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13 - Sustainable communities for the future

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 April 2023

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Summary

Introduction

The quality of our environment shapes the quality of our lives – our health, our wellbeing, our past, our present and our future. It is what we share with other human beings and all living things. It provides our habitat and when it is beautiful, strong and healthy, we are nourished and thrive; and when it is ugly, polluted and degraded, we struggle to survive.

Environmental issues are global and complex, which can be daunting. They are also local: the slogan Think Global, Act Local has been around since the 1980s. However, in spite of global rhetoric and international agreements, and growing public disquiet, environmental issues are not always recognised as political priorities.

Participatory local community-led environmental action can offer one way through these dilemmas. It is not a panacea but it can make a vital contribution to tackling global environmental problems and transforming communities in two ways: creating innovative solutions for local environmental problems; and building learning and collective working as the basis for conscientisation, politicisation and wider action.

Moreover, community campaigns can draw attention to the disparities of power to own, control and access environmental assets that create the context for continued inequalities, injustice and exclusion that affect us all, especially disadvantaged groups and communities. It is the poorest people and communities who suffer the worst environmental problems – pollution, traffic, degraded neighbourhoods, flood risk, contaminated land, lack of green open space – resulting in the poorest health and quality of life. Local action can challenge the wealthiest individuals and institutions who continue to acquire, control and exploit land and buildings, depleting and damaging natural resources and privatising natural assets. Environmental inequalities, as all inequalities, affect us all but it is more obvious with our environment because it is something we all share. As the song goes: ‘The air, the air is everywhere’.

We all know that we cannot continue to exploit and plunder the Earth's natural resources at the same pace as in the past without serious long-term damage to the health of people and the planet. We know we need to better understand and manage risks, whether from climate change or from habitat loss and species extinctions.

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Tomorrow's Communities
Lessons for Community-Based Transformation in the Age of Global Crises
, pp. 215 - 232
Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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