Environmental Equity: Socio-Historical Context of Industrial Siting in Riceboro, Georgia
Riceboro is a small, rural, and predominantly African-American community in coastal Liberty County, Georgia. With two resident manufacturing industries producing over 75% over the county’s Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) emissions, Riceboro is plagued by public health concerns, and residents have raised questions about environmental and social equity. This master’s project explores several components critical to characterizing, documenting and resolving possible environmental injustice.
A key component in environmental justice case studies is the qualification of the sociopolitical context in which both the impacted community and the environmental risk factor(s) arose. In completing the picture of environmental justice issues, social sciences frame biological and natural scientific inquiry. A community’s specific history is critical to the accurate assessment and understanding of environmental justice issues. Not only can such a study help mitigate immediate environmental concerns, but it also enables a community help articulate its own identity and inform the policy process. As environmental management involves the management of people, such sociological perspective is critical to advancing essential elements of environmental justice.
This case-study uses anthropological, historical and sociological methods to characterize Riceboro and Liberty County, Georgia, in socio-historical terms and to trace the evolution of local political and economic systems within the context the of the American South’s transition from agrarianism to industrialization in the mid-20th century. The project further analyzes the existing environmental concerns to verify suspected environmental inequity, examines the paradigm in which it arose, and suggests policies for the fostering of environmental justice in the community. The findings may be used in tandem with other lines of scientific inquiry to develop policies for alleviating adverse conditions and circumventing future environmental injustice. Finally, this project provides a working model for similar socio-historical surveys for application in environmental justice assessments.
Publicly-available TRI emissions, health and census data reveal high risk factors in Liberty County are unequally distributed across ethnic and income levels. Further, as Riceboro has been a demographically and cultural stable community for over 200 years, patterns of economic, social and political behaviors including risk aversion and political passivity are entrenched and need careful consideration in initiating successful environmental justice policies.
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