By Professor Tendai Chitewere, San Francisco State University
Keynote speaker for our first event: Urban Eco-communities
Interest in sustainable communities has been growing around the world. Community activists, academics, and national governments are debating how to create places to live that reduce our human impact on the environment and improve the health and well-being. Although these efforts are not new, the effects of climate change have raised awareness of the urgent need to change the way we live. Increasing consensus points out that our lifestyle, especially in the global north, has contributed to a devasting trend of massive natural resource production, consumption, and waste. Much of the attempts to stop the trend rests on convincing the global south to curb demands for energy and natural resources. While these efforts are important, they mask the problem that the western lifestyle, even as it attempts to green itself, is unstainable, isolating, and bad for our mental and physical health.
Fortunately, a myriad of solutions for changing the way we live with each other and the natural environment is emerging from small groups of neighbors, city councilmembers and national government leaders. However, these efforts have seen a separation of social and environmental justice from “green” forms of living. Eco-communities like ecovillages, cohousing, and green city planning offer innovative designs for buildings and neighborhoods that create a sense of community by bringing people in closer proximity to each other, making it easy to walk, bike, or take public transportation to work and school, and creating green spaces for accessing healthful food and rejuvenating. These efforts, confront three problems at once: reduce social isolation and loneliness, reduce resource consumption and waste, and improve health outcomes. However, it is no longer possible ignore social and environmental justice.
If we claim to care about the natural environment and seek to create a sense of community, then we need to address social and environmental justice. Robert Bullard, rightly argued that “addressing issues of inequity is a prerequisite to creating sustainable and livable communities.” This is especially relevant as we witness the most vulnerable populations in countries and around the world, suffering the most as a consequence of an unsustainable way of life. If we acknowledge the science that the overproduction and consumption of natural resources is leading to environmental degradation and social isolation, then we need to confront, and respond to, the structure that create the problems.
This essay calls for a discussion on a radical lifestyle change. It is a challenge to let go of cultural habits and assumptions that perpetuate inequality, reckless resource consumption, and social alienation. Eco-communities are well positioned to be leaders in this effort: they bring together people who are committed, and willing, to work collectively to solve a large cultural problem. By pursuing justice, eco-communities can build on the vast work of environmental justice scholars and activists, many of whom are people of color, and political ecologists, in order to collectively confront structural barriers to real social and ecological change.