Restorative Justice is a community-based approach to having wrong-doers take responsibility for damage to individuals, families, cultures or properties so that “they repair the harm they have done” by personally engaging in “healing the wounds.” So what might Restorative Environmental Justice look like?
Those who excessively pollute, overconsume or overharvest—from those who have engaged in excessive use of agrichemical toxins or dump methane-emitting substances in landfills to those who cause harm with bulldozers, dredges, mines, or traps for predators —would have a personal responsible to heal the damage done to a landscape, seascape, guild of affected species, or human community which had damaging activities placed in their midst. The victims of the environmental injustice would help direct and evaluate the future actions of the offenders aimed at restoring healthy functioning of the environment and the health and well-being of community members. It takes a tact altogether different from retributive or punitive justice, in which someone might pay a fine, redistribute wealth, or do time, but is not encourage to either heal the previous wounds nor “do least harm” in the future.
In many ways, it is not about penalizing wrong-doers as it is “getting things right” once more. Recently, a few of those who produce, market or excessively use agrichemicals that kill milkweeds and diminish monarch butterfly populations have begun to step up to the plate to help plant milkweeds and restore habitat for monarch butterflies. We welcome such voluntary collaborative efforts and honor those who engage in them, as long as they are done at an appropriate scale and for an extended duration that keeps “tokenism” from being an easy out. But my main point is this: all of us must be involved some way or another in restorative environmental justice because all of us have been harmed, but all of us consume, pollute and inadvertently cause harm to environments and resources that others depend upon.
Our healing efforts must reach from the past to the present, but also assure that the deleterious effects on future generations are minimized. And we can’t just send a check to a worthy conservation organization; we ourselves must get our hands dirty and work with those who have felt harmed.
Fortunately, working together in the planting trees or the slowing of erosion along watercourses builds conviviality, trust and hope. It may not be the whole answer to a problem, but it is worth every minute of time invested in healing the earth and our own souls.
Brother Coyote, OEF