“Sustainability and Environmental Justice: The Challenges of Equity” by Robin Morris Collin


Robin Morris-Collin: It’s an honor and I’m
very proud of my alma mater. Particularly because ASU has chosen to distinguish
itself around the recognition that the environmental challenges that we face are inextricably linked
to the issues of growing social inequity and to the economic inequity that we’re finding
in our country and our world. The recognition that these are really aspects
of one problem and a unified vision about how to educate around those issues is really
something that makes me deeply proud of Arizona State. Thank you for to Julie Wrigley for her generous
funding of this lecture series. Thank you to the lecture committee for inviting
me back and also, thank you to you for coming today. [1:54] What I wanna talk to you about today
is what I call the challenges of equity to sustainability. I want to explore why equity and distributional
disparity threaten sustainability. Many people in the United States, sustainability
community of interest, have a blind spot where equity and environmental justice challenges
intersect sustainability. I maintain that we could achieve sustainable
policies and practices today. That is, today, we could say everything from
here forward might be sustainably manufactured, zero waste, no pollution, no toxins. We might be able to solve every problem of
sustainability from today going forward but we would still be unsustainable and that is
because we cannot be sustainable unless we engage the disparities that historically have
been created around intentional public policies. The disparities that we are faced with, both
environmental, economic and social, are products of a deliberate public policy and they have
left a history of disparity with which we must deal in order to be sustainable. The challenge of sustainability and equity
requires honest recognition of what is going on around us. I believe that there is no ethical action
that can come from any other foundation except an honest and complete appraisal of what is
going on around us and that includes a history of racism and classism and sexism and all
sorts of exclusions around the isms that we inherited as mental paradigms and public policy
paradigms. We can’t begin to deal effectively with
the issues of sustainability unless, at the same time, we are willing to engage our history
and that history will call for a high order of both forgiveness and a commitment to pay
forward. Let me begin my lecture today by defining
three very basic terms. Forgive me for the simplicity. I know that some of you have come from the
academic community. Some of you have come from the larger community
and I wanna make sure I’m understood. Let me begin by defining sustainability. There will be a test. I like the visual image of sustainability
that you see to my left. This is a piece of glasswork by Dale Chihuly. Many of you may know Dale Chihuly because
he’s a pacific northwest glassed artist and he’s done installations here locally
at the Desert Botanical Gardens. Very beautiful stuff. What you see in that image are nested glass
baskets and Dale gave me permission to use this image when I talk about sustainability
because this is the way I envision sustainability. We have three nested, very fragile vessels. The outer one represents the earth in our
environment and our ecosystems and nested within that larger fragile vessel are other
vessels equally fragile but smaller and they represent our economy and our communities. To me, this image captures an important idea
about sustainability, how fragile we are. The fact is that that outer vessel might be
broken by an asteroid or a comet, we don’t have control over that yet, but it might also
be broken from within. That is to say, destabilization that comes
from within that nested figure is just as capable of doing damage as any comet or asteroid. We have to attend to all of them. The task of sustainability is learning to
live within those sorts of fragile relationships and learning to configure our lives and our
communities within that nested glass vessel is, to me, the task of sustainability. There are at least two ways to define sustainability
and I think it’s worth mentioning them at the outset. Many people talk about sustainability as the
three E’s. You know what those are? The students are nodding. Okay, the three E’s are environment or ecology,
economics, and equity. The idea is often expressed as a three-legged
stool where each rests on an equal leg. Some people talk about sustainability in terms
of a traditional definition first posed in 1987 by Gro Harlem Brundtland, who was then
the Prime Minister of Norway. She wrote a report for the United Nations
called Our Common Future and her definition–this is a paraphrase is, “Sustainable development
means meeting the needs of the present without diminishing the ability of future generations
to meet theirs.” Important idea here, fairness to future generations. So with that understanding of sustainability,
I would like to add one more idea and that’s the importance of education. Education provides the basis for the way that
we think about things and to the extent that humans can do great, great harm simply, by
the way we think about things. We, in education, need to be exceedingly mindful,
at this point in our history, of our duty to train people to teach others in ways that
communicate a normative relationship of sustainability. We need for education to create leadership
in all manners and all sectors around this idea of sustainability. We will not have a planet if we don’t. Environmental justice is another term I’d
like to define for you in case you haven’t heard it. Let me just ask. How many of you have heard about environmental
justice? You’ve heard the term? Right on. I tell you I’m proud of ASU. Environmental justice refers to the equal
protection of environmental law and policy regardless of race or class. There are more detailed and sophisticated
definitions of it, but that’s the working definition that I wanna bring to you today. It comes; again, from the year 1987, ’87
was a good year. Gro Harlem Brundtland and a study called Toxic
Waste and Race by a radical Baptist Evangelical sect. You’ve heard of the United Churches of Christ,
they did a study called Toxic Waste and Race back in 1987 and what they found–what they
were asking is, “What predicts the location of toxic and hazardous waste in a community?” That is to say what factor could we isolate
that would tell us the likeliest location for a toxic and hazardous waste site or a
transfer station? Would it be hydrology? Would it be geology? Would it be property values? The factor that they identified and isolated
was race, not hydrology, not geology, not the property values. Race and the darker the skin color of the
place, the more likely it would have not one, not two, but multiple saturated exposures
to toxic and hazardous waste. By the way, that study was repeated in 2007,
20 years later, and the results were even worse 20 years later. This was the foundation for a movement called
The Environmental Justice Movement. Finally, I want to talk about poverty and
what I mean by poverty is deprivation of access to employment, to education, to healthcare,
and to housing anywhere. Deprivation of access to housing and healthcare
and education and employment anywhere and at the extreme, I’m talking about poverty
that kills. Nationally and internationally, environmental
justice has been challenging poverty and exposures that kill people. It’s been challenging the fact that race
and income are so predictive of these sorts of exposures and lack of access. In the future, this country will be multi-racial. It will be multi-ethnic and it will include
more and more people from lower income backgrounds and households. You probably know the demographic statistics. One-quarter to one-third of the population
today is non-white, so-called minority, and that number is growing. The non-Hispanic, white person edge tends
to decrease every year and is expected to become a plurality of the overall US population
by the year 2050. Since the great recession of 2008, the middle
class in the United States has decreased, has suffered massive losses of wealth, and
indeed, the gap between rich and the rest of us has grown incredibly in the United States. If you’d like to read more, look at the
Atlantic Monthly for the month of August of this year. My point with all of these statistics is sustainable
decisions for the future will require cultural competence, competence in the outreach for
public decision-making; and it will require competence in the assessment of the benefits
and burdens of decisions. These are the competencies of environmental
justice. I’m the founding chair of the Oregon Environmental
Justice Task Force and we received the National Environmental Justice award for 2010 for the
work that we had done. What we have done in our task force is to
establish a commitment to these competencies within the 14 natural resource agencies of
Oregon. Our 14 natural resource agencies, working
with our task force, volunteered to make multi-cultural competence and environmental justice competence
requirements for all management level positions in our 14 natural resource agencies. You can’t be promoted without demonstrable
competencies in these areas in the natural resource agencies. I think this is culture change and it’s
what we need to do. I’m also the director of the Sustainability
Certificate Program for my law school and I’m also on the Oregon Sustainability Board. I’ve done a substantial amount of my research
and scholarship in the field of sustainability. What I have experienced and seen is a color
line between sustainability and environmental justice and it’s not green. This is unsustainable. Specifically, when sustainability is being
