For the “who” portion of Environmental Engagement, our class read a multitude of articles, even taking a few quizzes to evaluate the different types of people and their attitudes that we engage with. The Hidden Tribes of America quiz categorizes Americans into seven categories based on their political beliefs ranging from left to right: progressive activists, traditional liberals, passive liberals, politically disengaged, moderates, traditional conservatives, and devoted conservatives. The majority of our class were either progressive activists or traditional liberals, with a couple who were moderates. The next quiz we took was the Global Warming’s Six Americas quiz, which again sorted Americans into categories. This time there were six, and they were based on their beliefs and attitudes towards global warming: alarmed, concerned, cautious, disengaged, doubtful, and dismissive. After being created in 2009, an update was issued in 2019. The alarmed and concerned groups now represented 58% of americans, and for the first time the alarmed group was the largest of Global Warming’s Six Americas. Our class was also mainly alarmed or concerned. Our class then had a discussion based on the problem identified by Heterodox Academy, where we discussed whether or not it was a good thing that our class all had relatively similar beliefs. We concluded that it’s fine that we do, as long as we recognize that our classroom is not a representation of reality and we need to be prepared to engage with people that don’t share our opinions.
Divided Who in the context of Sustainable Northwest
For Sustainable Northwest, an organization that aims to bring local interests together to pioneer balanced community-driven solutions in the face of change and conflict, the concept of “who” is crucial. There are a great deal of actors, all vying to have their voices to be heard and their desires tended to. These range from large actors —such as environmental groups, business enterprises, and federal agencies— to smaller, but equally complex actors comprising farmers, ranchers, tribes, and rural communities. It is important to recognize that these groups are often the ones that are unrepresented in current environmental discourse and policy, a phenomenon consisting of those otherwise known as the unexotic underclass. This is fairly unique; it is not often that organizations seek participation from those in the unexotic underclass in environmental decision making.
There are many different definitions of participation, mostly due to the fact that participation is used in many contexts and understood in various ways (Luyot et al. 2012). Sustainable Northwest puts a tremendous emphasis on stakeholder involvement. They ensure the stakeholder’s project understanding (i.e. lending scientific, legal, and public relations expertise to ensure local communities understand new strategies), the collection of stakeholder suggestions (i.e rural community input when building a clean energy economy), and considerations of stakeholder input during decision making (i.e. rancher input in restoring wildlife habitat for threatened and endangered species). In Sustainable Northwest’s case, it seems as though participation is mostly considered as being the process through which their stakeholders —such as those listed above— influence and share power over development initiatives and the decision and resources which affect them. This provides quite a few benefits, including the following: improvement of project design using local knowledge, a better understanding of projects and issues, an integration of various interests and opinions, and the fostering and developing social learning, to name a few.
It is also important to acknowledge who Sustainable Northwest leaves out of the equation; that is, who they do not include in their development initiatives and the decisions they make. Historically, Sustainable Northwest’s projects have been exclusive to established groups within the natural resource sectors. As a consequence of that, their initiatives may lack input from the younger generations learning about the field of natural resource management. Youth avenues —as evidenced in their projects and stories— have been significantly unaddressed. That being said, it is hard to place the blame solely on Sustainable Northwest. Within the rural communities that Sustainable Northwest operates in, there is a tendency for youth to migrate out of the area. There is also a not a tedency of young, working families to migrate into these areas as well. These realties make it significantly harder for the organization to engage with the youth. There may also be the issue of the urban-rural divide in Oregon; that is, the fact that nearly sixty percent of Oregon’s population lives in and around the Portland metropolitan area. This means that with an organization like Sustainable Northwest, whose work is very much so situated in rural Oregon, more than half of the state’s population is not having their concerns taken into account in the decision making that takes place.
Luyet et al. 2012. “A Framework to Implement Stakeholder Participation in Environmental Projects.” Journal of Environmental Management 11: 213-19. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2012.06.026.