Race and Sustainability



Leaders: Kerry Ard, Jill Clark, Darryl B. Hood, Jason Reece, Jason ThomasInés Valdez

Regular Meeting: Third Monday of the month at Noon


The Race and Sustainability ERG is a collaboration of researchers interested in exploring the role race plays in sustainability research, practice, and policy. The group is planning to divide into thematic subgroups while still coming together once a month to discuss projects and findings across the various topics.

Subgroup A - Nature, Race, and Social/Political Change
Leader: Inés Valdez, Valdez.39@osu.edu

This group explores climate and human-nature relations as historically associated with colonialism and its aftermath. In working against the homogeneity implied by the “anthropocene” label, this group highlights how, historically, capitalism and imperialism took nature to be a free and unlimited resource whose exploitation was facilitated by the land dispossession of Indigenous peoples and by bonded, forced, or exploited racialized labor.

This group welcomes researchers from a variety of disciplines who are interested in exploring the articulation between nature and race in historical perspective. This focus includes questions about the articulation of nature, colonialism, and post-colonial development; the connection between narratives about nature and narratives of racial hierarchy; the racialized ways in which the sustainable turn of capitalism operates; and how racialized groups have organized and resisted the dispossession of land and the threat to their livelihoods associated with environmental degradation.

Subgroup B - Pollution, Health Outcomes, and Life Expectancy
Leaders: Kerry Ard, Ard.7@osu.edu, Darryl B. Hood, Hood.188@osu.edu and Jason Thomas, Thomas.3912@osu.edu
First Subgroup Meeting: September 13th at Noon, on Zoom. Email Kerry or Darryl to be added to Zoom invite.

The comparable decline in US life expectancy in recent years varies across space and time in a way consistent with variations in exposure to environmental toxins. Firstly, low-income and communities of color have lower-life expectancy and are exposed to greater amounts, and more toxic, environmental chemicals, particularly in the Midwest and South where industry has many older polluting facilities compared to other areas. Secondly, the baby boomer generation has pronounced disparities in life expectancy compared to other countries. A large portion of toxic chemicals originate from the use of petrochemicals. After the development of the plastics industry in the 50s, the use of petrochemicals increased exponentially, therefore the baby boomer generation were likely the first cohort exposed to a life-time of environmental toxics whose effects we have yet to understand. Finally, many of the air toxics emitted in the US have become increasingly banned in other developed countries which could account for the increasing global disparity in the use life-expectancy. There is a critical need to understand how the social and environmental context an individual experiences throughout their life course impacts their long-term morbidity and mortality. 

Subgroup C - Countering Whiteness in Sustainability Planning Practice and Scholarship
Leaders: Jill Clark, Clark.1099@osu.edu and Jason Reece, Reece.35@osu.edu

Sustainability planning in the US is most often understood and conceptualized through the dominant culture, namely that of Whiteness. We plan to flip the script by de-centering Whiteness in sustainability, exposing the role that it plays in sustainability planning, scholarship and practice. We then ask how a non-White centered conceptualization of sustainable planning (namely, social equity and justice) could improve sustainability efforts. Our approach is informed by Goetz’s (2020) critique of city planning practice and scholarship through the lens of Whiteness, and Barry and Agyeman’s (2020) critique of planning using settler-colonial theory.

To develop a structural racism analysis/critique of sustainability, we propose hosting a roundtable of planning scholars and practitioners (with an emphasis on people of color) from in and outside of OSU on this topic. Our plan is develop a manuscript from the roundtable to be published in an open access journal (so that practitioners have easy access). We will share a set of questions with participants prior to the event and ask them to write their responses before joining. The roundtable will be transcribed (which includes the discussion of the questions and the interaction with the audience).  The PIs (in collaboration with the roundtable participants) will qualitatively analyze these data.  Framing the findings with literature on non-White frames, the manuscript will be submitted to Sustainability. We see this as the seed, beginning a scholar-practitioner conversation on advancing a non-White frame for understanding an conceptualizing sustainability.

For more information on a particular subgroup, meeting times, or to get involved, contact any of the group leaders listed above.

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