Using ABM to Illuminate Social Processes Leading to Environmental Injustice

Adam Eckerd, Yushim Kim and Heather Campbell

Compared to the accumulated empirical evidence on the disproportionate collocation of environmental disamenities with racial and ethnic minorities, there is considerably less clarity with regard to why or how the inequality occurs in communities. This article uses agent-based modeling to test three competing theories that may explain why environmental disamenities are located where they are – cost factors alone, benign intentions to favor majority populations, or malign intentions to target minority populations. The simulation results demonstrate that a purely neoclassical world—one in which firms and residents care only about costs—does not lead to environmental injustice. Nor does a similar world in which disamenity-producing firms seek to locate away from majority residents. Two conditions led to environmental injustice in the simulation: when disamenity-producing firms aim to locate near minority populations, or when residents prefer to live near other residents like themselves.

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