Date of Interview
This interviewee believes human consumption patterns and profit-driven interests lead to ecological decline and, thus, environmental injustice. She bolsters her position with international examples of corporatization that have led to inequities for small communities, pointing out that local environmental and social issues are reflective of what is happening on a global scale. Moreover, she believes there are important linkages between human health and environmental stewardship. She also believes that a balanced consideration of ecosystem and human needs must be adopted by environmentalists lest the latter appear too strident. The interviewee’s approach to environmental justice favors an anthropocentric perspective.
Briceno, Tania, "Tania Briceno Interview" (2013). Puget Sound Environmental Justice Interviews. 4.
Additional FilesBriceno_Transcript.docx (25 kB)
Brianna Trafton: Please state your name and organizational affiliation.
Tania Briceno: So my name is Tania Briceno, and I’m currently working for Earth Economics here in Tacoma, Washington, and I’m an ecological economist. I’ve been working in environmental evaluations for many years now.
BT: What is environmental justice?
TB: Environmental justice is a big word . . . I would say like right off the top of my mind, I would say it refers to . . . equality and distribution, so . . . the ability to have access to environmental resources and amenities, and all the benefits that the environment provides us — in an equal and fair way between people and animals, and everyone else.
BT: How does, or doesn’t environmental justice work in your community or a community you know?
TB: I have lived and worked internationally mostly, so speaking of my community, and also when you’ re talking about environmental justice I think you have to think about it globally as well. The community is kind of a reflection of the context that is happening globally . . . and . . . obviously being involved in this field we can say that there are many things that don’t work in terms of environmental justices. You can define all environmental problems in terms of a lack of justice with appropriation of resources by few people, and . . . by the current generation. The kind of . . . intrinsic system that there is right now, the intrinsic kind of drive to consume as much as you can right now and concentrated in few people, so I would say that is the problem at large. If you want to speak about specific communities I guess there are a million examples . . . I can talk to you about a recent project which was very specific . . . on kind of politics and rights . . . a community in Colombia . . . fifteen afro-descendent communities living along a river in the pacific coast of Colombia that were . . . that got together in a group action law suit against a big private . . . corporation that had put in a hydro dam along the river where they have lived for many generations. And they had been doing illegal dumping of sediments, contaminated sediments, in the river, which killed the ecosystem – it’s a very fragile ecosystem. And they were living off of subsistence fishing, and agriculture, and their resources have completely disappeared. So now they’re being forced to enter . . . the city life, which is something they were alien to. They have, they’re not adapted to this lifestyle. And so there’s a lot of poverty issues, health issues . . . social issues, education, anyways… so their communities have been transformed and I had been working with them in evaluating the damage in terms of economic benefits or economic costs to establish a compensation that they are demanding in the lawsuit, so it’s like an environmental rights group that took on the case to defend the people, and they’re kind of fighting against the big corporation that wasn’t bound to environmental laws or regulations, they just thought they could get away with doing whatever they wanted. So that’s an example, but there are a million examples when you can talk about environmental justice.
BT: What needs to change?
TB: I guess there are many things, I think . . . to begin with is being aware of the issues and the problems . . . it’s a way to start. I really believe education being the number one tool, because I think once people have the information it can be inherent to us to want to have a better community and a better society and equal distribution and kind of equal welfare adds up to greater good than not . . . so yeah I think . . . raising awareness is number one, then . . . regulation I guess is awareness translated to the policy world where you have the system the institutions . . . the government working with you on having true understanding and sympathies towards the cause, which maybe is a lot to ask . . . I mean here were working with an economic component, which is the valuation of the environment which maybe in the big scheme of things is not as radical of an approach as you could take if you were gonna maybe speak of strictly environmental rights and non- negotiable principles because environmental valuation is kind of working within the system of current economics . . . but I think there’s a role to be played at every level, so I think it’s important and more than that it’s kind of getting across the message that the environment is extremely important for our survival and for every activity that we do. And it’s just a way to try and put in the same indicators, or in the same units as the rest of the economy that we so well understand and kind of function within, so . . . I think it’s important work, but I think there is so much work to be done at every level, you know, social movements, universities, schools, policy, business, it can go everywhere and it’s a lot that has to be done. I don’t know what the simple answers are . . . I think we probably have to learn to be more . . . frugal . . . at least in our societies here, we’re consuming too much, and I guess that’s also always a debate because we know we’re consuming too much, how much are we ready to give up, it has to be kind of like a social effort where everybody kind of agrees and does it together because we have this tendency to compare ourselves to others, and the moment that we feel we’re being deprived of something becomes problematic. So I think it’s a must to be more frugal; we have to adapt our technology as well to be as efficient as possible because efficiency is also such a big part of the problem. And . . . yeah, I don’t know, some people may say were too many people, that can become a contentious issue you know – you could be accused of being kind of environmental kind of Nazi, eco-fascist, and that the environment going to dictate all of our human needs, potential for realization, I dunno how much I can go into that but, I don’t think necessarily we’re too many people, given that really the problem is the distribution of resources.
BT: How might others be able to help?
TB: Yeah and it’s kind of funny you know like even living with . . . with environmentalists I think a lot of us have a lot of rhetoric but putting it into practice is kind of like the hardest way, it’s like yeah how much are you willing to do all your commuting by bicycle and bus and kind of give up your car . . . how much are you willing to like be cold and put on extra sweaters instead of putting up the heating and you know hot showers, it’s kind of like were used to it and . . . but yeah, little things like that they make a difference and . . . I don’t know how much of the environmental pollution is really like related to the individual when you look at industry and that’s really where like the biggest source of the problem is . . . but I think more about, more precisely is getting into that mentality and that awareness and I think that kind of transfers eventually to a culture and an institutional culture and you know . . . lobbying for change, so I think it’s important, not necessarily because of the individual contributions but more about moving towards a culture of awareness and concern.
BT: How does concern for the environment fit with other environmental justice concerns, specifically health?
TB: Probably health is the biggest selling point because people are . . . we care mostly about ourselves to begin with, so when you have like . . . an immediate threat to your kind of welfare and your quality of life that’s the time when you’re willing to like make the most changes. And . . . also if there’s like somebody immediately close to you know like if you have a kind of maybe a close one whose like gone through like maybe cancer or like other diseases that some people say are related to environment, it’s kind of hard to establish cause and effect relationship with health. You know like, with our work we try to, if we can get a little bit of like a health component that usually is like number one concern for people . . . to the extent that science is able to make any kind of fact of this like air pollution will cause asthma, science is just not that exact, but I think it’s a key selling point, and . . . underlying we know that the environment creates health issues, and . . . yeah it’s immediately related, the health of our environment reflects on the health of ourselves.
BT: What parts of environmental justice are important to you?
TB: Well, I mean on a more kind of general level I would say that even being an economist and kind of what we’re looking for is improvement of welfare and quality of life. And I think . . . even the environmental movement has a lot of room to improve welfare because I think were not necessarily improving our welfare with the kind of system and . . . there are many, actually what I did for under—for my master’s thesis was looking at social sharing schemes and how kind of consuming socially will improve our . . . needs for social interaction and . . . self-realization, and so many needs that are so . . . related to how we’re part of a community, and how maybe this kind of consumption oriented system is taking us away from that and now maybe we have like a void that we don’t even realize that we are trying to satiate with a system that is not getting to the need that you have. So that was something I’ve been really interested in, is how we can improve the environment at the same time as improving our social welfare and how they mutually help each other. So I think there’s a lot of room to make the communities more vibrant, and at the same time more environmentally friendly.