Michael Fischer and Seyed Mostafa Mohaghegh Ahmadabadi
The breakout group on environmental equity considered many aspects of the topic, drawing on both Iranian and American publications that were of relevance. Summarized below are the highlights of the discussions. The other participants in the group were Bernard Goldstein and Abbas Sharifi Tehrani.
SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES IN THE APPROACHES TO ENVIRONMENTAL EQUITY IN THE UNITED STATES AND IRAN
The members of the group discussed the similarities and differences between approaches of the United States and Iran in addressing the following topics.
• Environmental Philosophies.
There is the common complaint that environmental crises come from overexploitation of nature due to one or a combination of the following causes: unlimited growth generated by the capitalist engine; acceptance of a principle embedded in the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that nature exists for use by human beings; and the implementation of scientific discoveries without a grounding in spiritual or holistic values. This overexploitation could be called the evolving crisis in positive feedback systems or systems out of control.
Secondly, there are philosophies that are grounded in some of the
environmental movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These might be called Romanticism. Generally nostalgic ideas are based on an overenthusiasm for “pristine nature.”
Finally, other philosophies might be grouped under a notion of “stewardship” (khalifat), which incorporates concerns for sustainable development and sustainable ecologies for future generations as well for the present population.
How is stewardship to be evaluated? Can human societies be trusted to be stewards of nature even though they have traditionally, including in the present, embraced economies destructive to the environment? Can a form of “speaking for the earth” in the sense of the Gaia Hypothesis work under the notion of stewardship/khalifat? Or is khalifat purely an androcentric concept? It was pointed out that the Koran repeatedly asks human beings to return to God an earth as uncorrupted as it was when given to their stewardship.
Both Iranian and American participants agreed that religious beliefs can support responsible environmentalism and that Romanticism is insufficient to balance the needs of growing populations with demands for higher standards of living. The Americans tend to focus on (a) who is responsible for damage done to the environment; (b) how restitution, remediation, and repair is to be achieved; and (c) how incentive systems to avoid damage can be instituted. Both Iranian and American participants agreed that education in schools, in the workplace, through the mass media, through NGOs, with municipalities, with national governments, and as a product of international conventions is a fundamental requirement for responsible stewardship.
• Government Organizations and Regulatory Structures.
At the national level, Iran has a Vice-President in charge of the Department for Environmental Protection, parallel in some degree to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Parliamentary reports on environmental issues are issued, parallel to U.S. Congressional hearings and research reports. On the municipal level, there are newly elected municipal councils that manage the environmental problems of cities, parallel to state and city governmental agencies in the United States. On the international level, there are conventions, occasional court cases, and diplomatic negotiations over topics such as pollution, fishing, and in the case of Iran, caviar catches in the Caspian Sea. Both countries have university-level departments and programs in environmental sciences, epidemiology, and environmental health problems. Also, they have faculties in both environmental law and international human rights law as applied to the environment.
ROLES OF THE ACADEMIES
The academies can be important “bully pulpits” for shaping both governmental and nongovernmental discourse on environmental goals.
The academies can convene workshops and roundtables to compare environmental law and regulatory structures including implementation, enforcement, and incentives; and they can encourage deliberative democracy or local level organization to give feedback about local level problems to higher level environmental planning and protection agencies.
The academies can convene workshops on creating educational modules for primary, secondary, and university level students, as well as for workers and government employees. These could include exchanges among film and television production units such as those that produce NOVA and Discovery programs in the United States, as well as investigative or community-based environmental journalists.
The academies could initiate governance and local responsibility programs that support local school programs to map and monitor environmental problems, and perhaps link these by computer to “pen pal” schools. They could promote self-monitoring as a way of changing local practices to cleaning up trash rather than considering public space as someone else’s responsibility. Responsible water use and management are important. Involving students in this effort is a way of introducing change from the bottom up that involves the next generation. Moreover, this could be a creative way to teach ecology, link local groups together, provide information loops between neighborhoods and municipal council members, collect data sets, provide empirical data sets for high school and college research projects, and expand the use of information technology connectivity for civic purposes.
The academies could supervise the design and implementation of educational modules such as those developed for kindergarten-grade 12 by the American Public Health Association.
GLOBAL OR INTERNATIONAL CHARACTER OF THE ISSUES
Pollution, global inequities in energy and resource utilization, deficiencies in environmental education, and inadequate environmental philosophies are all transnational issues. Moreover, remote sensing and mapping technologies, as well as more traditional ecological knowledge, provide powerful tools for environmental monitoring, data collection, modeling, and management on a global scale. These are tools that could be jointly used with the assistance of NASA space technologies. Also, Geographic Information Systems and other systems adapted for use by towns and villages could be disseminated to users throughout the world.
Such an approach could be the basis for flexible customization of new technologies and their melding with on-the-ground knowledge.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION
The Iranian and U.S. academies could cooperatively mount the approaches suggested above. Modules could be incrementally expanded to other countries. Scientist-to-scientist exchanges could provide the sinews and contact points for mounting workshops and roundtables and ensuring that they are ongoing endeavors and not one-time events.
Twinning of cities for collaboration on particular types of environmental issues could support local self-governance and care for the environment. For example, Isfahan and Albuquerque have similar issues with water, desert environment, and urban preservation together with industrial development. Ahwaz or Khoranshahr and Houston have similar challenges with regulation of the petrochemical industry—documenting cancer rates, regulating maritime activities in the ports, and reducing pollution. Tehran and Washington have sharp inequalities of wealth and class leading to disparities in the resolution of environmental problems, as well as interference in municipal self-governance by the national government when dealing with environmental issues.