As an environmentalist one must ask: what place for earthliness in Edward Said’s worldliness? In 2003, shortly before his death, Said concluded an essay for Counterpunch with a yearning for a future informed by “alternative communities all across the world, informed by alternative information, and keenly aware of the environmental, human rights, and libertarian impulses that bind us together in this tiny planet.” Despite this late acknowledgment, one would be hard-pressed to call him, in any conventional sense, environmentally minded. More typical was Said’s dismissal of environmentalism as “the indulgence of spoiled tree huggers who lack a proper cause.”
But the face of environmentalism has changed radically in the twenty-first century with the resurgence of environmental justice movements, particularly in the global South. I will revisit After the Last Sky and position it as a critical work of environmental literature, one that links environmental justice concerns to the Palestinian plight. Alongside Said’s work, Robert Nixon reads the writings of Raja Shehadeh. Said would surely have endorsed the turn away from a Western-centered environmentalism that was often anti-human and invariably indifferent to the poor and the displaced. For Said’s visionary writings include the core tenets of the environmental justice movement: an insistence on connecting food security with land and water rights; a refusal of unequal access to resources and unequal exposure to risk; and an insistence that the voices of the poor be heard, as they protest the imperial resource capture that treats as disposable both the poor themselves and the ecosystems on which they depend for their survival.
This lecture was given at the Edward Said Memorial Conference, which focused on Edward Said’s legacy and paid tribute to the 10th anniversary of his passing. Each day of the conference featured renowned speakers and established academics on Edward Said’s work. Major attention was paid to cultural activities that resounded with Said’s vision in combining scholarship with the Arts so as to support the quest for justice, self-determination and equality.