raised or discussed and funds for sustainability are created and made available, environmental
justice isn’t in the room. Mostly white people are and when environmental
justice is being discussed, there’s no money in the room but a lot of people of color. This is not sustainable. Environmental justice provides the equity
practice and the equity doctrine and the equity competency that are necessary for sustainable
decisions. I maintain whenever sustainability is on the
table, environmental justice needs to be in the room, or they’re likely to be on the
menu. My experience with doing this work of sustainability
and environmental justice is to emphasize the importance of culture. Every community has a culture. Indeed, every building has a culture and until
we learn to embrace those cultures, we can’t implement sustainability in a fully engaged
way. Culture helps us to clarify our relationships
to place and it helps us to configure our right relationships between our economy, our
communities, and our ecosystems. Every environmental challenge is local in
nature and every community has a culture. The capacity for building community engagement
must recognize the likelihood that communities will have distinctive views and demand incorporation
of those distinctive elements into any plan for sustainability. This may require working through face-to-face
social networking. It may require visiting churches and barbershops
and nail salons and not relying on E-technology in order to establish the relationships that
are necessary for building resilient communities and capacity for public participation. That kind of work requires multi-cultural
competence and it requires environmental justice competence. As I mentioned, Gro Harlem Brundtland gives
us a very traditional and foundational definition of sustainability. She says that, “Sustainable development
means meeting our needs without diminishing the ability of future generations to meet
theirs.” My question to you tonight is whether you
think it is possible to achieve fairness or justice to future generations without engaging
the disparities of the past and the needs of contemporary communities? My answer is we cannot do that and I want
to share why but my conviction about this is shared widely and I just want to quote
briefly from the German statement of sustainability that accompanies its work plan for German
sustainability. The Germans say, “That sustainability for
them means not living at the expense of people in other regions of the earth or at the expense
of future generations. Too often, our decisions about development
have discounted the value of future lives and the value of contemporary lives without
political power.” What I mean by discounting the value of these
lives is simple. It means that people at the table take all
the benefits. People in the room take all the benefits and
all of the burdens and costs will fall on either future generations, who are not present
or politically unpowerful people who are likewise not present. That’s unsustainable decision-making and
public policy decisions of the past have often been predicated on exactly that kind of situation. It was rationalized by a kind of utilitarian
philosophy that said, “Well, they may not be in the room but we’re doing the greatest
good for the greatest number right now so that ought a be all right.” That way of thinking elevated the value of
contemporary powerful people because they were making the decisions and other people
weren’t there. The greatest good for the greatest number
was often not reflective of the greatest number. It was reflective of what a very small minority
thought were good for the greatest number. Do you see the difference? It’s John Rawls who proposes a different
way of thinking about justice and fairness in his book, A Theory of Justice. Difficult book but really well worth the effort. A Theory of Justice. He says, “We should stop asking about the
greatest good for the greatest number and instead consider what sort of decisions we
would make for ourselves if we didn’t know who and what and where we were going to be
born.” What if we didn’t know whether we were gonna
be male or female? What if we didn’t know whether we were gonna
be black? There’s a thought. What if we didn’t know whether we were gonna
be rich or poor? What if we didn’t know whether we were gonna
be in the US or Mexico? What if we didn’t know any of that? What decisions would we make in the absence
of that knowledge? He calls this position the original position. He says, “We should make decisions from
behind,” what he calls, “A veil of ignorance about what all of these things might be that
we now know because we are in being now.” He said, “If we make decisions from that
veil of ignorance point of view, we would be behaving justly and fairly, not utilitarian,
we would behaving justly.” My question is from behind that veil of ignorance,
would it be acceptable to pollute? Would it be acceptable to poison? Would it be acceptable to extinguish lives
and livelihoods? Of course, not. We have to begin to educate for fairness and
not merely expedience. We have to begin to create students who will
enter the workplace and citizens who will speak in the larger public domain to issues
of sustainability when they see them and that requires courage. What I was saying to my colleagues at the
law school yesterday. It requires courage and the language of virtue. Something that academics too often have been
uncomfortable with because it isn’t neutral to talk about courage and to talk about virtue,
our normative ideas. We are most comfortable with procedures but
procedures don’t always lead to the right result. At least not for that configuration that I’m
talking about. Sustainability will require us to confront
disparities that exist because of our history and deliberate public policy decisions that
were made to sacrifice certain groups and communities. Even if we were to adopt radical resource
efficiency, a change to free and clean energy, even if we built nothing but net zero buildings,
even if there was zero waste in the manufacturing, even if all the products made were toxin free
we could not ignore the brown fields in our midst. They are poisoning our underground water. Not just here in Phoenix. We did the same thing in Salem. Our little local prison used to run a dry
cleaning facility and tri-perchloroethylene–tri-perc was routinely poured down the drain. The prison officials in my little town were
told back in the 1950’s not to shower onsite. What is that evidence of? Back in the ’50’s and ’60’s, they
were drinking bottled water. Do you know anybody who drank bottled water
back then? What is that evidence of? Yet, prisoners had no access to anything else
except that underground water stream that was being routinely poisoned. You know what justifies it some people’s
mind is that punishment is not enough, it’s okay to kill them slowly. They’re prisoners after all and this is
a lesson for all of us I’m going to repeat. Now, the underground water system that flows
beneath the prison goes right from the prison to our state house. There’s now an irony for you and people
are concerned now because it’s all of us, not just them. It’s a mistake to think that we can clean
up the land and the air and the water and not attend to and engage the needs of the
communities that are on that land, who take care of that watershed, and who breathe the
air. We will need them in order to make that clean-up
work and last. We don’t have enough cops on the beat to
do the enforcement any other way. In a collection of essays, that’s the book
at the back of the room, called, Moral Ground, this is a collection of essays devoted to
exploring moral duties to the planet. Your president, President Crow, suggests that
we need an amendment to the Constitution in favor of future generations. He wrote, “In an effort to redeem ourselves,
let us at last reconsider our design derived from the framers of the Constitution in the
18th century; however belatedly, it is at long last time to add one more value to the
concept of self as expressed in the Constitution. To provide for the common good we cannot only
consider justice for those of us present, we must also conceptualize and enact into
law provisions for justice for future generations.” He says, “We cannot look only 40 or 50 years
ahead or behind. Individually, we must come to terms with the
realization the decisions made during the past 250 years have put humanity during the
next several thousand years at risk.” We must cultivate the long view to be sure
but we cannot remain blind to the poverty and injustice that characterize our communities
now. There is another reason to question whether
the interests of future generations can survive the radical disparities that we have inherited
from the past and that is our inter-connectedness now. We are so deeply intertwined with each other
that there cannot be acceptable sacrifice zones. They all harm all of us. I wrote in my contribution to this collection
of essays, “We are so inter-connected by transportation; by communication; by viruses,
real and virtual; by the cycles of life that define us that to imagine we are somehow separated
is delusional and ultimately leads to illness. Our future depends upon this recognition.” What one individual does, deliberate or not;
what one nation does, intentionally or not, may mean disaster for another and that is
as true of our choices in this country as it is true of the choices made in China and
India. We are too inter-connected now not to behave
as if we understood that fundamental thing. The Dalai Lama wrote in this same collection
of essays. “We will definitely have to find new ways
to survive together on this planet. We have seen enough war, poverty, pollution,
and suffering. According to Buddhist teachings, such things
happen because we often fail to see the essential common relationship of all beings. To counteract these harmful practices, we
can teach ourselves to be more aware of our mutual dependence. When we are able to recognize and to forgive
ignorant actions of the past, we gain the strength to constructively solve the problems
of the present.” Let me speak now directly to poverty. Poverty is speaking to us whether we are listening
or not. Poverty is speaking to us whether we are poor
or not. Whether we want to acknowledge the claims
that poverty and inequity make upon us, those claims make themselves felt in a multitude
of forms. We know that we are facing a time of destabilized
ecosystems. These predictions about destabilization are
uniform, even though the rate of change is debated. Destabilization is a physical phenomenon but
it is also a moral and a political reality. The consequences of unstable and collapsing
ecosystems will be drought, will be floods, will be lost lives and livelihoods, and here
I’ve seen the work that GIOS does in the website on climate change in Arizona. Good stuff but deeply depressing. Destabilization is not just a physical reality,
it is a moral and a political reality and we have to deal with it at those levels as
well. Destabilization will hurt the poorest and
the most vulnerable first. It will hurt the elderly, the children, and
the poorest of the poor first but like canaries in the coalmine, we ought to be warned, they
are only first. It is illness to think that we can somehow
float through the mechanics of wealth or technology–that somehow we can float on a sea of detritus
like that. It cannot happen. Additional exposures will transcend race and
will transcend class. For example, public health officials predict
particularly virulent viruses so the combination of economic depravation and environmental
degradation create an expanding loop of poverty and environmental devastation. The challenge we face is to slow growth in
that loop. The only way to slow growth in that loop is
to recognize these problems as part of a single unified problem. For many of us, the point of entry into the
study and appreciation of sustainability has been through the environment and the momentous
environmental challenges we face. However, today’s environmental reality is
powerfully linked with other realities and these include growing social inequity. We must now mobilize our spiritual and our
political resources for the transformative changes that must take place on all three
fronts. Some of you may know who James Gustave Speth
is. He is the renowned dean of Yale School of
Forestry. He wrote first describing the challenges to
sustainability in terms of ignorance about the natural environment, inadequate education,
and the overwhelming availability of data. He says, “We have so much data that we can’t
take it in. We can’t stay current. We don’t know what we don’t know and there’s
too much of a resounding answer in the form of data.” He says and I quote, “I believe the solution
to all three difficulties is to refigure them into a single problem.” This is the School of Forestry speaking. The core of this unified issue is that living
nature has opened a broad pathway to the heart of science itself and that the breadth of
our life and our spirit depend upon its survival. Isn’t it wonderful to hear a scientist speaking
the language of spirit? An honest scientist, I maintain, must confront
that. He says, “To grasp and discuss this fundamental
unified core of the problem in spiritual terms is essential to sustainability because we
are on common ground,” says he, “And the fate of creation is the fate of humanity.” Robin Morris-Collin: It’s an honor and I’m
very proud of my alma mater. Particularly because ASU has chosen to distinguish itself
around the recognition that the environmental challenges that we face are inextricably linked
to the issues of growing social inequity and to the economic inequity that we’re finding
in our country and our world. The recognition that these are really aspects
of one problem and a unified vision about how to educate around those issues is really
something that makes me deeply proud of Arizona State.
Thank you for to Julie Wrigley for her generous funding of this lecture series. Thank you
to the lecture committee for inviting me back and also, thank you to you for coming today.
[1:54] What I wanna talk to you about today is what I call the challenges of equity to
sustainability. I want to explore why equity and distributional disparity threaten sustainability.
Many people in the United States, sustainability community of interest, have a blind spot where
equity and environmental justice challenges intersect sustainability.
I maintain that we could achieve sustainable policies and practices today. That is, today,
we could say everything from here forward might be sustainably manufactured, zero waste,
no pollution, no toxins. We might be able to solve every problem of
sustainability from today going forward but we would still be unsustainable and that is
because we cannot be sustainable unless we engage the disparities that historically have
been created around intentional public policies. The disparities that we are faced with, both
environmental, economic and social, are products of a deliberate public policy and they have
left a history of disparity with which we must deal in order to be sustainable.
The challenge of sustainability and equity requires honest recognition of what is going
on around us. I believe that there is no ethical action that can come from any other foundation
except an honest and complete appraisal of what is going on around us and that includes
a history of racism and classism and sexism and all sorts of exclusions around the isms
that we inherited as mental paradigms and public policy paradigms.
We can’t begin to deal effectively with the issues of sustainability unless, at the
same time, we are willing to engage our history and that history will call for a high order
of both forgiveness and a commitment to pay forward.
Let me begin my lecture today by defining three very basic terms. Forgive me for the
simplicity. I know that some of you have come from the academic community. Some of you have
come from the larger community and I wanna make sure I’m understood.
Let me begin by defining sustainability. There will be a test. I like the visual image of
sustainability that you see to my left. This is a piece of glasswork by Dale Chihuly. Many
of you may know Dale Chihuly because he’s a pacific northwest glassed artist and he’s
done installations here locally at the Desert Botanical Gardens. Very beautiful stuff.
What you see in that image are nested glass baskets and Dale gave me permission to use
this image when I talk about sustainability because this is the way I envision sustainability.
We have three nested, very fragile vessels. The outer one represents the earth in our
environment and our ecosystems and nested within that larger fragile vessel are other
vessels equally fragile but smaller and they represent our economy and our communities.
To me, this image captures an important idea about sustainability, how fragile we are.
The fact is that that outer vessel might be broken by an asteroid or a comet, we don’t
have control over that yet, but it might also be broken from within.
That is to say, destabilization that comes from within that nested figure is just as
capable of doing damage as any comet or asteroid. We have to attend to all of them.
The task of sustainability is learning to live within those sorts of fragile relationships
and learning to configure our lives and our communities within that nested glass vessel
is, to me, the task of sustainability. There are at least two ways to define sustainability
and I think it’s worth mentioning them at the outset. Many people talk about sustainability
as the three E’s. You know what those are? The students are nodding.
Okay, the three E’s are environment or ecology, economics, and equity. The idea is often expressed
as a three-legged stool where each rests on an equal leg. Some people talk about sustainability
in terms of a traditional definition first posed in 1987 by Gro Harlem Brundtland, who
was then the Prime Minister of Norway. She wrote a report for the United Nations
called Our Common Future and her definition–this is a paraphrase is, “Sustainable development
means meeting the needs of the present without diminishing the ability of future generations
to meet theirs.” Important idea here, fairness to future generations.
So with that understanding of sustainability, I would like to add one more idea and that’s
the importance of education. Education provides the basis for the way that we think about
things and to the extent that humans can do great, great harm simply, by the way we think
about things. We, in education, need to be exceedingly mindful,
at this point in our history, of our duty to train people to teach others in ways that
communicate a normative relationship of sustainability. We need for education to create leadership
in all manners and all sectors around this idea of sustainability. We will not have a
planet if we don’t. Environmental justice is another term I’d
like to define for you in case you haven’t heard it. Let me just ask. How many of you
have heard about environmental justice? You’ve heard the term? Right on. I tell you I’m
proud of ASU. Environmental justice refers to the equal
protection of environmental law and policy regardless of race or class. There are more
detailed and sophisticated definitions of it, but that’s the working definition that
I wanna bring to you today. It comes; again, from the year 1987, ’87
was a good year. Gro Harlem Brundtland and a study called Toxic Waste and Race by a radical
Baptist Evangelical sect. You’ve heard of the United Churches of Christ, they did a
study called Toxic Waste and Race back in 1987 and what they found–what they were
asking is, “What predicts the location of toxic and hazardous waste in a community?”
