Settler colonialism needs environmental reconciliation: Esme Greene Murdock, Ecological reconciliation: Bridging humanity and nature for justice, Michigan State University, 2016

06Oct16

Abstract: The disciplines of political philosophy and environmental ethics are both concerned with the articulation and analysis of harms as well as the creation of normative and sustainable remedies. However, these disciplines rarely overlap in either the scope of their analysis of harm or their remedies. For they largely articulate harm as either “political” or “environmental,” and not importantly, both. “Ecological Reconciliation: Bridging Humanity and Nature for Justice” explores this separation between political philosophy and environmental ethics as exemplified in the separation of the literatures of political reconciliation and ecological restoration. This dissertation argues that both political reconciliation and ecological restoration attempt to articulate processes of reconciliation as remedies to harms—where reconciliation is defined as the instantiation of right relations out of harmful ones. However, both the analysis of political and environmental harm and the proposed processes of reconciliation regarding these harms can be improved through the incorporation of more inclusive ecological relations within political reconciliation and through the incorporation of more inclusive political relations within ecological restoration. Ecological relations, roughly, track the physical processes and functionalities of ecosystems, while political relations track the human perspectives, lived experiences, and values that construct human relationships to power. Political reconciliation can come closer to its aspirations toward social justice from understandings of how environmental injustices both aggravate and contribute to social and political marginality; ecological restoration can come closer to its aspirations to create greater environmental responsibility from analysis of how social and political injustices infuse and color restoration plans and projects.

This dissertation argues that the integration of ecological relations and political relations is key to better analyzing harm, as well as to the construction of sustainable, practical remedies. For example, the disproportionate siting of commercial toxic waste facilities in poor, communities of color in the United States is an instance of both social/political injustice and environmental injustice. Both levels of harms must be analyzed and addressed through reconciliatory frameworks that are expanded to account for them both. As solutions, this dissertation explores the literatures of environmental justice and Indigenous environmental ethics as areas of inquiry that center the relatedness of political and environmental harms/remedies. Both environmental justice and Indigenous environmental ethics prioritize the wedding of inclusive ecological relations and political relations to the instantiation of right relations and, thus, produce integrated, better models of reconciliation, which overcome limitations of both political reconciliation and ecological restoration models explored in the first part of the dissertation. Environmental justice tracks the ways in which environmental, social, and political ills disproportionately affect already vulnerable and marginalized communities, which illustrates the inextricable links between political and environmental injustice. Similarly, Indigenous environmental ethics examines how the rampant injustices (especially to the environment and ecosystems) of settler colonialism engender networks of harm that are deeply political and ecological, which call for reconciliatory processes that result in the ability of Indigenous communities to live in and experience the world in just, authentic, and culturally appropriate ways.



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