Solutions for Humanity, Community, and the Environment
Date of Interview
The interviewee expounds a holistic approach to environmental justice where the fate and well-being of humans and ecosystems are intertwined. She emphasizes the importance of making sure that humans are considered to part of Nature, rather than separate from it. According to the interviewee this paradigm encourages better integration of environmental and human concerns such that there will be less ecological degradation and less human suffering as a consequence. For example, improved stewardship of the land reduces harmful toxins and, thus, improves the overall quality of human health. In essence, the ways in which we impact our environment correlate directly to how our own lives our impacted. This interviewee has a much more integrated approach to environmental justice that incorporates well-being and justice for both humans and non-humans alike; consequently, her views are less anthropocentric.
Bates, Amy, "Amy Bates Interview" (2013). Puget Sound Environmental Justice Interviews. 3.
Additional FilesBates_Transcript.docx (22 kB)
Elizabeth Culp: In the last 25 years, over 300 people have been wrongfully convicted. In 2012, over 15% of American households were considered food insecure. Every single day, 780 million people lack access to fresh water. We are concerned about justice for these humans. However, what about the environment that provides food, water and shelter for these humans? Does it have justice? Does it have rights? Should we be concerned about its welfare? The University of Washington Tacoma has partnered with the students to ask invested members of the Tacoma, Washington, community these very questions. Ms. Amy Bates was gracious enough to answer ours.
Amy Bates: I’m Amy Bates with Solutions for Humanity, Community and the Environment.
Environmental justice is the idea that people and place are connected. We are connected in such a way that our health is intertwined with the health of the environment and our health is intertwined with each other. So, environmental justice embodies the idea that people are dependent upon the environment and that the environment is dependent upon us. We are all interconnected.
Environmental justice works in my community because more people are becoming aware of it. As we look at our environment and how people are impacted by the environment, we are starting to become more aware of the connection between human health or population health and environmental health. So, what is working is that it has got people’s attention here in the Tacoma-Pierce County area. What has been more challenging is to make clear, concrete connections, or to help people, groups, and policy-makers understand “okay, so we are starting to make this connection, but now what do we do with it?”
One of the most important parts of environmental justice, to me personally, is this idea of interconnectedness. Historically there has been a disconnect between environmental understanding and environmental justice. There has been kind of a dissonance in terms of environmental thinking. When we think of the environment historically we thought of birds, trees, riparian zones, habitat, all of these different things, but we seem to try to do that and keep people out of the environment. So, what is most important to me is understanding that people are part of the environment. Some of the original populations here in America understood very clearly how people are part of the environment and how to work within the environment as a partner, so to speak, in a group of other entities, species, and being a part of that. Today, I think that people are somewhat understanding that. We have air quality challenges, water quality challenges, and disparities in terms of access to places for people to play, age, and just live and grow. And so, what is most important to me is bringing people back to the idea that, well, you are part of the environment so how can we be part of the environment in a healthy way, and how can we start having those discussions?
Concern for environmental justice fits in very nicely if we have the proper understanding of environment and environmental justice. Again, historically, we have looked at the environment almost as a resource, or as a resource, kind of separate from people. Once we understand that people are part of the environment, we can have better conversations about environmental justice, better understanding of how to best care for the environment and ourselves as part of the environment.
So, in terms of sustainability, environmental justice fits hand in hand very well with it because in order for us to work in partnership with the environment, for the environment to be sustainable, we have to acknowledge that people are a part of that process. Once we understand that we are part of the process and that everyone – we have this term “stakeholders” – everyone has a “stake” in the environment, then we can have better conversations on how to best manage it, how to best meet needs, and how to accept things that we can’t manage and allow nature to kind of self-manage in some ways.
So, environmental justice is also very connected with health as well. Human populations, for example, when exposed to different toxins that are historic environmental toxins, such as vehicle exhaust or other types of contaminants, whether they have to do with air quality or water quality, we found that some populations have some pretty bad outcomes. This can include increased rates of various types of cancer, poor outcomes in terms of infant mortality, and these types of things. So, our environment impacts our health. We are, again, connected to our environment and the healthier environment that we live in, the more that we are able to experience our full potential in terms of health.
Environmental justice is very useful in helping address issues in the community. I think that the environment is a place where people can regenerate. It is a place where people should be able to after their long, busy, hard days working, and whatever they are engaged in, to find the space to kind of renew themselves. If we don’t have a healthy environment, if we don’t have safe places where we can renew ourselves, it is a challenge. So, one of the things that I really enjoy about working on environmental justice is reconnecting people with their environments, and that environment is in the holistic sense of the term environment. It’s trees but it’s not just trees. It’s water but it’s not just water. It’s parks but it’s not just parks. When we think of the environment we are talking about the definition you would give if someone said to you, “what type of environment would you like your children to grow up in? What type of environment would you think would be best for your parents to age in?” So, when we start thinking about that environment, we start thinking holistically about green space and open space. We start thinking about parks and access to parks, safety issues, and access to places where we can have healthy food or even things like sidewalks. We start thinking about all of those things that make our environment in a holistic sense, a place that is nurturing and where we can rejuvenate ourselves.
The one thing I would like to underscore is that environmental justice really is a necessary component to completing the idea of the environment. We have a very wealthy environmental movement in western Washington. Once place where we can improve is in making sure that we consider human needs as we are considering environmental concerns. That is a place where we haven’t done as well. We have done great in terms of kind of managing, or we have done a lot of clean-up and these types of things, but what do humans need from the environment? What does the environment need from humans? We need to start having those types of conversations and I think that environmental justice provides an adequate, an appropriate forum to start having those important discussions.