Despite living in one of the country’s most environmentally progressive states, California environmental justice activists have spent decades fighting for clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and safe, healthy communities in which to live and work. Evolution of a Movement tells their story – from the often-raucous protests of the 1980s and 1990s to activists’ growing presence inside the halls of the state capitol in the 2000s and 2010s. Perkins offers a new lens for understanding environmental justice activism in California, tracing how shifting political contexts combined with activists’ own efforts to institutionalize their work within nonprofits and state structures.
Drawing on case studies and 125 interviews with activists from Sacramento to the California-Mexico border, Perkins explores the successes and failures of the environmental justice movement in California. She shows why some activists have moved away from the disruptive “outsider” political tactics common in the movement’s early days to embrace traditional political channels of policy advocacy, electoral politics and working from within the state’s political system to enact change. But while some see these changes as a sign of the growing sophistication of the environmental justice movement, others critique their potential to blunt grassroots power. At a time when environmental justice scholars and activists face pressing questions about the best route for enacting meaningful change, this book provides insight into the strengths and limitations of social movement institutionalization.
The book is available for pre-order now, and could be assigned for mid-semester or end-of-semester reading in the spring of 2022. See the beautiful cover below!
My fellowship at the University of Arizona came to an end in late May, after which I drove back across the country to Washington DC. The drive was fun – it included stopovers to sightsee in the Four Corners and see old friends in Albuquerque. I also visited with activist Earl Tulley and others in Dilkon, AZ, at the 30th anniversary of the Navajo environmental group Diné CARE.
As much as I enjoyed my time away, it’s a pleasure to get back home to my friends and household routines. I was also happy to find this book waiting for me in the mail when I arrived:
Sustainability: Approaches to Environmental Justice and Social Power,edited by Julie Sze,is newly available from NYU Press. I contributed a chapter with Aaron Soto-Karlin titled, “Situating Global Policies within Local Realities: Climate Conflict from California to Latin America.” Aaron and I met about five years ago when we were both conducting research on the implementation of the landmark California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. My research was for my Ph.D. dissertation, his research was for a film. Aaron had long lived and worked in Chiapas, Mexico, while my work focused on environmental justice activism in California. Our interests converge in this analysis of a memorandum of understanding to tackle climate change through linking California’s carbon market to forest preservation efforts in Chiapas. The MOU also included the state of Acre in Brazil, but we focus on just California and Mexico in this chapter.
We wrote this chapter with the hope that it would be assigned in undergraduate college classes. Accordingly, we made a special effort to write something that doesn’t require prior familiarity with carbon offsets, carbon markets, and climate change politics. It should be of interest to anyone tracking US climate change politics, and California’s in particular. The chapter also helps readers think more broadly about how environmental policies designed for global use are impacted by on-the-ground realities in the places where they are implemented. It also highlights how difficult it is to create “win-win” solutions that meet both environmental and social justice goals. In the case of carbon offsets between California and Chiapas, tension emerged between meeting environmental goals, such as preserving forests and reducing carbon emissions, and social justice goals linked to land tenure and human health.
If you assign the chapter to any of your classes, I’d love to hear how it goes. There are also many other great contributions in the book, you can find a list of them here.
My colleague Aaron Soto-Karlin and I are wrapping up final revisions on a book chapter for inclusion in Sustainability Now! Sustainability How? Situating Sustainabilities through Interdisciplinarity and Social Justice, edited by Julie Sze. The book is under contract with NYU Press and hopefully will come out in 2018 or early 2019.
Our chapter analyzes an international memorandum of understanding between California, Chiapas (Mexico) and Acre (Brazil). The agreement would allow greenhouse gas emitters in California to comply with a California cap on greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing offsets designed to preserve forests in Chiapas and Acre instead of reducing emissions in California. Our chapter presents the global policy debate over forest carbon offsets as it plays out on the ground. More specifically, we situate global policy within local reality by demonstrating how support for and against the MOU was affected by preexisting political conflict in two of the three participating jurisdictions: California and Chiapas. To do so, we present the historical and political context of the debate in each location.
Research on forest carbon offsets gets very technical very quickly. Aaron and I took pains to make our chapter understandable to people unfamiliar with the terms of the debate, so we were happy to share a draft for inclusion in an interdisciplinary, undergraduate course on “Water and Sanitation Justice.” (One piece of the course focuses on climate change – see the syllabus here). The course was developed by a group of scholars located at multiple campuses of the University of California and taught online by Ben Crow for the first time this spring. Teaching Assistant and PhD student Abby Brown helped develop the course and interviewed me about our chapter for use in the class. I listened to the interview last week and have shared it below.* The interview lasts for 20 minutes.
* Subscribers who get my posts delivered by e-mail will need to click through to the original post online in order to access the interview.