Citizenship and Environmentalism

EarthzineEssay Contest 2011, Essays, In-Depth, Original, Sections

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology logo

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

By Katelyn Stenger

Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Indiana

Poster board signs oscillate in a sea of citizens flooding city hall’s block. Slogans range from “Clean jobs now!” in black and white markers, to “Green Peace,” artfully painted on a canvas. The assembly ranges from teenagers holding Sierra Club signs, to old men with leathered and tanned skin in jeans and steel-toed boots standing silently. There is great diversity in environmental activism, yet this group represents a minority in the greater populace. Ensuring a sustainable future will require the majority of people to transform their current lifestyles. Communities act as the cocoons to metamorphose individuals into ecological citizens with strong beliefs rooted in sustainable justice and environmental stewardship.

Communities are groups of individuals who share common interests, and tend to impact each individual in a range of ways. Communities range in size and impact on their members. Family is the most intimate community, as it is the first community to which individuals are introduced. Children continuously learn in a family. Ethical behaviors are molded, which continue to affect children as they transform into adults (Aftandilian). Another kind of community is an adult’s professional workplace. Companies have the ability to influence employees’ personal lifestyles indirectly. It is through the actions and missions of companies that many employees are influenced (Andersson 299). Companies reach thousands of people, and can positively influence people globally. These two types of communities are distinctively different from one another. Families concentrate on the microcosm, in the form of a routine lifestyle of a small group of individuals in a small location, while companies focus on worldwide changes of a variety of cultures. Both of these communities are necessary to create and implement changes globally.

On a larger scale of community is the concept of a citizen. Webster’s dictionary defines citizenship as, “the state of being vested with the rights, privileges, and duties of a citizen” (Citizenship). This broad definition allows for an array of interpretations. The fundamental identification of a citizen is difficult to accomplish without vagueness, due to the diversity of the word’s body. A citizen can take on many forms, including active, passive, conservative, liberal, and virtue holding (Dobson 30). As Bryan Turner, a scholar on citizenship, states in his 1990 paper, “A conservative view of citizenship (as passive and private) contrasts with a more revolutionary idea of active and public citizenship,” (qtd. in Dobson 36). To elucidate the meaning of citizenship, “post-cosmopolitan” citizenship will be the basis definition of what will be termed as a citizen (Dobson 32).

Post-cosmopolitan citizenship is an emerging form within liberal societies. One of its defining characteristics includes a sense of non-contractual duty and responsibility that is established within the citizen (Dobson 32). The characterization of “non-contractual” implies the citizen feels it is a duty, regardless of law, to act in a just manner. In addition, the citizen fulfills his or her responsibilities in both public and private sectors (Dobson 32). This ranges from the citizens’ work places to their homes. Another characteristic emerges, which is described as the feminine virtue, which includes altruism (Dobson 32). According to Shafir, a scholar on citizenship, “the public sphere [has been viewed] as transcendent, rational, and ultimately masculine, [whereas,] the private sphere [has been viewed] as the feminine realm of emotions”(qtd. in Dobson 52). A last defining characteristic of a post-cosmopolitan citizen is his or her ability to view their duties as non-discriminatory and non-territorial (Dobson 75). Post-cosmopolitan citizenship contains the key in connecting people globally.

Similarly, sustainability is a practice that unites citizens of the world. “Sustainability has come to the forefront in the wake of increased global understanding that economics, environmental, health and human well-being are interconnected and interdependent,” (Environmental Stewardship 1). This global understanding of interconnectedness will create the opportunity for people to view themselves as global citizens. It will be understood that problems of one country do not end at its borders, but extend themselves into a complex relationship of the environment and human development. People across the world will view themselves as citizens belonging to a larger body, whose binding characteristic is the universal practice of sustainability.

These citizens will be identified as ecological citizens. This kind of citizenship is an environmental form of post-cosmopolitan citizenship. “Ecological citizenship deals in the currency of non-contractual responsibility, it inhabits the private as well as the public sphere, it refers to the source rather than the nature of responsibility to determine what count as citizenship virtues, it works with the language of virtue, and it is explicitly non-territorial,” (Dobson 89). The word ecological is rooted in ecosystem. An ecological citizen will also view themselves as a part of the ecosystem, enforcing the thought that humans are directly connected with nature and its preservation.

