Course Syllabus

Anthropology 25A Fall 2018

Environmental Injustice

Wednesdays 7-9:50pm SSPA 1100

Online Sections Thursdays and Friday


Teaching Team + Office Hours

Professor Kim Fortun, (Office hours: Thursdays 1-3pm, SBSG 3202)

Danica Loucks, (Office hours: Tuesdays 12-2pm, SBSG 3302)

Katie Cox (Office hours: Wednesdays 5-7pm, SBSG 3302)


This course explores how pollution, climate change, and other environmental problems impact people around the world and worsen social inequalities.  We will learn about different cases of environmental injustice in the United States, India, Taiwan, and Canada, and about how people (including scientists and engineers) have become environmental activists to find and advocate for solutions.  

The course includes many documentary films to provide a sense of what environmental injustice looks like in everyday life.  We’ll analyze the films using techniques used when cultural anthropologists do field research.

Students in this course will learn to analyze the social dimensions of environmental problems, how these entwine with scientific and technical dimensions, and to think creatively about possible solutions. The course will provide a pathway to majors in anthropology and environment-focused fields in other social sciences, the natural sciences, engineering, law, business, and education.

Section meetings will be online, in the scheduled time blocks.  Students will be able to call in from a computer or their phones.  In most section meetings, students will work together to develop case studies about environmental injustice -- developing research skills they can use beyond the course.  


Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, students will be able to:  

  1. Identify the range of stakeholders in environmental controversies.
  2. Analyze the social dimensions of pollution and environmental injustice in the United States and around the world.
  3. Recognize how environmental problems like pollution and climate change impact social and racial inequalities, local and global politics, and human health.
  4. Critically evaluate film and media representations of environmental injustice and proposed solutions.
  5. Better articulate their own ethical values, social commitments, and political perspectives.



You will build your course grade with the following assignments:

  • Check-in + Check-out 20% 
  • 6 Film Analyses 30%
  • 5 Environmental Injustice Case Studies 20% 
  • Political and Ethical Biosketch 10%
  • Final Exam 20%

Participation will be graded in reverse. We’ll assume attendance, deep engagement, and collegiality but will reduce your grade as much as 10% each week should these expectations not be met.

Unless you have an excused absence, you’ll lose 5% of your overall grade per absence (for lecture or discussion section). For an excused absence, please provide documentation of scheduling conflicts, health problems, etc. In cases of an excused absence, you can receive full points by completing all assigned work for the week and an extra film annotation.

Students may earn up to 5% extra credit through responses to short video clips in the Media at Work component of the class. The details of this option will be explained in class.

Final grades will be based on points accumulated through attendance, assignments and exams, based on a straight grading scale, i.e.: A: 94-100; A-:90-93; B+:86-89; B:82-85; B-:79-81; C+:76-78: C:72-75; C-:69-71; D 60-69



At the beginning and end of each lecture, you will complete short Check-in and Check-out Assignments.  These assignments will assess what you learned from homework and in the lecture.  

In six Film Analyses, you will demonstrate your ability to critically analyze environmental injustice cases and media portrayals of these cases.  For detailed instructions and tips on writing a film analysis, see this document.

Working together, you will also write up five Environmental Injustice Cases Studies, demonstrating research skills you learn in class.  There will be group grades, which you can improve by adding to the case study once group work is complete.

In a Political and Ethical Biosketch assignment, you will demonstrate how your own values and perspectives develop in the course.

A Final Exam will test your understanding of course material. The final exam will take place Wednesday, December 12 from 7-9 PM in our regular room (SSPA 1100).


Weekly Topics in Brief

Each week, we will explore cases of environmental injustice in different places.  Week 1, we will overview the many different kinds of pollution in our lives and bodies.   Week 2, we will study a chemical plant disaster in Bhopal India which killed thousands of people and left many others sick and unable to work. Week 3, we will study a community in West Virginia that is at risk of a disaster like the one that occured in Bhopal.  Week 4, we will study how workers at a television factory in Taiwan were exposed to dangerous chemicals and later won a lawsuit against the company they worked for.  Week 5, we will examine the British Petroleum (BP) Deep Water Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and BP’s long record of safety problems.  Week 6, we will study how people in South Central Los Angeles successfully protested having a garbage incinerator in their community then built a community garden on the site.  Week 7, we will study a polluted community near San Francisco, learning more about why pollution and poverty often come together.  Week 8 (Thanksgiving), we will watch the feature film, Erin Brockovich, about a law clerk who helped uncover deadly water pollution in a California community. Week 9, we will explore the environmental, social and health consequences of climate change.   Week 10, we will gather up the course themes and discuss how education needs to change to better prepare people to engage with environmental problems.