That is to say what factor could we isolate that would tell us the likeliest location
for a toxic and hazardous waste site or a transfer station?
Would it be hydrology? Would it be geology? Would it be property values? The factor that
they identified and isolated was race, not hydrology, not geology, not the property values.
Race and the darker the skin color of the place, the more likely it would have not one,
not two, but multiple saturated exposures to toxic and hazardous waste.
By the way, that study was repeated in 2007, 20 years later, and the results were even
worse 20 years later. This was the foundation for a movement called The Environmental Justice
Movement. Finally, I want to talk about poverty and
what I mean by poverty is deprivation of access to employment, to education, to healthcare,
and to housing anywhere. Deprivation of access to housing and healthcare and education and
employment anywhere and at the extreme, I’m talking about poverty that kills.
Nationally and internationally, environmental justice has been challenging poverty and exposures
that kill people. It’s been challenging the fact that race and income are so predictive
of these sorts of exposures and lack of access. In the future, this country will be multi-racial.
It will be multi-ethnic and it will include more and more people from lower income backgrounds
and households. You probably know the demographic statistics. One-quarter to one-third of the
population today is non-white, so-called minority, and that number is growing.
The non-Hispanic, white person edge tends to decrease every year and is expected to
become a plurality of the overall US population by the year 2050.
Since the great recession of 2008, the middle class in the United States has decreased,
has suffered massive losses of wealth, and indeed, the gap between rich and the rest
of us has grown incredibly in the United States. If you’d like to read more, look at the
Atlantic Monthly for the month of August of this year.
My point with all of these statistics is sustainable decisions for the future will require cultural
competence, competence in the outreach for public decision-making; and it will require
competence in the assessment of the benefits and burdens of decisions. These are the competencies
of environmental justice. I’m the founding chair of the Oregon Environmental
Justice Task Force and we received the National Environmental Justice award for 2010 for the
work that we had done. What we have done in our task force is to
establish a commitment to these competencies within the 14 natural resource agencies of
Oregon. Our 14 natural resource agencies, working with our task force, volunteered to
make multi-cultural competence and environmental justice competence requirements for all management
level positions in our 14 natural resource agencies.
You can’t be promoted without demonstrable competencies in these areas in the natural
resource agencies. I think this is culture change and it’s what we need to do.
I’m also the director of the Sustainability Certificate Program for my law school and
I’m also on the Oregon Sustainability Board. I’ve done a substantial amount of my research
and scholarship in the field of sustainability. What I have experienced and seen is a color
line between sustainability and environmental justice and it’s not green. This is unsustainable.
Specifically, when sustainability is being raised or discussed and funds for sustainability
are created and made available, environmental justice isn’t in the room. Mostly white
people are and when environmental justice is being discussed, there’s no money in
the room but a lot of people of color. This is not sustainable.
Environmental justice provides the equity practice and the equity doctrine and the equity
competency that are necessary for sustainable decisions. I maintain whenever sustainability
is on the table, environmental justice needs to be in the room, or they’re likely to
be on the menu. My experience with doing this work of sustainability
and environmental justice is to emphasize the importance of culture. Every community
has a culture. Indeed, every building has a culture and until we learn to embrace those
cultures, we can’t implement sustainability in a fully engaged way.
Culture helps us to clarify our relationships to place and it helps us to configure our
right relationships between our economy, our communities, and our ecosystems.
Every environmental challenge is local in nature and every community has a culture.
The capacity for building community engagement must recognize the likelihood that communities
will have distinctive views and demand incorporation of those distinctive elements into any plan
for sustainability. This may require working through face-to-face
social networking. It may require visiting churches and barbershops and nail salons and
not relying on E-technology in order to establish the relationships that are necessary for building
resilient communities and capacity for public participation. That kind of work requires
multi-cultural competence and it requires environmental justice competence.
As I mentioned, Gro Harlem Brundtland gives us a very traditional and foundational definition
of sustainability. She says that, “Sustainable development means meeting our needs without
diminishing the ability of future generations to meet theirs.”
My question to you tonight is whether you think it is possible to achieve fairness or
justice to future generations without engaging the disparities of the past and the needs
of contemporary communities? My answer is we cannot do that and I want
to share why but my conviction about this is shared widely and I just want to quote
briefly from the German statement of sustainability that accompanies its work plan for German
sustainability. The Germans say, “That sustainability for
them means not living at the expense of people in other regions of the earth or at the expense
of future generations. Too often, our decisions about development have discounted the value
of future lives and the value of contemporary lives without political power.”
What I mean by discounting the value of these lives is simple. It means that people at the
table take all the benefits. People in the room take all the benefits and all of the
burdens and costs will fall on either future generations, who are not present or politically
unpowerful people who are likewise not present. That’s unsustainable decision-making and
public policy decisions of the past have often been predicated on exactly that kind of situation.
It was rationalized by a kind of utilitarian philosophy that said, “Well, they may not
be in the room but we’re doing the greatest good for the greatest number right now so
that ought a be all right.” That way of thinking elevated the value of
contemporary powerful people because they were making the decisions and other people
weren’t there. The greatest good for the greatest number was often not reflective of
the greatest number. It was reflective of what a very small minority thought were good
for the greatest number. Do you see the difference? It’s John Rawls who proposes a different
way of thinking about justice and fairness in his book, A Theory of Justice. Difficult
book but really well worth the effort. A Theory of Justice. He says, “We should stop asking
about the greatest good for the greatest number and instead consider what sort of decisions
we would make for ourselves if we didn’t know who and what and where we were going
to be born.” What if we didn’t know whether we were gonna
be male or female? What if we didn’t know whether we were gonna be black? There’s
a thought. What if we didn’t know whether we were gonna be rich or poor? What if we
didn’t know whether we were gonna be in the US or Mexico? What if we didn’t know
any of that? What decisions would we make in the absence of that knowledge?
He calls this position the original position. He says, “We should make decisions from
behind,” what he calls, “A veil of ignorance about what all of these things might be that
we now know because we are in being now.” He said, “If we make decisions from that
veil of ignorance point of view, we would be behaving justly and fairly, not utilitarian,
we would behaving justly.” My question is from behind that veil of ignorance,
would it be acceptable to pollute? Would it be acceptable to poison? Would it be acceptable
to extinguish lives and livelihoods? Of course, not.
We have to begin to educate for fairness and not merely expedience. We have to begin to
create students who will enter the workplace and citizens who will speak in the larger
public domain to issues of sustainability when they see them and that requires courage.
What I was saying to my colleagues at the law school yesterday.
It requires courage and the language of virtue. Something that academics too often have been
uncomfortable with because it isn’t neutral to talk about courage and to talk about virtue,
our normative ideas. We are most comfortable with procedures but procedures don’t always
lead to the right result. At least not for that configuration that I’m talking about.
Sustainability will require us to confront disparities that exist because of our history
and deliberate public policy decisions that were made to sacrifice certain groups and
communities. Even if we were to adopt radical resource
efficiency, a change to free and clean energy, even if we built nothing but net zero buildings,
even if there was zero waste in the manufacturing, even if all the products made were toxin free
we could not ignore the brown fields in our midst. They are poisoning our underground
water. Not just here in Phoenix. We did the same thing in Salem.
Our little local prison used to run a dry cleaning facility and tri-perchloroethylene–tri-perc
was routinely poured down the drain. The prison officials in my little town were told back
in the 1950’s not to shower onsite. What is that evidence of?
