Toxic Debt, An Environmental History Justice History of Detroit, just published by North Carolina University Press in its Justice, Power and Politics series, is largely a history of failure by federal, state and local government officials to regulate the auto industry’s extremely harmful environmental and consequential human health effects. This failure is substantially explained by the replacement of the, though imperfect, New Deal order with neoliberal policies. (Re: neoliberalism, see, for example, Gary Gerstle, “The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order,” published by Oxford University Press.) As a result, Professor Rector documents largely post-Depression consequences experienced by the Detroit's African American community. Beyond low wages and ghettoization, Detroit’s African American population has disproportionately suffered adverse health consequences via industrial policies that knowingly caused unrelieved exposure to toxic air and water (think: Flint) and more recently health harms resulting from the denial of domestic water services, what Prof Rector terms, “the dehydration of Detroit.”
This 43 minute interview begins with Professor Rector providing a brief overview of environmental harms during the Gilded Age or later 19th century. The interview proceeds to his discussing numerous health harms African American workers suffered with increasing automation of the auto industry and the industry's non-response for half a century, the UAW, positive and negative effects of the New Deal, discusses related waste as energy policy, i.e., specifically Detroit's incinerator and its health harms imposed on African Americans, an overview of the Flint water crisis and the larger dehydration of Detroit problem (and its health effects) and its interrelationship with financial deregulation in Detroit.
Josiah Rector is a Professor of Urban History at the University of Houston specializing in 20th century U.S. urban environmental history, the history of the environmental justice movement, and the history of capitalism. He was previously a Visiting Professor of U.S. and Environmental History at Northland College from 2017-2019. He also has extensive experience in public history. He coordinated public history internships through the Next Gen Humanities Ph.D. Program at Wayne State University in 2017-2018 and he co-organized the Michigan Humanities Council’s Third Coast Conversations: Dialogues about Water Program for the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in 2018-2019. He has published articles in The Journal of American History and Modern American History and he is currently planning a book on the political ecology of urban environmental disasters in the United States since World War II. He earned his Ph.D. in History from Wayne State University, and his dissertation received the Urban History Association’s Michael Katz Award for Best Dissertation in Urban History, 2016.
Information on Professor Rector's book is at: https://uncpress.org/book/9781469665764/toxic-debt/.