Differences Between Social And Environmental Justice

Jane Marsh - June 20, 2022

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The summer of 2020 increased individuals’ awareness of racial injustice in America. As #BlackLivesMatter protests occurred around the nation, society increased its knowledge of social justice. While many community members recognize injustice when they see it, few go out of their way to explore occurrences outside of their perception.

Social and environmental justice are similar terms that often complement each other. Their similarities frequently cause confusion and misinterpretation within society. To understand the two terms independently, we must assess their fundamental differences.

What is Social Justice?

Social justice signifies society’s equal economic, social and political rights and opportunities. Other individuals view it as the fair distribution of global resources, enhancing humanity’s vitality. When defending social justice, you must explore the rights, opportunities and treatment of community members.

One example of social justice is racial equality. If a white employee earns higher wages than minority workers in the same position, the individuals receiving less pay experience social injustice. Another relevant example is the high rate of police brutality against African American community members compared to Caucasian members.

The U.S. is a free country, meaning citizens have autonomy and a right to equal opportunities. Forms of social injustice, like racism, sexism and sexual orientation discrimination, regularly interfere with one’s freedom and opportunities. It is essential to thoroughly evaluate cases of injustice to improve the protection of all individuals’ rights.

What is Environmental Justice?

Environmental justice (EJ) is similar to social justice because it represents the fair treatment of all individuals, regardless of race, class or gender, through environmental regulations. The concept reflects an ecocentric view of society, evaluating it as part of the global ecosystem. It also signifies humanity’s right to plentiful, non-polluted resources.

An example of environmental injustice is the XL Keystone Pipeline. The system extends down through Midwest America from Canada, carrying crude oil. It travels through indigenous land protected by members of the Sioux tribe.

The degradation of protected land limits Indigenous sovereignty and environmental conservation. It also represents a longstanding form of injustice deriving from settler colonialism. The Sioux tribe holds ecocentric worldviews, understanding their close connection to the land, water and air.

Installing pipelines causes soil disruption. Over time, the lines also corrode and leak oil into the land and nearby water sources. Indigenous communities rely on their local resources, meeting their agricultural production and hydration needs.

When oil pollutes the land and water, tribe members may experience fatal health effects. Creating unfair access to clean resources for minority individuals from pollution is environmental injustice. The U.S. government often exploits native lands for capital gains.

Another case of environmental injustice was the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. One of BP’s offshore rigs experienced a defect resulting in a mass eruption. The inadequately regulated well increased in pressure, eventually expanding and spewing oil directly into the Gulf of Mexico.

The spill created adverse ecological and human health effects. Various marine species died from oil-related complications, decreasing the coastal seafood supply. Similarly, the spill polluted beaches, reducing the safety of swimming and walking on the sand.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill decreased the safety of coastal community members from poor drilling regulations. We can ensure environmental justice down the line by increasing the safety of offshore drilling or minimizing our general reliance on fossil fuels. After exploring social and environmental justice, it is essential to define their differences.

What are the Major Differences?

The significant differences between social and environmental justice are their views of humanity. The social version examines society through an anthropocentric lens. It views humans as the vital or most important element on Earth.

Social justice explores the interconnected relationships within society. It defines what connections are ethical and how to increase the safety of human interactions. Environmental justice adopts a different view, using ecocentrism.

The ecocentric perspective expands the scope, exploring the connection between air, water and land to humanity’s safety. It examines society’s relationship with the environment and, in turn, with itself. Unlike the anthropocentric view, environmental justice recognizes humanity’s small part in a larger system.

How are Social and Environmental Justice Similar?

The two forms of justice are similar because of their connection to societal safety. They both explore challenges related to power, influencing human interactions and protection. Additionally, social and environmental justice evaluate communities instead of individuals.

While the XL Keystone Pipeline represents environmental injustice, it also connects to social injustice. The government took advantage of the indigenous community because of their power differentiation, establishing a racist dynamic. Individuals can reduce injustice in America, following a few steps.

How Can We Promote Justice?

You may improve social and environmental justice by voting for effective and sustainable regulations. Additionally, you can reach out to your community members, increasing their awareness of local injustices. Finally, individuals may volunteer for social and ecological activism groups, supporting society’s protection. 

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About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.