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Environmental justice and social dynamics: A new ‘balance on proximity'

Working Group 12: Environmental justice and social dynamics: A new ‘balance on proximity'

Sam Staddon [1], Giorgio Osti [2], Jelte Harnmeijer [1,3, 5], Jayne Glass [4], Rosalind Bryce [4]

1: University of Edinburgh, UK; 2: University of Trieste, Italy; 3: Scene Consulting, UK, 4: University of the Highlands and Islands, UK; 5: The James Hutton Institute, UK

The countryside is a source of natural resources and ecosystem services, including the provision of clean water, renewable energy, food, biodiversity, and protection from flooding. For instance, there exists huge potential for renewable energy generation in rural areas, however these can be used as sites from which globalised energy generators derive huge amounts of value whilst leaving only modest benefits to the locale. Scalar dimensions arise in the potential benefits and costs arising from all natural resources, such as the upstream-downstream injustices involved in the sacrificing of rural areas to submersion in order to prevent flooding in urban areas; invoking notions of hydro-justice. Distributional elements of environmental justice thus occur along axes of local to distal, urban to rural, and collective to private.

In order to address distributional environmental injustices, attention to their procedural elements is also needed. Policies, institutional arrangements and legal tools may be used, for example bringing water monitoring and management to hydrographic basin level, creating an internal room of compensation for upstream-downstream injustices. Other possibilities exist through innovative ownership models and new models (or rhetoric) of civic engagement (e.g. ‘community assets’, ‘decentralisation’, ‘Big Society’) that may provide spaces in which community action can flourish, for example around a local renewable energy source. A focus on local networks is clearly important here, particularly in relation to broader governance issues. This suggests a need to consider the possibilities afforded by creating a ‘balance on proximity’, in terms of paying attention to the scalar dimensions of environmental justice – where proximity has geographical variability from the single site to the municipality, county, region and further.

As a conceptual lens, this session seeks to explore what a focus on social dynamics can offer our understanding of the importance of proximity and scale in environmental justice. We are thus interested in the social structures that shape institutional arrangements and ownership models, suggesting that they may create spaces for deliberative governance which can reduce injustice and lead to more equitable outcomes. We conceive of social dynamics as the interactions between individuals, groups and institutions involved in access to water, renewables and other ecosystem services; including farmers, land owners, charities, researchers and statutory bodies. We are interested in how social dynamics shape daily resource management decisions and wider policy processes; including thinking through what opportunities are available to individuals in different roles to build social relations, and the ways in which institutional affiliations, historical relations, reputations, personal career trajectories and non-professional identities affect these relationships. Through this, we seek to understand the impact of social dynamics on knowledge building and exchange, development of shared values, and situations of environmental conflict i.e. what characterises social interactions that are effective in addressing environmental injustices. We seek to understand how these social dynamics operate along local to distal axes, across urban to rural relations, and within collective and private contexts. Promoting this ‘balance on proximity’, we hope, will allow for the identification of new and productive ways forward in addressing environmental justice.

We welcome papers that address any elements of the ideas outlined above, particularly (though not exclusively) through case-studies involving renewable energy, water resources, and ecosystem services.