Ecology and Equity: Environmental Justice Revisited (Part 1)

April 3, 2024

At a time of surging interest in environmental justice and the environmental humanities, Rob Nixon’s 2024 Tanner Lectures on Human Values explore the crossroads where those two fields engage with research findings from the ecological and behavioral sciences.

Breathing Room: Environmental Justice and the Great Outdoors

In 2005, Richard Louv sounded the alarm that children were trading too much outdoor time for indoor time on screens. His coinage—nature deficit disorder—has inspired myriad studies into the benefits of getting outside. That research reveals a so-called “green dividend,” the measurable physiological and psychological improvements that accrue from natural immersion. Yet such peer-reviewed studies typically ignore the way natural spaces are implicated in topographies of social power. How can we acknowledge the health advantages nature may afford, while also acknowledging that “losing yourself” in nature is not an equally accessible ideal? For many communities, immediate risk and historical trauma shadow the great outdoors, making the ‘green dividend’ a more fraught, ambiguous attainment.

Rob Nixon is the Currie C. and Thomas A. Barron Family Professor in the Humanities and the Environment at Princeton University. He is the author of four books, including Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Harvard), celebrated for its fundamental contributions to ecocriticism and the environmental humanities. Nixon is a frequent contributor to the New York Times, where he writes on environmentalism and on literature and culture from the global South. He has been awarded a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship, a MacArthur Foundation Peace and Security Fellowship, and a National Endowment for Humanities Fellowship. Nixon’s new book, Blood at the Root: Environmental Martyrs and the Defense of Life, is forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press.