Weekly schedule

Wednesday, 7pm lecture (in-person)

Thursday, Friday sections (on-line)

Most weeks (starting in week 2), each section will produce an environmental injustice case study using information learned in lectures, films, course readings and Internet research.  Everyone should come to their sections with their notes and ideas on hand to work with. All students are expected to contribute to a shared Google doc where the case studies will be built. Students who don’t contribute won’t get credit for attending the section meeting (resulting in a 5% cut to their overall course grade).   Everyone in the section will get the same grade.

Individual students can raise their case study grade, however, by submitting addendums by Saturday, 7pm (the same week).

Saturday, 7pm due: film analyses / case study addendums

Sunday-Wednesday Complete reading/watching assignments for the week.


Assignment Details

Six Film Analyses  will contribute 30% to your grade.  For each film analysis, you'll answer the questions below (set up  as "quizzes" in weekly modules.) For tips on writing a film analysis, see this document.

  1. How did this film affect you -- emotionally, intellectually, and ethically?
  2. What information, visuals, and techniques were used to produce these effects?  Which of these were most persuasive or powerful? Do you think any of these were misleading?
  3. What environmental problems does the film focus on?
  4. Who are the stakeholders in the environmental problems described, and how do they interpret the problems?
  5. What stakeholder positions do the filmmakers most support? What do you think motivated the filmmaker to present the story and problem in this way?
  6. How do different stakeholders respond to the environmental problems described in the film?  Have they formed or joined political organizations, for example? Have they tried to change or use law to address their problems, for example?  
  7. What causes of the environmental problems are highlighted by the filmmakers? Are there possible causes or factors that the film omits?   Does the film highlight pollution from nearby industry, for example, or the ways poverty and racism undermine political power?
  8. What corrective actions are called for in the film?
  9. What kinds of corrective actions do you think are called for?
  10. Describe what you learned in following up on the film with an Internet search for more information (providing a link to your source).

Five environmental injustice case studies will contribute 20% to your grade. As you read, watch films and participate in lecture each week, you should make notes that will help you answer the case study questions for the case we are focused on.  These case studies will be written during section meetings.  Come to section meetings ready to work on these.   Everyone in the section will get the same grade. You can raise your grade, however, by submitting addendums by Saturday, 7pm (the same week).

Case study analysis is used in many different kinds of research so the analytic skills you learn in this course will also be useful later.  In case study analysis, a key challenge is to develop a set of questions that can be used to examine different cases. See below the questions we’ll use to analyze environmental injustice case studies.  

  1. What is the setting of this case of environmental injustice?
  2. What environmental injuries have occurred?
  3. What “intersectionality” created environmental vulnerability in this setting?
  4. Who are the stakeholders in this case? What shapes their perception of the case?
  5. What have different stakeholder groups done (or not done) in response to the problems in this case?
  6. How have “activists” responded to this case of environmental injustice? What specific actions have they taken?
  7. What would help redress (in other words, remedy or set right) this case of environmental injustice at the local level?
  8. What would help prevent similar cases of environmental injustice in the future?
  9. What kinds of research could help identify additional ways to prevent similar cases of environmental injustice?
  10. What is unjust in this case?



Week One: Homo Toxicus

This week,  we’ll introduce course goals and assignments then learn about the pervasiveness of toxic chemical contamination and environmental degradation in different places.  


writing (due Saturday, 7pm)

film analysis of Homo Toxicus.  [The film is available onlineSee the questions you need to address and submit your responses here.  

key concepts

stakeholders, whistleblowers, community research, environmental anthropology


Week Two: The Bhopal Disaster

This week, we’ll learn about the 1984 chemical plant disaster in Bhopal, India, often described as the “world’s worst industrial disaster” (which killed approximately 10,000 people).  


writing (due Saturday, 7pm)

film analysis Has Union Carbide Ever Been Held Accountable for Bhopal?

environmental justice case study addendums (the Bhopal disaster)


One Night in Bhopal  (50 minute film, available online)

International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal  (spend at least two hours reading through the content of this website, making sure to review “Our Demands.”

