Walking With the Word ‘Justice’

ClimateCultures editor Mark Goldthorpe reflects on some of the participants’ insights from a workshop exploring the word ‘Justice’. This was the first in the short Environmental Keywords series from the University of Bristol during February and March 2022.

2,900 words: estimated reading time = 11.5 minutes

It was during an online Creative Environments workshop from the University of Bristol last September, led by Dr Paul Merchant, that I first came across his work with the Centre for Environmental Humanities there, and he mentioned the idea of looking at keywords associated with the forthcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow. Later, he brought together a group of interested people inside and beyond the university for an informal exploration and we offered to support the idea of a project. We quickly settled on a short investigation into three words that have complex meanings and usages in different disciplines and contexts and where there is an ever-present risk of groups talking past each other as we grapple with the urgencies and nuances of our climate and biodiversity predicaments. 

Paul and facilitator Anna Haydock-Wilson devised a series of workshops and, while I can’t be at the workshops myself, we agreed I should follow up each one with short discussions — by email or Zoom — with the researchers, community group members and creative practitioners who take part. My aim is to explore their insights from the events and their experiences of the different keywords.

As such, this post is not an account or evaluation of the ‘Justice’ workshop or an ‘objective’ overview of that word and its meanings — even less, an attempt at a definition. I hope it’s a fair reflection of some of the things participants have shared with me once they’ve had some distance from the workshop. And that it offers one way in to further conversations on justice, how we talk about it, and its role in helping us navigate our climate and environmental futures. I encourage all ClimateCultures members and other visitors to our site to offer their own insights and responses, ideas and examples.

Fresh encounters

This group’s exploration of the word ‘Justice’ began with a ‘Walk and Talk’ in the Easton area of Bristol. Participants — as local residents, community project workers and activists, writers and artists and researchers — met, shared ideas of justice and made personal notes as they walked, about what this means for them in an environmental context. Everyone then gathered back at the local community centre to share their perspectives on the walk and their own work or involvement with the issues, and split into two groups for a role-playing game. In that session, each group made a ‘justice map’ of the local area to help bring their ideas into focus, before a final discussion together at the end.

Sharing the word 'Justice' - showing the workshop group on its local walk
Easton Walk & Talk
Photograph: Anna Haydock-Wilson © 2022

One of the community participants said of the session as a whole: “It was a great group of people, and I found it really interesting to have representatives from both academic and non-academic backgrounds in the same room and to hear about the different types of work people are doing linked to climate. I would love to find more ways to translate some of the research and work being done into projects we’re doing locally at a very grassroots level. I’m really glad these workshops have begun, and I think there’s a lot of work for us to be doing to make sure the spaces where words like justice are discussed are shaped by people who have traditionally been on the receiving end of injustice.”

Another said: “I really loved that there were people from very different backgrounds there — both cultural and from the work they did and the experiences they had, on all those fronts.”

A third person told me how: “It has motivated me and confirmed a value for what I do. It was good to have different perspectives in a room coming from different backgrounds or professions. I also really enjoyed the game Anna devised with the role-playing — thought that worked well.” 

One member of the group shared a couple of strong and, it seems to me, complementary memories from the introductory walk — of “the river Frome overflooding under a motorway bridge” and of “how easily conversation flowed with everybody.” Another explained how “I see the environment as a key factor to enable or disable people being exposed to it. On our walk, we had lots of opportunities to explore this and how this might contribute to environmental justice.” Someone else told me how in “an interesting conversation I remember … I noticed that much of her thoughts surrounded the ‘why’, which I felt was powerful.” 

As a prelude to shared conversation within the usual ‘workshop’ environment of a closed room — such as the community centre offered later on — a walk allows for a more open-ended mix of private thought, personal encounter with the local environs and chance conversations with different people one-to-one. In a way, it’s a little like an extended version of that experience when we first arrive at a venue for an event: the bumping into new people at the initial pre-conference tea or coffee, but with the added fuel of fresh air, new perspectives gained out-of-doors and the ever-changing location brought by physical movement. After all, we don’t normally expect to be walking around for a meeting.