Back in the ’50’s and ’60’s, they were drinking bottled water. Do you know anybody
who drank bottled water back then? What is that evidence of? Yet, prisoners had no access
to anything else except that underground water stream that was being routinely poisoned.
You know what justifies it some people’s mind is that punishment is not enough, it’s
okay to kill them slowly. They’re prisoners after all and this is a lesson for all of
us I’m going to repeat. Now, the underground water system that flows
beneath the prison goes right from the prison to our state house. There’s now an irony
for you and people are concerned now because it’s all of us, not just them.
It’s a mistake to think that we can clean up the land and the air and the water and
not attend to and engage the needs of the communities that are on that land, who take
care of that watershed, and who breathe the air. We will need them in order to make that
clean-up work and last. We don’t have enough cops on the beat to do the enforcement any
other way. In a collection of essays, that’s the book
at the back of the room, called, Moral Ground, this is a collection of essays devoted to
exploring moral duties to the planet. Your president, President Crow, suggests that we
need an amendment to the Constitution in favor of future generations.
He wrote, “In an effort to redeem ourselves, let us at last reconsider our design derived
from the framers of the Constitution in the 18th century; however belatedly, it is at
long last time to add one more value to the concept of self as expressed in the Constitution.
To provide for the common good we cannot only consider justice for those of us present,
we must also conceptualize and enact into law provisions for justice for future generations.”
He says, “We cannot look only 40 or 50 years ahead or behind. Individually, we must come
to terms with the realization the decisions made during the past 250 years have put humanity
during the next several thousand years at risk.”
We must cultivate the long view to be sure but we cannot remain blind to the poverty
and injustice that characterize our communities now.
There is another reason to question whether the interests of future generations can survive
the radical disparities that we have inherited from the past and that is our inter-connectedness
now. We are so deeply intertwined with each other that there cannot be acceptable sacrifice
zones. They all harm all of us. I wrote in my contribution to this collection
of essays, “We are so inter-connected by transportation; by communication; by viruses,
real and virtual; by the cycles of life that define us that to imagine we are somehow separated
is delusional and ultimately leads to illness. Our future depends upon this recognition.”
What one individual does, deliberate or not; what one nation does, intentionally or not,
may mean disaster for another and that is as true of our choices in this country as
it is true of the choices made in China and India. We are too inter-connected now not
to behave as if we understood that fundamental thing.
The Dalai Lama wrote in this same collection of essays. “We will definitely have to find
new ways to survive together on this planet. We have seen enough war, poverty, pollution,
and suffering. According to Buddhist teachings, such things happen because we often fail to
see the essential common relationship of all beings.
To counteract these harmful practices, we can teach ourselves to be more aware of our
mutual dependence. When we are able to recognize and to forgive ignorant actions of the past,
we gain the strength to constructively solve the problems of the present.”
Let me speak now directly to poverty. Poverty is speaking to us whether we are listening
or not. Poverty is speaking to us whether we are poor or not. Whether we want to acknowledge
the claims that poverty and inequity make upon us, those claims make themselves felt
in a multitude of forms. We know that we are facing a time of destabilized
ecosystems. These predictions about destabilization are uniform, even though the rate of change
is debated. Destabilization is a physical phenomenon but it is also a moral and a political
reality. The consequences of unstable and collapsing
ecosystems will be drought, will be floods, will be lost lives and livelihoods, and here
I’ve seen the work that GIOS does in the website on climate change in Arizona. Good
stuff but deeply depressing. Destabilization is not just a physical reality,
it is a moral and a political reality and we have to deal with it at those levels as
well. Destabilization will hurt the poorest and the most vulnerable first. It will hurt
the elderly, the children, and the poorest of the poor first but like canaries in the
coalmine, we ought to be warned, they are only first.
It is illness to think that we can somehow float through the mechanics of wealth or technology–that
somehow we can float on a sea of detritus like that. It cannot happen.
Additional exposures will transcend race and will transcend class. For example, public
health officials predict particularly virulent viruses so the combination of economic depravation
and environmental degradation create an expanding loop of poverty and environmental devastation.
The challenge we face is to slow growth in that loop. The only way to slow growth in
that loop is to recognize these problems as part of a single unified problem.
For many of us, the point of entry into the study and appreciation of sustainability has
been through the environment and the momentous environmental challenges we face. However,
today’s environmental reality is powerfully linked with other realities and these include
growing social inequity. We must now mobilize our spiritual and our
political resources for the transformative changes that must take place on all three
fronts. Some of you may know who James Gustave Speth
is. He is the renowned dean of Yale School of Forestry. He wrote first describing the
challenges to sustainability in terms of ignorance about the natural environment, inadequate
education, and the overwhelming availability of data.
He says, “We have so much data that we can’t take it in. We can’t stay current. We don’t
know what we don’t know and there’s too much of a resounding answer in the form of
data.” He says and I quote, “I believe the solution
to all three difficulties is to refigure them into a single problem.”
This is the School of Forestry speaking. The core of this unified issue is that living
nature has opened a broad pathway to the heart of science itself and that the breadth of
our life and our spirit depend upon its survival. Isn’t it wonderful to hear a scientist speaking
the language of spirit? An honest scientist, I maintain, must confront that. He says, “To
grasp and discuss this fundamental unified core of the problem in spiritual terms is
essential to sustainability because we are on common ground,” says he, “And the fate
of creation is the fate of humanity.” E. O. Wilson, another scientist and Nobel
Prize winner, says, “We have a long way to go to make peace with this planet and with
each other.” Many of our scientists, as well as activists,
have told us repeatedly, “We cannot address the problems of earth and ecosystems and remain
deliberately blind or indifferent to our relationships to other people.”
Resolving these issues will require equity. Acknowledging and resolving, at last, a lingering
heritage of inequality that has left some communities and some people lethally exposed
to hazardous wastes and toxic conditions. Building sustainabilities with resilience
and the capacity for adaptation means that we must clean up some of these lingering disparities.
As I mentioned before, education is the foundation for how we think about things, and how we
think about things dictates how we act. That’s why you’ll see, occasionally, this quotation,
“Guard the thought” because the thought becomes the deed. There’s a longer version
of it. In that light, I am constantly challenged
by an essay, quite old now, from David Orr, O R R, it’s short. It appeared in The Chronicle
of Higher Education years ago and the title–it’s online, too, What is Education For? What is
Education For? He writes, in part, “Tonight earth will
be a little hotter. It’s waters a little more acidic and the fabric of life a little
more threadbare and it is worth nothing that this is not the work of ignorant people. This
is the work of people with BA’s and BS’s and MBA’s and PhD’s.” He left out JD.
Later in the same essay he questions, “Do the years at your institution make your graduates
better planetary citizens or does it leave them ’iterant professional’ vandals?”
He asks, “Does your college contribute to the development of a sustainable regional
economy or in the name of efficiency, does it contribute to the processes of destruction?”
I think you can well be proud of ASU because at least the goal and the vision are here.
It’s up to us in the room and those who may be listening to do the work. That’s
another challenge. Whatever the mental formations and paradigms
of the past, we must educate for a future that is both multi-racial and it will be overwhelmingly
urban. In addition to the statistics that I mentioned
about race and ethnic demographics, we know that the future will be urban. By 2030, 60
percent of the world will be living in urban settlements and in developed nations like
ours, 84 percent of the population will be living in cities.
