Roundtable Briefs

Environmental Justice CSU Justice Roundtable Series

From January 2015 – May 2016, the Environmental Justice Working Group (EJWG) hosted seven roundtables (RT) to discuss the six subject areas of the School for Global Environmental Sustainability (SoGES).

  • EJCSU Roundtable Brief #1: “Just Water?:  Streaming Justice into Water,” 1/12/2015 (SoGES Land and Water Resources)
  • EJCSU Roundtable Brief #2: “Constructing Just Sustainability:  EJ & the Built Environment,” 3/11/2015 (SoGES Sustainable Communities)
  • EJCSU Roundtable Brief #3:Energy Justice, 4/22/2015 (SoGES Climate Change and Energy)
  • EJCSU Roundtable Brief #4: Environmental Justice Amid Shifting Political Economies, 5/1/2015 (SoGES Environmental Change and Governance)
  • EJCSU Roundtable Brief #5: Food Justice for All, 10/30/2015 (SoGES Food Security)
  • EJCSU Roundtable Brief #6: Health Justice for All, 12/8/2015 (SoGES Sustainable Communities)
  • EJCSU Roundtable Brief #7:Just Biodiversity: Who will speak for the environment?” 5/4/2016 (SoGES Biodiversity, Conservation, and Management)

Drawing upon practitioners and academics from CSU and Front Range institutions, panelists discussed these wide-ranging topics to assess the state of the body of knowledge, providing place-based examples and raising awareness.  Our purpose in hosting these RTs was to not only engage and inform the public, but to also provide SoGES with an assessment of the state of these topics at CSU and in the local community.  Attendees included Colorado State University students and faculty, Fort Collins business owners, and community members.

We prepared a Roundtable Guidelines and Rubric for panelists to use to prepare and reflect on their particular topic. Panelists were asked to define EJ in their work and discuss the methods and approaches they use to assess EJ in their field.  This structure provided a consistent framework for the RT discussions.

Common themes emerged from our roundtable conversations:

  • The role of change. Change is rapid, often uncontrollable, and can lead to unintended consequences.  
  • EJ in the international arena.  Shared international experience revealed the breadth, depth, and scope of environmental justice around the world. Each RT provided a rich array of stories that depicted just and unjust environments in the United States as well as other countries. 
  • The need for a systems approach. An integrated approach to problem solving is critical when addressing EJ issues. Specifically, an approach that acknowledges the socio-ecological context in which EJ issues exist. This approach should seek to address questions of power and participation as central to sustainability. It is important to note that the SoGES subject areas are not separate and distinct but are related and intertwined. Each RT reflected the interdisciplinary nature of these subject areas and the need for solutions that are integrated and inclusive.
  • Student engagement. There is a need for students to be engaged through hands-on activities and exposed to environmental justice as a framework for examining policies and outcomes in communities. Examples of student engagement shared in the RT discussion include conducting surveys, collecting samples, and attending public hearings. 
  • Research quality. All research and practice involve social choices and preferences. Quality research has to be systematic and unbiased. However, no research is neutral. Statements that criticize particular approaches as being biased can be aimed at promoting particular points of view rather than addressing the quality of research.
  • The need for new innovative approaches. Past solutions are no longer sufficient, especially when it comes to addressing risk and safety concerns. New methods and policies are needed to address the challenges of environmental justice for the future.

 

The RTs identified valuable lessons for understanding EJ:

  • EJ is fundamentally about power relationships, equity, and sustainability in an increasingly complex world. Innovation and critical thinking are essential to resolving seemingly intractable problems.
  • EJ issues cross all scales of analysis from local to global.  The RTs provided examples from local communities such the Rosebud Reservation in the United States to urban infrastructure in Costa Rica and Panama. 
  • EJ methods provide integrative approaches using cross-cutting tools. This includes geographic information systems, field-based data collection using a variety of mobile instruments, and qualitative data techniques through interviews and focus groups. 
  • There is a need to find a common language when discussing EJ Issues. EJ issues span multiple disciplinary perspectives, citing the need to develop a common language when talking across disciplines.  
  • Culture, ethnicity, and gender are all different lenses from which EJ issues can be framed.  EJ research must be respectful, inclusive, and ethical.    
  • Many EJ issues can have hidden risks. Issues related to water quality and food security highlight the role of citizen activism, the need for sound scientific research, and dialogue to identify and determine resolution, policy, and regulation.

 

Roundtable Briefs: