Shannon Tyman

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Interviewee Affiliation

University of Washington Tacoma


Lynnette Hagen and Jennifer Snyder

Date of Interview


Document Type



The interviewee stresses the need to accurately identify potential and existing environmental risks, and to then think in terms of how best to resolve issues in a fair and equitable manner. She addresses the globalizing framework of environmental degradation and how this has contributed to worldwide problems of injustice, stressing the need for multi-state collaboration and political mobilization as a means of addressing issues at hand. There is also a great deal of discussion concerning food justice and people having access to high quality, nutritious food. While many of the interviewee’s responses are anthropocentric, she does touch upon the need to consider non-human life and natural systems when evaluating the topic of environmental justice. There is also discussion on the need to find common ground with environmentalists and eco-centric groups.


Lynnette Hagen/Jennifer Snyder: My name is Lynnette Hagen and I am taking an environmental ethics class with Jane Compson. We are here today interviewing Shannon Tyman.

Shannon Tyman: Hi I am Shannon Tyman and I am a full-time lecturer with UWT Urban Studies and I live in Seattle near the neighborhood we are in right now and it is a relatively affluent community, and so I think that really requires that we think about what are environmental privileges and how can we live in a way that shares those privileges and does not put unnecessary burdens on others. I work in Tacoma and with that community there which is very important to me and there are more environmental risks there than the neighborhood I regularly reside in and I think identifying what those environmental risks are is very important first and foremost. Then also thinking of more equitable ways of sharing those risks and I am particularly interested in the ways in which food access is part of our environmental justice framework and I think the term food justice is becoming more common and takes the environmental justice into our food system and I think we could look specifically at, for example, what neighborhoods have access to healthy fruits and vegetables and who has access to healthy soil, as well as something we might think about. I also think that from a larger perspective, something that is increasingly more important in our lifetimes is thinking about the impacts of our choices and others in different parts of the world is also part of the environmental justice question, and as we are considering the impacts of climate change I think we are starting to see really direct impacts that help us think about not only why sustainability is important to us and our communities but why sustainability is important to other people in other parts of the world.

LH/JS: How does/doesn’t environmental justice work in your community? What needs to change?

ST: Really interesting projects partly because environmental justice questions are so complex and there are… I think in the US we have a tendency to approach them from a racial perspective and it certainly not all theorists, but there are some very important differences in access to environmental privileges that we have in the US and I think it is also important to pay attention to the global framework as well, like I said because of the questions of climate change and I think understanding all the different perspectives that we have, and putting those on the table and sifting through and figuring out where is our common ground is really important as the movement moves forward and as it gains political power which has really been a grassroots movement, but I think there is a great potential for a political mobilization around some of these issues because they really matter, and people can really get behind wanting better places to live, and people can really get behind wanting everyone to have safe places to live and safe workplaces, so I think there is so much potential there if we can understand that sort of shared kernel of viewpoints are.

LH/JS: What is environmental justice?

ST: When I think of environmental justice, my quick answer is that it is both equitable access to environmental privileges like clean air and clean water, a healthy environmental to work and live and also equitable sharing of environmental risks, so that might be landfills, that might be polluting industry, etc.

LH/JS: In your opinion, how is environmental justice useful to you in addressing the issues in your community?

ST: Like I said I think it helps us bridge that gap, but I think it also helps us ask questions like what are the environmental resources that we are using and that we need to live fulfilling lives with high quality of life and wellbeing that we can all get behind. I think we first ask that question “what do we need” and then I think we have to ask questions of “what are the environmental risks involved with providing those resources” and “how can we do it in the best possible way so that the fewest people are negatively impacted. I think environmental justice creates a framework that we ask questions about that way and I think it also goes a bit beyond sustainability in that it does not just ask us to recycle but it asks us to think about where the recycling plant is, are we creating pollution through our recycling plant and if so who is living near that recycling plant, and it really helps us break down some of those questions and start reformulating right. Are certain people at risk more so than other people and why and I think environmental justice also helps us break down some pervasive forms of institutional racism, institutional sexism, that we don’t often see and don’t pay attention to because they are so insidious in our everyday lives. Using that framework when making decisions and asking questions about a problem really helps us to get to some of those deeper questions of our society that we might not be trying to contribute to racism in our everyday lives, but if our environmental policies are contributing then we need to break those down and understand where that is happening.

LH/JS: Do you feel that anthropocentric ideas are more prevalent in Environmental Justice?