Optional: The World’s Worst Industrial Disaster is Still Unfolding (July 2018 update)

key concepts

vulnerability, intersectionality, environmental injustice, chemical security


Week 3: West Virginia’s Chemical Valley

In this session, we will learn about “almost Bhopals” in the United States, and about the chemical industry and  “fence line community” in Institute, West Virginia.


writing (due Saturday, 7pm)

film analysis (Chemical Valley)

environmental justice case study addendums (focused on the Bhopal disaster).


Lewis, Renee. Report: America's Poorest Minorities at Highest Risk of Chemical Accidents. (2p)

Environmental Justice for All, Life at the Fenceline: Charleston, West Virginia (7p with lots of graphics)

Environmental Justice Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, Who’s in Danger: Race, Poverty and Chemical Disasters (p1-11, 24-25, 38-43)(20p)

Kids in Danger Zones Curriculum (including suggested curriculum) (15p)

Kids in Danger Zones: West Virginia (2p)

Activists and Oil Refiners Square Off Over Hydrofluoric Acid.(3p)

Optional: Chemical Valley: The Coal industry, the Politicians, and the Big Spill. (New Yorker, 2014) (6p)

key concepts

vulnerability zones, cumulative health hazards, environmental racism


Week 4: Taiwan’s TV Disaster

In this session, we will learn about workers at a television factory in Taiwan who were exposed to toxic chemicals at work, got sick, then spent years fighting for justice through a lawsuit.


writing (due Saturday, 7pm)

film analysis (Delayed Justice)

environmental justice case study addendums (focused on the Taiwan case).


Al Jazeera, Taiwan’s Secret Cancer (25 minutes)

The Story of Stuff: Electronics (8 min)

Product Life Cycle Assessment (5 min)

Paul Jobin, Hsin-hsing Chen, Yi-ping Lin, "Translating Toxic Exposure: Taiwan RCA," Toxic News, February 2018: (4p)

Lin Yi-ping, Chen Hsin-hsing, Paul Jobin, "The real ‘best friend of the court’", Taipei Times, June 20, 2018. (2p)

Chemical Watch, “Taiwan’s Supreme Court Upholds RCA Occupational Health Judgement” (1p)

China’s most notorious e-waste dumping ground now cleaner but poorer (2p)

Hoover, Elizabeth et al. Social Science Collaboration With Environmental Health  (5p)

Michon, Kathleen. Toxic Torts Overview (2p)

University of Illinois. Sustainable Electronic Initiative (spend 10 minutes reading about the work done in this initiative)

Chemical Watch (spend ten minutes looking at this website, including the jobs listing)

key concepts

toxic torts, community-based participatory research, life cycle analysis, sustainable electronics


Week 5: (online)

What works against good environmental management and justice? Take notes on the films with this question in mind and consider: What tactics do different stakeholders use to avoid addressing issues of environmental injustice?

For each film, you'll find it useful to take notes responding to the basic questions we’ve provided that will help you read for comprehension and critical insight:

  • What is the main point, argument or story of this article or film?
  • What evidence or examples are used to support the main point, argument or story?
  • What stakeholders are described and what are their perspectives?
  • What terms or concepts are used -- especially those with relevance beyond the case focused on?  

The Spill (55 min): The 2010 Deep Water Horizon spill was an event with disastrous and wide-reaching effects. However, it was not BP's first oil spill and will not be their last, thus as you watch this film, consider not just this instance of environmental disaster but the broader context shaping both how the incident came to happen and how various stakeholders responded.

What does the history of British Petroleum and the Deep Water Horizon disaster tell us about what works against good environmental management and justice?

You can watch the film here.

OCAW (12 min + 35 min): These two films produced by the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union cover events/incidents and organizing activities and efforts regarding plant worker and surrounding community safety. Watch both films and consider: What is the role of labor unions in environmental management, how has this been supported  and how has it been undercut?

OCAW: Locked Out

Locked out! 1988 Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers Union (OCAW)

OCAW: Out of Control here

Click, Clack, Moo

War on the EPA Film (55 min): As you watch this film, consider the following question: What are the ways environmental regulation can be undermined and what are the effects?  How can regulation contribute to good environmental management and justice?

Consider taking notes about different stakeholder perspectives presenting in the film and--going back to the concept of cultural analysis--reflect on how people come to hold such views. What shapes or produces their perspectives and, in turn, their actions? What kinds of language do they use to justify their own positions and discount others?

You can watch the film here.

5a. Greenwashers Film (50 min): What are the tactics and effects of “greenwashing”?  How does greenwashing impact good environmental management and justice?

Greenwashers (2011)

key concepts:

greenwashing, union busting, regulation busting, gag orders.


