Nature’s Past on Environmental Justice and the Future of the Field

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Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series that focuses on thematic collections of episodes of Nature’s Past: Canadian Environmental History Podcast. Find all the posts in this series here.

In this final post, I wanted to take a moment and reflect on what is next in the field of Environmental History. In 2012 Nature’s Pasts produced a special series on the Histories of Canadian Environmental Issues that spotlighted six themes. They were Climate Change, Aboriginal Peoples, Health, and Environment, The Canadian Environmental Movement, Fisheries, Food and Agriculture, and Tar Sands. You can learn more about the series here.

Now nine years later in 2021, are these six themes still relevant to the study of environmental histories? What new emerging fields can we include?  I would like to see the study move towards renewable clean energies, food sustainability, water conservation and the health of our ocean and marine life.

In the meantime, what are Canada’s roles on the bigger themes? These are some episodes already produced on Environmental Justice and Health.  More research could also move towards this theme of environmental justice. Episode 4 features Ken Cruikshank discussing two contrasting stories of environmental justice in Hamilton’s city planning efforts of the mid to late twentieth century. A naturalized parkland is created by the heavy handed removal of a working-class community from what was deemed a hazardous living environment, while a second community rallies to refute that same designation and remain on the site, with questionable results. In episode 42, we stray into a constitutionally themed conversation where Sean Kheraj and David Boyd explore the question of entrenching the right to a healthy environment within the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and surprisingly why it may just happen. We revisit episode 55 and episode 66 of the stories of the town of Asbestos and the Giant Mine, respectively, this time to focus on the human aspect in the context of environmental justice. The people of Asbestos are subject to company exploitation and provincial indifference at the cost of their health, while in the north at the Giant Mine site the community grapples with how to communicate the legacy of an enormous underground deposit of lethal mining by-product. Finally, episode 69 features an exploration of the role of environmental racism that is something of a common thread throughout all of these stories of exploitation at a human cost. Author Ingrid Waldron explains how the burden of toxic legacies has been systematically placed on Indigenous and Black peoples, and just what there is being done about it.

Environmental Justice

The Beach, Hamilton, Canada. 1910.
The Beach, Hamilton, Canada. 1910.

Episode 4: Environmental Justice on the Hamilton Waterfront

Episode 42: The Right to a Healthy Environment

Episode 55: Asbestos Mining and Environmental Health

Episode 66: Communicating Toxic Legacies

Episode 69: Environmental Racism and Canadian History

I hope that you will enjoy these episodes. The discussions in Nature’s Past are thoughtful and engaging on a wide range of environmental history subjects. I encourage you to experience as many as possible. As Nature’s Past moves forward, it is my hope that it can continue to expand on the themes of environmental justice particularly as it pertains to its impacts on marginalized communities of Canada. A common theme throughout all of these collections, indeed throughout history as a whole, is the manipulation of the environment and less privileged classes to work those lands in the short-sighted pursuit of wealth. We must continue to shine a light on this historical process to positively affect the future.

Photo Credit:

“music-2694489_1920” by Arifur Rahman Tushar from Pixabay

The Beach, Hamilton, Canada. Credit: Toronto Public Library. Publisher: Cloke and Son, Publisher, Hamilton, Accession No. PC-ON 763

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