The Impact Of Environmental Injustice On Social Inequalities In France

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The purpose of this project is to study the impact of environmental injustice on social inequalities in France, with the assumption that such environmental injustices widen the gap of inequalities. This research design will start by analysing the Yellow Vests crisis that occurred in 2018 in France so as to give some perspective on the importance that the lack of environmental justice has on people already victims of inequalities. Afterwards, I will analyse the issue under a wider scope, which are the health problems that are linked with inequalities in France, especially dealing with pollutions as it is the problem that has been studied the most.

Indeed, the field of inequalities related to environmental injustice in France hasn’t been the object of much research work as the link that is often made between environmental injustice and inequalities is rather set between developed and developing countries. But this essay’s goal is to change the scope of that approach which has been made several time and to show that environmental injustice isn’t only hurting developing countries, but developed countries themselves.

The literature that will be used here will often be from French authors, as they best know their country’s situation, especially regarding the Yellow Vests crisis. In order to study this crisis, this research design will focus a lot on newspaper articles because they give a wide view of how the crisis has been perceived, in and out of the country. Regarding wider issues, such as pollution and its consequences on health issues, this research will focus on a series of studies on the link between pollution, health issues and social backgrounds. (270 words)

Literature Review

The concept of environmental justice, described by the French economist Eloi Laurent (2012) designates both inequalities in the exposure to environmental risks (pollution, waste, flooding etc.) and the alienation of minorities in the conception of environmental policies both locally and nationally. This concept has been used many times to talk about inequalities in France. It has especially been used by the French economist Eloi Laurent (2017) and by the French philosopher Catherine Larrrère to talk more widely about environmental injustice (2015), not only in France but across the whole world. Indeed, it is no longer a secret that your social background, your ethnicity, your gender or simply your nationality will have a consequence on the way you will be affected by environmental problems, such as pollution, floods, or fires. The economist Eloi Laurent underlines the fact that no one is affected the same way by environmental issues, because of our social differences. It is as obvious as saying that developed countries are not affected the same way by climate change than developing countries. According to Laurent, we can no longer ignore environmental injustices as they affect so many people’s well-being (2017).

There is a study led by Lucie Laurian and Richard Funderburg that analyses how the location of incinerators in France is the proof of a deep socio-environmental inequality (2014). This study reveals that the position of those incinerators is quite linked with the population that lives near it, often in small towns or villages located in the countryside or in underpopulated areas. In these areas, populations are often forgotten by the French government and therefore they have few impact on the decision powers. In a way deciding to put these incinerators in such places is a sort of guarantee that people won’t complain because they know that no one would really listen. This could be linked with Laurent’s reflection that underlines how little local populations are consulted by the government on the choice of sites on which toxic waste is buried (2017).

However, despite these analysis, it seems that besides some specialists of this subject, the idea of climate injustice being related to social inequalities has not yet been the subject of many research in France. Indeed, there are few geographical studies that prove the link between those two concepts, and the lack of investigations and maps do not help to make it more tangible.

The other factor that needs to be taken into account, is the recent political landscape: the Yellow Vests or Gilets Jaunes crisis in France by the end of 2018 where thousands of people – especially working-class people – blocked roads to protest against the rise of fuel price. This raise was initially a way for the Macron government to encourage people to use less-pollutant sources of energies, but working-class people took this as an attack claiming that they should not have to pay more for greener energies as they can barely afford petroleum in the first place.

This crisis that shook the French political and social landscape show that there is a need for another analysis of how climate justice can have an impact on social inequalities, especially in the present context of climate urgency. Therefore, this project’s goal is to deepen the research of social inequality and its link with environmental injustice, especially using previous analyses that were made before. It appears as necessary to study the impact of the socio-political crisis in France and what it says about environmental injustice in the country. A new range of statistics provided by questionnaires or surveys, which are actually missing a lot to build solid evidences, would provide a better understanding of this subject. (607 words)

Research question

To what extent is environmental injustice increasing social inequalities in France?

