This blog post is an invitation to join the new multispecies justice working group, written by Geography and Planning’s Associate Professor Andrew McGregor, Associate Professor Donna Houston, Alinta Pilkington, Jack Vanzino, Sophia Amini and Tanmay Kulkarni.
In 2020 the new unit GEOP3000 Environmental Justice in the Anthropocene was taught for the first time at MQ. Both a social movement and a research agenda, environmental justice highlights how responsibility for, and the burdens of, environmental degradation are unevenly distributed across space and scale, and divided between and within social categories such as race, class, gender, and ethnicity. Practical improvements are sought through more informed, flexible, representative and inclusive decision-making processes. The Anthropocene refers to a new geological epoch in which humans, and some humans in particular, have become a geological force driving planetary change. The Anthropocene amplifies the uneven impacts of global heating, pollution and landscape change on people, plants, animals and places.
Throughout the unit students developed new concepts and skills that could be applied to improve environmental decision making. One concept that stood out for many was multi-species justice, whereby the considerations of non-human species are also taken into account in decision making. Multi-species justice was employed as a frame to analyse a range of issues within assignments, including animals in zoos, shark management and kangaroo culls.
After the unit concluded a small inspired interdisciplinary group of students have worked with staff from Geography and Planning to form a multispecies justice working group. The group meets fortnightly via zoom to discuss relevant readings and developments relating to multispecies justice, such as recent changes to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The group has since grown to include Masters, PhD students and staff and is open to all.
Multispecies justice is a novel concept but one with great potential to generate new practices and ideas. As Danielle Celermajer and her co-authors argue, as a novel concept multispecies justice has a lot of tensions and disagreements. Chief among these tensions is the question of how justice can be more-than-human? How can we avoid ‘extensionist’ and ‘hierarchical’ approaches that extend the human-centric ‘subject’ of justice and how can we understand justice in more plural and relational ways? In what follows we share some of the ideas the group founders, Sophia, Jack, Alinta and Tanmay, associated with multispecies justice.
What is multispecies justice?
Multi-species justice means recognising that human life is entangled with all other forms of life and ecological processes. It means acknowledging that our wellbeing is directly dependent on the wellbeing of other species, and acting in a way that is genuinely considerate of other species to create a healthier way of living on our planet (Sophia).
Multispecies justice is a new, generative concept that refers to the recognition of injustice caused to non-human species as a result of anthropocentric environmental decision-making processes (Jack).
Multi-species justice ensures that all interests are not only acknowledged, but adequately represented. It is an all-inclusive concept, highlighting the interconnectivity between species, including our own (Tanmay).
It forces us to make spaces in our thinking, communities, planning, and resource use and so on that actively involve the consideration of other life – how they live, where they shelter, their food and water needs and so on (Alinta).
Why are you interested in multispecies justice?
I think it’s a critical concept because we’re facing a period of history likely to be the 6th mass extinction event – and it’s an event directly attributable to humanity and our unchecked appetites for resources. Placing nature back into the frame of rights forces us to check these exploitative lifestyles and simultaneously enables us to innovate new ways to live within our means (Alinta).
An approach that sees humans embedded within, rather than exceptional from the rest of the natural world, will enable more just and equitable outcomes for the largest number of stakeholders within environmental decision-making processes (Jack).
I think it’s inevitable that we will have to deeply reconsider our exploitative relationships with other species – not just for their sake, but also for our own survival. Multi-species justice provides a vital and exciting avenue for exploring how to establish this consideration in our decision-making processes (Sophia).
It is a concept that repositions humanity alongside other species, instead of above them, finally recognising that humanity is not distinct from nature, but a part of it. This is the sort of thinking that will enable environmental issues to be adequately addressed in the future (Tanmay).
How can multispecies justice inform practice / policy?
Coming from a legal background, my immediate thoughts are that multispecies justice can inform the law. We have already seen this in the legal personhood of rivers and nature itself (i.e. rights of nature). It can also play a major role in establishing conservation measures as it encourages conservationists to truly think about what other species need, as opposed to just what we think they need. But multispecies justice can also influence our choices in daily life – what we eat, what we throw out, and how we get around (Tanmay).
Elevating non-human species into our sphere of concern provides an opportunity to transform our practices in a way that is sensitive to contemporary research and will leave our planet in a healthier state for future generations of life (Sophia).
Every component of human civilisation has been built on an illusion of a divorce of humanity to the rest of the natural world. Reintegrating the rights of nature will force an active re-think into every single facet of the way we live our lives, plan our cities, and use resources (Alinta).
Non-anthropocentric ethics must be considered in order to shift societal perceptions of ethical responsibility so that just outcomes are generated for as many stakeholders as possible within the current environmental decision-making system (Jack).
We are all very excited to be part of this creative, multidisciplinary and non-hierarchical working group and invite others to join us. We are open to new ideas and suggestions and are currently planning a major resource for pursuing everyday spaces and practices of multispecies justice. If you would like to join us please get in contact with Andrew McGregor Andrew.firstname.lastname@example.org or Donna Houston email@example.com.