e-Newsletter of Moravian College and Moravian Theological Seminary | February 15, 2013 Twitter Facebook

Just Sustainability is topic of special lecture

Dr. Julian Agyeman delivered the Dr. Martin Luther King lecture in January.

Julian Agyeman, professor and chair of the department of urban and environmental planning and policy (UEP) at Tufts University, presented this year’s Dr. Martin Luther King lecture at Moravian at the end of January. Agyeman’s lecture, The Dream Lives on: Towards a ‘Just’ Sustainability, focused on bridging the gap between environmental activism and social justice activism and supported the College IN FOCUS theme of sustainability.

Agyeman argued for environmental justice, the idea that the environment plays a role in social justice, equality, human rights and people’s quality of life. “Where people are trashing their environments, they’re often trashing human and civil rights,” he said, noting that countries ranked highest for social justice are often also ranked highest for their environmental protection measures. In addition, the countries with the largest gap between rich and poor populations also tend to have the largest carbon footprints.

Social justice needs to become part of the discussion when people talk about sustainability and the environment, he said.  Because they are afraid to blur their agendas, most American environmental organizations either make no mention of a responsibility to environmental justice or only discuss their responsibility toward humanity as a responsibility toward the next generation. According to Agyeman, “equity must be both inter- and intra-generational.”

Using Hurricane Katrina’s displacement of the poor of New Orleans as an example, he explained that environmental problems disproportionately affect disadvantaged populations. For this reason, Agyeman implored environmental and social justice organizations to work together and form coalitions to bring positive change in environmental justice.
He went on to describe five goals that ought to be the focus of the environmental justice movement: planning intercultural cities, providing fair shares of environmental space, focusing on the environment as it relates to human wellbeing and happiness, promoting urban agriculture and food justice and instituting spatial justice.

To plan intercultural cities, city institutions must be changed to support diversity rather than simply tolerating it. When speaking on environmental space, he stated that 4.5 percent of the world’s population consumes 25 percent of the world’s resources, and there must be equality in how resources are divided. This resource division relates to overall quality of life because too many people live below the dignity floor–the United Nations’ defined minimum socio-economic status necessary to avoid a dangerously poor quality of life. A similar challenge faces the world related to food justice. “We don’t have a world food problem, we have a world food distribution problem,” he said.

The key to just sustainability is “protecting environmental potential and releasing human potential,” he said, and avoid becoming “a society where if you can’t count it, it doesn’t count.” A society in which people interact with and respect each other’s opinions is required to realize just sustainability; progress will be seen only if all people are included in the discussion.

“Asking the right questions means asking who’s at the table when these questions are being asked,” he said. One must never disassociate the environmental impact from the human impact when it comes to issues of sustainability.

Always be open to and respectful of different perspectives. Create a world that is livable for everyone. Strive to understand the world from an interdisciplinary perspective—which is at the heart of Moravian College’s liberal arts values, he added, all which is necessary to understand the larger issues of the world.

More information on Dr. Agyeman can be found on his website.