Discussion Of Social And Environmental Justice For Our Future

The strong link between social and environmental justice can be used to secure a sustainable and just future for our world. This essay will argue that by reshaping participation and procedural injustice, we can secure the capabilities required to flourish now and in the future. This notion will be analysed using the activism group Friends of the Earth (FoE). This is an international organisation however the Australian division will be specifically examined with a microscope on Economics for Earth which is a focus area of the group. This essay will focus on the capabilities that we need to ensure a flourishing life, that is, having a life worth living. However, if we do not have access to these capabilities or institutional injustice restricts them, then there will be injustice. Hence, by reshaping procedural injustices coupled with increased participation there is potential to secure capabilities for the current and future generations. This essay will first explain the ethos of FoE, before analysing the theory of the capabilities approach to justice. It will then explore into the theory of participation and procedural injustices. This essay will then assess how these theories of justice are operationalised and actioned by FoE Australia and their affiliate groups.

FoE International is the “world’s largest grassroots environmental network” with 77 national divisions and around 5000 activist groups (Friends of the Earth Australia, 2019). However, they are noted to take a radical approach to injustice (Doherty, 2007). They proclaim to “challenge the current model of economic and corporate neoliberal globalisation, and promote solutions that will help to create environmentally sustainable and socially just societies” (Friends of the Earth Australia, 2019). FoE Australia is a federation of affiliate groups that mostly campaign and advocate for specific issues. They work together towards a common goal of more environmentally and socially just outcomes. Market Forces, Earth Worker, and Melbourne’s Food Co-op are three affiliate groups that advocate for institutional justice and will be analysed in this essay. These groups mostly focus on participation and procedural injustices, whilst also ensuring individuals have access to their capabilities. FoE Australia act through the activities of their affiliate groups, and through national campaign’s and projects, spokespeople, social media and other publications (Friends of the Earth Australia, 2019). Each group operates independently but also align with FoE Australia’s vision and values. This essay will focus on the actions of the three affiliate groups mentioned above, as well as the Economics for Earth focus area for FoE Australia. This sub body focuses on unequal power structures and institutional injustices specifically where corporate greed is impacting the environment (Friends of the Earth Australia, 2019). To rectify this, they lobby for the government to create legislation to ensure corporations are held to account and international trade is fair. FoE Australia believe that empowered communities and social movements working together locally and globally can “build a sustainable and just future” (Friends of the Earth Australia, 2019).

Our capabilities allow us to flourish. This idea was first introduced by Sen; however, Nussbaum extended the idea to create a list of ten Central Capabilities that can act as a threshold for a flourishing life (Nussbaum, 2011, p. 33). The capabilities approach surrounds the matter of whether one has the ability to do or to be, and how that determines their ability to flourish (Robeyns, 2016). Nussbaum’s capabilities approach provides a “foundation for basic political principles that should underwrite constitutional guarantees” (Nussbaum, 2011). Nussbaum’s (2011, pp. 33-34) ten Central Capabilities include; life, bodily health, bodily integrity, senses, imagination, and thought, emotions, practical reason, affiliation, other species, play, and control over one’s environment in reference to the political and material environment. It is important to note, that these ten capabilities do not make reference to the environment. Instead, the environment can be considered as a meta-capability (Holland, 2012). That is, a human cannot have access to the ten capabilities if they do not have access to the environment, and hence it must be protected before any others. Through the lens of this approach, injustice is not from a lack of a good, rather a capability being denied. Breena Holland (2012) extends Nussbaum’s capabilities approach to a framework that is relevant to FoE Australia’s discourse. She argues that climate change can undermine capabilities, leaving the possibility for flourishing insecure (Holland, 2012, p. 151). For example, climate change can impact life and bodily health from rising temperatures and increased weather extremes. Furthermore, bodily integrity can be misplaced with the increasing numbers of climate migration people’s livelihoods are threatened by rising sea levels and other impacts of climate change (Holland, 2012, pp. 151-152). This capabilities approach as a combination of Nussbaum and Holland’s ideas is extremely relevant for the current political landscape and environmental justice discourse.

How do we ensure that we secure the Central Capabilities and the environment as a meta-capability for the future? Through a combination of participation and procedural justice, it is possible to reshape the attitudes and laws to secure environmental justice for the future. Young (2011, p. 15) defines social justice as the eradication of institutionalised domination and oppression. From this, there is a strong link between justice and politics. These politics refer to “institutional organisation, public action, social practices and habits, and cultural meanings” (Young, 2011, p. 34). While Young focuses on justice in the political process as a way to achieve an equal distribution of social goods and social recognition, her view can be taken into a broader focus (Schlosberg, 2001, pp. 3-4). That is, an increase in political participation in governing decisions has the potential to create a more environmentally just future. Schlosberg (2001, p. 11) contributes the current lack of participation in environmental decision-making stem from the barriers such as less access to political, legal, scientific and other resources. Hence, as articulated by FoE Australia, more participation in policy making and decision making is central to environmental justice. This can include recognising community knowledge, institutionalising public participation and including cultural diversity (Schlosberg, 2001, p. 11). Fraser supports this by arguing that marginalised groups are excluded from political processes through ingrained “institutionalised patterns of cultural value” (Fraser, 2000). By analysing these processes and introducing more procedural justice to our systems there is the possibility to constitutionalise the capabilities approach, which Nussbaum advocated for (Nussbaum, 2011). In summary, individual and community involvement in the political process is key to a just system.

It is important to note the pluralistic justice that is evident by analysing the concepts of justice within FoE Australia. Pluralistic justice refers to conceptions of justice that are connected and mutually reinforcing. For example, systems allow one to access their capabilities, but also if one’s capabilities are hindered, they are not able to participate in the political process. This idea of pluralistic justice can be extended to include other forms of justice theory that is reflected by FoE Australia, evident within the group’s literature and actions.

These theories of justice are reflected in the activities and functions of FoE. In recognition of participation and procedural injustices, FoE groups around the world have a flat, anti-hierarchical organisational structure, with an even spread of power. This directly reflects their belief that for social justice, which is inextricably linked to environmental justice, power dynamics and circulations of power need to change (Friends of the Earth Australia, 2019). There is no direct head of FoE rather “everyone gets a say in how the organisation is run and the strategic direction” of their campaigns (Friends of the Earth Australia, 2019). FoE International is the only one of the three largest transnational environmental NGOs where a common identity extends beyond the division of the countries in the global north and the global south (Doherty, 2007). It is important to note, that they do have a board of management which is required by law. Hence, through their actions, FoE advocate for a movement away from concentrated power to a more even distribution across society. Furthermore, FoE value and champion transparency evident by publishing their annual reports and financial statements online from 2008 to 2017. This organisational structure implicitly reinforces FoE’s belief that this is the most just institutional structure.

FoE Australia believe that capitalism exasperates injustice. They action this through a participation justice lens and established a food co-op in Melbourne which functions under a sustainable business model (Friends of the Earth Melbourne, 2017). Using this front as an example, the group advocates for just alternatives to powerful industries and giving power back to workers. The local and community minded approach to justice is evidenced by their principle “Think Global, Act Local”. They advocate for a grassroots movement towards environmental justice asking Australia’s education institutions and local councils to ensure they buy goods that are made sustainably and justly (Friends of the Earth Australia, 2019). This is further reinforced by the vision statement of FoE Australia to empower “communities and social movements working together across borders can build a sustainable and just future” (Friends of the Earth Australia, 2019). From this, it is evident the strong focus FoE Australia has on individual and community participation within the environmental movement. This has the potential to be further extended and could be operationalised by advocating for more community involvement in the political process and decision making. For example, recognition justice can be combined with participation to include Aboriginal Australians in decisions that involve the land.

FoE Australia’s Economics for Earth branch advocate for our capabilities now and in the future. They argue that corporate greed and the neoliberal economy hinder this. Our minimum capabilities, as explicitly outlined by FoE, are food, access to clean energy and a “thriving environment” (Friends of the Earth Australia, 2019). This draws parallels to Nussbaum’s ten Central Capabilities. However corporate greed can lead to profit maximisation at all costs which is having negative environmental impacts. As explored above, Holland (2012) explained how negative environmental outcomes hinder our capabilities, such as bodily health and food. Furthermore, the abusive relation that can exist between large corporations and their labours in the supply chain, can diminish the capabilities of those labourers (Friends of the Earth Australia, 2019). Being underpaid can trap an individual in the poverty cycle which limits their ability to flourish. For example, bodily health is directly impacted when an individual can not afford health care. To rectify this situation Earth Worker, an affiliate of FoE, is a group that strives to “establish a network of worker-owned cooperatives committed to sustainable enterprise throughout Australia” (Earthworker, 2018). This comes down to the belief in a “greater grassroots economic democracy” which reinforces the need for participation and procedural justice in institutions to secure our capabilities for the future (Earthworker, 2018). Reshaping these institutional injustices has the potential to overcome social and environmental exploitation evident in climate change, job insecurity and inequality (Earthworker, 2018). An example of their work is the fostering of jobs within the LaTrobe Valley in Victoria which was facing structural unemployment following the transition away from the coal industry (Johnson, 2019) . To rectify this and challenge capitalism power dynamics, they founded a worker-owned solar hot water technology factory. This aims to create “dignified and democratic employment” whilst promoting sustainable environmental outcomes (Earthworker, 2017). The factory is owned and managed by the workers, which is the Earthworker’s model solution to the environmental crisis and restoring justice to our institutions (Johnson, 2019). This in turn promotes access to our capabilities and flourishing. This solution to job transition reinforces how closely intertwined social and environmental exploitation are.

FoE Australia strongly believe in involving individuals and communities within their organisation. They have an active presence on social media and within other forms of media. Their Twitter account is regularly updated to inform followers of recent environmental news. This channel is used to quickly promote positive change and advocate against policy and corporations harming the environment (Friends of the Earth, 2019). This platform enhances the sense of community and cohesiveness within the group whilst simultaneously scrutinising politicians and corporations. For example, on November 2 2019 the twitter handle promoted the recent decision in the Victorian Gas Ban saying “The #VicGasBan was smart policy for VIC, and other states and territories should so the same” (Friends of the Earth, 2019). Furthermore, on November 1 2019, they tweeted “The federal gov has not plan to tackle the climate crisis. It is failing the Australian people. In an extremely undemocratic move the PM wants to criminalise people who are showing leadership where he has not” (Friends of the Earth, 2019). This critical engagement with politics and the news allows for engagement with a broad community whilst also promoting their message. In addition to a social media presence, FoE Australia release press on their website which further promotes their message in a peaceful way. In a more activist approach, FoE Australia lobby and protest for environmental change and more environmentally justice outcomes. As Fraser (2000) argues “democratic and participatory decision-making procedures are an element of, and a condition for, social justice”. Through these engagements with different media platforms and activism FoE reinforce participation justice and the importance of a sense of community.

FoE Australia criticises power inconsistencies mostly through their affiliate group Market Forces. This group advocates for green energy and investment away from the non-renewable energy sector and environmentally damaging goods (Market Forces, 2019). They primarily target groups that invest other people’s money as they choose such as banks, superannuation funds and the government. Market Forces fight for procedural justice by advocating for laws and pressuring corporation to ensure environmental justice (Market Forces, 2019). For example, they filed resolutions with NAB, ANZ and Westpac calling to align their lending and exposure to fossil fuel projects with the goals of the Paris accord (Toscano, 2019). Furthermore, they advocate to board rooms and corporates to redirect their investment away from the mining sector. However, their actions are not widely accepted with government agencies frustrated at their activism. Attorney-General Christian Porter criticised the influence of their political will on “companies across the country through widespread, co-ordinated harassment and threats of boycotts” (Grattan, 2019). This represents the continuous debate between the government and activism groups.

This essay has argued that to secure an environmentally just future, we need to reshape the participatory and procedural injustices and secure our capabilities. However there is a complex relationship between activism groups and the government. This was evident through FoE Australia and their sub-body groups. However activist groups are essential as driving forces for change and a more just system. FoE Australia’s participatory organisational structure allows them to campaign for what their members and community believe in. From this they focus on how our capabilities are limited by the unequal distribution of power between governments, corporations and citizens, and they strive to rectify this. Furthermore, they promote procedural justice by advocating for new systems and laws that create more social and environmentally just outcomes. From this example, it has become clear that by advocating for procedural and participation justice, it is possible to secure individual’s capabilities for the future. 

16 December 2021
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