Drought, wildfires, polluted air and water, warming seas, failing food systems – it’s easy to get discouraged by the planet’s ongoing climate crisis and by our leaders’ seeming inability to do anything about it.
But Stephanie Malin, associate professor in the Department of Sociology at CSU, and co-author Meghan Elizabeth Kallman, from the University of Massachusetts Boston, report that there is cause for “active hope” (in a nod to Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone) amid the gloom.
In Building Something Better: Environmental Crises and the Promise of Community Change (Rutgers University Press, 2022), they examine existing structures not only of their own discipline of sociology but also of the market-based neoliberal underpinnings of governments around the world – and find them insufficient to meet today’s challenges.
“The social, economic, and political systems of industrial capitalism are unsustainable – for people … and the planet,” the authors write. “Considering how different communities react to different pieces of climate crisis, we hope, can offer new ways to think about entwined problems confronting humanity.”
To help uncover these new ways of thinking, Malin and Kallman argue for an environmental sociology that looks beyond society’s economic drivers and traditional power structures to include voices of women, Indigenous people, and people of color, and most importantly, communities already feeling the impacts of the changing climate.
They support their argument with 10 case studies of local organizations that are already building better systems to reclaim public spaces for the common good. And that is cause for hope.
“It’s a blessing to be able to lift up these cases that represent community-based commonalities, and to use our platform and privilege for people to see what’s going well,” said Malin, who is also co-director of the Center for Environmental Justice at CSU. “We wanted to show what’s working now.”
The case studies range from creating new energy systems to power schools in Uganda to community development on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota; from street bands as a focus for rebuilding urban spaces to regenerative farming as a model of environmental justice. Many of the organizations are Indigenous- and/or women-led, and part of a growing global youth movement.
Groups protecting water quality from refineries in the San Francisco Bay area and uranium mining in the Grand Canyon share space with the movement to divest university endowments from the fossil fuel industry. They are all nodes in what Malin describes as a “mycelial network” connecting the globe to reclaim public spaces for the sake of all people and everyone else on planet Earth.
“At the core of all these organizations, as different as they may be, is people getting together, hammering out a vision for change, and doing the tough work of transforming the world around them,” the authors conclude.