Canaries In The Anthropocene: Storytelling As Degentrification In Urban Community Sustainability

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Journal Of Environmental Studies And Sciences


This article examines contrasting stories—or cautionary tales—about the environmental crises facing the planet and how these stories enable different theories of “sustainability” and responses to these crises. The story of the Anthropocene is one of the contemporary narratives guiding modern sustainability initiatives, and it assumes a pan-human responsibility for the climate crisis calling for the adoption of technocratic fixes to address the problem. This is not enough, argue many environmental justice critics, who assert that the story itself is fatally flawed. Rather, they insist that the goal should be to “change the story” to imagine and create alternative pathways toward more just, interdependent, and sustainable futures. Instead, many environmental justice activists and scholars deploy the story of the “miner’s canary,” a cautionary tale used as a metaphor for how the awareness of the suffering of those who are most vulnerable may provide early warning signals of imminent environmental collapse in the broader society. The miner’s canary story argues that by noticing and caring for those most at risk, all communities and environments are protected. The final section of the article discusses my own story of working with community groups who see themselves as “canaries” in the current global crisis fueled by climate change. I describe how I engage community building across differences with the hopes of co-producing a model for a more just sustainability—or a story of a “degentrified” model of sustainability that insists we address in tandem the social and environmental crises of our times.


Anthropocene, Miner’s canary, Storytelling, Environmental justice, Just sustainability, Urban environmental studies

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