Shekhar Chandra is a Ph.D. candidate in Public Policy at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning. His research focus is public policy, political economy, and applied ethics, particularly in the areas of the governance of public goods, equity and social justice, and local and global environmental governance and sustainable development. He is investigating environmental justice in the migration of the Isle de Jean Charles (IDJC) Native community in the southern United States. The community members are the first climate refugees in the country. In recent years, environmental justice literature has faced severe criticism for ignoring the special circumstances of the Native communities and framing environmental justice as merely a distributional challenge of environmental risks. Environmental justice within Native communities needs to take into account their unique cultural, historical, legal, and political circumstances. Scholars agree that indicators used to reflect environmental inequality are mostly derived from “western” science and do not coincide with the Native understanding of risks and benefits. Hence, there is a need to revisit standard distribution-centric approaches to environmental justice to accommodate the culture, race, values, and other characteristics of the Native communities. Shekhar aims to address this intellectual gap in the environmental justice literature by bringing together the scholarship on race, social justice, and environmental sovereignty.
Furthermore, to accommodate the limitations in existing social-contract-based justice theories arising out of their a priori institutional (Leviathan) demands, Shekhar is also working on a social-choice-based framework to conceptualize justice outside the sovereign boundaries of the state. In addition to contributing to the theory of global justice, this approach makes a case that problems like global environmental and economic challenges might be better tackled by reframing these challenges as a global justice problem.