MISSION: Southwest Research and Information Center is a multi-cultural organization working to promote the health of people and communities, protect natural resources, ensure citizen participation, and secure environmental and social justice now and for future generations
Natural Assets: Democratizing Environmental Ownership
James K. Boyce and Barry G. Shelley, Editors
Washington: Island Press, 2003
316 pp., $27.50, paperback
ISBN: 1-55963-538-X

"...building social capital through environmental justice organizing can have a positive impact on a community's and society's natural assets.
— Manuel Pastor (2003)

Once every blue moon a book arrives that ends up on my kitchen table and changes my working self. Natural Assets: Democratizing Environmental Ownership is that book. Editors James Boyce and Barry Kelley bring together a collection of essays fiercely important to those who are fighting against racism, poverty, and environmental degradation. The contributors showcase individuals, organizations and their combined efforts that stem from and move past conversations of environmental and economic justice in this country. Contributors include: Winona La Duke, Manual Pastor, Peter Barnes, Marc Breslow and Raqual Pinderhughes. These and a dozen other writers provide reasons why citizens need to place strict attention to economic disparities and the health of the environment. Natural Assets is for the land-use planner, business owner, educator, and local council delegate working to improve environmental conditions. While this book is built on a foundation of pioneers who seek ways of decreasing poverty (see Center for Social Development http://gwbweb.wustl.edu/csd/), it is the inclusion of natural resources that is so critical for people of color in the United States.

Five sections build this edition include: The Wealth of Nature, Reclaiming the Environmental Sinks, Cultivating Natural Capital, Out of the Woods, and Greening the Cities. In Reclaiming Environmental Sinks, Manual Pastor envisions about rights to clean air and water to create community wealth. Pastor suggests that the environment is healthier where social capital is strongest and measured equitably in distribution of income and power.

Peter Barnes and Marc Barslow highlight ownership to the atmosphere in the form of a trust. (Who Owns the Sky, Barnes, Island Press 2001). A sky trust limits what can be done to the atmosphere, so as to reduce carbon emissions. The trust would serve as common ownership. A glaring issue here is that relinquishing control of existing powers of air quality in carbon emissions doesn't seem to be on the United States' agenda. The U.S. can be a leader in reducing carbon emissions and reduced use of fossil fuel, but military occupation and president Bush's leadership shows otherwise. Thus, the need to create a sky trust is crucial.

Devon Pena strikes a chord with New Mexico and the Southwest as he points to benefits of acequia associations and cultures in the desert southwest. New Mexico is primarily rural, plagued with economic disparity, and women and children make up to 40 percent of the poor. It is a state where much of the lands are locked from sale (i.e., tribal ownership, land grants) and water rights are owned and managed by entities like acequia associations and mutual domestic water associations. In many cases these lands and water decision-making bodies are sovereign, meaning these groups are a governing structure separate from local, state, and federal authorities. Indeed, the fact that much of the land and waters are already in the hands of the people makes New Mexico a prime area to carry out community ownership and link it to the benefits of environmental protection and contributions to the wealth of society.

Natural Assets is a gold mine of ideas for the environmental and social justice advocate. The on-the-ground thinker may need how-to recipes and certainly this book is a place to start, howver it will take more than foundations and private donations to champion the issues covered in this book. Overall the collection contains well thought out and researched notions that advance the concept that environmental protection and poverty reduction can be achieved at the same time. Natural Assets is one of my new essential readings.

— Frances Ortega

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(800) 828-1302 · fax: (707) 983-6414 www.islandpress.org

If you are interested in writing reviews, please let us know via e-mail: Info@sric.org, or call us at 505-262-1862. You can also write to us at Voices, c/o SRIC, PO Box 4524, Albuquerque, NM 87106. Thank you.

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"Contrary to federal officials' vision of a largely vacant area, the West was never nearly empty enough. It contained too many residents who would, inevitably, be exposed to the pollution released by nuclear weapons programs. It also contained intricate ecosystems which, far from making for an "empty" place, ensured that radioactive and chemical waste would be absorbed into, distributed about, and concentrated within the landscape in quite complicated ways."
From The Atomic West

Edited by Bruce Hevly and John M. Findlay
University of Washington Press, 1998

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