Sunday, September 9, 2007

Just Sustainability: Theory and Practice

Each of the paradigms discussed in chapters 3 and 4 are very useful. The New Environmental Paradigm improves upon the old beliefs that the Earth has an unlimited supply of resources that we can use to fuel unlimited growth. Clearly, the NEP has clearly replaced that old paradigm and makes it clear that the Earth’s capacity to produce resources and absorb our wastes is very limited. However, this paradigm fails to capture the fact that society needs to take these limits into consideration while appropriately allocating resources, strengthening social capital and equity (as well as other aspects of healthy societies), and accounting for cultural diversity. The NEP, which the chapters prove are still dominant among the largest environmental organizations, puts wilderness, water, and other indirectly-connected elements of the Earth before people direct problems.

The Environmental Justice Paradigm, upheld by the environmental justice movement, puts people first by emphasizing equity and access. Long marginalized by the dominant environmental movement, the EJ movement makes it clear that sustainability cannot be achieved without widespread equity, access, and recognition of and respect for cultural diversity. On the other hand, Agyeman (book author) proposes that the Just Sustainability Paradigm links these two working paradigms by linking the essential components, such as ecological footprint and debt, equity, access, and empowerment of traditionally marginalized communities.

This discussion proves to be applicable to most of the major societal problems we face today. While Agyeman shows specific community examples of how the JSP is applied, there are examples of where its application is the only viable solution. Global warming is one such case. The developed world is clearly responsible for more than 60% of all the greenhouse gases that society has placed in the atmosphere. As a result, this part of the world owes the rest of the world (which a larger population) because it developed with the causes of global warming. In the international climate debate, China and other developing countries always correctly claim that they should not pay the burden of the emission reductions because their contribution has been minimal. On the other hand, some developing nations (notably the United States) claim that they will not commit to reducing emissions without China and other developing countries committing as well. Clearly, everybody has a lot to lose from inaction. Neither China nor the Unites States have anything to gain from not doing anything. In fact, they have a lot to lose.

Nobody talks about raising funds in the developed world to reduce emissions in the developing world in addition to tough emission reductions in the developed world. If China and India are to shut down all their coal-burning power plants, they will need to be compensated for the lost value of those. No international treaty that takes this kind of equity consideration into account will solve global warming. In this case, the JSP is very applicable.

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