Exploring the Nexus: Bringing Together Sustainability, Environmental Justice and Equity.


I. Our discussion leaders asked: Are stakeholders useful or esoteric? 

According to this week’s readings, you need income equality and participation to achieve sustainability.  Students’ opinions on this ranged from that meaningful participation is necessary in order to strengthen democracy, for government accountability, and to accurately give voice to the lived experience of environmental and social exposures, vulnerabilities, and resilience. Some felt there has to be a mid-level of organizational engagement, not just grassroots or the federal level, but the heads of organizations.  It’s hard to change when the executive bodies in the middle level, when their interest is to keep the system running.

A classmate encouraged us to question what is the role of government, grassroots movements and hybrids: involve community in a tokenistic way, or integrate them into the structure, and do they work together?  If community is too integrated into the structure of government, will they be eventually co-opted?  Is there a need for community to be outside of the government for accountability purposes, or do we want to strive for a government truly “of the people”?  Or as a hybrid, perhaps there is need for the “inside-outside” game? 

II.  Our facilitators put up a conceptual model of how they think sustainability plays out for us to consider:

Theory–>  Mentality–> Politics–> Norms and Institutions–> Practice–> Physicality

We were asked to engage critically with it.  I would like people to respond to their ideas on whether this model holds with their lived and work experiences around sustainability as we’ve been discussing it.

For example, we could consider an alternative conceptual model:

Power and privilege–> Institutions and systems–> politics–>  practice–> physicality–> mentality–> institutions and systems

(ie. Our institutions and systems are created as a way to maintain current or emerging orders of power and privilege and economies.  These systems determine the politics needed to maintain them, which determine our practice, which leads to the physical world we create, including environmental, social, and economic inequities.  This physicality creates the mentality, including the unconscious implicit bias we discussed that causes us to recreate the institutions and systems that keep business as usual.)

III.  We discussed several dichotomies that arose from the readings:

  • Reality vs. utopia
  • Theory vs. experience
  • Urgency vs. normativity

Re. reality vs. utopia, a classmate suggested we should be “radically rewriting what we consider capital, where there is not someone at the short end of the stick”.  Please respond to what reimagining this new form of sustainable capital could look like.

IV.  Narrative and stories:

One strategy we discussed was communicating your story of the daily and immediate experience of environmental degradation, not the oil spill in the ocean, but the daily experience and priorities of most families.  For example, that you can wipe the soot off of your window each day in West Oakland and also know someone near you experiencing asthma.  For framing, public health has been powerful in understanding how it impacts you personally or your community.

Our readings said that there had to be an EJ movement that creates a constituency that demands sustainability.  Do people have ideas about why we don’t currently have a health movement that demands health equity as part of sustainability?  Esp. if this is a lever point for sustainability?  Or perhaps people have ideas about how to create a health movement to forward sustainability.

V.  Equity at the core of sustainability:

Prof. Acey laid out the historical creation of racialized space and de facto segregation with the help of discriminatory policies and city planning.

  • In 1868, after slavery, the 14th Amendment was adopted that enforced federal law over states rights in providing a level of protection to everyone.
  • Racial covenants which restricted people’s ability to sell houses to non-whites and Jews (who were not then considered “white”).
  • Redlining
  • Not investing in low-income inner core neighborhoods.
  • Low income and people of color couldn’t get loans to invest in their communities and also couldn’t move out.
  • Metropolitan filtering where people with economic or race privilege moved to new housing stock on outskirts, while the old stock in inner city declines with VOCs, lead, etc.

If you put up the map from the 1930s showing old redlined neighborhoods and current maps of predatory lending, it’s a perfect correlation.  It’s reverse redlining.  The institutions leading to the unequal exposure and bads are still there, and we have to still wrestle with them now to create sustainable communities.  Clearly in the predatory lending crisis, the banks are the main institution implicated.  What are the other institutions that currently produce these disparities in an ongoing way?