The fact that the walk preceded the formal part of the workshop — was actually integral to its design — was clearly appreciated. For one participant, this spoke to a core aspect of our own nature. “Through being active and interacting with the world, particularly walking around, we have a chance to develop new neurons. And our brain, as with other parts of our body, is changing depending on the environment and our interactions. … The physical and the mental go hand in hand and the environment is crucial as it provides the stimulation you need, both on the physical and the mental side.” In this sense, our personal environment — and therefore our shared environment, as social animals — is embodied within us; the boundary between ourselves and the ‘external’ world, where our body stops and the world begins, is not fixed in the ways we commonly think.

“In fact, where our body starts is an interaction between our brain, our environment and our body and the way our senses work to define what is actually around us. We do this all the time. We have to combine what we see, what we hear, what we feel to be able to know what ‘belongs’ to an object, to us, to someone else.”

Photograph: Anna Haydock-Wilson © 2022

Here, then, justice starts to have a very direct relationship with personal experience and with being in and moving around a place. But — like an urban river — that relationship can be submerged, can sink out of our conscious mind until a new context brings it to our attention. As one person fed back to me: “The walk made me notice things which I sometimes take for granted, or you just accept them as they are. Like poor, not thought out architecture in this instance. The grotesque wheelchair access at the train station; the motorway. So if an area has been poorly designed, what are our rights to change anything? Things feel so set in stone sometimes, we don’t know we actually have a voice to change things.” Another pointed out how “We have this idea when we talk about disability or inclusiveness, this tendency to restrict it to someone in a wheelchair or who is blind. But that’s more or less it. Anybody else, with all the sensory variability that is out there and all the consequences that has, is not at all considered.” 

Our urban and others spaces can design in forms of injustice, as illustrated above: embedded in the ways we become accustomed to think about what should even be part of that design process. While this can be addressed through greater care in new design codes, attention will always be needed to what lies outside the efforts to improve these. You cannot code everything. Standards cannot capture all the ways that our dynamic natural environment and we as diverse humans interact. Like a river, the human and the more-than-human break out and exceed the boundaries and order we try to impose.

A testing ground for conversations

While in some places, some people and communities do find voice and agency — their own ways to make change happen — in too many places many cannot: “I considered the active involvement in a neighbourhood — guerilla gardening in a small patch close to the Bristol-Bath trainline — vs no involvement in the garden/play space square in a concreted-over sad excuse for a playground in a social housing complex.” This participant had spoken with another “about the will or capacity of people to do such things to a space outside their own house boundaries” — capacities that can be bound up with different, perhaps overlapping identities.

“We spoke about cultural differences, about new residents from other countries not wanting to stand out, or draw attention to themselves. I have noticed behaviours before with poor recycling rates, with the problem being the visible bins — where residents did not want their neighbours to see what they consume. There is a social status which needs to be upheld. This is the same for people participating in the flea market as traders of second-hand goods. New residents i.e. first-generation arrivals from other countries, need to prove themselves to others from their own cultures that they are being successful.”

Someone else shared how in the group session another member of the group had “mentioned the word justice terrifies some people. It never occurred to me to think that, but made me make the connexion with my fear of the police. I will be very careful to define what it means to me when engaging in conversation with others. From now on I will make sure that when I talk, ‘Justice’ and ‘Environment’ are together.” A point echoed by another person, who said to me: “It was really useful to connect the word and concept of justice as a focus to the environment. It anchored the importance of the issues for me.”   

The word 'Justice' - showing a flooded road under a local bridge
Photograph: Anna Haydock-Wilson © 2022

Another comment gets to the heart of the matter, sharing how in their work with local communities: “a common theme that has come up when speaking with people is how disempowering the language used around climate can be and the negative impact it can have on people feeling that they don’t belong in ‘green’ spaces. Based on that feedback, I’d been thinking about ways we could start working together within our community to build more shared understanding of what the words often used in climate action and decision-making mean, so that more people can use them and the power they hold. When Paul got in touch about the workshop on justice, I was keen to get involved, seeing it as something of a testing ground of how we might begin having these conversations.”

I was sent a link to locally-led research demonstrating how resilient blue spaces are connected to higher quality of life, from which this participant concluded: “so the quality of more greenery around rivers, which we consider good for our wellbeing, would be rather seen in spaces with less deprivation. The justice of the river itself — so majestic round Snuff Mills [a park in the Stapleton area of north Bristol], and in flood it is a powerful beast — to then be turned into a drainpipe and hidden away under concrete for the last bits of its journey into the city. … You feel differently as you follow the river, depending on where it is.”

