I started this blog when I stopped teaching science full time. I wanted an outlet for the reading I would continue to do and the questions I would continue to ask. Today I find my questions are becoming increasingly complex; it isn’t just about the science anymore. I remember two defining moments that contributed to my present interest in social justice as it relates to sustainability. First was a guest lecture and seminar with Dr. Julian Agyeman. He talked about spatial equity and how people have different perceptions of what nature is safe. I already knew this from prior research but something about how he presented it made me realize it wasn’t just preference, it could prevent access. He also discussed the language around native and invasive plants and how that might correlate with how we think about people who live in an area and those who immigrate into the space.
The second experience was realizing that the science that I held so dear represented an extremely narrow view. The history of evolution that I had to teach in a biology course, for example, was exclusively white, male, and upper middle class. Nowhere was it mentioned that other cultures also had theories of how life developed. It made me question how we privilege certain types of knowledge and ways of knowing. I have carried this awareness with me as I moved towards sustainability more formally.
I think sustainability and social justice must go together. Rebates for things like high efficiency furnaces are great, but only if you have the resources including owning your own home – which depends on an individualistic and property based approach to land, knowing how to find and being able to find a reliable company to replace your furnace, having the financial capacity, and being able to take time from your job to be home while the work is being done. Taking the science of what needs to happen to achieve sustainability from a greenhouse gas or biodiversity perspective is important. But that needs to be coupled with social justice.
A good example of where social justice was not considered is with the creation of national parks in the late 1800s. I wrote a previous post about concepts of wilderness where I discuss this further. You can also find research that shows how communities that have been marginalized due to factors such as race or socioeconomic status are also subject to poorer environmental conditions due to factors like pollution and lower government funding (e.g., Namin, Xu, & Beyer, 2020; Collins & Grineski, 2019). As I wrote about last week, eating healthy, which is part of personal well-being and thus part of sustainability, is also subject to issues of social justice.
I think that this commitment to just science and just sustainability still fits the title of my blog, Connecting With Science. It isn’t about science that happens in a vacuum. It is about how we connect to that science individually but also in terms of its influence on and how it is influenced by people and society.