The focus of this dissertation is human-produced hazardous pollution that harms human health, which I call environmental violence (EV). I define EV as direct and indirect harm experienced by humans due to toxic and non-toxic pollutants put into a local—and concurrently the global—ecosystem through human activities and processes. I develop this novel concept of EV as both an analytical tool, namely a framework that can be applied across broad contexts and by socioenvironmental researchers, practitioners, and managers alike, and as a thing-in-itself, something that can be seen, felt, taken into the human body to deleterious effect, and that can be measured. Pollution production is a fact of the human story but much more is being produced than is needed to maximize the capacity for human flourishing such that literally millions of people are directly harmed and many more indirectly. Today, EV is pervasive in the Earth system and the human niche and is the single largest human-produced source of mortality, causing more than 8 million deaths annually.
In this dissertation, I draw attention to three critical underlying realities regarding EV by utilizing a combination of primary empirical social and environmental data, as well as additional data and literature from the fields of peace studies, public health, Earth science, and anthropology. The first critical reality is inequality: specifically, different populations unequally produce or contribute to EV; the risk and vulnerability associated with EV are unequally distributed; and, correspondingly, the harm and power differentials experienced are unequal. The second critical reality underlying EV, paradoxically, is that despite the inequalities associated with EV, ultimately all people are affected by it and stand to face severe risk to their niche as the destabilization of the Earth System continues. In the near-term, EV is a hazard for some people more than others, but ultimately it threatens everyone—the entire human niche and the Earth System. The third and final critical reality underlying EV is that human-produced pollution begets a process of violence and is itself violent. While these issues are substantial, I demonstrate how the EV framework can be applied to elucidate key junctures of them that, if actioned ethically and equitably, can lead to substantial reductions in EV and result in a more sustainable future for the Earth system and the human niche.