What do Geographers bring to the Environmental Justice debate?

Environmental justice is such a massive topic that it’s easy to focus on the negatives (the injustice) such as the Japanese Tsunami in 2011 and the Fukushima nuclear meltdown that followed, or the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster and the environmental impacts it is having that Sophie Popratnjak wrote about (20/02/2012). However, it’s not all bad; environmental justice is about ensuring basic human needs are met, enhancing quality of life (Mcdonald, 2002) and protecting the environment and its resources for the future for the good of all of the species on Earth (Clayton, 2000).  Friends of the Earth (2001) state environmental Justice means “everyone should have the right and be able to live in a healthy environment, with access to enough environmental resources for a healthy life” they go onto say that it’s usually the poorest in society who miss out on these basic human rights.

Geographers play a very important role in all of this; when asked what geography is, most people will simply assume that it’s got something to do with maps and knowing what the capital city of a place is. As geographers our understanding of the linkages between society and the environment mean we are able, more so than most to understand how Human actions are affecting the Biosphere and the ways we should adapt our lives in order to protect the planet for the good, not only of Man Kind, but also for all of the species that inhabit the Earth. Geographers advise businesses, Governments and NGO’s on policies that will benefit the environment and help people adapt to climate change, through a geographers understanding of how local issues affect far off places they are uniquely placed to use this knowledge to inform and educate people on how their actions are affecting the rest of the World(Adams, 1999).

So what are geographers doing in order to safeguard the planet? Geographers are concerned with environmental management and in establishing how best to deal with and prevent environmental problems such as soil erosion and how our everyday actions are polluting the planet we live on. Geographers help to establish solutions to these problems such as the use of green technology for example wind turbines that provide green energy and developing flood defences and waste recycling schemes (Adams, 1999). Research plays a major part in all of this; geographers such as Dr Sue Page and Ross Morrison of the University of Leicester have been involved in research to establish the environmental impacts of palm oil plantations, research which can be used to advise on the most sustainable methods of producing biofuels (Page, et. al. 2011). By the implementation of more sustainable production methods; hopefully fewer forests will be cut down, not only are these forests important biodiversity hotspots and carbon sinks they are also home to thousands of indigenous people who are being forced to abandon their traditional lifestyles and take up residence in settled communities (Simpson 2012). Through research like this, geographers are playing a major role in helping to ensure justice for all the Earths inhabitants.


Adams, W., M. 1999: Sustainability. In: Cloke, P., Crang, P. and Goodwin, M. Introducing Human Geography. London. Arnold, pp. 125-132.

Clayton, S. 2000: Models of Justice in Environmental Debates. Journal of Social Issues, Vol 56. (3), pp. 459-474

Friends of the Earth, 2001: Environmental Justice – Rights and means to a healthy environment for all. ESRC – Global Environmental Change programme

McDonald, D., A. 2002: What is Environmental Justice. In: Mcdonald, D., A. (ed): What does justice mean in environmental debates. Ohio, Ohio University Press

Page, S. E., Morrison, R., Malins, C., Hooijer, A., Reiley, J. O., and Jauhianen, J. 2011: Review of Peat Surface Greenhouse Emissions From Oil Palm Plantations in South East Asia. The International Council on Clean Transportation.

Popratnjak, S. 2012: How the Costa Concordia has affected the environment. Environmental Justice: Issues Theories and policies, Environmental Geographies WordPress.com https://environmentalgeographies.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/how-the-costa-concordia-has-affected-the-environment/ accessed 27/03/2012

Simpson, L. M. R., 2012: Demand for palm oil is growing – and fast. At the moment, most of it ends up in hundreds of food products – from margarine and chocolate to cream cheese and oven chips. But the cost to the environment and global climate is devastating. Discuss these demands and costs and discuss the contributions geographers can make to this area of work.

False hope…False promises: another indigenous community facing extinction.

Brazil’s president Rousseff plans to build 60 dams in the Amazon. By focusing purely on economic growth President Rousseff is ignoring human rights and environmental consequences. The construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam will cause land degradation as well as social implications. Brazil’s indigenous population of 500,000 is becoming invisible and facing extinction due to the countries development projects.

