James Boyce Wins 2016 Leontief Award for Work on Environmental Inequality

Institute grantee Boyce cited for integrating ‘ecological, developmental and justice-oriented approaches’ into economics

The Institute for New Economic is thrilled to congratulate James Boyce on winning the 2016 Leontief Award from Tufts University, in recognition of his ground-breaking work on environmental recognition by Tufts University. The citation hailed Institute-associate Boyce and fellow winner Joan Martinez Alier for their effective integration of “ecological, developmental, and justice-oriented approaches into the field of economics”.

Neva Goodwin, co-director of the Global Development and Environment Institute which makes the award, said: “It is essential to address the ecological crisis generated by the old-paradigm economy. James Boyce and Joan Martinez-Alier have highlighted the relationship between economic systems, resources (materials and energy) and social issues. Their particular focus on the intersections among economics, poverty, and inequality has strongly informed GDAE’s thinking on these issues.”

Boyce, whose work has been supported by the Institute, wrote an important paper on the three keys to measuring environmental inequality. In an interview explaining the signifance of the paper’s findings, he noted that that “if you look at how unequally environmental quality is distributed in the U.S., it actually makes inequality of the distribution of income look relatively modest.”

“Avoiding industrial air pollution is difficult, particularly if you’re poor or a member of a racial or ethnic minority. That’s partly because of housing prices. It’s partly because of discrimination in housing and mortgage markets — the phenomenon of redlining. And it’s also partly because of the tendency for firms to site polluting facilities in relatively low-income and relatively high-minority communities because they expect less political pushback.”

His argument was dramatically illustrated by the crisis over polluted drinking water in Flint, Michigan, that began in 2014.

Writing on Flint for the Institute, Boyce linked the crisis with both racism and social inequality:

“The contamination was a result of budget-cutting measures imposed by the city’s ‘emergency manager,’ who was installed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder with power to override the elected city council. To save money, the city’s water supply was switched to the heavily polluted Flint River in 2014. At the same time, officials stopped adding treatment chemicals to control corrosion in the system’s old lead pipes. When residents complained about the discolored and foul-smelling water coming out of their taps, and researchers found evidence of lead contamination, their concerns were brushed aside by state officials.

“Governor Snyder denies that environmental racism has anything to do with the plight of Flint’s residents. There are still some people who will tell you that the Earth is flat, too.

“In a lead editorial, the New York Times accused the governor of ‘depraved indifference’ toward Flint’s residents. But the roots of the tragedy go deeper than the failings of individual politicians or officials. What we’re seeing today in Flint is an outcome of depraved inequalities - inequalities are corroding the body politic nationwide along with the water pipes in Flint.”

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