Environmentalism has not dealt well with cities. I think, in part, this is because of the history
of environmentalism. It was 1970 and President Nixon who created the EPA. The EPA was given
the task of coordinating the administration of a variety of new environmental laws, which
had been created largely around disasters. You know when the Cuyahoga River started burning,
we said, “Oh, yeah, ah, we’d better get a clean water act.” Things like that, you
know, sort of backing into a regime that we now have but through crisis management.
I mention 1970 because if you think about it, well, I had just moved to Tempe in 1968.
1968 was the year that Martin Luther King was assassinated. I remember living in Tempe
at the time, Concorda Drive. 1970 was just six years after JFK had been assassinated.
It was just five years after we passed the Civil Rights Act. It was four years after
we passed the Voting Rights Act. The leadership of the EPA deliberately disengaged
the issues of the cities and urban populations. They made the conscious decision not to deal
with cities and urban ecologies and that early decision to disassociate from cities has left
a paradigm around cities that is also unsustainable. Cities are often viewed by environmentalists
as the enemy, as sources of waste and pollution, and this leads to demonizing urban areas and
their inhabitants who are increasingly disproportionately people of color.
The statistics on future urbanization make it very clear. This negative mental paradigm
is particularly unsustainable. We must embrace urbanization and explore ways in which it
can preserve wild places and wild beings, while improving the quality and resilience
of life. Urbanism is, in my view, the hope for a future
that is going to be more populous. I would recommend Jane Jacobs in her last book, The
Economies of Nations. Jane Jacobs is a renowned urban planner and this was her last work on
the subject in which she suggests that cities are actually going to be the best friend of
the planet, not the enemy. Urban sustainability will unavoidably force
us to deal with inequities of the past and those inequities have only gotten worse in
the intervening years. Whether and how to resolve those disparities that have been left
by a deliberate history of urban policy, whether and how to deal with them, are political and
moral questions as fully as they are questions of engineering.
In conclusion, I’d like to add one more idea to the pillars supporting sustainability.
This is the importance of forgiveness and the duty to pay forward. Let me explain what
I mean. I define forgiveness in this way. Forgiveness
is the intentional giving up of one’s rightful legitimate claim for payback. By payback,
I mean compensation in the form of legal compensation or payback in the form of karma, either way.
Forgiveness requires people who have an authentic and rightful claim to be mad and to ask for
payback to give that up but that doesn’t mean it requires legitimating gains made from
illegitimate suffering. So, to the extent that we are privileged and
our only crime may have been to enjoy the fruit of wrongdoing, I think a moral claim
is made that is legitimate when we say the obligations of the privileged and the obligations
of wealth are to pay that wealth forward. Not to pay it back, to pay it forward.
I was listening to a speech that you can find on YouTube by Elizabeth Warren. Elizabeth
Warren is running for the Senate in Massachusetts. She made a particularly moving speech where
she says, “Look, if you made money in America, you did it with help.
Nobody makes it in America, nobody, who didn’t have help. If you made a ton of money getting
your product to market, you took it over streets and roads that we built. If you made money
in terms of hiring Americans and you got good quality labor, largely that labor is publically
educated and we pay for that.” She says to multi-national corporations, to
American corporations and to wealthy people, she says, “Look, the obligation that you
have is to pay it forward to the future so that the next kid who comes along and the
next business that wants to start gets the same chance that you got and gets the same
help, pay it forward.” Let me close by quoting something that I wrote
in this work, Moral Ground. “I can hear the voices of my contemporaries rejecting
blame. They insist they have not actually done anything evil. They didn’t enslave
anybody. They didn’t kill anyone and they didn’t take anyone’s way of life. They
didn’t choose petroleum. They didn’t choose cars instead of public transportation.”
I say to all of us, “The only way forward lies in abandoning a time bound sense of right
and wrong. We must make amends for wrongs to the earth and to the people who abide there,
for the wrongs that degrade them and us; even if the one terrible wrong that we committed
was to enjoy the fruit of wrongdoing.” We have some time for questions and answers
but I wanna thank you for your attention. Thank you very much.
[Applause 00:46:10] [No Audio 00:46:11 – 00:47:22]
Morris-Collin: I think it’s important to understand the limits of law. I went to law
school really deeply entranced with the idea that law could change our society. I was born
in 1954 when Brown versus Board of Education was decided and I lived through that period
of civil rights where I saw statutes and litigation as really transformative tools of society.
What I have come to appreciate during my years as a scholar, and now my maturation as a scholar,
is that law is an exceedingly limited discipline. It has certain extraordinary strengths but
it’s easy to overstate them. One of the things that I tell my students
is this, “It is a mistake to win something in court that you cannot support in community.”
I saw that in the education, the public education struggle. Unless you have done the work, unless
you know how to create culture and consensus around a goal, you can win in court and you
will lose, lose, lose inter-generationally now.
One of the things that I think we need to understand as lawyers, and I think you fairly
pointed out, law is an extremely useful tool for building and configuring strength around
consensus but law is really not a very good leader.
Having said that, my goals for law students are kind of different and you tell me if this
is contradictory or not. When I teach law students sustainability, my goal is to educate
lawyers who will be in the room with power so that they understand the issues of sustainability
and equity when they are present and they have the courage and the skill to speak to
those when they are in the room. I want my law students–students of law and
sustainability to be the voice of conscience and the voice of sustainability in the room.
That is a different kind of function. A different relationship to power than thinking about
law as simply shaping conduct through statutes and through administrative regulations.
It is a relationship of an informal nature but in some ways, I think it is more durable
and more effective than protracted struggles. Especially struggles that create adversarial
relationships that outlast the good they were trying to do.
That’s my partial answer to that. Anybody else?
By the way, my colleague, Dan, if you feel like chiming in, please do.
Well, of course, I’m standing next to one of the predominate legal experts on climate
change. Thank you, Dan. Professor Bodansky is internationally recognized for his expertise
in this area. Let me just take your question–not so much
about the law of climate change but really about the ideas of analyzing the distributional
consequences of our conduct around climate change and thinking about what those mean
for people in public policy positions and in law as they look at climate change.
As I mentioned before, it’s very clear that our changing climate will create disasters
in certain communities. We know where they are. We know who they are. We also know, in
part, that environmental justice and equity demand equitable disaster planning.
I won’t tell you which birthday it was but I celebrated one of my birthdays looking at
Katrina. I could not believe that I was looking at a city in the United States, watching people
die. You know did you have that–it just left me absolutely bereft that people, for
day after day after day, were left there to die.
I had to ask myself if this was a white community, would that happen? If this were Portland,
Oregon, would this have happened? Part of what we need to do is equitable disaster
planning and equitable relief planning for when disasters happen. I submit to you we’ve
got a long way to go in the law in terms of that.
Equitable disaster planning means that we need to do the public outreach to poor people,
to vulnerable people, to young people, to handicapped people, whatever their nature
of their vulnerability is, we have to make sure that they’re included in adequate disaster
planning but that’s not enough. When disasters happen, we need to be ready
to move and save people, whether they’re in a black community like New Orleans or whether
they’re in a white community like Portland, and that’s equitable relief.
By the way, the United Nations doesn’t deal well with this kind of an environmental refugee
situation; many of you may know this. Some of you may not. We’ve come to expect that
the UN will come in and deliver equitable sorts of relief planning but they don’t
do that when the crisis is environmentally driven. They call them environmental refugees
and they’re outside the purview. We’ve got to do better at relief planning
but that’s not enough. We have also got to do a better job of looking at the systems,
looking at the people, the programs, the organizations that are responsible for creating climate
change and get those systems to respond to their duties. To tell them, to make them,
to encourage them, to exhort them to live up to their duties and do their part to prevent
this terrible disaster. I think we have not put it in moral terms.
