But first, a pretty picture. 🙂 The times are super challenging right now, at least for me. I am learning how to go to that which I know provides powerful healing. My more-than-human relatives, especially plant allies. Moss, lichen, hydrangea and mugwort-infused brandy.
I want to start a dialogue about equitable environmentalism. I intend to approach this work from both an Indigenous knowledge framework and utilizing the ‘wicked problems’ methodology as a way to walk the dialogue through the complexity so that we aren’t overwhelmed. I want to teach this – or at least to have it taught.
Some of the questions I am starting with: what is equitable? Who benefits from equity in the decisions that are made based on what most refer to as resources? How can we create space for Indigenous ways of knowing to have more voice in these conversations? How do we unravel the confused and ill-informed approaches to environmental issues? Is it time to move away from the framework of environmental racism in order to focus on what we believe equity should look like?
To give you an example of what is informing this approach: I live in a city with a port that is heavily focused on industrial usage. The environmental legacy that industry has left on the land is devastatingly sad. The ground water is severely polluted. The soil is toxic. The agencies which oversee and manage the use of that land are intending to keep it focused on heavy industry. The thought goes something like this: It’s already polluted, and it’s unsafe for any zoning that isn’t industrial, so in the name of economics, let’s keep it focused on heavy industry.
To be fair, the fact that the soil and water are extremely polluted does inform what we should and should not do there. However, I stand on the argument that we shouldn’t continue to add to the problem by continuing to allow industry which does not promote environmental remediation and course correction.
What we have here is a wicked problem.
What I like about the wicked problems methodology is that it closely resembles Indigenous ways of knowing and problem solving. Inherently, the methodology requires communication between varied disciplines and it also encourages experts to think with ‘beginners mind’.
In their article, “What Happens to Environmental Philosophy in a Wicked World?”, Thompson and Whyte point to a definition of wicked problems developed by Churchman, Rittel and Webber in the ’60s and 70s. Wicked problems are:
“‘ill-formulated’, contain high degrees of uncertainty, involve puzzling information, have multiple decision-makers and impacted parties whose values are in conflict, and promise ‘ramifications for the whole system’ that ‘are thoroughly confusing'”. (Thompson & Whyte. 2011)
I think it’s fair to say that currently we are dealing with one heck of a wicked problem. And even though Thompson and Whyte are addressing environmental philosophy, we are really talking about how philosophy informs action, i.e., legislation and regulation.
There are many pieces of data that point to the fact that we have to stop merely talking about these issues and start acting. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that we should all start talking in ways that lead us to evolve the conversations. But where do we begin? And how do we begin when the majority of the conversations have been very adversarial, not to mention the conversations have excluded some of the most important voices necessary to the conversation? We must start.
“….there is, many think, an imperative to make some kind of move on such issues if only to initiate a learning process that can move us away from an unsatisfying status quo.” (Thompson & Whyte, 2011)
I want to take a moment here to point out that we must also move to a learning process that includes more than just a western academic approach to learning. This is where I believe Indigenous ways of knowing and learning are powerful paths to embark upon. I mentioned before Greg Cajete’s statement that Indigenous ways of knowing involve coming to a knowledge and understanding that involves all four aspects of being – engaging the mind, the body, the emotion and the spirit. This example of Indigenous ways of knowing, to my mind, excels beyond the western approach to critical thinking. It is experiential and a higher, robust way to critically think. This also means, to me, that we must be in relationship with that which we are trying to address. If we do not understand the inherent reciprocal relationships that define our environment, we will continue to apply behave in awkward, ineffective and destructive legislation and regulation to our environment.
My intent is to start a dialogue. I only have some pieces of that dialogue. Many others have important pieces to add to the discussion. Next weekend I will be attending the Vine Deloria Jr. Indigenous Studies Symposium and I hope to engage in this dialogue with the folks there, who I know will bring amazing and insightful aspects to the conversation.
Thompson, P. B., & Whyte, K. P. (2011). What Happens to Environmental Philosophy in a Wicked World? J Agric Environ Ethics Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 25(4), 485-498. doi:10.1007/s10806-011-9344-0