ST: That is an interesting question. I think an anthropocentric perspective is more prevalent in environmental justice and I think there is some work to do to bridge that gap. Some environmentalists go really far in the eco-centric direction, some environmental justice groups go really far in the anthropocentric, some polarization of the dialog, and I think finding a happy middle ground is really important, but I think there is something inherent to environmental justice that is really asking us “what kinds of environments do we want to live in” and I think the kinds of environments we would want to live in, which are clean, which provide us with, like I said earlier, clean air, clean water, places where it is safe for kids to play, to have fulfilling jobs that don’t make us sick. All of these things I think we also achieve by creating good environments for the nonhuman other. For wildlife, for plant life, but I think we complicate some of our questions, for example when we ask about native plants and asking questions about conservation, I think environmental justice does help us recognize the complexity of each situation where we might need to reconsider the most appropriate kind of plant life is in that area to accommodate both humans and nonhumans. But when we really think about the kinds of environments we want to live in, those environmental will also be conducive to other kinds of life. I think there are multiples of philosophical perspectives that we can approach some of these issues with and still come to the same conclusion and still want to act together toward similar goals. That is really good question and something we will continue to struggle with. How do we accommodate for people and how much do we accommodate for the nonhuman.

LH/JS: How does concern for the environment fit with other environmental justice concerns? Sustainability? Health? Nature?

ST: Hilltop Urban Gardens is an informal garden space where they are growing food for the community, they are also teaching people how to grow food. It started with one lot that Dean, I think owns, and then there are spaces in other peoples yards that they donate to the garden in order to grow food so I think we had met Poet who has donated his yard, let us walk through to see what is being grown there and that food is being used to create CSA boxes, so community supported agriculture boxes that the community can pick up for free, and there is fresh produce in them every week. It is a particularly important program because you may or may not be aware that there have been a lot of food stamp or SNAP benefits cut recently on November 1st, so food access questions are becoming more serious for those members of the community, so to have something like what HUG does, like grow food in peoples yards, it is super local and teaching skill sets, so creating a more democratic economy within our food system, so it is a great example of an innovative and local environmental justice solution to a problem of free access.

LH/JS: What parts of environmental justice are important you? Why, why not?

ST: Environmental justice is really my area of research and my area of interest, but I am also interested in the way environmental justice bridges the gap between our concern with the nonhuman environment. I think it gives us a framework to really understand how our actions impact the world in a way that also impacts us, and I think that is really important. Some of the initial framings within environmentalism of the 60s and 70s felt somewhat elitist to certain people who were interested in the environment, recreationally in the same way or didn’t have the means to use for example, our national parks, and I think environmental justice gives us an opportunity to talk about what the environment means to us in a broader way so we often say the environmental is where we live, work, play and from a food justice perspective, where we eat. I think it really helps us dialog across differences and across different values in a way that the environmental movement didn’t initially. I am interested in it in both dialog in that way of recognizing issues and also very specifically how we can think about access to food and food justice using the environmental justice framework.

LH/JS: Do you have any heroes in environmental justice?

ST: I do. I think Winona LaDuke is someone who I admire and she does just incredible work with food justice, with energy justice, with sustainability questions. The kind of work that she is doing in northern Minnesota with her tribe is so innovative, inspiring and so down to earth. She is an excellent speaker and I think she to how we can make environmentalism something we can get behind and create job training and instead of thinking about environmentalism as something where we have to give a lot of stuff up I think that the work that she is doing provides an example of environmentalism as a way to enrich our lives and I find her work so inspiring and her writings inspiring.

LH/JS: How might others be able to help?

ST: So you asked earlier how people could get involved and I think there are a lot of different ways people can get involved, but one example that comes to mind is a food security study that is being done by the nursing school. I think there was an email sent out last week and I would encourage you to take the short survey that a professor created because what she is trying to do is compile information about student at UWT. Are the students at UWT food secure, do they know where their next meal is going to come from, can they afford food on a regular basis, or are they food insecure and if students at UWT are food insecure is there something that the university or the community can do to create a more secure food environment. Something I hear a lot from students is that there are not a lot of food options available around campus, and that they are expensive, and Jennifer you were just saying that you have heard some students say they have no place to put food if they bring their lunch to campus so they are having to carry it around all day and I think there are solutions that either the student body, student government, or UWT administration could come up with to help students have a place to put their food, or possibly create a cafeteria, and so I think the first thing that we all need to do in order to become sort of advocates and activists around env justice are to identify what the problems are in our community and I think we do that by participating in research, by talking to our friends and neighbors and by paying attention to what those needs are of those people in the community and what possible injustices might be.

LH/JS: This has been a production of Lynn and Jenn. See you on YouTube!

Additional Files

Tyman_Transcript[1].docx (26 kB)