The Environmentalism from Below Workshop took place at the University of Alberta, August 7-9, 2014. The event was convened by Jonathan Clapperton and Liza Piper and sponsored jointly by The Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, the University of Alberta, and NiCHE.
Nineteen scholars, from North America and Europe, presented papers that explored the understudied role of non-elite, small-scale, and subaltern environmental organizations in the modern environmental movement. The papers revolved around four key themes: resource development and sustainability, parks and protected areas, the challenges of expansion and contraction, and environmental justice. Two days of intense discussion and presentations on Thursday and Friday were mediated by evening gatherings full of conviviality and conversation.
Friday was capped off by a public presentation given by Emery Hartley, a campaigner for the Friends of Clayoquot Sound in British Columbia. Hartley’s keynote address was entitled “Place Based Environmentalism in a Globalized Society: The Friends of Clayoquot Sound into the Twenty-First Century.” Hartley highlighted the major battles that the Friends of Clayoquot Sound have undertaken during the past thirty years. One of the most enlightening portions of Hartley’s talk was his explanation that Clayoquot Sound’s designation as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is purely a symbolic designation, providing no concrete form of environmental protection. The presentation illustrated the potential power that ordinary citizens can wield to effect change at the local level.
On Saturday morning workshop participants gathered to flesh out common themes in preparation for publishing an edited volume based on the three-day meeting. It quickly became clear that there was no one definition of environmentalism that fit each of our case studies. Environmentalism, like most concepts, we decided, is much more fluid than one may discern from mainstream treatments of the topic. Accented by Hartley’s talk, we also decided that a sense of place connected all of our disparate case studies together and coloured small-scale and non-elite environmentalism as a whole. Collectively the workshop papers begin to tackle questions revolving around insider/outsider dynamics, defining what is radical or fringe, and how to handle discussing environmentalists that do not self-identify as environmentalists. After much deliberation, workshop participants decided upon a tentative title for our forthcoming collection–Environmentalism on the Ground: Processes and Possibilities of Small Green Organizing. Participants will also be contributing to a special issue of Perspectives, an online journal series managed by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, focused on exploring place-based knowledge.
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