Monday, September 17, 2007

Sustainable Communities: Chapters 3 & 4

Agyeman : Chapters 3 & 4

The more that I read of Agyeman’s book the more I come to the conclusion that his writing is a bunch of over-intellectualized garbage. His thoughts are well articulated and rarely a page goes by without a comment that makes me think. So I ask myself… how come I am struggling with a text that has me nodding in agreement most of the time? I have concluded that Agyeman writing is essentially useless. As in… what is the practical use of this book? Is he advocating for more Just Sustainability, by pointing out how most of our larger Environmental organizations miss the mark when it comes to issues of social justice?

Consider the following example…
The National Audubon Society earned a 0 on the Just Sustainability Index. I guess the National Audubon Society isn’t as worried about justice of the underpriveledged… um… birds? It’s about birds. I challenge anyone to integrate concepts of justice and equity into the mission of the National Audubon Society. After Agyeman lists the National Audubon Society as one of the organizations with a JSI of 0, he then remarks that “despite the somewhat depressing overall picture, there are national environmental and sustainability membership organizations in the United States that are beginning to engage with the emergent JSP, …”, inferring that many organizations have missed the mark by not infusing a purpose of social justice in thier mission. I don’t use this to make light of providing justice for the underprivileged. No one can deny that is a noble goal of any organization or government policy, but Agyeman constructs this elaborate system of useless categorization and profiling to lump many organizations as having no or little component of justice. He’s right. They don’t, and they don’t care to. It is not part of their mission, so where is the connection? The National Audubon has as much to do with equity/justice as the Minnesota chapter of Star Trek Lovers.

Audubon is about the birds. WWF is about the wildlife. American Rivers is about the rivers. When I worked for several of the state PIRG’s for 2 years our focus was primarily on a state recycling bill, a bill that was equitable for all soda and water drinkers and affects inner cities as much if not more than wealthier suburbs (state PIRGs JSI = 0). Environmental organizations start out as the idea of a small group of people passionate about an issue. They grow or not based on their public support. Their mission may have components of social and/or environmental justice. Where is the advantage of rating these organizations with a JSI?

Agyeman’s examples are each great cases of local initiatives with components of social justice making a difference locally. The fact that the Los Angeles Bus Riders Union ordered 248 natural gas powered busses doesn’t mean that that organization should be compared with organizations whose primary or sole goal is environmental stewardship. The concepts overlap. Social Justice is important. Environmental stewardship is important. The ties that Agyeman creates between the two burdens each with the others problems, confuses the issue of scope, and have no practical purpose that I see.