Environmental Justice and Hope for the Commons

by Tiffany Webb, SPP Lecture Series Coordinator

Working with SPP as a graduate student has provided more opportunity and professional experience than I could have imagined when I started as the Lecture Series Coordinator. Since then, my interest in social and environmental justice has blossomed, spurred by regular interactions with incarcerated individuals and the excitement they display for environmental topics. Thus I found myself presenting at the Just Sustainability: Hope for the Commons conference hosted by the Center for Environmental Justice and Sustainability at Seattle University this past weekend.

Science and sustainability lecture at Stafford Creek Corrections Center. Photo credit: Benj Drummond

Sustainability workshop at Washington Corrections Center for Women. Photo credit: Joslyn Rose Trivett

Lecture versus Workshop

I presented on behalf of Sarah Weber, a former SPP coordinator and MES graduate, whose thesis research focused on environmental education in prison. More specifically, her research compared teaching methods (lecture vs. workshop-style presentations) and their influence on inmate attitudes and knowledge of environmental topics. Interestingly, when reanalyzing Sarah’s research for publication, we found results that differed from the original analysis: female students benefited more from workshops and male students benefited more from lectures (see figure below). This finding is particularly helpful for ensuring that the environmental education opportunities we offer are tailored to the audience. As the Lecture Series Coordinator, I plan to use these findings to better promote environmental learning through offering more workshops for women and lectures for men.

Results from Weber research

Results from Weber’s research.

“You never know what you can’t do.”

Presenting at the conference was a great experience, but my most appreciated take-away came from the wonderful plenary speakers. We heard from Bill McKibben of 350.org, the most widespread political action organization in our history; Sarah Augustine, a sociologist at Heritage College and indigenous activist; and Denis Hayes who coordinated the very first Earth Day and has gone on to do so much more.

They spoke about the global extraction industry and its impact on the environment as well as the displacement and rights violations of indigenous communities. The ecological problems they outlined were sobering, but they all offered a similar call to action. They encouraged everyone to reach beyond what you think is possible, because, as Denis Hayes put it, “You never know what you can’t do.” And while exercising political will can sometimes be uncomfortable, it is always necessary in encouraging effective change. I learned so much from these amazing people and the lessons they shared from years of environmental activism. Hearing their stories sparked a fire in my consciousness, and I feel reenergized in the work I do with SPP, the research for my Master in Environmental Studies, and in my personal life.

If you’re interested in getting involved with environmental action in the PNW, check out:


Beyond Coal WA

Climate Solutions

The E3 Network

Sierra Club, WA State Chapter

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