Virtual Guest Speakers 

March 13:

Bob Collin - Associate Professor, University of Oregon
Topic:  Forever Wild, Forever Free: Sustainability and Equity

Transcript of Lecture
Other links
Discussion List   (Professor Collin will participate from March 13 - March 17).

Short Biography of Professor Bob Collin

Biography: Professor Collin received his B.A. from Buffalo State College, his J.D. from Albany Law School, his Master of Urban Planning degree from Columbia, his Masters of Social Work degree from Columbia, and his Masters of Law degree from the University of Missouri.  He has written numerous law review and peer reviewed articles, book chapters, and other publications on issues of homelessness, environmental justice, environmental regulation, and sustainability, and he is currently researching and writing a book on environmental justice and sustainability. He is an ex officio member of the Oregon Governor's Environmental Justice Advisory Board, an Environmental Justice representative at US Environmental Protection Agency; and a federal expert witness on Environmental Justice for a PNW tribe.  In the past, he has taught, visited, or worked at  Jackson State University, Dept of Urban & Regional Planning; Cambridge University, Dept. of Land Economy; the University of Auckland, Dept. of Town Planning; the University of Virginia, Dept. of Urban & Environmental Planning; Cleveland State University, Dept. of Social Work; Tulane Law School; and Hunter College, Sociology Dept. He is currently an Associate Professor in the Environmental Studies Program at the University of Oregon.

Transcript of lecture
Professor Collin has provided the preface and material from a forthcoming book, entitled "Forever Wild, Forever Free: Sustainability and Equity," written by him and Professor Robin Morris Collin, as his talk for the multi-school guest lecture program.

This material below is copyrighted by Professors Robert Collin and Robin Morris Collin, and should not be cited, copied, or distributed without permission of the authors.

Forever Wild, Forever Free:
Sustainability and Equity

"Forever Wild" were the words of the executive order issued by President Theodore Roosevelt  establishing national parks as  sanctuaries for the preservation of wilderness areas.  "Forever Free" were the words used to spread news of the Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order issued by President Abraham Lincoln, to the African American population of the United States.  Our book is dedicated to saving endangered nature, and endangered people.

A.  Tale of Two Victims: "It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times."
Preface and Introduction to the Core Organizing Themes of the Book
I.  Two Dynamics of Exploitation: Exploitation of Land, and Exploitation of the People Closest to the Land

When capitalism joined forces with military might under the auspices of western European monarchs, the deus ex machina of industrial development was born.  Explorers, scientists, entrepreneurs, and later industrialists, all backed by the military powers of Europe, divided up the world between them as they scoured new territory in search of natural resources and human labor. Together, they generated  the greatest concentration of wealth in human history, for some. For others, the fantastic profiteering left a continuing legacy of slavery, stigmatization, and poverty,  And for the land, air and water on which all life depends, this machine left a legacy of toxicity and pollution which we cannot now predict or control.

Exploitation of Nature, and the people who live, work, and play in closest contact with Nature for profit were an essential and integral part of the extract, consume, and pollute economy which generated such extraordinary profits for capitalist venturers.  So long as Nature could be mined without concern for the interests  of contemporary human occupants, or the interests of future generations of living beings, huge profits could be amassed quickly.  Similarly, so long as human labor could be provided without concern for freedom or decency, huge profits could be amassed.  Concern for posterity was expressed as preservation of the privileges of wealth and conquest, with very little recognition of the life systems on which growth depended or the humanity of those who labored to produce profits.

Perhaps equally indispensable was an ideology of conquest that encouraged and absolved the actions of the development machine: racism, and profit as a perfect proxy for social good.  Joined at the hip, these values became the bedrock of an industrial legacy that has plundered Nature and communities of color in search of profit, and left in its wake a host of environmental and human problems that cannot be solved by science or law or governmental intervention alone.

It will take nothing less than a change in vision and values to solve the problems of the industrial age left to the generations moving into a postindustrial economy; it will require a new paradigm.  That new paradigm must be equally founded upon sustainability and equity in order to resolve the massive problems of environmental damage and human dislocation left by the age of industrial development.

