Mark Pendras

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Interviewee Affiliation

University of Washington Tacoma


Larry Chang and Bryan Moxcey

Date of Interview


Document Type



This interviewee suggests environmental injustice is a consequence of how people tend to devalue the urban nature that is in and around human habitats. As a consequence, human societies have created city landscapes that are prone to waste build-up, pollution, and other forms of ecological decline. Such processes have combined with racial, class, and economic inequities to worsen pre-existing social injustices. The interviewee emphasizes that humans should not be seen as separate components of nature, and recommends that communities work in ways to improve the natural spaces found throughout our metro regions. He also argues that science and technology alone are incapable of addressing the problems we face; rather, we will need dramatic changes in our existing social and political arenas. Overall, this interviewee views environmental justice from a strictly anthropocentric position.


Larry Chang/Bryan Moxcey: Please state your name and organization affiliation.

Mark Pendras: Okay, my name is Mark Pendras, associate professor here at the University of Washington in Tacoma. In the Urban Studies Program.

LC/BM: What is environmental justice?

MP: Well to me environmental justice is a concept that comes out of really specific political movements to recognize how we tend to devalue many of our environmental spaces. So tend to comes from a very urbanist point of view. So environmental justice is a movement that emerged out of this recognition, this reality that urban environmental conditions were quite poor; that we tended to treat the environment in a very harmful way; we view the urban environment in a very negative way. And as a result of that we worry less about the kinds of conditions that we create in urban areas. So this general pattern of worrying less and caring less about what I talk about and what is often written in nearby nature or environmental conditions in nearby areas and cities. That the consequences are not equally shared by everyone, so that some people are able to place themselves . . . for one reason or another . . . maybe because of class position, or racial and ethnic conditions . . . and place themselves out of harms away. They are the brunt of many environmental problems we face in many cities.

LC/BM: How does environmental justice work, or doesn't work in your community? What needs to be changed?

MP: I can’t say I know all that much about the particular environmental justice conditions in the city of Tacoma . . . most cities in the United States still reflect social and economic and racial segregation. And research has showed that along those lines you get patterns of environmental justice. So, the implication then points to that we will see many of these same patterns in Tacoma. It is somewhat interesting that the most populated areas often associated with the SARCO plant is an abandoned piece of property for a long time is now being rebuilt as very much a wealth community, or a place that is going to be built for high income populations. So whether that space is going to be cleaned up or turned into some sort of Love Canal problem. We'll see what happens.

LC/BM: What parts of environmental justice are important to you? Why or why not?

MP: So what I find most important about the environmental justice movement is much of what I was talking about before that nearby nature and nearby urban areas are just as important as environmental conditions that we tend to value in these legally protected area; whether it’s a national park or national forest or wilderness areas. It's not that those places are not important, it’s just that these other spaces that we need to focus on are not important; they ARE important. But recognizing the importance of these spaces in environmental areas and spaces. So the connections between those two conditions. Maintaining these spaces we have set outside of the cities; maintaining those spaces depends in large part on how we value and improve environmental justice. And that is how I view the environmental justice movement.

LC/BM: Missing a questions from though the answer is still here.

MP: environmental justice in itself requires a re-definition of what we mean by environment. The environment doesn’t just mean non-human natural processes it includes humans, paying attention to our working environments; it can be air quality or water quality. So I can’t separate out certain parts of these environmental conditions when we are taking about environmental conditions.

LC/BM: So would you say that there is a different set of rules that govern different areas. Such as a separate set of rules that would justify how we treat urban areas as opposed to how we treat nature, like admiring it as opposed to cutting it down?

MP: Well we will have different spaces with different rules. ‘Cause we can’t really have a place like a national park or forest without \b I mean what makes those places distinct is the rules of behavior that accompany them. Wilderness areas area is very specific about not building roads and humans cannot stay there for a long time. So definitely there is going to be some distinction. But we need to recognize that these two spaces are linked. The overall environmental justice conditions are gonna rise and fall with those spaces.

LC/BM: How does concern for the environment fit with other environmental justice concerns such as sustainability, health, and nature?

MP: So as I mentioned, I’m not specifically involved with environmental struggles in Tacoma. So I can’t say whether it is useful or not useful for me. I can say that environmental struggles affect how cities and contemporary life. That we need to find ways of expanding and improving environmental conditions. In cities or we are in trouble in general. If we fail to take on and really work with the challenges of environmental justice then we are gonna have a much more difficult time creating, producing environmental justice in general. So environmental justice is important in that sense I think that this is essential.

LC/BM: Do you think that one day technology will become so advanced that environmental justice or ethics will just be set aside because technology will become so advanced that it can take care of all the problems in the environment. Or will it just become a problem that leads to more problems?

MP: I think environmental problems are social problems. So I don’t see how environmental problems can be solved with technology. Another way I tend to think of it, we don’t have negative environmental conditions because we don’t recognize that we are acting or behaving in destructive ways. We have negative environmental conditions because we can't work them out socially. So to me it is not a question of science or technology. It is a question of social or politics so we have to improve how we relate to each other. And if we can't do that then I don't have a whole lot of faith that we will be able to improve the ways we often talk about. So ultimately these are social questions. Which is why I think environmental justice is so essential to these questions because if we can't figure out the justice components to these questions, then we're not gonna be able to solve those environmental questions.

Additional Files

Pendras_Transcript.docx (25 kB)