Review: The Land That Could Be: Environmentalism and Democracy in the Twenty-First Century

By Nayar, Pramod K. | Electronic Green Journal, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

Review: The Land That Could Be: Environmentalism and Democracy in the Twenty-First Century


Nayar, Pramod K., Electronic Green Journal


Review: The Land That Could Be: Environmentalism and Democracy in the Twenty-First Century By William A. Shutkin Reviewed by Pramod K. Nayar University of Hyderabad, India William A. Shutkin. The Land That Could Be: Environmentalism and Democracy in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2000. 273 pp. ISBN 0-262-19435-X (hardcover). US$27.95. Acid-free paper.

"Smog is democratic," declared Ulrich Beck. Environmental degradation is the most egalitarian of problems. And it is this assumption that informs William Shutkin's The Land That Could Be. Shutkin's work, drawing upon his experience as activist (he is the founder of New Ecology, Inc. of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and co-founder of Alternatives for Community and Environment), envisages a new direction for contemporary environmentalism.

Shutkin begins by suggesting that environmentalism thus far has taken two trajectories: the romantic-progressive and the mainstream-professional. The romantic-progressive strain, steeped in nostalgia for a past "golden age," has simply critiqued development without offering viable alternatives. The mainstream-professional was restricted to the educated, affluent classes, and visualized environmentalism strictly in politico-legal terms. In place of these two models Shutkin suggests a civic environmentalism that takes into account racial, cultural, and regional inequalities.

Shutkin suggests that a civic environmentalist democracy will be less of a "top-down, professional" (p.19) approach than a local, pluralistic, multicultural one. Shutkin's emphasis is on the role of the local communityincluding residents, businesses, government agencies-in disseminating environmental consciousness and effecting earth-friendly local policy changes. The community, therefore, is the central player here. While Shutkin acknowledges the importance of national policy initiatives like the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Air Act (1970), he argues that for environmental justice to become a reality, it will require more than pan-national policies: it requires grassroots understanding and tackling of problems. To this end, Shutkin suggests that the new civic environmentalist model will be participatory and will emphasize community development initiatives where diverse components like the social, economic, political, and environmental mesh together.

Using case studies like the Dudley Street Neighbourhood Initiative Realization Plan, the case of Bay Area's "Transit Village," and Colorado's Cattlemen's Land Trust, among others, Shutkin puts forth the case for a localized approach to environmental thinking and activism. "Civic democracy," as Shutkin terms it, is "more than just community participation and conversion; it is rooted in a place, a physical environment conducive to collective action and community building" (p.31). A community feedback system, environmental education about local hazards, alternatives and development, Industrial Ecology (IE) informed by a sense of environmental justice and environmental health is the "real" solution to contemporary environmental problems. …

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