II.  Toxic Boundaries: Nature and Communities of Color as Sinks for the End Products of Industrialism

The end products of industrial development, waste, and new types of chemical and hazardous toxins, were poured into lakes, streams, oceans and onto the land and into the air without regard to consequences to human life or life systems until relatively recently.  As these end products accumulated in bioregions, humans finally recognized the symptoms of poisoned airsheds, watersheds, and whole living systems.  Land use practices and laws furthered channeled this stream of poisons into human communities populated by communities of color.  A trend that still continues.

The best predictor of the location of controlled and uncontrolled hazardous waste sites the race of the surrounding community. ... The larger the concentration of people of color, the greater the likelihood of a hazardous waste site. Siting these locally unwanted land uses followed the path of least political resistance into  marginalized communities. Some researchers called these environmental dynamics "environmental racism" because race was shown to be a better indicator for the site of a hazardous or toxic waste site, than income, topography, or hydrology.

The grass roots movement for Environmental justice began by exposing the racial basis of land use planning decisions which placed toxic and hazardous waste into communities of color.  Domestic policy questions about the distribution of benefits and burdens have always been more sharply posed at the community level. " Environmental Justice" is the term used by the federal government to describe the disproportionate presence of environmental hazards in African American, Native American,  Hispanic,  and Asian American communities. The term also refers to problems of exclusion in the development of environmental policy, and the administration of environmental protection programs. When environmental impact statements were first performed in cities, people of African descent were treated as  "pollution." Even today, environmental impact statements are seldom required for industrial expansion in urban areas because the federal government does not consider that urban areas have ecosystems.  But urban areas do have ecosystems that fit into bioregions, and ignoring them jeopardizes sustainability in a bioregion or a community.

 A. Canaries in the Coal Mine

Environmental justice also challenges the full spectrum of disproportionate impacts which place a toxic boundary around communities of color and the individuals who live in them. These toxic boundaries are drawn around communities as industrial emissions have accumulated in urban communities along with the range of the toxicity of the permitted land uses.

These toxic boundaries also affect individuals as chemicals in the environment bioaccumulate in the bodies of residents, especially in mothers and children who become "canaries in the coal-mine." The impacts they suffer will affect all natural systems in that ecosystem over time. Land us law and policies, together with past histories of intentional racial segregation of housing and education, resulted in urban African American communities ringed by toxic and noxious uses, like "toxic donuts."Industrial,  manufacturing plants, hazardous waste dumps and transfer sites saturate the community of color in the center.  The risk exposure methodologies have systematically misrepresented the full extent of the toxic load on these communities, however, by ignoring the chronic, cumulative, multiple and synergistic effects of such exposures.  Chapter three explores the true dimensions of the assault on these communities as terminuses for industrial waste and pollution.

Toxic boundaries, the lack of mobility of the poor and communities of color, and perceived public health victimization create the perfect conditions for community organization and mobilization. These communities are beginning to seek recourse through land use decisions such as  zoning which have been used in the past by suburban communities to exclude locally unwanted land uses like incinerators and waste dumps. Communities of color are mobilizing to participate in land use decisions, a trend which is contributing to the rise of urban environmentalism.    Chapter three explores the dynamics of the environmental justice movement. Chapter four discusses land use planning and land use law as they relate to environmental justice and sustainable community development.

III. Common Ground: Shared Perception of Risk: Bioregions of Nature and Human Settlements

Although growing from different racial, class, and cultural beginnings, sustainability and environmental justice share common ground on which a new majority can stand.  This common ground is rooted in shared values such as:

  A. Human Settlements and Bioregions as the Terminuses for the End Products of Industrialism
 B. Two Victims United by Political and Social Human Decision Making

The complex, environmental problems that challenge our future are the direct result of human political, social and economic judgment exercised upon nature, and on other people during the preceding industrial age. Our contemporary environmental problems cannot be understood or resolved independent of these political, social and economic realities.

The first bridge between Sustainability and  environmental justice is to bring environmental justice into sustainable community building through inclusionary,  socially constructed risk assessment. As a society, we are divided into different groups by race, class, education, age, and gender. Different groups often have different perceptions regarding the degree of risk, the amount of risk that is dangerous, and the amount of risk that is acceptable for them, as well as for others. Some groups in our society may have privileges that remain unacknowledged,  and other groups may have suffered generations of life-diminishing environmental injustices. By pooling our knowledge and perception of risk, including marginalized groups who may be the numerical majority of our population,  we can begin to eliminate historical biases in risk management and environmental decision - making, and begin to make environmental decisions that are truly sustainable over the long term. This process will provide the necessary conceptual basis for learning how to respect our shared environment and gives new meaning to our sense of shared humanity.

