ENV1001 Seminar: Poison & Thirst. Environmental Racism, Urban Austerity, and Michigan’s Water War with Professor Michael Mascarenhas

When and Where

Wednesday, February 01, 2023 12:00 pm to 2:00 pm


Professor Michael Mascarenhas


About the Seminar

“Water,” activists tell me “is the last weapon to move you off your land.” Access to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use is recognized by the United Nations as a human right. So when the state of Michigan revoked the right to safe and affordable water to the majority Black people in Detroit and Flint, many asked how did this happen in a country that prides itself on being a champion of human rights and where access to water remains a leading public concern? In this talk I bring particular attention to the role of racialization in neoliberal austerity. Racialization provided the political hegemony to justify and advance anti-democratic policies. Without racialization, polices of emergency management, health care and pension reform, constitutional revenue sharing amendments would not have occurred, because they could not be justified by economic principles alone. In the analysis I describe how particular groups of people worked collectively to craft a set of state practices to realize what is arguably one of the most extreme examples of environmental racism in the United States.

About the Speaker

Michael Mascarenhas is a first-generation college graduate and a person of color, born in the United Kingdom of refugees from South Asia, an immigrant to Canada, and now the United States. Today, Michael Mascarenhas is Professor 7 Chair of the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at the University of California, Berkeley. His scholarship examines questions regarding access to water for communities of color in an era of deeply racialized neoliberalism. His disciplinary fields include environmental justice and racism, postcolonial theory, and science and technology studies. His first book, Where the Waters Divide (Lexington Books, 2012), examines the market-based policies that produce inequitable water resource access for First Nations’ people in Canada. His second book, New Humanitarianism and the Crisis of Charity: Good Intentions on the Road to Help (Indiana University Press, 2017), applies a similar methodological approach to investigate the privatization of humanitarian aid following disasters. He is also the editor of Lesson in Environmental Justice. From Civil Rights to Black Lives Matter & Idle No More (Sage Publishing 2020). Mascarenhas holds a BSc in geology from Brock University, a post-baccalaureate in environmental science from Capilano University, a MSc degree in forestry from the University of British Columbia (UBC), and a PhD in Sociology from Michigan State University. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Centre for Applied Ethics at UBC and has held teaching appointments at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. His current research and book project, Thirsty for Environmental Justice, examines the water crises in the cities of Flint and Detroit. Mascarenhas was an expert witness at the Michigan Civil Rights Commission on the Flint Water Crisis, and an invited speaker to the National Academes of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee on Designing Citizen Science to Support Science Learning. He lives in Berkeley, California with his partner, twin sons, and rescued dog.

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