This project centers on the mechanisms by which sociopolitical power disparities influence the creation of ecological harm and environmental injustice, and their relationship to socio-ecological vulnerability. It examines the magnitude and distribution of water pollution from individual producers in the pulp and paper industry in watersheds across the United States, positing that there are important interrelationships between industrial pollution load intensity, ecosystem integrity, institutional performance, and the social vulnerability of receptor populations.
Dr. Collins will incorporate a number of novel perspectives, including an emergent concept related to environmental inequality: the disproportionality concept. This concept posits that, within groups of like resource users, the majority of environmental harm is produced by a small fraction of users who degrade the environment far in excess of their peers—without providing compensating economic or social benefits. It suggests the need for a fundamental reorientation in the way we think about the creation of environmental harm, from seeing it as proportional to population, affluence, and technology, to seeing it as driven by a minority of heavy resource users propped up by certain societal discourses and power disparities.
Situated at the convergence of disproportionality, the influence of socio-environmental inequality or injustice on system performance, and socio-ecological vulnerability, this work will synthesize these concepts and refine our understanding of the mechanisms by which power disparities drive socio-ecological outcomes. It will also show how such concepts can be applied to improve environmental policy and resource management.