Further, communities must know the full range of risk they encounter in their day to day existence, and this requires multiple risk assessment. The risk posed to an individual or a community may emanate from the workplace, the home, or school.  Presently, risk assessment assumes single agent causation, single pathway of exposure, and the dose response of the 150 pound white male, the healthiest segment of our population, and also the most privileged.

New technologies constantly are being developed, and unlike past generations, we must also assess the risk they pose and to whom the risk is the greatest whether the vulnerable are women, children or the elderly. Demographically, as new vulnerable populations emerge, they provide a new demographic context for assessing risk. Past methods of risk determination aggregate risks and populations in such a way as to disguise actual exposure of any one person or subpopulation. But neither risk assessment nor  cost/benefit analysis should assume any longer that the greatest good for the greatest number constitutes sound environmental policy making. Chapter Five explores the concept and implementation of our approach to the shared perception of risks.

IV. Sustainability with Equity: the New Paradigm
 A. Inescapable Need to Preserve the Systems on Which All Life Depends Follows the Footprint of Human Oppression

No environmental decision making can be sustainable if it continues to externalize health concerns of environmental decisions onto politically weak communities.  The toxic boundaries of environmental racism threaten all systems on which life depends. These toxic boundaries follow the invidious footprints of slavery and colonialism globally, proving irrefutably that the scourge of racial discrimination lives on in our past, present, and future regardless of legalistic debates about intent.  Chapter two proposes a new paradigm: sustainability and equity. In chapter three, we examine the environmental justice and environmental racism as they expose the roots of environmental degradation in marginalized communities.

 B.  Fairness

If we are all equal, no group should  be forced involuntarily to assume a greater degree of environmental risk than another. This fundamental principle  of equal treatment is necessary for sustainability concepts to be acceptable to all. Everyone must at least know about the risks they are asking others to assume and which they are assuming themselves, and this in turn requires community capacity to thoroughly and accurately appreciate risks to society as a whole. Individuals must know about the risks posed to themselves, and the risks we ask other groups collectively to assume.


V. Environmental Democracy: Implementing Change: Communities Involved with Environmental Decision Making

The path to just and sustainable environmental decision making can only come through the community. The key to implementing sustainability with fairness is community involvement in the decisions with which they live, work and play.  The historical bias of environmental decision making is too painfully clear in terms of who was not included in the decision making process. When communities are not included in the environmental decisions that effect them where they live, work, and play, they will oppose it. Environmental decisions stand the best chance of being implemented when there is little local opposition to them.

Historically, local environmental decision making avoided local opposition by simply not providing notice of proposed  land use, natural resource use, and environmental  decisions.  Lack of notice and lack of knowledge about the potential risks posed to the community. Today, communities mobilized by public health concerns, environmental concerns about industrial uses and their by-products are seeking out traditional land use forums for increased activism.  The new context for sustainability will be reengagement with an urban forum;  eco- civics,  actual notice of environmental decisions that affect the surrounding community, and  increased knowledge of potential risks to all populations and their exposure routes.  Chapter four examines this context in depth.

Unlike the civil rights laws bedeviled by the requirement of explicit racist intent, environmental policies do not have the luxury of lax enforcement, especially if we are to achieve sustainability at any implemented level. The environment affects all of our population, the differentials in impact being ones of privileges which may delay but cannot forever preclude impacts from damaged life systems.  We cannot afford to ignore the political and economic realities that drive environmental and natural resource decision making in our society. Chapter five describes the basis for implementing Sustainability: fairness, equity, and community environmental decision making.

We devote this book to our belief that the path to  just and sustainable environmental decisions can only come through communities. We must increase the capacity of residents of ecosystems to meaningfully engage environmental decision making,  train scientists who can communicate with people in understandable terms and integrate their work with lay experience and wisdom, train journalists who can report science in knowledgeable terms educating all of us on bridging the cultural gaps that exist in the larger community. Cultural diversity can serve to ameliorate the cultural differences that prevent a shared perception of risk. Environmental education must be multi cultural for sustainable community development to proceed. Until we reach such a level of respect, we must tolerate the ambiguity and possible acrimony that will be encountered when community stakeholders enter into environmental decision making forums. Initially, inclusiveness will not be a love-fest.  But the cost of continued community exclusion from meaningful environmental decision making will be the continued failure of  bioregional, environmental regulation.

