crees que se escogen las áreas dominadas por grupos minoritarios y pobres como sitios para la eliminación de residuos tóxicos?
¿En que respecto crees que los países de Latino América serán o no serán como los EEUU en cuanto a la justicia ambiental?
- After showing the PowerPoint, give students several minutes to rewrite their definitions of environmental justice taking into consideration what they learned from the presentation.
Comparison of definitions (10 min):
- Distribute the definitions of environmental justice used by the U.S. EPA and EJnet.org. and allow students a few minutes to quickly read these definitions. Note the vocabulary words "envenenar" and "dejar de envenenar" as needed. definiciones de la justicia ambiental (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 18kB Dec15 14)
- Ask students to talk with a partner and identify at least one major difference between the EPA and EJnet.org definitions. Have several pairs of students share with the class the primary differences they have identified.
Teaching Notes and Tips
For the first activity you will need images of different types of environments. You may choose to use photos from your own community, use the photos available on the website Voices from the Valley: Environmental Justice in California's San Joaquin Valley, other images from environmental organizations readily available on the Web, or the photos included in this unit's PowerPoint PowerPoint about the History of the Environmental Justice Movement (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 3.1MB Apr28 16).
If students need more time to absorb the material and work with these definitions, the assessment as described below also includes follow-up activities for a subsequent class period.
Minute Paper (homework assignment):Ask students to to complete the following tasks in Spanish using language they know:
- Finalize your definition of environmental justice (Escribe una versión final de tu definición para la justicia ambiental.)
- Compare your definition to those of the EPA and EJnet. How is it similar and how is it different in each case? (Compara tu definición con las de la EPA y de la EJnet. ¿Cómo es similar y cómo es diferente en cada caso?)
- Why have you decided to define it as you have? (Por qué decidiste definirla así?)
Grading Rubric for Minute Paper: Grading Rubric for Minute Paper (Spanish) (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 86kB Apr28 16)
The two activities below can also be used as a follow-up to this unit's homework assignment in a subsequent class period:
- Ask students to place their definitions along a continuum between both definitions. For example, draw a line on the board with the EPA definition at one end and EJnet definitions at the other; have students place a Post-it note along the line that shows the placement of their Environmental Justice definition.
- Discuss as a class the ways in which the definitions generated by the class differ from or are similar to the EPA and EJnet definitions. Allow students to move their Post-it notes after the discussion and explain, if they would like to, why they did so.
References and Resources
- Please note that a portion of this module was inspired by and derived from the excellent website Voices from the Valley: Environmental Justice in California's San Joaquin Valley which can be consulted for other innovative ideas regarding the teaching of environmental justice, particularly in California.
- Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States, the original 1987 report from the United Church of Christ
- Sze, Julie, and Jonathan K. London, 2008, Environmental Justice at the Crossroads, Sociology Compass, v. 2 no. 4: This article provides background of the environmental justice movement.
- Casi todo lo que necesita saber sobre la Justicia Ambiental, from the United Church of Christ
- Red por la justicia ambiental en Colombia, a group that coordinates environmental justice efforts
- Asociación para la justicia ambiental
- Environmental Justice Atlas
- Justicia ambiental y participación comunitaria, from the Environmental Protection Agency
- Carruthers, David V. (ed.) Environmental Justice in Latin America: Problems, Promise, and Practice. The MIT Press: Cambridge. 2008.