This idea of preservation is fundamental in the principle of sustainable justice. In order to understand sustainable justice, one must believe people of the future have the rights people of today are entitled to. “If it is a requirement of justice to meet the conditions necessary for all to have the opportunity to realize their basic rights to life, then this applies in principle as much to the future as it does now,” (Dower 411). Allowing future generations the resources the present generation has, is the underlying concept of sustainable justice.

Current citizens need to provide justice for future generations, and in doing so, must assume duty for the Earth; current citizens must become environmental stewards of the world. “Environmental stewardship is the responsibility for environmental quality shared by all those whose actions affect the environment,” (E.P.A.). This stewardship requires an altruistic behavior found in ecological citizens. Obligation extends from one’s actions to the entire community’s effect on the environmental quality.

Communities contain a group of individuals who are interdependent on one another. Often, these relationships have levels of emotional connection. ‘Feminine’ virtue is a characteristic of ecological citizens. One study conducted by Allen and Meyer in 1990 clarifies the effectiveness of ‘feminine’ virtue as opposed to ‘masculine’ virtue. It examines two different kinds of commitment: Affective, which is described as one’s individual attachment toward, as well as identification and involvement with, a group, and continuance, which is described as one’s tendency to engage in consistent lines of activity because of the perceived costs of doing otherwise (Andersson 299). “Affective commitment was found to be positively related to altruistic behaviors,” (Andersson 299). This coincides with the causes of proenvironmentalism in individuals. “Proenvironmentalism [is viewed] as an ethical response indicative of a spiritual worldview, [resulting in] a New Ecological Paradigm [of] post-materialist or altruistic values” (Andersson 296). These forming communities, ranging from families to corporations, allow for the development of ecological citizenship, sustainable justice and environmental stewardship.

Ecological citizenship can first be taught in the family, the smallest community. Many environmental activists, who may also be considered ecological citizens, report a family member influenced them at a young age.

In one such study, Louise Chawla of Kentucky State University, and her colleagues interviewed more than 50 adult men and women who were all committed to protecting the environment. She asked them what experiences had inspired them to care about the environment, and at what times in their lives those experiences occurred. More than 75 percent of the environmentalists Chawla interviewed identified “the experience of natural areas and the influence of family members who directed attention to the value of the environment” as the main reasons they cared about nature (Aftandilian).

Families reach all individuals, and hold the possibility of creating those environmental connections at young ages. This proves an effective method of reaching many individuals on a finite magnitude.

In addition to reaching children at a young age, it would also be beneficial to educate young women and mothers in ecological citizenship practices. Traditionally, women have been viewed as the care-takers of the household and in some cultures stay home to raise children. Informing current and future mothers leads to informing all parts of the family, by way of mothers teaching their families. Reaching mothers may pose a challenge, but if non-profit organizations or companies provide informational sessions to educate mothers, this challenge can be overcome. In addition to reaching mothers, providing opportunities for children to positively interact with their ecosystems also promotes ecological citizenship. These interactions can be visits or volunteering at nature reserves, wildlife rescue shelters or zoos (Aftandilian). Family life is the best setting for creating the highest impact on a micro-societal level, and establishes ecological citizenship.

Although families are effective at impacting their members, they remain limited in globally connecting a diverse community of citizens. In contrast, large corporations have the ability to reach thousands of people. If corporations promote environmental consciousness, its body will also adopt a similar awareness. As stated by Andersson, “By some virtue of their power and affection the planet, some scholars argue, multinational corporations must play a significant role in the advancement of global ecological ethics.” (295). Additionally, corporations address the global solution of sustainability without immediately dealing with the direct political aspects of different governing bodies. The effects of corporations prove to be effective. “Findings from a number of studies in the fields of organizations and the natural environment suggest that corporate values indicating commitment to ecological sustainability are an important factor in the employee enactment of environmental behaviors,” (Andersson 297). Ultimately, the mission of a corporation and its active participation in ecological citizenship transcends to its body of employees and participating members.

Environmental issues cannot be separated from social justice. There is an indissoluble relationship of the environment, obligation and citizenship that enables sustainable justice to be effectively implemented within communities (Smith 3). Families hold the obligation to act responsibly by practicing sustainable living. These include in most basic form, but are not limited to, sustainable housing, renewable energy sources, and recycling of material goods. These living conditions allow for future families to live a similar life. Establishing sustainable justice on a family level is easier to implement because an emotional level, or an affective commitment, is made within the family community. The idea families want future generations to have the opportunity for similar or better lives is the basic principle of sustainable justice.

