Environmental Crisis or Crisis of Epistemology?
Sustainable Knowledge & Environmental Justice
Bunyan Bryant, editor
Morgan James Publishing, 2011
Over the years I’ve been blessed with several opportunities to participate in gatherings organized by Professsor Bunyan Bryant who teaches in the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE).
Each has been a landmark in my own political, philosophic journey.
For example, at a small Futuring Conference during MLK week in 1992, Bunyan gave participants an hour to come up with our vision for the 21st century. Our little essays were then published with Bunyan’s introduction “Rehearsal for the Future,” in a small quarterly www.context.org/ICLIB/IC40/Bryant.htm.
Since then, I rarely make a speech or write an article without projecting a vision that can help radical activists go beyond “Protest Politics.”
Bunyan is a creative conference organizer. His big gatherings usually include small groups who meet at the end of each day. These small meetings enable participants to interact personally, share reports from concurrent workshops, and discuss thoughts and questions. Sometimes they even provide a way for us to influence the proceedings.
For example, in 1994 I participated in the Environmental Justice Symposium convened in D.C to bring together community activists and representatives of government agencies to discuss how to implement the Executive Order on Environmental Justice issued by President Clinton. The first or second night, after my small group reported that we were unhappy with the way government reps were dominating workshop discussions, we decided to stage a 1960s type demonstration at the morning plenary.
Our demonstration persuaded EPA’s Carol Browner to tear up her speech and open the mike to community people to voice our concerns.
Returning to Detroit, we organized the city’s First Environmental Justice gathering and founded Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice (DWEJ).
This book is a collection of the papers presented at a 2002 gathering convened by Bunyan to evaluate the epistemology/methodology of academics doing environmental justice research.
How do these intellectuals relate to community people? Do they regard us only as informants for the books and papers which earn them degrees and university positions? Or do they work with us to generate the ideas and policies needed to create sustainable communities?
I was delighted to find in the book the papers presented at this gathering by Angana P, Chatterji, a sociology professor who was accompanied by a community organizer with whom she had worked in India, and Mutammbo Mpanya, originally from the Congo. Their papers exposed the unsustainablity of knowledge which does not respect the heart knowledge of the grassroots..
I was a participant observer at this conference. My report, “Environmental Crisis or Crisis of Epistemology: Working for Sustainable Knowledge,” is included as an Appendix
The book ends with the poem, “Scientific Knowledge is oppression,” which Bunyan had stayed up all night to write. This is how it begins:
O, beautiful, oh precious skies no more.
The price we pay for being poor.
We have been beaten down by theories,
By long complicated stories,
By officials who question our memories,
And by scientists enhancing self-serving careers
Rather than exploring fundamental change and new frontiers.
And by college professors who fail to acknowledge
The power of our worthwhile knowledge.
Failing to take what we say at heart
Because they feel we are less than smart.