Is Environmental Racism just a coincidence?

A study Toxic wastes and race in the United States’ (1987) revealed that race is the most significant variable in the location of hazardous sites and areas of high environmental risk (United Church of Christ, 1987). Does this happen to be a coincidence or are white governments and peoples enforcing these conditions upon communities of colour?

Unfortunately not all communities have been created equal, and there is high disparity between communities of colour and white communities. Razak (2001) deemed people of colour as vulnerable, due to the perception that they are weak and passive citizens who will not contest against authoritative personnel through fear of losing their jobs and means of survival. The human health of these people is continuously threatened through the evacuation of pollutants from potential sources such as incinerators, municipal landfills, toxic dumps, nuclear waste, coal power plants, sewage plants and the installation of gas flares.

Destructive societal impacts have accumulated in Nigeria where the oil company Shell constructed oil mines on the Niger River delta. Dixon (1997) notes that the company installed gas flares on the river delta, located within 500m of the Ogoni people’s local communities. These gas flares burn for 24 hours a day and produce toxic flames, which have damaging affects on human health causing acute effects such as rashes, nausea and dizziness. Shell also constructed high-pressure pipelines to carry crude oil between oil wells and flow stations, unlike European pipelines; Shell constructed the pipes over ground right outside people’s homes and across school playgrounds. Ledum Mitee, the president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) stated that pipelines burst not long after their construction, spilling large amounts of crude oil. He also stated that Shell told the Ogoni people that the crude oil was medicinal of which encouraged children to rub it on their bodies because they thought it was good for them, and that it would keep evil spirits away. This type of exposure to crude oil could create serious long-term problems such as cancer and other terminal illnesses. 60% of the people in the region are subsistence economists who depend on the natural environment for their livelihood, for activities of agricultural, fishing and the collection of forest products. They have suffered significant implications to their livelihoods due to the oil spills (Amnesty International, 2011).

There is a possibility that Shell set up the mine on the Niger River delta avoiding environmental protection in order to accumulate the highest profits possible with little expenditure, made possible through the lack of land law regulations in Nigeria. Yet the consideration for others is surely expected within such a large project and the fact that Shell would never carry out such construction in a European country, deems their mine installation as Environmental Racism.

The allocation of environmental regulations differs due to location, as there are currently no global policies to ensure that all communities are protected in the same manner. Racism is thus reinforced by government, legal and economic institutions who have the ability to instigate policies that can prevent the exploitation of particular areas and peoples.

References:

Amnesty International. (2011). UN confirms massive oil pollution in Niger Delta. Available: http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/un-confirms-massive-oil-pollution-niger-delta-2011-08-04. Last accessed 16.02.12.

Bullard, B. (1994) Environmental racism and invisible communities, West Virginia Law Review 96, pp. 1037-50.

Dixon, N. (1997). Stop environmental racism in Nigeria: Boycot Shell!!.Available: http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/13901. Last accessed 10.02.12.

Razak, D. (2001). Price of Environmental Racism. Available: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=x8G803Bi31IC&dat=20010909&printsec=frontpage&hl=. Last accessed on 11.02.12.

United Church of Christ. (1987). Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States. Available: http://urbanhabitat.org/node/5346. Last accessed 14.02.12.

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