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This research question is important to ask because there is often the assumption that, France being a rich and developed country, it is not much affected by environmental injustice. Indeed, it is less affected by it than developing countries, but one should not forget that there is some kind of illusion here. It does not make any sense to take the average income earned by people in France and assume that every people earn such an amount of money. There are many people who live in poverty, even in France, and such people do not have the means to defend themselves from the environmental injustices. My research design plans to show how such people are often forgotten by the government’s policies and that the social inequalities are widening because of environmental injustice. This research question will therefore aim to complete Eloi Laurent’s objective, which is to acknowledge the failures of France in terms of social equalities, and the way environmental issues are not taken seriously enough, which increases environmental injustices (2017). (182 words)


In order to explain or research to what extent environmental injustice is increasing social inequalities in France, it is necessary to analyse the current situation of the country. France has just been hit by a series of strikes, in 2018 and 2019 by the Yellow Vests movements protesting against the rise of fuel price, which was an environmental purpose rejected by many or denounced as a form of pretext for the government to earn more money. More recently, in 2019 and 2020, France has been paralysed (quite literally as most of the rain lines were infective) by railwaymen as most of them were concerned they would lose privileges that were granted for their retirement, due do the risks that their job include.

Facing those recurring and powerful social movements, often linked with environmental issues (the impossibility to pay more for greener options for the Yellow Vests, and the possible health issues that could not be as well covered by the government as they used to be for the railwaymen), it seems impossible to say that there is an effective social justice in France. We could even say minorities are facing even more environmental problems and injustice such as pollution, less efficient material, more health problems related to toxic substances etc. The main hypothesis here is that people who are already struggling with inequalities see their situation worsened by all the environmental injustices they are victim of. (236 words)


The link between social inequalities and environmental injustice will be established through a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods, notably through a case study of the Yellow Vest crisis and what it says about the socio-environmental situation in France. For instance many articles and surveys that have been made during and after the crisis will be studied. These documents will enable us to determine the social and geographical origin of the people protesting against the rise of fuel price. It will also enable us to analyse the discourse of people and tell us more about how this crisis feels for the people who deal with it.

It seems that a mixed method between qualitative and quantitative is the best way to analyse my subject. Indeed, for some subjects there are clear informations such as statistics (for the impact of pollution on people’s health in cities for instance), but for some other elements which are really recent, such as the Yellow Vest crisis, it is important to address the problem through a content or discourse analysis. Indeed, it tells us how people feel, which is very important in our topic because inequalities are not just about statistics, but also about how people feel they are treated.

We will also study the link between geographical locations and socio-environmental inequalities. The link between air pollution in cities and inequalities in France is one of the most established, therefore it appears as something rather easy to find information about this subject, as the research led by Aschan-Leygonie and Baudet-Michel did in 2014. Indeed, this study tackles the issue of respiratory inequalities, analysing the difference of medical prescriptions for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. The study shows how unequal the prescriptions are in different geographical areas, for instance the north of France is much more affected by such diseases and therefore receives more drugs prescriptions. But the study doesn’t only analyses the geographical areas, it also analyses the social conditions of those who are affected, and it is transcribed here: ‘the standardised indicator of drugs prescriptions for COPD shows a strong and positive correlation with the share of non-graduates in the out-of-school population over the age of 18 years old’.

Therefore, our hypothesis seems to be confirmed, but it should be further analysed through other studies, such as Rican’s and Caudeville’s 2016 research which nuances the link between health issues related to environmental inequalities and disadvantaged people.

The study of different research, the focus on different crisis and the use of questionnaires could help us better analyse the French situation. (427 words)

Ethical Issues

The question of environmental injustice and the inequalities linked with it is a very sensitive subject. Indeed, a lot of the articles mentionned here deal with how several people’s health has been affected or could be affected by the inequalities they suffer from. It could be the case with people suffering from COPD or asthma due to pollution, as mentioned in Rican’s and Caudeville’s study (2016). In order to learn more about these inequalities, it appears as necessary to do some interviews, questionnaires or surveys. However, the identity of those taking part in such processes can not be given at all. Indeed, the very idea of environmental justice refers to ‘justice’, meaning that such cases could be taken in courts because the problem some people face are so deep that they could require a trial to demand justice. Therefore, it is important to protect people’s identity, and our analysis should not give any names of participants. The participants’ will also be aware of the kind of project they are answering for, so that their full consent is ensured. (178 words)

Personal Reflections

Writing such a research design was quite challenging and different from an academic essay, because it is much sorter. Therefore, I find it difficult to address all the complexity and the issues of my topic in such a little amount of words. What’s more, the research cannot be as deep as it would be for an academic essay, as I would have used much more articles or sources to write an essay. On the other hand, I find this exercise quite interesting because it taught me a lot about researching and questioning the way I am used to do it. 

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