The landscape of environmental decision making is ready for Sustainability, but are we?

Chapter One: Twin Dynamics of Exploitation: Degradation of Nature, and Degradation of the People Closest to Nature
I.  A Brief History of Six Hundred Years: the Development of an Extract, Consume, and Pollute Economy

The history of environmental injustice in what is now the US can be traced back to Colonization efforts of Western European nations. Land, life, and livelihood of indigenous people was taken, and often destroyed. Then the Colonies began the importation of slaves to provide labor for further use of the land to grow cotton and tobacco. US slavery was among the most oppressive in the world.  After Emancipation in racial oppression continued in education, housing, and employment. The footprint of slavery and Jim Crow created much of the current landscape of waste sites and environmental racism.

II.  Twin Dynamics United by the Values Implicit and Explicit in Political Decision Making: Profit Maximization at Cost to the Vulnerable

The complex, environmental problems that challenge our future are the direct result of human political, social and economic judgment exercised upon nature, and on other people during the preceding industrial age. Our contemporary environmental problems are not independent of these political, social and economic realities.

III. Bioregions and Human Communities as Terminuses Where the Consequences of These Dynamics Have Come to Rest
Human communities, cities, towns, and villages are the terminuses where these complex policy   decisions and their environmental consequences have come to rest.  Communities are where the waste streams join, where development pressures for increased power generation and water usage continue, and  where population growth is most visible. Current environmental decision making can exacerbate environmental pressure on communities already burdened by environmental injustices of the past. It is easier and less expensive to expand a current waste site than to find a new site for  waste. Sustainability, and environmental justice are overtaking environmental thinking.
 A.  Ripples from Bioregional Degradation Accumulate and Threaten Life Systems on Which Humans Depend

Gross environmental inequities, sites so toxic that the carrying capacity of a bioregion is affected, which threaten human life have begun to affect disenfranchised communities first with alarming statistics on childhood cancers, asthma related illness, and estrogenization phenomena.   National concern for environmental justice is simply the recognition that wealth and privilege will postpone but not prevent the spread of thse pollution based health hazards.

B.    Following the Stream of Waste and Toxins Inevitably Leads to Human Communities:  the Politics of Race and Waste

Traditional environmental groups have been strong advocates in courts and legislatures for environmental protection.  The leadership of the mainstram environmental movement are overwhelmingly white, upper class, educated males, and this elitism has led mainstream environmentalists to exclude concerns of communities of color. ... This dynamic creates distrust from these communities who are demanding that they speak for themselves.  The failure of the US environmental movement to embrace land use planning or zoning  in its advocacy or planning efforts has led it to ignore or minimize important decision making forums for communities. ...    The inescapable dynamics of development, expanding right to know laws, and federal targeting of the worst pollution hazards, have brought mainstream environmental activists and environmental regulators squarely  into  communities of color because race is the best predictor of the sites of controlled and uncontrolled hazardous waste. ... These encounters sometimes have been acrimonious. Original siting decisions regarding the placement of hazardous and noxious uses didn't consider environmental factors such as hydrology.  Siting of these locally unwanted land uses  followed the path of least political resistance into politically marginalized communities. The larger the concentration of people of color, the greater the likelihood a hazardous waste site exists.

 C.  The Holistic View: Nature as an Organism, Human Communities as Ecologies: No Part Is Expendable or Independent of the Other; We Are Only as Strong as Our Weakest Link

Sustainability, to the extent that it means sustaining the natural environment,  requires that we deal with nature as an undivided whole, with no part being unsustainable. It is the interrelated nature of our environment that creates complex and dynamic ecologies.  Sustainability  also requires that we deal with the human population as an undivided whole. Sustainable communities are only as strong as their weakest link.  A poisoned airshed, or aquifer that poses an unacceptable risk to human health threatens all the people who live, work and play there. Those people most exposed to these hazards by their work or by the location of their housing will suffer health effects first, but their concerns  may soon be all of ours. As our population, technological prowess in natural resource use,  patterns of consumption, and accumulated environmental impacts have all increased, so to must our commitment to include every single community.Chapter two discusses our concept for the new paradigm of sustainability and equity.

