Thursday, April 7, 2011

Rendering environmental justice

Beavers' Reparation efforts good for planet, soul

Restorative justice is a serious term argued about today when dealing with criminals who are looking to pay back for their misdeeds.

We have prisons and community groups working with victims and perpetrators to heal, or, in a more holistic light — to bring spiritual wholeness back to all players involved in a criminal – violent – moment.

There are truth and reconciliation commissions, ranging from Ireland, to South Africa, or Guatemala, working to bring justice and truth to the killings in the tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands carried out by despots and military juntas in our world’s many civil wars.

This all works toward a healing process, and to stop the violence from ever occurring again. Even big movements tied to reparations for slavery have those underpinnings of healing; bringing peace to communities; and working to right wrongs, both economically and culturally.

Restorative justice shines a light on the question of how to hear the voice of those who suffer and how to foster healing of those harmed without creating a disabling and harmful situation for another.

So, with all these so-called projects to bring down carbon footprints, instituting renewable energy or energy savings designs or just one device, how do we really look seriously about long-term conservation, practices that both pay off in the near term for human communities and which also help to restore ecologies and species that are continually under threat of extinction?

The impact of natural environmental harm is not always immediately evident to the average citizen, yet for many of us in sustainability and environmentalism, it is very apparent that the earth community is in some cases at the point where humanity’s actions involving extractive and exploitative violence are collapsing our earth’s carrying capacity.

The continual growth model, as opposed to a steady state model, can mask the absolutely implosive affects of growth, development and this capitalist-driven “continual progress at all costs” paradigm.

Here comes one offshoot of deep ecology to the rescue: the Environmental Restoration Movement. This model or movement is one of the key framers of the environmental and conservation movements in the West.

While you won’t find many backward-thinking politicians and members of chambers of commerce thinking this, but for many, environmental restoration is an orchestration of ecological, ethical, and moral premises and practices. The basic question posed by leaders in this movement is foundational: How should humans live in relationship with the rest of the natural world?

For many who even do not consider themselves environmentalists, they too look with concern at natural settings that have been degraded by human interference, like a mountain razed by mining and all the rubble and toxic tailings spilling over. Do they wonder what responsibility we have as a species to restore these settings back to a state of relative naturalness?

We should be learning from our mistakes. Wiping out the buffalo destroyed entire regions of multi-state size – their micro species, flowering flora, and the vast grasslands and all the related symbiotic and cooperative species and their niches have been disturbed or wiped permanently from those areas.

Australia figured out how restoration might work – putting vast herds of beef cattle on that fragile old soil was wrong. Those kangaroos with that huge foot, and the way it moves as a species, actually is kind to the soil. So now, those meat eaters are looking to ‘roos as their new-old meat source because soil is saved.

Restoring soil so humanity can herd, slaughter and eat kangaroos, not exactly an earth justice paradigm fitting of true restorative conservation.

Of course, restoration conservation has its range of applications and mindsets – some like Thomas Berry see it this way: the way we treat the non-human world is reflected in the way we treat others in the human world. So, “this perceived reciprocal interrelationship may have something to say about how we think about recreating an ecosystem after damage has been inflicted upon it and, perhaps most importantly, how we consider our relationship with the earth community before we inflict damage upon it.”

The Environmental Restoration Movement got some heavy steam going in the early years of the 20th century. At the end of that rip-roaring time of rapid industrial development, population growth and westward expansion, 1850-1900, some of the blinders were taken off. We as a culture at the turn of the 20th Century saw natural resources were finite. President Theodore Roosevelt held the first Governors Conference on natural resources in 1907 specifically to get the best and the brightest at the time to tackle the problem of diminishing resources.

He wrote, “It is evident the abundant natural resources on which the welfare of this nation rests are becoming depleted, and in not a few cases, are already exhausted.”

This dichotomy exists in the restorative justice movement when it comes to conservation. Whether you call it restoration, conservation, wise-use or stewardship, for all practical purposes, economic development of resources as quickly and technically possible has been the underlying motivation.

Many consider this NOT true restorative justice in the name of conservation.

So, it’s an easy offshoot, even for conservations, to see these human/nature conflicts as technical abstractions of management and restoration. Anthropomorphism, or human-centered thinking, puts nature’s value into this category of “usefulness to humankind.”

This article will be continued in Part 2, which will describe “The Beaver Solution,” a restorative project organized by The Lands Council, where beavers deemed ‘nuisances’ in one area are relocated to another and used to restore waterways. You can also see “Beaver Fever,” an attached related story by Paul Haeder about this project, which recently ran in Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living. (Reprinted with permission).

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