This also starts to point me to a wider or expanded sense of justice. If environment, body and mind are in relationship within and around each of us and ‘social justice’ contains something of that relationship then — just as where our body ends and the world starts is less fixed than we suppose — justice must encompass something of the wider natural world as well as ‘society’. Something in that phrase, ‘The justice of the river itself’ — a river that has its own life in itself, a powerful beast, and yet is forced into concrete, underground, away from us — speaks to injustice on a more-than-human scale.

Seeing the word 'Justice' - showing a local window with a poster, 'Stop fly-tipping'
Photograph: Anna Haydock-Wilson © 2022

A noun, a verb? In a word, Justice

When asked how they felt about the word ‘Justice’ now, whether this was different since the workshop, one participant said “It feels a lot closer to the bone,” while I’ve already quoted another: “From now on I will make sure that when I talk ‘Justice’ and ‘Environment’ are together.” A third person shared that “I would say that justice used in this climate conversation felt very complex. Already all intertwined, decision-making done with consideration to every living being and their livelihoods is ‘Justice’.”

A further response suggests that a process such as this walk-and-workshop itself is an enactment of what we are seeking: “That’s for me ‘justice’: the listening, the learning and the working together.” And what flows from that might be something that retains a diversity, that “we would start to think of whether we can develop what we call almost a shared mental model … where we know which angle we are coming from but we have an understanding of where they might all fit together. And then instead of having a fixed outcome, rather think of it as a theory of change; how can we change these things and move together to something that is more just, more resilient?”

To appreciate the ‘angle we are coming from’ and how others’ paths intersect, converge, overlap our own, is an expansion of our own map, our mental model, into something larger and shared, although always incomplete. Two conversations gave me different impressions of an area I’ve never visited but can imagine from my encounters with other places I’ve lived or worked. Different but, importantly, not necessarily conflicting — and both speaking of injustice.

One was an email where a few lines provided almost a prose poem: “the trainline with lots of freight trains, high pollution in a local neighbourhood; the architecture at the train station; graffiti and street art; River Frome, DIY skatepark; the lack of green in neighbourhoods, pocket parks; then finally the council estate with a concreted over play park. Had a few trees, but I was surprised and shocked actually at such a loss of opportunity.” 

The other came during a Zoom call, reflecting on the same scene as “On one hand a very sad space but on the other almost an amazing space, when you think about the way the youth make it their own. The dumped sofas, the building rubbish and rubble and whatever, integrated as obstacles into the skatepark; the graffiti going over them as if they are becoming part of the landscape; the ceiling of the M32 with an enormous graffiti, it’s the skeleton of an animal, which brings in almost the life and the change of all these things. The River Frome then going over its edges, going onto the car park, where it can come out and starts to become a river again. So all that is to see how nevertheless life takes over. The walk to the train station there, the little path where the flowers break out to try to get their own space. That’s actually really nice. And I think that by gentrifying that area that community would lose a lot. That’s where justice comes in again: how do you approach such things without destroying what the community creates to survive? That was one of the things where I hadn’t appreciated just how much they’re making that space liveable for them and useable.”

I also saw something of this possibly creative tension between different ways of living in, of seeing, the same ‘environment’ in what another person shared as one of their strongest memories of the event: “the feeling that some areas, particularly those with lots of graffiti, gave a harsh feeling to the area. As graffiti is a huge part of Bristol’s character it’s not a question about removing it but more about offsetting it in the areas it’s the most prominent by revitalising playgrounds and greenspaces.”

Fencing in the word Justice: showing a graffiti area behind a barrier
Photograph by a workshop participant © 2022

Maybe a vision of justice might be something fluid, able to move with people and environment and the others we share it with. And part of that flow might be to recognise not just that justice must include the many and the diversity that we are and share, but the seemingly conflicting forms and appreciations of what is ‘good’.

What does the word ‘Justice’ mean to you?

Find out more

See below for comments on this post – and contribute your own to be part of the conversation!

Environmental Keywords is a short interdisciplinary project at the University of Bristol, investigating three keywords — ‘Justice’, ‘Resilience’ and ‘Transitions’ — that are common in the environmental discourses that shape how we think of, talk about and act on the ecological and climate predicaments facing us.

With funding from the Natural Environment Research Council, the project is led by Dr Paul Merchant, Co-Director of the University’s Centre for Environmental Humanities, and involves colleagues from different departments and disciplines, as well as local community groups, ClimateCultures members and other creative practitioners.