IV.  Inescapable Need to Preserve Life Systems on Which All Life Depends Converges with the Inescapable Dynamics of a Our Extract, Consume, Pollute Economy.

These dynamics expose the inescapable dynamics of how the economic activities of extraction, consumption, and pollution impose serious threats to the life systems on which we all depend, and the health of communities of color first.   Simple justice to succeeding generations lies in acknowledging that they will need the the systems that nature providesto support all life, including oxygen production, purification of water and air, regulation of atmospheric chemistry, protection against cosmic and ultraviolet radiation, solar energy, regulation of local and global warming, maintenance of biological and genetic diversity, maintenance of wildlife migration and habitat, storage, detoxification and recycling of human waste, natural pest and weed controls, immense medicinal resource production, prevention of soil erosion, sediment control, regulation of runoff and flood prevention, regulation of chemical composition of the ocean, formation of topsoil, maintenance of soil fertility, nutrient storage and recycling, fuel and energy production.

Since we don't have technology to replace these systems,and we know that the people with whom we share this planet, and those who will come to dwell here in the future depend upon them, it is incumbent upon to preserve those systems. Simple equity demands that we show the same degree of care to contemporary strangers as we hope to show to future strangers.  Chapter two examines this necessary shift in view toward sustainability and equity.

V.  False Dichotomy of the Environmental Movement: Environment or People, and Denial of the Consequences of Privilege

Too often solutions to the complex environmental and social problems left in the wake of industrial development are posed as false choices: nature or people, nature or jobs.  These false choices operate to once again externalize the costs of clean up and abatement onto either nature or poor communities, and communities of color, victimizing them again.  When solutions are offered which poison workers to benefit neighboring communities, no real solution has been found; when communities are destroyed and nature is blamed, the real culprit may be technology which destroyed employment, not endangered species.  These false choices blackmail the politically vulnerable into choices that preserve privilege and wealth built over the preceding centuries of industrial and capital growth, but continue to poison both nature and the people who live, work, and play closest to nature.  Change must follow the solemn reality that privilege buys time for a future that may not promise much for any living thing.

Other links of interest

Reading list

  1. Dorceta  Taylor, editor  "Advances in Environmental Justice: Research, Theory, and Methodology" 43 AMERICAN BEHAVIORAL SCIENTIST January 2000.  (Latest Research on methodologies.)
  2. The Rise of the Environmental Justice Paradigm: Injustice Framing and the Social Construction of Environmental Discourses, 504 (Experienced Scholar and involved researcher examines how we can attempt to talk with each other about environmental issues.)
  3. John M. DeGrove, Sustainable Communities: The Future Direction for Managing Growth in Florida, SC10 ALI-ABA 605 (1997). (Emphasis of growth management is increasingly regional, despite municipality based land use control.)
  4. Cat Lazaroff, People of Color Battle Toxics in Communities Across the US  (Summary of some latest EJ issues as covered by the electronic media.)
  5. Bradford C. Mank,  Reforming State Brownfield Programs to Comply with Title VI, 24 THE HARVARD ENVIRONMENTAL LAW REV. 115 (2000, no. 1). (Direct focus on unavoidable issue of waste cleanup and reuse, and some processes for proceeding fairly in urban areas.)
  6. Peter Marcuse, Sustainability Is Not Enough, PLANNERS NETWORK, No. 129 (May 1998) ( (Internationally recognized Urban Planner/Lawyer challenges the term as vacuous, and as applied to urban places, indicative of the ineffectiveness of planning.)
  7. Sandra Rodriguez, Sustainable & Environmentally Just Societies, p 4. (Explores some of the difficulties with the merger of these two forces.)
  8. Florence Wagman Roisman, Sustainable Development in Suburbs and Their Cities: The Environmental and Financial Imperatives of Racial, Ethnic, and Economic Inclusion, 3 WIDENER LAW SYMP. J. 87 (Fall 1998). (Experienced Appellate Housing Litigator/Urban Theorist provides the best, most recent,  evidence of the integral relationship of "urban" and "suburban". Recommended.)
  9. HHS & Surgeon General's Office, Healthy People 2010 (1/25/00) (They have developed a list of Environmental Quality Health Indicators directly applicable to cities.)
Links relating to the speaker Prior environmental justice talks in the multi-school guest speaker program