Week 6: EXCIDE in Los Angeles

This week, we will study how a battery-reclycer contaminated a community in the Los Angele area.


writing (due Saturday, 7pm)

film analysis (Unsettled: The Exide Story)environmental justice case study addendums


How a battery recycler contaminated LA-area homes for decades (article only - no need to watch the film)

Exide Technologies: A history

Almost a year after Exide shut down its toxic plant, neighbors are trapped in an environmental nightmare

East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice. 2018. Accessed October 30, 3018.

Al-Saleh, Danya, and Heather Rosenfeld. 2016. “From White Privilege to White Supremacy: An Illustrated Interview with Laura Pulido.” Edge Effects (blog). July 19, 2016.

Pulido, Laura 2015. Laura Pulido: Environmental Racism. KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory.

OEHHA, and CalEPA. 2017. CalEnviroScreen Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, California Environmental Protection Agency.

key concepts

intersectionality, environmental racism, white supremacy/white privilege.


Week 7: Poverty and Pollution in Northern California 

In this session, we will learn about environmental injustice in Richmond, California (near San Francisco), paying special attention to ways environmental injustice develops over time because of many different factors (government policies that led to disinvestment in quality housing in a community, for example).  


writing (due Saturday, 7pm)

film analysis (Place Matters)

environmental justice case study addendums 


Communities for a Better Environment: Combatting Industrial Pollution (6 min) (2011)

Okwu, Michael and Jason Motlagh. n.d. California City Wages War Against Environmental Racism. Al Jazeera  (including 8 min film)  

Not in Our Backyard: Fighting Pollution in Richmond, CA Making Contact. (radio show, 30min)  February 12.

Kay, Jane and Cheryl Katz. 2012. North Richmond in Shadow of Poverty and Pollution. SF Gate. June 4.

Cagle, Susie. 2013. A Year After a Refinery Explosion, Richmond, Calif., is Fighting Back. Grist.

Environmental Justice Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, Who’s in Danger: Race, Poverty and Chemical Disasters (p15-17, 40 (box 2)

City of Richmond Climate Change Adaptation Study (fi, F1-3)

Hashe, Janis. While Oakland is Worried about Getting Coal, Richmond is Covered in It East Bay Express. (Feb 2018)

Hung, Melissa. 2018. Why This California City Is Taking On Chevron, Exxon And Shell Over Climate Change. Huffiington Post. February 10.  

Malo, Sebastien. 2018. Ninth U.S. city sues big oil firms over climate change. Thompson Reuters. January 23.

key concepts: health disparities, Just Transition, Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), climate change adaptation, NIMBY


Week 8(Thanksgiving): Becoming an Environmental Advocate

This week, we will watch  the feature film, about a law clerk who helped uncover deadly water pollution in a California community.


writing (due Saturday, 7pm)

Participate in the two discussion boards created for this week (see the Week 8 module, 3 posts total)


Erin Brockovich,

key concepts

plaintiff, defendant, civil vs criminal litigation, class action, toxic tort, punitive damages, binding arbitration, pro bono


Week 9: Climate Injustice

This week, we will explore the environmental, social and health consequences of climate change in settings around the world.


writing (due Saturday, 7pm)

film analysis (Climate of Doubt)


The Climate Question (parts 1 and 2, 25 minutes each)

Climate Change is No Joking Matter. Except, This Week, It Was (with short embedded video)

Hotter, Drier, Hungrier: How Global Warming Punishes the World’s Poorest

In Shift, Key Climate Denialist Group Heartland Institute Pivots to Policy

Dueling Books Compete to Educate Kids on Climate Change

Youth Climate Trial

key concepts

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change effects, climate change denial, climate security, climate justice, climate change mitigation, climate change adaptation


Week 10: Mobilizing for Environmental Justice

This week, we will learn about the  history of the environmental movement and the emergence of the environmental justice movement, linking environmental problems to human and civil rights.  


writing (due Saturday, 7pm)

film analysis (Fierce Green Fire)


A Fierce Green Fire (100 minutes) (Google link)

A Fierce Green Fire: Timeline of Environmental Movement

National Resource Defense Council, "The Environmental Justice Movement"  March 17, 2016 Renee Skelton  Vernice Miller

Environmental Justice Explained Through Avatar (6 min)

key concepts

conservation, Silent Spring, Love Canal, Bhopal disaster, environmental racism, environmental justice movement


Course Summary:

Date Details Due