The project focuses on three workshops in Bristol, facilitated by Anna Haydock-Wilson complemented by online content here at ClimateCultures:

‘Justice’ — Wednesday 16th February 2022
‘Resilience’ — Wednesday 9th March 2022
‘Transitions’ – Thursday 24th March 2022

You can find out more at our new Environmental Keywords section, including the suggestion to explore an ‘undisciplined glossary of our three keywords: do let us have your thoughts, questions suggestions and examples via the Leave a Reply box on this post or via our Contact page. 

Mark Goldthorpe
Mark Goldthorpe
An independent researcher, project and events manager, and writer on environmental and climate change issues - investigating, supporting and delivering cultural and creative responses.

22 thoughts on “Walking With the Word ‘Justice’”

  1. Reflecting further on the Environmental Keywords and taking forward Robert MacFarlane’s insight that we see ‘in webs of words, wefts of words, woods of words’, I sense we may need to find articulations of Justice, Resilience and Transitions that lie somewhere between the monolithic singular abstract noun and the unbounded form of open descriptive text. It occurs to me that Haiku, with its distilled form and bounded syllable structure (5:7:5) could offer this middle ground, a manageable yet still vital ‘weft of words’.

    Applying this to Robin Wall Kimmerer’s wonderful evocation of Justice (quoted in ‘Taking the Conversation Forward’) I offer the following Haiku concerning Justice:

    Take just what you need
    Don’t waste what you have taken
    Leave some for others

    Perhaps we could stitch together a collage of Haiku ‘wefts’ for each of the three keywords. Anyone else have a Justice Haiku to contribute?

    1. What a wonderful idea, Susan! I have shared your haiku and this new ‘haiku challenge’ itself to the growing collection of creative responses to the word ‘Justice’ in our ‘Environmental Justice’ – Taking the Conversation Forward page and I do hope others will send in theirs. It would be good to have a collage of haiku wefts for all three words in our Environmental Keypords series – so do look out for our post with reflections on ‘Resilience’, coming to the blog later today…

  2. “Global climate change induced partly by human activities raises serious issues of justice between the present generation and future generations, and between communities within future generations. In using the planet’s resources for our own benefit, we may pass many of the costs to future generations in the form of climate change and the need to adapt to such change.” Dr. E. B. Weiss (1987)

    Dr Weiss’s paper to a conference ‘Developing policies for responding to future climatic change’ in 1987 was an early example of the word ‘justice’ being used when reflecting on human-induced climate change. In the intervening 35 years scientists across the globe have examined, reported and warned about the consequence of fossil fuel burning. This consequence is now a reality unfolding rapidly in our time (IPCC, 2022) … and yet those who are held up to be guardians of justice, such as our police forces, our laws and our governments, are intent on suppressing the scientists’ knowledge. Yesterday (8th April 2022), 1,000 scientists (Scientist Rebellion, 2022) across the globe took to the streets in a day of action following the IPCC Working Group Report released on Monday (4th April 2022), “which details the harrowing gap between where society is heading and where we need to go” (Kalmus, 2022). Many of these top scientists were arrested for seeking justice for humanity’s next generation.

    I reflect with many who are deeply contemplating the meaning of Climate Justice. We recognise it is a big beast – multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary and highly political – operating, or not, at every level of society. Upon reading of the scientists’ plight I ponder what more has to be done to convey the serious issues of climate injustice unfolding. The world is on “fast track to climate disaster”, says the UN Secretary General. Somehow the urgency must be understood and heard.

    The big question for any artist is how can they join hands, hearts and minds with the scientists and build a just world for rivers, flora, fauna and future generations. It seems imperative our work as artists, as communicators, must be in partnership with the scientists as much as in partnership with nature itself. We can work at a local level. Artists and scientists together should be designing walkable environments, pushing for electric public transport, green roofs and facades and promoting urban agriculture, parks and rural wild spaces all bringing significant additional benefits of air purity, health maintenance and improved environment in addition to lowering of carbon emissions.

    1. Thanks for your excellent comment, Veronica. It is sobering to reflect just how long scientists and others have been warning us, and that ‘justice’ has been a factor in the debate since the early days – but with so little impact on the systems and decisions that perpetuate both the emergency and its injustices. Thanks for bringing in the recent campaign by Scientist Rebellion just this week.

      Although artists cannot simply be translators of the science, creative people of all kinds play a really important role in engaging both their own curiosity and passion about the biodiversity and climate crisis and what the science helps us understand this, and all of our sense of agency and emergency. Thank you for being part of that, and of ClimateCultures of course!

  3. Many thanks Mark for your thought-provoking reflections on participants’ insights into the word Justice. As a psychotherapist and writer I have a deep and enduring faith in words as windows onto the world.

    My first response to the word ‘Justice’ is a familiar one, I struggle to ‘get hold’ of it. It feels too big, too definite, too impenetrable. Perhaps we are overly seduced by abstract nouns. They stand like self-important sentinels or desiccated fossils of a once more vibrant, relational and poetic reality that is more sensitively represented by verbs that move, by imaginal words that shimmer, by clusters of words. I like Robert MacFarlane’s idea that we see ‘in webs of words, wefts of words, woods of words’.

    1. Hi Susan, and thanks for this wonderful response to the post – and for your contribution to the extra page on this keyword, ‘Environmental Justice’ – Taking the Conversation Forward. I recommend everyone to go and have a wander through that page, and add something to that conversation too.

      I like your idea of words as our windows onto the world, and how you cite Robert Macfarlane too: together, these summon up an image for me of walking with an ever-shifting and organic mesh of portals built-in (and grown into), through which we relate to the living world all around us… And like many who have left comments or contributions, and in what I sensed from participants at the workshop, you have picked up on just how complicated this word is, and also how it can feel like a barrier.

  4. I’d like to pick up on your comments Paul (Feather) around ‘distributive justice’ regarding land.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the higher sea levels engulfing Pacific islands like Tuvalu and Kiribati (remember the PM addressing COP from a lectern in the sea?) which are caused by warming triggered by rich countries such as our own. I’d call this “distributive fault” – but how to achieve justice for these tiny island nations? The World Bank is doing its bit to help but it raises the broader question of climate change injustice where some of the least wealthy nations are likely to suffer the direst effects thanks to the actions of wealthier nations. The chances of international consensus on this are remote but maybe it’s an issue for the UN to enshrine as an 18th Sustainable Development Goal?

    Oh and as a poet of course I’m keen to investigate my own personal responsibility here. I’d recommend reading and/or listening to Tuvalu poet Selina Tusitala Marsh who is far better qualified than me to take a view:

    1. Thanks Julian. I think this is a great example of distributive injustice: these small island nations will bear the cost of climate change while larger, richer countries have reaped the benefits. I don’t know whether it would be possible to achieve justice for these people. It seems likely they will be forced to relocate. I would compare these relocations (should they occur) to the forced relocations of Indigenous people all over the world (such as American Indigenous people on the Trail of Tears).

      At a glance, the injustice suffered by island nations such as Tuvalu can be seen as resulting from climate change, rising sea levels, and over-consumption by rich nations — and that’s part of it. But there’s also a strong continuity in this injustice that goes way back before we started burning fossil fuels and melting sea ice. Heather Davis and Zoe Todd argue in their article ‘On the Importance of a Date, or Decolonizing the Anthropocene‘, that these injustices are more about colonization than they are about industrialization and resulting climate change. For example, they observe that forced displacement of Native Americans, “involved adaptation to entirely new environments, to new climates, new ecosystems, new plants and animals. These processes of environmental transformation and forced displacement can be understood as climate change, or more broadly, a preview of what it is like to live under the conditions of the Anthropocene.” — Very similar experience to what the Tuvaluans may face in coming years.

      To me, this exploration of justice is important, because I see injustice as the broader theme that contains climate change and other aspects of these crises: I don’t think Tuvaluans suffer this injustice because of climate change. I think they suffer from climate change because of ongoing injustice. When we frame it this way, I question the capacity of the World Bank or the UN to address these issues at all. I think these organizations are founded in the logic of colonialism and are unlikely to even perceive this as a crisis that has been ongoing for over 500 years.

  5. Hello Mark, and thanks for sharing this.

    This strikes me as a very impressionistic view of the word justice, and I think people’s impressions of different spaces and how those spaces make them feel about complex topics (like justice) can be a useful lens. This piece leaves me with a very wide-ranging open-ended sense of the topic, and in some ways that’s appropriate.

    If you’re wanting to move toward a glossary of these keywords — however undisciplined such a glossary may rightfully need to be — then it seems useful to move the conversation towards a study of existing definitions of justice (and the other keywords), an exploration of the limitations those definitions might face, and some alternative frameworks for understanding the keywords. That is, I think this impressionistic approach could be balanced by something more systematic.

    For example, environmental injustice is often defined as occurring when one group of people bears the burdens of resource extraction, economic production and other land uses while another group of people reaps the benefits of those activities. I suggest that readers try speaking that definition out loud. Think for a moment about how this occurs at various scales — locally, regionally, and globally — and where you find yourself within these systems of injustice. That definition emphasizes ‘distributive justice’: distribution of harms and benefits.

    Now there are certainly limitations to that definition. For example Colville scholar Dina Gilio-Whitaker talks about how distributive justice assumes that land and land-use is a commodity to be distributed (either fairly or unfairly) and how that framework affirms capitalistic values of private property. Potawatomi scholar Kyle Powys Whyte suggests that ‘recognition justice’ — a framework that acknowledges the sovereignty of Indigenous nations — is a better framework for understanding justice with respect to Indigenous people.

    I think it’s important — even when dealing with complex open-ended topics — to attempt some explicit definition of these terms (or a multiplicity of explicit definitions) lest the discussion fall of into something a little too post-modern wherein the words lose their meaning(s) entirely.


    A piece by Dina Gilio-Whitaker: What Environmental Justice Means in Indian Country

    A piece by KP Whyte: The Recognition Dimensions of Environmental Justice in Indian Country

    1. Hi Paul, and thanks for all your valuable and important points: so much to discuss and explore here!

      You’re absolutely right: my own reflections on what people shared with me from their time together does make for an impressionistic account of the topic. I hope it is a useful way in, as you suggest, but it can only be a start to a conversation, of course. My perspective is one step removed from these workshops, naturally, as I can’t be there and want to make the most of that different relationship to what has occurred in each time and place. (Two steps removed, in fact, as my ‘raw material’ is the feedback people have shared only after they have had a day, or several days, to think back on their encounters at the workshop). So drawing on these impressions and associations seems naturally to lend itself to this approach – and maybe is a useful counter to the familiar temptation to launch into defining our terms.

      But we do need to approach definitions – multiple ones, I hope – if the conversation is to progress. Progress, but not necessarily conclude with a consensus. So I’d like other sections in the project pages here to start to grapple with that. The two pieces of writing you’ve linked to are very interesting and reward reading and rereading – thank you for these. And for the suggestion that we start with the ‘distributive’ definition you offer for environmental justice: speaking that aloud in the way you prompt us to leaves little room for doubting the reality of environmental injustice: it is all around us. And you take us further with the logic underlying that idea of ‘distribution’. I hope everyone reading this will take the time to read these pieces by Gilio-Whitaker and Whyte – and to offer up other sources and approaches. Rich thinking, and meaningful – thanks again.

  6. ‘Justice’ is such an emotive word as it talks about power, fairness and equality. And in turn, about an absence of these things.

    I was really inspired by the feedback from the group experiencing the world through walking. Walking is justice too! We should never take for granted what it means to safely access the street without danger, threat or harassment. Reading the participants feedback reminded me of my own work as a community artist, exploring environment and place often through walking. It reminded me of the multi layered and complex ways people generate ideas and how we can reclaim justice imbalance through collaboration. By pulling together, sharing dialogue, exploring ideas and taking action collectively, we can serve ourselves and our communities better, rather than waiting for a ‘trickle down effect’ to deliver justice for/at us.

    1. Thanks Genevieve – you’ve quite rightly introduced three more very powerful (and complicated) words with ‘power’, ‘fairness’ and ‘equality’. Each one a topic in its own right and highly implicated in any discussion on ‘environment’ as well.

      I’m glad that what the participants shared resonated with your own work – as did the involvement of walking as a key part of their time together and within the particular place that provided a setting and provocation for their discussions. What you say about how people generate ideas is very interesting and I’d like to learn more and maybe share that somewhere in the project pages… I am seeing that environmental justice (as with all things ‘environmental’) is about process as much as about an ‘end’ state. Maybe there’s more you can share from your work with communities?

      As David has reminded us very directly and powerfully in his comment, of course, walking is not an activity available to all, and with the inequalities in the way our built environment is designed, constructed and managed, access is restricted or denied to many – even where streets are otherwise safe etc.