Too often, the law is uncomfortable with moral terms and yet, there is a tremendous amount
of mobilizing strength and organization in speaking directly to people in moral terms.
This is a part of an answer. Would you like to add? Yes, please.
Audience: As you all didn’t come here for me but to come here to hear [audience inaudible
00:54:46] I’ll try to keep my words very short. [Audience Inaudible 00:54:48] It
really was the great inequities that the countries that are most contributing to carbon climate
changing could be the ones that are less affected by it and most capable [audience inaudible
00:55:02] The countries that are gonna be most affected, most hurt, are the ones that
are contributing the least. This sets up a fundamental problem of injustice.
The countries that are gonna be most affected are poor countries typically. Countries that
don’t have a lot capacity [audience inaudible 00:55:20] in Africa and some Bangladesh,
Slavo states. Part of it is to try to raise money to [audience
inaudible 00:55:28] and there are quite a few different ideas out there about trying
to generate funds to help them get out of it. Ultimately, there’s no way for them
to get out, to allow what’s gonna happen. A country like Maldives is gonna be underwater
with the expected sea level rise. The President of Maldives held a cabinet meeting underwater
in scuba gear to demonstrate what his country would be like in 50 years, 100 years in the
future. You couldn’t even master that. You try to
reduce initiatives but we gotta find [audience inaudible 00:55:59] mapping. Now it’s very
difficult for countries, these foreign 00:56:04 countries, like Bangladesh or like Maldives
to do that because they’re not what’s causing these issues. These issues are being
caused by people that live in different countries. There is now, after it’s been tried to address
climate changes for people who might be affected, to try to use some of those tools. I think
those make sense to some degree but I don’t think they’re ultimately used. ’Cause
one of them, I think it takes–it’s required–it’s shaming the countries that are actually [audience
inaudible 00:56:31] I think that the problems that they have[audience inaudible 00:56:35] We
still have to see whether that one works. Morris-Collin: Thank you, Dan, and I appreciate
using the word shame. Can I add one other thought? I think there is embedded in this
whole area another important piece and this is the importance of technology transfer.
To some extent, we really have to be willing to build these countries in a different way.
These are poor countries. They are looking for survival, not thrival. They’re just
trying to hang on and in part, it’s tough to have a conversation about sustainability
if you’re likely to die of hunger first. I think part of our obligation is also to
be willing to transfer the technology to build these countries in order to grow in the right
way. We can’t tell them don’t grow like we grew and expect that to carry any kind
of persuasive power at all. I wanna give you an example of where the US
has shown leadership in the past and we ought to do it again. After World War II, we had
destroyed Japan and we destroyed Germany. There was a meeting, Bretton Woods, at which
the allies who were the undisputed victors decided they were gonna rebuild the enemy.
We went and we built those economies from scratch and I’ll tell you what we really
need today is for somebody to come and eliminate our infrastructure because they’re in better
shape to build from the ground up than to try to remodel the mess we have. If you’ve
ever remodeled a house, you know exactly what I mean.
We saw, in that moment, not self-interest but an opportunity to grow and re-grow the
world the right way. It turned out to be in all of our interests. Yes, the Japanese and
the Germans have a better economy, or they had a better economy for a while, but we all
floated. This rising tide floats all boats idea and we need to do this again.
We can’t allow the law of intellectual property to stop this. It’s too important and sometimes
I like to leave people with this thought. Law is way too important to leave to lawyers.
Take the power back. Other comments?
Male Voice: Other questions? Morris-Collin: You know there’s a lot of
thinking going on at GIOS and SOS and SHESC and all the other acronyms. There’s a lot
of thinking going on. I’ve learned a lot as I listen to people today talking about
these issues but let me just share some of my thoughts about this.
First of all, I think we have to convey in data-driven terms exactly where we are at
with respect to some of the conditions that communities face and for that, science is
absolutely indispensable. We have to have scientists who go out and do the measurement
and the descriptive work for what kinds of exposures exist, how those exposures are being
transmitted to communities. We need to describe in rich detail exactly where we are at.
We must also learn to describe the economic pre-conditions that surround where we’re
at. I submit that most of the problems we are talking about have been driven by an economic
policy of the past and we need to make that clear. Whether or not we agree or disagree,
many of these decisions–and I’ll go back to the Salem prison.
Many of the decisions made to dump perc into the water were economic. They knew better.
They didn’t wanna spend the money and we need to make clear how many of our economic
and environmental decisions are driven by simple expedience and not by intelligent people.
’Cause, “It’s not the work of ignorant people,” says David Orr.
This is the work of people who have been trained to think expediently, and by expedience, that
means they are willing to sacrifice certain people in certain zones. We need to address,
in plain terms, the language of virtue or shame and then I think we can begin to have
an honest conversation about what to do with the inherited situation but that won’t be
easy. I think we also have to mirror and start,
particularly I ask this of my law students, courageous conversation, and by courageous
conversation, I mean this. We need to be able to have conversations that are painful and
shameful and hurt to have this talk. Lawyers ought to be good at this because very
few people go to a lawyer feeling good. Most of the time, if you’re talking to a lawyer,
it’s because something painful or shameful has happened. Having a conversation that involves
shame, having a conversation that is hurtful needs to be a managed conversation. One that
includes respect. One that includes forgiveness. I think we need, in our environmental justice
work, to do that work of establishing a respectable kind of forgiveness. Not a sentimental type
of forgiveness. Not obsequiousness and certainly not legitimating suffering. We do need to
talk to victims as well as people who have–they’re not perpetrators but people who continue to
profit from wrong in those terms. I think the politic–I’m in Arizona. First
of all, given my druthers, I would make everybody listen to Marvin Gaye’s song about electoral
politics and if you haven’t heard it, you need to go listen to this. It’s called You’re
the Man. It’s a great tune. It’s a great tune and what he says is, “Politics and
hypocrites are turning us all into lunatics.” So part of my answer to the politics of this,
and remember I’m just a lawyer, I don’t actually know anything. Part of my answer
to the politics is I think we need to speak to commonly held shared values. We can find
them and we have them but we’ve had 30 years of a politic of difference that have left
us in a posture of seeing what divides us more than we understand what we have in common.
This is craziness. As Americans, we have far more in common than
what divides us but we haven’t had a politics that celebrates what we have in common. If
we don’t start speaking to those shared values, we will lose them.
I think part of the answer to politics is to start talking to commonly held shared values
as Americans, secular values, if you will. Then I also think we need to begin to talk
about and insist upon common sense. Common sense is not so common but it’s what most
people want. They want common sense politics not lunatics.
I’m encouraged, I heard that Mesa–yeah, go Mesa. Mesa got rid of Russell Pearce. I
know he’ll be back. That’s okay. [Applause]
You know about roaches. Roaches come back, right. Roaches are gonna be here when all
else is gone and I kind of look at some politicians in that way. They’ll be back but when they
come back, we need to be prepared. We know what they are. We know the kind of toxins
they have so let’s not get fooled again. All right. We need to do our work at this
end. That’s just a few preliminary thoughts about
politics but really, it’s a tough issue now, in my view, because we have had 30 years
of rhetoric that only talks about our differences, that vilifies all these minutia instead of
celebrating this tremendous heritage that we have of democracy, of freedom, of individuality,
of autonomy. We ought a be shouting that from the mountaintops
and everybody else who doesn’t wanna share those values, I wish there were a way–no
I don’t. Okay, that’s forgiveness. See, right there.
