Environmental Justice Symposium & The ‘Rescuers’ Exhibition – Mid-Week Reviews

By Alana Lazdins and Catherine Pelling

This week we review a discussion on the importance of environmental justice held at Melbourne Law School, and an art exhibition that explores stories of ordinary civilians who have helped rescue people threatened by genocide.

 

Environmental Justice Symposium

By Catherine Pelling

At the top of the Melbourne Law School on Friday 27 July 2012, a conversation about justice was taking place. The Environmental Justice Symposium, held by the Centre for Resources, Energy and Environmental Law and the Environment Defenders Office, was less a conference and more one giant conversation. Panellists and attendees discussed what environmental justice is, why it matters and its practical ramifications.

Nevertheless, it was not the usual type of justice-centred discussion found in the Moot Court … well, not yet anyway.

In fact, we did spend the last portion of the day conversing in a World Café of five different discussion topics focused upon environmentalism and justice, meaningful participation, and the environmental justice movement. However, to start at the beginning …

We commenced the day with a keynote address given by David Schlosberg, Professor of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney. Schlosberg described his involvement with the environmental justice movement in the United States, which has developed over the past three decades or so, but which is in its early stages here in Australia.

Certainly there is only so much we can do to mitigate the likely effects for at least the next two decades, and so we most definitely need to start really thinking about adaptation and what this means for communities and their various vulnerabilities.

Schlosberg discussed some of the history behind the movement, which had origins in environmental or “eco” racism: for example, situations where toxic waste disposal facilities and the like were placed in African American communities, rather than in more affluent white suburbs. Schlosberg described this situation, in which the desire for environmental justice was coming from within affected communities themselves, as the “greening” of urban communities; a greening which became more and more common throughout the US.

Being an environmental symposium, climate change was of course a key topic, and Schlosberg expressed his desire for climate justice – with a shift in the focus from mitigation to adaptation. Certainly there is only so much we can do to mitigate the likely effects for at least the next two decades, and so we most definitely need to start really thinking about adaptation and what this means for communities and their various vulnerabilities.

Climate change and community involvement continued as a focus for conversation in the next part of the program: a panel discussion on why environmental justice matters. It was here that the intersection between environmentalism and justice began to really be discussed and debated.

For one of the panellists, Cam Walker of Friends of the Earth Australia, justice provides a cornerstone on which to build solutions to environment, climate change and sustainable development issues. Walker was also the first to mention the role of human rights and what the human rights discourse could bring to the narrative about enormous issues such as climate change. For this reviewer, this was perhaps the most interesting aspect of the symposium – the nexus between the environment and human rights; and, given the August theme, particularly pertinent for Right Now.

Schlosberg continued along this line of discussion with the next panel on environmental justice in practice. He suggested that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights could be used as a means for addressing climate change; similarly suggesting that there needs to be a reframing of environmental justice issues in a way that appeals to governments and really grabs their attention.

This symposium seemed like an important first step towards the creation of a less fragmented environmental justice movement in Australia.

However, whilst there was lots of discussion about humans and justice for people, some participants and attendees felt that we need to remember the other creatures that inhabit the same ecosystems as us. This really points to the crux of the whole symposium: environmental justice for whom? Environmental justice for what?

Whilst the panel discussions were interesting and insightful, the symposium evoked the feeling that the environmental justice movement is still trying to figure out what it means by the term “environmental justice”, and what actions it wants to take and how it will go about taking them.

This was particularly evident during the World Café at the end of the day, where we rotated between various pertinent topics to essentially brainstorm and debate ideas under the general banner of “environmental justice”. However, with academics, lawyers, activists and students among the participants, it certainly felt like a well-rounded view of the topic was being provided and a hopeful future is ahead.

CREEL and the EDO did a magnificent job of bringing together a diverse community for conversation to be had and connections to be made. This symposium seemed like an important first step towards the creation of a less fragmented environmental justice movement in Australia. For this reviewer, human rights shone as a valuable discourse for this movement to utilise. It remains to be seen what the future holds for environmental justice, but undoubtedly this symposium helped to set it on a new and more integrated pathway.

For more information, please visit the EDO’s website here where you can find a copy of their recent Environmental Justice Project Report as well as the discussion summaries from the World Café.


The ‘Rescuers’ – Saving Lives in Times of Genocide

By Alana Lazdins

‘The Rescuers’ exhibition at the Jewish Holocaust Centre presents a series of portrait style images overlaid with text, that tell the stories of ordinary civilians who partook in the rescue of persecuted persons during the Holocaust and genocides in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Rwanda and Cambodia.

… the role of the individual in killing, saving and observing becomes increasingly isolated against a historical context of mass murder, where singular acts often become anonymous or at worst, forgotten.

Viewers who enter the room are met with four triangular bollards, one for each atrocity. Each bollard tells three stories. Each side of the bollard contains a photograph of either the rescuer or the rescued. Each photograph is draped in text. Each piece of text tells a short narrative describing the heroic act.  In this succession, the role of the individual in killing, saving and observing becomes increasingly isolated against a historical context of mass murder, where singular acts often become anonymous or at worst, forgotten. The bollards indicate that genocide is not an uncontrollable force or a statistic recording deaths, but rather an event that is planned, implemented and affected by individual people.

One of the exhibition walls is covered in a series of black and white photographs taken by Emmanuel Santos covering different aspects of ‘The March of the Living,’ an annual event which brings students from around the world to Poland to commemorate the Holocaust. The theme of individual narrative is continued, most notably through a grainy of photograph of a memorial dedicated to Dr Janusz Korcza, a Polish-Jewish doctor and children’s author.  During the Second World War, Dr Korcza worked in an orphanage, caring for almost 200 Jewish children. The children were removed to Treblinka extermination camp, accompanied by Dr Korcza who was offered immunity from death due to his popularity as a writer. Dr Korcza rejected his offer for asylum and refused to leave the children, instead accompanying them to Treblinka. He dressed the children in their best clothes and invented a children’s story to comfort the children until their death.

The personal accounts of ‘The Rescuers’ leave the visitor with an austere, but moving account of the role of a solitary human in embodying the antithesis written in the Talmud, “whoever destroys a single life destroys the entire world; 
whoever saves a single life, saves the entire world.”

“The Rescuers” Exhibition is open at the Jewish Holocaust Centre until 26 August 2012.

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