Dr. Shirley Thompson -Natural Resources Institute
204‑474‑7170  |  s_thompson@umanitoba.ca

Environmental Justice and Ecosystem Health - Course Outline (*.PDF)

Course Description:

This course explores health and justice issues in an environmental context to realize both the possibilities and barriers of sustainability. Arguably, sustainable development is, at its most fundamental level, about sharing the planet's resources with the future and in equitable ways and also about ecosystem health. Choosing between environment and inequality, rather than seeing these issues as integrated, separates environmental issues from lived realities. A rich multi-layered view of sustainability will result from reading work by people from diverse classes, races, genders and from both developed and developing countries. Environmental justice acknowledges differences in power across race, gender and class as environmental disparities reflect larger societal inequities, asking: "Who decides and who should decide developmental priorities?" and "Who pays for and who benefits from resource management and technological expansion?" These questions expose unfair and inequitable conditions and loss of community control that undermine sustainability. After all, the poor and marginalized of the world are the ones who bear the brunt of pollution, resource degradation and dislocation, whether as a result of a dam, toxic waste, lack of arable land, ozone depletion or global climate change, simply because they are more vulnerable and lack alternatives.

In looking through the eyes of the poor and marginalized we realize that humans cannot live apart from the rest of nature, which is our life-sustaining context. Food security, clean air, safe water, healthy neighbourhoods and adequate housing are seen as some of the building blocks of sustainability, health and environmental justice. Where these basic human rights are compromised people are at risk, as the Millennium Development Goals recognize. The following eight Millenium Development Goals (www.un.org/millenniumgoals/) set a global agenda to focus on poverty, health and environmental issues:

  1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger;
  2. Achieve universal primary education;
  3. Promote gender equality and empower women;
  4. Reduce child mortality;
  5. Improve maternal health;
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases;
  7. Ensure environmental sustainability; and,
  8. Develop a global partnership for development.

Many social and ecological tragedies are a result of careless exploitation of the environment with human beings both being the perpetrators and victims. The ecosystem health approach recognizes the inextricable links between humans and their biophysical, social, and economic environments and that these links are reflected in a population's state of health. Although mainstream medical establishments have, until recently, disregarded the environmental/health link the World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes that 80 percent of cancers are triggered by environmental factors, including diet, lifestyle, occupation and residence. WHO considers the quality of life in its definition of health: "State of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity".

Course Outline (*.PDF)