Sir? Male Voice: This gentleman here I think is
a [audience inaudible 01:06:34] Audience: I wanna say I really appreciate
your talk today. I was very impressed. I’ve been talking and talking green ideas since
the ’80’s and when you really discussed it what [audience inaudible
001:06:57] Kind of a mystery lover but, well, you really get frustrated. It’s nice to
see somebody like you out here. I’m very happy to see these young people
because when I did it, there were very few people that[audience inaudible 01:07:04]
In fact and I think America stands for ingenuity and the young kids here that’ll be engineers
and scientists can take that spirit that we have and move it forward.
When you talk about spirituality, I came up with on my hybrid car and said, [audience
inaudible 01:07:23] the grace of that, look for the glory of God but read.
I was wondering, what if we went and read–I’m not a big religious person but maybe Jesus
Christ will come back. “I knew that when I come back here–”
I heard on NPR the other day, a lady that started about Planned Parenthood. She retired
in Tucson and she wasn’t for abortion. We just hit 8 million people and part of the
problem, I feel, what she said, “Was when she lived in New York City, she’d see families
with eight, ten kids and kept them [audience inaudible 01:08:03]
How do we currently bridge that gap with religion in our culture and start teaching people if
you wanna get out of poverty, it’s not considered racism but to consider having one or two children?
I’ve been wondering whatever it is for people in Utah that you can share anything?
Morris-Collin: Let me see if this is fair but I think the question is about population
and how to manage population because, at some point, it’s destroying the earth. It’s
too much. At what point, I’m not sure, nobody knows. That’s epistemological ignorance;
we don’t know what we don’t know. Here’s what I do know about population.
What works to control population is not a condom or birth control pills. It’s giving
women education and employment opportunities; and therefore, I think rather than try the
Chinese method of enforcing a one child family state, what I’d like to try is making sure,
not only in this country but around the world, women have educational opportunities and having
employment opportunities. Then I think population would be radically curtailed. I know that
is a matter of data. There’s another part of what you said that
I wanted to respond to and it reminds me to say this to our students. I say this to my
law students, particularly. Imagination is more important than information.
If you’re education is killing your imagination, look around. Find a way to get your imagination
back because we are capable of building, not merely survival, but building beauty. That’s
our choice but we have to awaken our imagination. This is Einstein’s thought experiments,
what if all energy in the future was clean and free? Nobody ever had to pay for energy
and it wouldn’t pollute. How would that change climate change? How would that change
our ideas about entrepreneurship and wealth? You know, that could be the future? It is
definitely possible. Especially if we don’t recreate a grid system.
Especially if we create energy that is assessable by individuals without mediation by corporations.
Especially if it’s renewable. What if there was healthcare and a pension
for every American? How many of you would go out and start your own business rather
than spend more time in school? I bet there’re a bunch.
That’s why Norway is the leading entrepreneurial nation in the world because people don’t
worry about healthcare and they don’t worry about whether there’s gonna a pension. There
will be one so they take an idea and they say, “You know what, I’m gonna do this.”
That frees up a tremendous amount of creativity, of entrepreneurialism, of all the things that
we say we want to do. So experiment with the what if’s and if you think that it might
work, let your imagination be your guide. Any other thoughts? Questions? Comments? Hicoo
01:12:06? Tough question, thank you. Audience: Not looking for an answer, just
your thoughts. Morris-Collin: Thoughts, of course. [Laughter]
Audience: I was looking for an answer. [Laughter] Morris-Collin: Let me ruminate a little bit.
First thought is this, I don’t think individuality is necessarily inconsistent with sustainability,
within qualifications, but it seems to me that one of the great things about our American
version of individuality is a faith in autonomy. Choice.
We think, rightly or wrongly, in many areas of life people ought to be able to make their
own choices. That’s a wonderful thing. The problem, I think, where we can go wrong is
when that kind of autonomy and individuality is so, as you point out, disconnected from
nature around us. Here, I think, we are blessed with a gazillion
opportunities. A million opportunities, a thousand ways to reconnect but we have to
do this to reconnect to nature. I’m appalled by the number of people who
never let their feet touch the ground for very long. I’ve spent most of the day, today,
indoors and I usually walk my dogs, at least walk the dogs, so that my feet touch the ground.
There is an important piece of the human anatomy and psyche that are absolutely dependent on
being able to touch something natural, not artificial.
You know what I really worry about with prisons? I think we create monsters when we don’t
let people touch the outside. I think we take hurt people and hurt them more when we put
them in places where they can’t see the sun and they can’t feel the ambient air.
I think this is shocking. We will come to understand how counter-productive that that
truly was. In the Oregon prison system, we have a program
co-sponsored by the ASPCA, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals,
that takes rescue animals and they are trained by women inmates to become service dogs. Oh,
I love that loop. Right? This is taking abandoned people and abandoned
animals and creating a purposeful life for them both and here’s the thing, the inmates
who have this relationship with the animals, they know they have to let them go, but it’s
a first time for many of them that they have ever felt an unconditional love. Ever. Ever
and it’s transformative. Connectedness with these other beings.
There are other prison programs where people grow something. They’ve never grown anything
in life. It’s transformative. So part of my thinking that you’ve prompted, thank
you, is that we need to explore the opportunities, both great and small, both individual and
systemic for reconnecting to earth, to reconnecting to those things that make us human.
We construct opportunities every day to separate ourselves but we need to think about how to
use those opportunities to reconnect. Just a part of a thought.
Part of what we’re wrestling with in these large questions are how to empower people
and communities to make good decisions and to some extent, those good decisions require
us, as communities, to come together and to have conversation and dialogue about what
kind of community we want to have and how to get there.
We did that in Oregon in the Oregon Benchmarks Program, which is not unflawed but it’s
still this kind of community conversation. Do we want a community that has Leaf vehicles
or what about less vehicles all together? How about this, even if we could have Leaves,
is that the plural? [Laughter] Even if we could have Leaves, maybe what we
really want is a system of zip cars, on demand cars, ’cause we really don’t wanna own
cars at all. We just wanna be able to get where we wanna go when we wanna get there.
The service that cars provide. I think, in part, the answer to your very
broad question lies in letting communities speak for themselves, articulate their needs,
and giving them good choices. I’m not even sure, as good as the Leaf might be, as wonderful
as bikes might be; maybe what we need is not individual bikes but a kind of zip bike situation.
Right? They have that in Amsterdam. I was there this
summer. I mean you take a bike; you leave a bike. Right? We have that in Portland, as
well. They’re painted yellow. Take a bike; leave a bike.
My point about this is often the way we think about technology is bound in a paradigm of
private ownership and everybody’s gotta have one but an important theme in terms of
diminishing our environmental impact it’s often overlooked.
People wanna talk about affluence. They wanna talk about population but they don’t talk
about the way we deploy technology. Perhaps if we had a culture of sharing, we could dramatically
decrease some of these impacts. Sharing, of course, is one of those virtue
words, again. I grew up saying, “Share your toys.” Being told, “Share your toys. You
don’t have to have everything.” If were able to talk about, even our existing
technology in terms of shared, we might have a whole constellation of other choices that
are good for the environment and liberating because frankly, I don’t like having a car
and I don’t need a fancy bike. I just need to get around.
How are we doing on time? Male Voice: I think we’re actually out of
time. I think that’s a good place to end. I started by saying that Professor Collin
is not your ordinary [audience inaudible 01:19:19] She’s not sensitive-wise to that.
Please join me in thanking Professor Collin.

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