Environmental Justice and the labor movement
Razmig Keucheyan: a Swiss approach to environmental inequalities
By Marie Courtais, 2018-09-29

Razmig Keucheyan, swiss sociologist specialised in ecologic crisis and political struggles (University Paris Sorbonne) and left-hand party activist for Movement Ensemble ('Together' in French), gave an interview to the French independent magazine Revue Ballast. Taking as main question of the interview: "How to make the ecologist movements and the leftist heir of the labor movement converge?", the dialogue tackles political questions of the moment.

Razmig Keucheyan dedicates a considerable first part of the interview to the notion of environmental inequalities. Indeed, we know what social inequalities, gender inequalities and racial inequalities are, but we do not hear much about environmental inequalities. The definition the academic gives is the following: "environmental inequalities refer to inequalities in the face of nature. Individuals or groups of individuals - classes, genders, races, etc. - are not equal in the environment. Pollution, natural disasters, or alterations of biodiversity are suffered very differently depending on the social category to which one belongs." Also, he explains that environmental inequalities have existed since the origins of modern times, but the environmental crisis we have entered makes them worse. According to Keucheyan, to understand the dynamics of the environmental crisis, one must rely on an analysis of inequalities and, from this perspective, a Marxist approach remains more relevant than ever.

As a red wire, the two protagonists of the conversation refers to Keucheyan's last book named Nature is a battlefield : Essay on Political ecology (2014). In his work, the academic insists on the racial modality of inequalities and the notion of Environmental dimension: he assumes "Racism has a spatial and environmental dimension". Keucheyan evokes Hurricane Katrina (2005, New Orleans) as an example because it mainly affected black and poor populations. However, he also mentions two cases of Environmental Racism in France. On the one hand, nuclear tests made by the french army first in Algeria and then in French Polynesia; on the other hand policy decision in where to localise garbage radioactive incinerators. As a result, these incinerators tend to be more frequent in the proximity with recent immigration sites, in particular because the populations therein have a lower capacity to mobilize against the incinerator's settlement, or because the authorities prefer to preserve the wealthier and white categories from this type of environmental nuisance.

Finally, Keucheyan explains that racism in general, and environmental racism in particular, are the result from the global dynamics of capitalism: they are therefore everywhere, in various forms, in a subnational level. In the perspective that he is trying to develop, class, gender, "race" and environment are closely intertwined.

Further on, the sociologist gives answers to current political questions through various approaches: ecology and labor movement consideration in economy, in relation with the military, political parties, the media, etc.

The first part of the interview is of significant interest for Environmental Justice Research. However, the full interview (in French) can be consulted here.

Image: © Europe Écologie les Verts