The environmental sector won’t win unless there is a clear win for everyone
In 1996, the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice hosted forty people of colour and European American representatives in Jemez, New Mexico as part of the ‘Working group meeting on globalization and trade’. The aim was to find commonalities between the forty participants, representing different cultural and political backgrounds, and organisations. By the end of the meeting, six Jemez Principles for democratic organising were adopted. All six principles are worth reading, but for the purpose of this post, I will particularly focus on the fourth: work together in solidarity and mutuality. It reads:
“Groups working on similar issues with compatible visions should consciously act in solidarity, mutuality and support each other’s work. In the long run, a more significant step is to incorporate the goals and values of other groups with your own work, in order to build strong relationships. For instance, in the long run, it is more important that labour unions and community economic development projects include the issue of environmental sustainability in their own strategies, rather than just lending support to the environmental organizations. So communications, strategies and resource sharing is critical, to help us see our connections and build on these.”
The Jemez Principles are relevant for the UK
There is an opportunity to broaden the UK climate movement and turn the ideals of a greener, cleaner UK into reality. But this will not be successful if the environmental sector takes sole ownership of the climate movement and has sole influence on climate policies.
One reason for defeat would be the lack of diversity – culturally, racially and socioeconomically – with the environment sector being one of the least diverse compared to other occupations. Distinct life experiences are being underrepresented and, whether intentionally or not, ignored, as climate and environmental programmes are devised.
Another reason for defeat would be that environmentalists are not compelled to be institutionally or intrinsically trained to analyse climate strategies through a just lens. The assumption is that, if you care about the environment, you also have the inherent awareness and knowledge to respect the needs of all people. Without an understanding of social justice issues or an embedded representation of people from a variety of backgrounds, the sector’s interpretation of what a just transition is will inevitably benefit some and not others.
We all want a better world
Justice and environmental organisations should be working more closely together, because we want the same thing: a better world. Both sectors are comprised of solution builders, yet the environmental and climate solutions presented tend to lack a collective, cross-sectoral dimension. So far, organisations in the UK have been missing an opportunity to collaborate, to merge solution building practices and connect with communities who are at the frontline of environmental breakdown and net zero transitions.
In many ways, the efforts of justice and environmental organisations go hand-in-hand, as the workers in both sectors aim to do what they believe is best for humanity. For example, the natural environment is not, necessarily, a social justice activist’s foremost concern, rather it will be access to healthcare services, workers’ rights and human rights. Yet, these concerns are highly relevant to ambitions like clean air, clean energy and sustainable building standards. Identifying shared goals and interests can foster new streams of communication and resources, complementing one another’s missions and strategies and making a net zero UK, with all its social and environmental benefits, an increasingly attainable goal.
These sectors can and should be taking full advantage of the plethora of intelligence that can be derived and shared mutually. Working with justice groups offers new perspectives and ideas which can ultimately help to bring new and less conventional actors on board in an inclusive climate movement.
And the environmental sector needs to understand how its proposals influence the people that social organisations represent. To develop and act on the ideas around a just transition, a cleaner Britain, or whatever you want to call it, responsibly and respectfully, both social and environmental sectors will have to embed the climate lens and the just lens within their respective strategies.
[Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixbay]