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Archive of Hope and Cautionary Tales

Environmental Sustainability and Social Justice

The environmental challenges facing humanity today are so massive and widespread and present us with so many uncertainties about the future, small acts on a local scale may seem insignificant. But in fact many of the most effective approaches to climate change, water and air pollution, and species disappearance have historically occurred on a relatively small scale, as national governments and large international organizations have failed to initiate or enforce larger scale solutions.

Humanists recognize that historical models, cross­cultural comparisons, and images of plausible futures, that often take the form of stories, can powerfully transform social values, recalibrate understanding of foundational principles of justice and sustainability, and rewrite inaccurate narratives about human relationships to and interdependencies with ecosystems and nonhuman species.

With that in mind, contributors to the Archive of Hope and Cautionary Tales have undertaken to create a digital archive of stories about how scholars and community members are collaborating on projects that work towards increased environmental sustainability and social justice.

Each story illustrates a linked set of sustainability and social justice principles which might serve as a template for work in diverse communities around the world. Both the archive and the principles are provided here so that other institutions and communities can utilize them as they consider how best to respond and act in the face of their own daunting environmental and climatological challenges.

Each story and collaboration can be compared, re­scaled, and analyzed for their power to transform social values and human behaviors and increase abilities to imagine alternatives and solutions to complex challenges.

Principles & Values

One pathway toward hope for the future of our endangered planet is to operate according to Environmental Sustainability and Social Justice Principles and Values. The following list has been derived from a range of international manifestos and agreements as well as from the principles that have emerged from the environmental humanities.

  • Societies should recognize and pursue social justice as integral to environmental sustainability.

    • Support public participation and democratic governance
    • Promote inter- and intra-generational equity
    • Promote civil and non-coercive modes of social interaction, dispute resolution, and policy making
    • Recognize rights of all peoples to self-determination while also recognizing communal and global responsibility for social justice and sustainability
    • Equitably distribute both environmental burdens and amenities
    • Seek livelihood sufficiency and opportunity for all
  • Societies should redefine the human relationship to nature to emphasize interconnection, species interdependence, the importance of stewardship, and humans’ moral obligations to others.

    • ecognize and support the interdependency of species and ecosystems within the biosphere
    • Preserve the integrity, resilience, and diversity of both social and natural systems
    • Recognize that all humans are citizens on multiple levels–local, national, and global
    • Educate present and future generations about climate, energy, social, and environmental issues from diverse cultural perspectives
    • Evaluate the role of dominant and alternative economic, religious, political, and popular narratives in promoting or inhibiting environmental sustainability and social justice
    • Inculcate an ethic of care
  • Societies should invest public and private resources wisely, efficiently, and holistically to achieve environmental sustainability and social justice.

    • Increase efficiency and minimize waste in production and consumption
    • Recognize and avoid or mitigate environmental costs of economic development
    • Recognize economic goods as merely one category of social goods
    • Redefine development in terms of human well-being
    • Integrate economic, social and natural capital into planning local and global economic development
    • Get more with less through technological innovation, but strive to mitigate technology’s unintended environmental and social consequences
  • Societies should respect the complexity of social and natural systems, the inevitability of change, and the necessity of resilience and adaptation.

    • Understand the world as unpredictable and always evolving
    • Understand social-ecological relationships as complex adaptive systems; seek resilience along with justice as outcomes
    • Employ the precautionary principle—respect uncertainty, prefer safe fail rather than fail safe social systems, actions, and technologies
    • Avoid irreversible paths and commitments of resources; maintain flexibility and adaptability
    • Recognize scientific uncertainty and the need to make decisions and take action on the basis of partial knowledge and limited facts