    1. Thanks Iain. The Earth Charter is a powerful statement of principles. The section you highlight sets out four major goals:
      1. Eradicate poverty as an ethical, social, and environmental imperative.
      2. Ensure that economic activities and institutions at all levels promote human development in an equitable and sustainable manner.
      3. Affirm gender equality and equity as prerequisites to sustainable development and ensure universal access to education, health care, and economic opportunity.
      4. Uphold the right of all, without discrimination, to a natural and social environment supportive of human dignity, bodily health, and spiritual well-being, with special attention to the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities.

  7. Justice implies justice for all. Walking is not available for everyone. The photographs above mostly show places that are not wheelchair friendly. I am currently confined to a wheelchair and super aware of this when I go out.

    Place making is very important for community building. Place making needs to be for everyone, which means involving everyone in the design of places, including those who cannot walk or parents of small children in buggies. Universal accessibility is a universal right.

    1. Thank you, David – for making an incredibly important point. You are absolutely right, of course; place-making that doesn’t include everyone by definition will exclude many. And so, we design in injustice.

    2. That is an excellent point and we checked with everyone attending the workshop about their access needs before I designed the route. In Easton the word ‘justice’ highlighted the many ‘injustices’ people living and working in that area faced. As we walked we noted not only places where environmental and social quality of life was so poor, but also areas where access for people unable to walk was obvious.

      As someone who has spent a little time wheelchair bound in my early twenties, and a lot of time pushing buggies around, I’m acutely aware of how hard cities are to navigate, and I’m really grateful to you for raising this here.

  8. Thank you for sharing, Mark. This was very insightful.

    I loved this exploration. Justice, as a word and concept, is so tightly intertwined with the environmental. Personally, I think it is important to highlight the close connection climate justice has with other justice movements. Around social media I often see the phrase: ‘Climate justice IS racial justice,’ and vice versa. This can be extended to gender justice and economic justice. My research on the Flint Water Crisis exemplifies this entanglement of inequity.

    One person you quoted said how ‘justice’ is complex. They are spot on. The complexities lie within its ability to permeate almost everything. Justice can be sought, wanted and found in almost every aspect of life; and within the Anthropocene, it is inescapably necessary.

    1. Thanks for your excellent comments, Jemma!

      This entanglement is both a rich seam to explore and, of course, a source of some of our most intractable predicaments. And, as you suggest, the reason we must always endeavour to work for justice. To the extent that the Anthropocene is what it says it is – our planetary systems being reshaped by human actions – but where all humans are not equally implicated nor equally affected, then any action can have untold impacts on others, and ideas of justice have to come into play at some level.

  9. Wonderful write up, thank you for sharing this Mark.

    Digging a bit deeper into words that are bandied around quite a lot but maybe not thought about very much is always a useful exercise. We probably all think we know what ‘justice’ (or ‘resilience’) mean – and we probably do have the same broad dictionary definition – but it’s only when you start teasing out what the connotations are for different people that you begin to get a sense of how they might be used. Words come ‘coloured’ – especially words like these which are Big Nouns with a lot of baggage! – with preconceptions, prejudice, and other such things beginning with ‘pre-‘.

    ‘Justice’ has a pretty solid positive connotation – everyone thinks it’s ‘a good thing’ – but as one of the respondents says, when you ally it with ‘the justice system’, it can spark fear (fear of the police, of being at the sharp end of the process, of being accused, of punishment etc etc). Sometimes it’s good to see these keywords in their *worst* light, and have a look to see what that throws up. Otherwise the whole exercise runs the risk of being merely affirmatory rather than genuinely interested in plural perspectives and potential transformation.

    ‘Le mot juste’ – a word applied in the right context and to best effect. That phrase has been rolling around in my mind as I read this post. ‘Juste’ meaning exact, linked to ‘justice’ meaning fair. But it’s not just the scales balanced between crime and punishment; it’s an idea of harmonious order. It feels like we really need to re-balance the scales in these times of ecological crisis.

    1. Excellent comments – thanks Anita!

      I do agree that we need to hold up to the light those words we think we know so well. And so the idea of words being ‘coloured’ also has a very positive feel to it in that sense (or light…), as well as the realisation that they come with all those ‘pre-‘associations. But yes, we cannot merely affirm our words and concepts: need to examine them, and share this. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

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