Corporate organizations play major roles in executing sustainable practices which provide justice for its employees and resources. Corporations must use the “triple bottom line” approach in determining a profit, which includes the people, the planet and the monetary profit (Dower 403). Now, more than ever, a corporation has an obligation to maintain resources for future generations. In addition, workers must be given rights and reasonable working conditions.

Combining the elements of both family and corporate communities, Summa Institute aims at creating sustainable justice by starting with the education of children. Summa Institute’s main idea is the children who attend the institute will grow into healthy, engaged, compassionate and fulfilled adults. “Sustainable human relationships create mutual well being. It is then natural and inevitable that those who enjoy such relationships will extend sustainability to all aspects of their lives, inkling the larger community,” (Community at Summa). Summa Institute provides education and is family driven in bringing sustainable justice to its body members. It connects education and professional development with sustainable human relations. Summa Institute is an excellent example of how sustainable justice spreads in communities on both corporate and family levels.

In order to provide sustainable justice for the future, ecological citizens must act as environmental stewards of the Earth. “The diverse area of research into individual environmental concerns has demonstrated that people who are concerned about the future of the planet are more likely to engage in proenvironmental behaviors,” (Andersson 298). It is essential families become environmental stewards because they directly interact with nature through daily activities (Gill). An option for families to become environmental stewards would be restoration activities, “because they allow people to experience a form of reciprocity with a place: humans do something to help nature, and nature responds with restored beauty,” (Aftandilian).

In a similar fashion, corporations must also take the roles of being environmental stewards of the world. One corporation which exemplifies environmental stewardship actively is a pump-making company, Grundfos. Grundfos is a profitable company which fathers a community that teaches environmental stewardship to its members. Grundfos mission statement is, “managing corporate sustainability and responsibility at Grundfos is the act of making people across the world meets desired goals and objectives,” (Grundfos). The company’s promises are to create shared values of keeping sustainability first. Grundfos maintains sustainable resources, as well as proper justice for its workers (Grundfos). Grundfos is a lighthouse of how environmental stewardship is profitable and promotes the well being of its employees and the Earth.

One critique of environmentalism and citizenship is the energy and resources spent on creating a sustainable world could be used elsewhere to solve more immediate problems (Dobson 90). Undoubtedly, the economic collapse, peak oil, global water crisis, specie extinction, and rapid climate change are a few of the world’s most prevalent complications (Arlington Institute). Yet, all of these problems involve human relationships with the Earth and its diverse body of resources. It is the unsustainable use of resources such as water, oil and land that creates an imbalance in the world. If the people of the world held an ecological citizenship concerned with sustainable justice and environmental stewardship, the world would realize “what we are not now doing is sustaining a lot of the things which we need to sustain and see as desirable- peace, justice, prosperity, ecological integrity, species richness and diversity, non-polluted environments” (Dower 403). Humans have to stop what they are doing for the sake of peace and justice, as well as the environment.

To begin the transition into the New Ecological Paradigm, communities will act as the doorways for ecological citizens to grow and withhold strong beliefs rooted in sustainable justice and environmental stewardship. Individuals will affect families’ behavior in becoming more sustainable on a daily basis, while corporations will promote ecological citizenship because of the positive effects on the environment and its employees. Ensuring a sustainable future is essential to the well being of not only humans, but also to the Earth and all of its creatures.

Works Cited

Dobson, Andrew. Citizenship and the Environment. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003. Ebrary. Web. 17 Oct. 2011.

Gill, Seyfang. “Shopping for Sustainability: Can Sustainable Consumption Promote Ecological Citizenship.” GreenFILE. EBSCO, Apr. 2005. Web. 18 Oct. 2011.

Kasemir, Bernd, Jill Jager, Carlo C. Jaeger, and Matthew T. Gardner, eds. Public Participation in Sustainability Science. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. Ebrary. Web. 17 Oct. 2011.

Smith, Mark J., and Piya Pangsapa. Environment and Citizenship: Integrating Justice, Responsibility and Civic Engagement. London: Zed, 2008.Ebrary. Web. 17 Oct. 2011.

Vitek, William, and Wes Jackson, eds. The Virtues of Ignorance: Complexity, Sustainability, and the Limits of Knowledge. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 2008. Print.

Wilk, Richard. “Consumption Embedded in Culture and Language: Implications for Finding Sustainability.” Sustainability: Science, Practice & Policy. Vol. 6. Bloomington: Department of Anthropology, Indiana University, 2010. 38-48. GreenFILE. Web. 18 Oct. 2011.