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Environmental justice, harm, & policy - SPY00058H

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  • Department: Social Policy and Social Work
  • Module co-ordinator: Prof. Carolyn Snell
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module summary

The distribution of environmental ‘goods’ (such as clean air, water, fuel and so on) and ‘bads’ (including pollution, exposure to hazards etc.) often falls along the lines of existing systemic social divisions such as generation, gender, race/ethnicity and social class.  Furthermore, at the global level, these distributions often fall unequally across developed and developing countries. 

The module covers three core elements: 

  1. Patterns of environmental harm 
  2. Addressing these patterns through policymaking
  3. Enforcing policy and punishing offenders 

Professional requirements


Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2022-23

Module aims

The module covers three core elements: 

1.Patterns of environmental harm 

The distribution of environmental ‘goods’ (such as clean air, water, fuel and so on) and ‘bads’ (including pollution, exposure to hazards etc.) often falls along the lines of existing systemic social divisions such as  generation, gender, race/ethnicity and social class.  Furthermore, at the global level, these distributions often fall unequally across developed and developing countries.  The environmental justice movement suggests that more needs to be done to address these inequalities.  The module will explore these distributions in depth.  

2. Addressing these patterns of harm through policy 

The module will consider the challenges of making policies that rectify the unequal distribution of environmental goods and bads.  Specific focus will be given to: 

  • The challenges of agreeing to take action at the global level - for example, making agreeing on climate policies that take account of unequal distributions of environmental harm; 
  • Understanding national policymaking – considering the dilemmas that policymakers must face when attempting to make environmental policies; 
  • Considering issues of power and voice at the local policy level – who has the ability to influence policy and who does not. 

3. Punishing offenders 

Whilst policy and regulatory frameworks have been designed to limit exposure to particular environmental harms, for example, placing limitations on the type and amount of pollution a factory can emit, these are often breached.   The module will explore how breaches of regulation/policy/law occur, and how they are handled.   Time will be dedicated to: 

  • Exploring corporate environmental crimes through the Deep Water Horizon case study 
  • Exploring state harms via an exploration of illegal patterns of electronic waste 

Specific Module Aims:

1.    To explore the relationship between society and environmental harm 

2.    To critically investigate patterns of environmental harm 

3.    To consider how these patterns of environmental harm have been addressed through policymaking 

4.    To critically evaluate the effectiveness of policy responses

Module learning outcomes

1.    Understand the causes of environmental harm and subsequent human impacts 

2.    Recognise and critically investigate the unequal distributions of environmental ‘bads’ and ‘goods’ and the main drivers of these inequalities 

3.    Draw on key theories of environmental (in) justice to undertake analysis and explanation of unequal distributions of environmental harm

4.    Critically evaluate policy responses that attempt to address unequal distributions of environmental harm 

Module content

1.Weekly outline 







An introduction to environmental harm, justice, and policy making 

This session will consider how key  environmental problems (e.g. climate change, pollution, biodiversity loss etc) are being caused, and their impact on society. Introduction to key concepts: 

  • Environmental harm 
  • Environmental justice/injustice and its relationship to social inequalities  
  • Making environmental policies 



Climate Justice: Understanding and addressing global inequalities

Drawing on the concept of climate justice this session will consider global level inequalities in terms of the countries contributing most to the problem and those likely to feel the effects.  

Global inequalities 


Environmental racism: the case of the USA 



Drawing on wider debates around environmental justice, this session will explore claims of environmental racism that have emerged in the US over the course of the last 30 years. 



Climate change and fuel poverty: English policy dilemmas  

This session draws on the relationship between poverty and energy in the UK.  It considers the difficulties of making policies that help those in most need whilst also meeting climate change targets. 



Hunger in a changing environment 

This session draws on the increasing pressures on food production (urbanisation, population growth, changing diets) and its impact on both the developing and developed world.   



Gendered disasters

This session will explore issues of gender inequality and the environment.  



Environmental crime: punishing offenders

This session considers what happens when environmental policies and regulations are breached. This session considers some of the main perpetrators of environmental crimes, factors that may enable law breaking, and considers how crimes are punished.  

Enforcement of legal frameworks


The future of environmental justice debates 

This summary session will question whether existing policy responses sufficiently address the inequalities discussed throughout the module.   Emerging debates in the field of environmental harm and justice will also be considered (e.g. the protection of non human species). 


Summary and consideration of emerging debates.  


Individual meetings to discuss assessment topics

 Assessment Topics

Assessment Topics



Task Length % of module mark
Critical Review
N/A 30
N/A 70

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

The assessment is in two components in order to enable formative development. Formative work is embedded in the taught elements (workshops).


Task Length % of module mark
Reassessment essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Written feedback will be provided on the critical commentary prior to submission of project assessment. Written feedback will be provided for the project. Feedback will be returned to students within the University 20 day turnaround.

Indicative reading

Agyeman, J., Bullard, D., and Evans, B (2002) Exploring the Nexus: Bringing Together Sustainability, Environmental Justice and Equity, Space and Polity, 6:1, 77-90

Anand, R. (2004) International Environmental Justice, London: Routledge, 

Schlosberg, D. (2013) Theorising environmental justice: the expanding  sphere of a discourse, Environmental Politics, 22:1, 37-55

Snell, C.J., Bevan, M., and Thomson, H. (2015) Justice, fuel poverty and disabled people in England, Energy Research and Social Science, 10: pp 123-132

Snell, C. and Haq, G. (2014) A Short Guide to Environmental Policy Policy Press, Bristol

Vanderheiden, S. (2015) Environmental Justice, London: Routledge, 

Pearse, R. (2017) Gender and climate change, WIREs Clim Change, 8: e451. 

Pellow, D. (2016) Toward a Critical Environmental Justice Studies: Black Lives Matter as an Environmental Justice Challenge. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, 13(2), 221-236. 


The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.