Saturday, April 30, 2011

Environmental Justice - what a concept!

This blog by Jackie Wheeler in High Country News raises the question of Ed Abbey's position on "environmental justice," the darling topic of  Environmental Studies curricula on college campuses across the United States.

The short answer: he didn't have one.

"Environmental justice" is a human-centered misconception that all humans can be treated fairly when the state promulgates environmental laws and regulations. It is neither environmental nor just, as the non-human world always loses out under human manipulation. The state, by its very nature, is unjust, unfair and discriminatory. Therefore, environmental justice is a concept with no basis in reality.

Ed Abbey's closest approach to "environmental justice" was the sane suggestion that immigrants from the south be given a rifle and a box of ammunition and sent back home to deal with environmental injustice in their own countries, where they knew who their enemies were. This made Ed very unpopular among the liberal set, and undoubtedly must not be dwelt upon in college classes in these enlightened times. Unfortunately, the United States government ignored this simple suggestion, and the environment of the American Southwest has suffered extensively as a consequence.

When Ed wrote about preservation of the wild, he was not just referring to undeveloped lands; his reference included the wild in each of us, the basic core of every human being no matter how urbanized, homogenized and politicized. He  saw it as necessary to stop unbridled economic growth, industrial development, destruction of natural habitat, and other ills of civilization, in order to allow all humans to fully develop in the innate natural diversity essential to human survival in a rapidly changing world, both environmental and cultural.

Ed's environmental justice is to be found in the full flowering of human beings as functioning members of the natural world, not as kings and queens atop the ant heap. His vision was of humans as wild creatures, at ease in their true home in the wilderness.

In this there is justice enough.

1 comment:

  1. I thought the concept of environmental justice was more about industrial pollution in lower income communities, something Ed did not specifically write about. Another anthropologist friend of mine, Melissa Checker wrote a book called Polluted Promises: Environmental Racism and the Search for Justice in a Southern Town (NYU Press, 2005) that dealt with this subject.