Rebecca Martusewicz wrote:  

I work to engage students in critical cultural-ecological analyses of the roots of current social and ecological crises.  I have been actively engaged in learning with Detroit and other grassroots activists for over ten years in projects to revitalize the Detroit commons”.

Rebecca’s work in eco justice education has wider resonance for those interested in education for and of eco and social justice. My concern with climate change is focused on ideology, philosophy, epistemology and ontology. This means challenging entrenched and vested interests who sell their ideas as the only ideas worth having. We could explore how ‘dualist and non-dualist’ philosophy impacts on humanity and nature. We should understand what counts as knowledge and how we come to that knowledge and finally the need to explore our ‘being in the world’. 

What is Ecojustice?

  • The condition or principle of being just or equitable with respect to ecological sustainability and protection of the environment, as well as social and economic issues.
  • A form of justice that considers the rights of organisms and the natural environment in addition to those of human beings.
  • Rooted in holistic principles of biocentrism and deep ecology, ecojustice suggests that the value of non-human life-forms is independent of the usefulness of the non-human world for human purposes.
  • The central idea of ecojustice is that the categories of ethical and moral reflection relevant to justice should be expanded to encompass nature itself and its constituent parts, and human beings have an obligation to take the inherent value of other living things into consideration whenever these living things are affected by human actions.
  • Ecojustice means realising our interdependence with each other and the natural world.
  • Recognising the knowledge and philosophy and world views of diverse groups of people.
  • Challenging ‘commodification’ and ‘consumerism’.

Ecojustice education contains some key concepts that cross disciplines and would be very useful for all of us to consider. The work of Wendell Berry is an influence, although he is little known to many in the UK. The theoretical perspectives and epistemologies underpinning his view will be known to some scholars in the social sciences – I like for example ‘ecofeminism’:

Rebecca writes: 

“This essay introduces the contributions of ecofeminist philosophy, in particular the work of the late Australian scholar Val Plumwood, to an analysis of the cultural and ecological commons offered by EcoJustice Education, focusing especially on the ways that women’s knowledge form an unexamined part of marginalized and inferiorized commons-based skills and practices. While we may learn to engage to a lesser or greater degree the ancient knowledges, practices, and skills necessary to sustain life, the definitions and the power/knowledge relations born of white hegemonic masculinity and enclosure are internalized and become subjective realities inscribed in the ways we are in the world, what we’re able to see and to do and to say.  And yet, we are in interdependent relationships, and we do know how to take care of one another, how to give aid.   For centuries, this is what women have been taught to do, have been expected to do as marginalized and under-valued labor. Understanding the commons requires that we recognize such excluded epistemologies”.

A core concept is that of the ‘Commons’, particularly cultural as well as environmental commons. Key writers on this theme are Bowers (2006, 2011) and Prakash (2011) and the focus is on asking students and their teachers to identify what aspects of their communities’ skills, traditions, beliefs, relationships and practices that lead to a reduced ecological footprint. 

Ecojustice has two tasks

1. To examine commodification under globalized capitalism and how discourse makes the destructive behaviour of globalisation possible through the positioning of our subjectivities. What are the historically embedded power/knowledge relationships that create a certain mind set, what are our deeply internalized discursive structures? What are the root metaphors and analogic thinking that underpin our behaviour? We need to shift our subject positions and actions away from destructive behaviours through analysing the discursive structures.  

2. To identify and reclaim relationships, practices and beliefs within communities that resist or do not use systems of commodification and thus pose alternative visions to one dimensional consumer culture. Those who do not understand what ‘commodification’ means, will struggle to fully understand health care in a capitalist society. For example dissatisfaction with one’s body is actively promoted so that the solution can be sold – health products and services become commodities in the market place (e.g. straight white teeth, botox, diet products, anti-ageing creams). All of these are produced, distributed, wasted within an ecosystem while taking not account of the consequences for the ecosphere or human wellbeing.  

Changing our Mindset

Ideology: We have to be aware that there are vested commercial and professional interests who profit financially and in status terms, for example from a particular view of the determinants of health. If health is ‘sold’ as individual responsibility and based in lifestyle changes through behavior changes, rooted in a biomedical discourse, then health products and services can be literally sold to the population. Deficiencies in health (e.g. obesity) can be seen as the individual’s lack of moral courage, strength or ability to lead a healthy lifestyle. The health practitioner role is reduced to giving people information about leading a healthy lifestyle and encouraging behaviour change without addressing power dynamics. Ecojustice links with the social and political determinants of health approach and the concept of ecological public health to provide an alternative narrative.  

Philosophy: A dominant mechanistic, reductionist and dualist (mind/body, nature/humanity) and anthropocentric philosophy supports the above ideology. It allows us to see the world through the lens of ‘a separation of man from nature’ which does not encourage a systems or interdependence view of life. If non dualism and a more ecocentric philosophy is discussed, we might come to view that human health cannot be separated from the biosphere, or indeed inorganic materials.  Within this view, putting toxins and waste into the oceans is just as harmful to human health as ingesting toxins. It suggests that one cannot be healthy, by definition, if the planet is sick. Our role is to make the links and advocate for a cleaner planet because the planet is us, we are an indivisible whole

Epistemology: There are multiple ways of knowing and empirical science is one method among others, albeit a very powerful method with great explanatory and predictive power. Without falling into the trap of relativism or radical skepticism, we can acknowledge that other ways of knowing have some validity. For example indigenous people’s knowledge, or female ways of knowing. We should understand that certain forms of science can be complemented by other ways of knowing (ethical, aesthetic, personal, socio-political) and that how we know what we know is open for discussion. This encourages critical thinking our about relationships to each other and to knowledge claims. 

Ontology: Our being, what are we? Material beings within finite boundaries bounded by time and space? Are there dominant discourses about what it is to be human, does this discourse exclude other life forms as part of being? This is part of one philosophy about existence and what existence means.  

Conclusion

Ideology, philosophy, ontology and epistemology of course are not isolated categories, our lived experience fuses them all together in, often, incoherency. We can hold contradictory beliefs and values at any and at all times. We often go about our daily practice with taken for granted lived experiences drawing often from learned and uncriticised ideologies, philosophies, epistemologies and ontologies. Ecojustice education shares with sustainability education and a critical education, a discussion around these areas so that students develop critical faculties and  questions leading to an examination of the taken for granted world. 

What ecojustice, and sustainability education, bring is a wider understanding of our relationships with each other and the ecosphere, a much wider understanding of the ecological, social and political determinants of health and an implicit call to action on those determinants at not only the individual but also the community and populations levels. Ecojustice education goes beyond an instrumental education, and leads us towards progressivist, liberal humanist and social reconstructivist educations.