Kaiapo Indians protesting outside the National Congress, Brasilia

Indigenous leader Juma Xipara claimed ‘our ancestors fought so we could be here now’, but the land is slowly disappearing. Other tribesmen have reiterated that if communities are displaced it would result in war and blood. Several tribes have liaised with mainstream Brazilian society, but loss of land, cultures and traditions, have meant groups will fight for their rights (Fearnside 2006). The Kaiapo´ tribe protested outside Brasilia National Congress in 2011, presenting them with a petition with over 600,000 names against the dam construction (BBC 2011). The construction of the dam would cause an area the size of Chicago to be flooded; this criminal act does not consider the people, ecosystems or Amazon Rainforest.

In January 2011 the dam was approved…February 2011 Brazilian judge Destêrro blocked the proposed dam due to environmental queries…November 2011 the dam was once again given the green light. The Brazilian government stated Indigenous groups did not have to be consulted by law for the dam construction. This encapsulates the great injustice, false hopes and confusion for the 500,000 indigenous people affected.

Belo Monte's proposed construction.

Not only have the government ignored the indigenous population; Judge Martins has overturned his previous decision to prioritise Brazil’s fish stock, in favour of those who claim the fish would not be affected by the dam. Did Judge Martins not consider the declines in fish due to the loss of the River Shingle? Did Judge Martins overlook the ecosystems lost in the 600 acres of forest destroyed for the dam? Did he forget the dam would cause rivers to dry up causing people to be without water supplies, food and transportation? Or was he focussing on Brazils increased wealth? Yes, fishing is vital for the 37 different ethnic indigenous tribes, but there is little consideration for the loss of homes, communities and predicted flooding (Fearnside 2006).

The chief of the Kayapo tribe finding out about Belo Monte's go-ahead

 It’s a great pity that the Brazilian government hasn’t learnt the social and environmental problems from the creation of the Tucuruí Dam in 1975 (Fearnside 1999).  The Tucuruí Dam caused great universal hostility with the loss of towns, homes and communities. With no compensation for the 15,000 people displaced by the Tucuruí Dam what hope is there for 40,000 relocated by Belo Monte?

As a geographer this geopolitical case shows that Belo Monte is not combating global warming but in fact increasing carbon dioxide levels due to deforestation, loss of wildlife and threatening the 500,000 strong indigenous community. Not only geographers, environmentalists and local tribes, but now celebrities, are beginning to raise awareness about Belo Monte’s construction; for example: film director James Cameron and Brazilian icon Criolo, proving that this is a contemporary global issue. 

 Sigourney Weaver’s views, images and proposals of Belo Monte.

If you feel you are against Belo Monte Dam construction sign the petition: http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/2486/action/StopBeloMonteDam


BBC, 2011, Brazil: Indigenous tribes protest against Amazon dam. Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-12399817. Last Accessed, 16/03/2012.

Fearnside P.M., 1999, Social Impacts of Brazil’s Tucuruí Dam, Environmental Management, 24(5), 483-495.

Fearnside P.M., 2006, Dams in the Amazon: Belo Monte and Brazil’s Hydroelectric Development of the Xingu River Basin, Environmental Management, 38(1), 16-27.

Yapp R, 2011, Indigenous groups oppose Belo Monte dam construction. Available: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/brazil/8855691/Indigenous-groups-oppose-Belo-Monte-dam-construction.html. Last Accessed, 16/03/2012.

Picture 1- BBC, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-12399817. Last Accessed, 16/03/2012.

Picture 2- BBC, 2011, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-16228680. Last Accessed, 16/03/2012.

Picture 3- King T, 2012, http://www.salem-news.com/articles/february122012/brazil-indians.php. Last Accessed, 16/03/2012

Video- Weaver S, 2010,  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Melq7VA7FjY. Last Accessed, 16/03/2012

The Sardar Sarovar Project: winners and losers

Today water scarcity is a huge environmental issue in the developing south, for example Gujarat in India suffers from drought one out of every 4 years, which has caused prolonged and significant damage to crops, livelihoods, cattle and human health. With increasing water scarcity across the globe many nations have turned to dams to not only provide ‘the answer to water scarcity’ (Mehta, 2011) but also to provide renewable energy by way of hydropower.

The Narmada River basin provides water for four states in India, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, and to maximise the potential benefits of the water available the Narmada Valley Development Programme was implemented. Before this only 10% of available water was being utilised, the development also aimed to settle disputes over ownership between the four states (Gupta, 2001). The development involves more than 3,000 dams being used to control the Narmada River and its 41 tributaries. Of all the projects that make up this vast development, the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) has received by far the most attention.

The Peoples Movement – protesting against the Narmada Valley Development Project and the displacement it will cause

Since the construction of the SSP began again in 2006 after an 18 month halt, the interests of local people have been evaluated more closely, and interestingly many locals have different views and experiences of the project. Many problems arise concerning the displacement of locals due to flooding caused by the submergence of land relative to the dam; many locals have been displaced without rehousing or compensation (Leech, 2009). The government have tried to legitimise the dispossession that has been taking place over the 33 years since the construction of the dam began by essentially promoting loss; they claimed that for every one person displaced, one hundred more will benefit from the dam terms of the power generated and the increased means for irrigation (Randolph, 2010).

It is clear here that there is a discrepancy between local wellbeing and government aims; that meeting the needs of the whole is more important than the needs of some of the individuals that make up that whole. It has to be said though, benefits of the project have been delivered far and wide, the project is expected to provide drinking water to 18 million people, and the dam itself has the capacity to generate 1,450 megawatts of electricity and would allow for the irrigation of vast amounts of land. Most importantly perhaps and arguably what the project was built for is its aim to make the area less vulnerable to drought, which is clearly very valuable in a drought prone area.

Evidently the problem here is the conflict between achieving the ‘greater good’ and meeting the immediate needs of the individual, and in this case the pressure to satisfy the larger population is being prioritised. So understandably it becomes very hard to identify the extent to which certain projects are beneficial or detrimental, and sometimes the line between justice and injustice is very blurred.


Mehta, L.  2011. The social construction of scarcity: the case of water in western India. In Peet, R., Robbins, P. And Watts, M. (eds). Global Political Ecology. London: Routledge, pp. 371-386.


Gupta, R.K., 2001. River Basin Management: A Case Study of Narmada Valley Development with Special Reference to the Sardar Sarovar Project in Gujarat, India. International Journal of Water Resources Development, 17 (1), pp. 55-7.

Randolph, E., 2010. India protest over Narmada dam builds awareness of rights. Available from:   http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/south-asia/indian-protest-over-narmada-dam-builds-awareness-of-rights#page2 [Accessed 19 March 2012].


Leech, K., 2009. The Narmada dambusters are wrong. Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/ commentisfree/2009/mar/03/india-narmada-dams?INTCMP=SRCH [Accessed 19 March 2012].

Picture reference:

International Rivers, 2009. India [photograph]. Available from: http://www.internationalrivers.org/ south-asia/india [Accessed 19 March 2012].



Majora Carter: Saviour of the South Bronx

Carter (2006) describes race as an ‘extremely reliable indicator’ as to the location of environmentally healthy surroundings. Unfortunately a black person living in America is twice as likely as a white person to live in an area where air pollution places a high risk upon their health. The South Bronx, in New York City, has a significant immigrant population of African origin. 500,000 people have either come from the Caribbean, West Africa or South Africa, making it the eighth largest concentration of African Americans in the United States (Naison, 2005). Jonnes (2002) notes that the Bronx became a black community after the ‘White Flight’ in the 1970s and 1980s.

The South Bronx accommodates for 40% of New York City’s waste disposal, and 100% of the Bronx’s waste disposal. The area is also home to a Sewage Treatment Plant, a Sewage Pelletizing Plant and four electrical power plants. These air-polluting facilities place huge environmental burdens upon the community of the South Bronx (Carter, 2006). In 2000, Majora Carter redefined the notion of environmental equality by transforming the environmental urban degradation that was present in the South Bronx. By collating ideas from people and organisations, Carter managed to shift policies towards positive green economic development in the South Bronx.

Majora Carter at the TED conference

In 2001, Majora Carter founded the Sustainable South Bronx, a non-profit environmental justice solutions organisation. Her first project started after she stumbled across the devastating state of the Bronx River. The river was inaccessible due to a rubbish dump being located right next to it. This was the only area within the South Bronx where there was public access to water. Within weeks of her observation Carter anticipated the transformation of the Bronx River into a Riverside Park for the community. Carter managed to get $10,000 in funding from the New York City parks department, and raised $3.2 million in contributions to restore the river (Salman, 2008). Carters project did not stop there, her project intended to ‘Green the Ghetto’, of which included ‘planting gardens on apartment rooftops to turning dumpsites into parks’ (Carter, 2009). Her transformation of the Bronx community housing roofing was expressed through the creation of ‘cool roofs’. Cool roofs do not absorb heat, pass it on to the environment or contribute to the greenhouse effect, and will also help to reduce the cities costs of end of pipe solutions (Carter, 2006).

Hunts Point Riverside Park

In the South Bronx many citizens have suffered from a static unemployment rate of 25% and an accumulation of environmentally borne health problems, stopping them from realising their own potential. After the realisation that the project labour was being carried out by imported workers, Carter established a job training and placement system, the Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training (BEST), that would train local people in ecological restoration, so that they could compete for well-paid employment positions, changing the local unemployment statistics (Carter, 2009). The programme has managed to maintain a job placement rate exceeding 80% since 2003.

Majora Carter’s work set out to combat environmental problems facing ethnic minorities, using the ‘green economy’. She is a visionary within the fight for environmental racism justice, and living evidence that something can be done! The green economical mechanisms that she has used could be placed into other communities around the world, reducing the expressions of environmental racism that occur on a daily basis.

The below video features Majora at the TED conference talking about her ‘Green the Ghetto’ project:

Reference List:

Carter, M. (2006). Majora Carter: Greening the Ghetto TED video. Available: http://www.ted.com/talks/majora_carter_s_tale_of_urban_renewal.html. Last accessed 12.03.12.

Carter, M. (2006). Majora Carter Profile. Available: http://www.ted.com/speakers/majora_carter.html. Last accessed 16.03.12.

Carter, M. (2009). Greening the Ghetto. Available: http://www.theroot.com/views/greening-ghetto. Last accessed 14.03.12.

Jonnes, J. (2002). The Next Part of the South Bronx 1972-1978. In: South Bronx Rising: The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of an American City. 2nd ed. New York: Fordham University Press. 335-353

Naison, M. (2005). The Bronx African American History Project. OAH Newsletter. 32 (3), 1.

Picture 1: Greenway – Bronx River Alliance. (2007). Hunts Point Riverside Park. Available: http://bronxriver.org/?pg=content&p=media&m1=25&m2=29&m3=40. Last accessed 15.03.12.

Picture 2: Majora Carter Group. (2006). 10 Women Who Changed the Environment Forever. Available: http://ecopolitology.org/2010/04/22/10-women-who-changed-the-environmental-movement-forever/majora_carter/. Last accessed 16.03.12.

Salman, S. (2008). A river runs through it. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2008/apr/23/socialexclusion.communities. Last accessed 16.03.12.

Where on earth is environmental justice?

Protesters striving for environmental justice

Due to media representations and the way our culture is structured to think, it may seem to the majority of the population that there is much more injustice than justice in the world. In terms of environmental justice, it seems that more often than not the issues that are highlighted are significantly focused more around the injustices people and places are suffering. Whether this is because people are more interested in reading, talking or writing about injustices or just that they think there is more injustice in the world is irrelevant, because the point is, environmental justice is happening all around us, every day.

It would be a lie to say there is not a huge amount of environmental injustice all around the globe. But why is it only this that is ever really talked about? If people pay as much attention to the justice that is happening in the world, then maybe things would not seem so bad. From grassroots levels of indigenous groups campaigning and protesting relentlessly for land rights, to global policies trying to combat climate change, things are being done. There is good in all bad, and now might be the time that people need reminding of this.

Why aren't environmental protests like this documented as much as issues regarding injustice?

As a large scale example, the Durban climate change talks 2012 took a long time for the countries involved to come to any form of agreement and it will be even longer until these agreements start being implemented. The Kyoto Protocol and policies like it are far from perfect and the opinions of many people and places are still missing. However, it is something towards finding justice for all the people and places who are currently suffering from the effects of climate change. There are so many differing and conflicting opinions in the world that it would be impossible for everyone to agree. So what can we do? We have to start somewhere. There are millions of people who are working with what they’ve got, yet people still seem only to recognise the injustices that are simultaneously happening.

The main issue here is that not enough people know both sides to all the issues which are going on. We are therefore in need of someone to voice the opinions of the people and places who would not otherwise get a say.  Geographers are “uniquely poised to understand human environment relations, spatial and social distributions of environmental goods and bads”, which puts them in the ideal place to be able to spread this invisible knowledge. Eventually through this role which geographers play, the environmental justice which is happening all over the world will be recognised. This will hopefully allow people to think more optimistically and be educated in the ways in which they can help with environmental justice issues themselves. So where on earth is environmental justice? The truth is that it is all around us, people just need to open their eyes.

Harvey, F., and Vidal, J., (2011). Global climate change treaty in sight after Durban breakthrough. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/dec/11/global-climate-change-treaty-durban. Last accessed 14th March 2012.

Lucas, J., (2011). Durban climate talks: we still have a chance to talk about success. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2011/dec/05/durban-climate-talks-success. Last accessed 14th March 2012.

Reed, M., and George, C., (2011). Where in the world is environmental justice? Progress in Human Geography. 35 (6). 835 – 842.

Tutu, D., and Robinson, M., (2011). Climate change is a matter of justice. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/dec/05/climate-change-justice?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487. Last accessed 14th March 2012.

Solar Panels in the Mojave Desert – America’s Contested Green Future

US President, Barack Obama speaks at the State of the Union Address, 2012.

In his final State of the Union address before the US elections, Barack Obama stated that the United States needed “an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy – a strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper and full of new jobs,” (Goldenberg, 2012). The target of the declaration was undoubtedly the Republican politicians who are determined to push Keystone XL through Congress, but it also bought attention back to the USA’s clean energy aims.

The Sierra Sun Tower, California

The United States Department of Energy had approved 18 solar farm projects at the end of 2011, indicating that they are working towards a greener stance on energy; as the world’s second largest consumer of energy (Swartz & Oster, 2010) the US would be wise to invest in renewable sources.

Many of the planned solar panel farms are set to be constructed in the vast Mojave Desert; however two particular projects (the $1 billion Genisis Solar Project and the Solar Millenium Project) have been met by protests from environmental activists and Native American Groups. Their concern is that these enormous wind farms will damage the desert environment; Alfredo Figueroa, a Chemeheuvi Indian has criticised the projects saying they will affect important cultural features such as ancient rock art and sacred heritage sites (Helmore, 2012).

Environmentally there are worries that billions of water will be taken from the desert habitat (Glennon, 2009) and that the solar farms will not be efficient in water conservation. Infrastructure associated with energy development is likely to cause changes to desert quality (Allen & McHughen, 2011). The life span of solar farms has also been under fire. Additionally there are over 2,500 species of plants and animals which call the Mojave home, and which will be affected by the construction of the huge solar farms. So for the indigenous groups and the desert ecosystems that will be affected, the solar farms do not do much in the way of justice.

The Mojave Desert Tortoise will be one of threatened species.

However, the solar farms have many positive facets. They will increase employment and economic investment in the area and provide clean energy to over 3 million homes. BrightSource, operator of Ivanpah (a $2.2 Google partnered project which will be the largest solar plant on earth after its construction) further argue that the farms will only take up 0.26% of the entire Mojave Desert (Helmore, 2012). They are also dedicated to ensuring the protection of desert species and meeting state regulations. Campbell et al. (2009) suggest that the solar farms are the best option for California’s green aims. The Mojave Desert has excellent conditions for solar farms, and Glennon (2009) argues that ‘the area seems perfect of solar power; it’s hot and flat and vast’.

Computer image of the proposed Ivanpah Solar Farm. The farm will supply energy to 140,000 homes, provide 1,400 construction jobs, and save 13.5 million tonnes of CO2 in its lifetime.

If we consider solar farms in the long term they look set to increase the US’s use of sustainable and clean energy. The determination to implement renewable energy schemes looks like a gesture towards a greener future and to environmental justice, and after all, isn’t that the aim of renewable energy?


Allen, Michael F.; & McHughen, Alan. (2011). Solar Power in the Desert: Are the current large-scale solar developments really improving California’s environment?. UC Riverside: Center for Conservation Biology. Retrieved from: http://escholarship.ucop.edu/uc/item/2ff17896

Campbell, H et al. . (2009). Here Comes the Sun: Solar Thermal in the Mojave Desert—Carbon Reduction or Loss of Sequestration?. Available: http://circleofblue.org/waternews/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Solar-Thermal-Mojave-Desert.pdf. Last accessed 13th March 2012.

Glennon, R. (2009). Is Solar Power Dead in the Water?. Available: http://www.law.arizona.edu/news/Press/2009/Glennon060709.pdf. Last accessed 13th March 2012.

Goldenberg, S. (2012). State of the Union 2012: Barack Obama’s environment agenda in review. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/jan/25/state-of-union-2012-environment?INTCMP=SRCH. Last accessed 13th March 2012.

Helmore, E (2012) Solar power firms in Mojave desert feel glare of tribes and environmentalists. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/mar/11/solar-power-mojave-desert-tribes. Last accessed 12th March 2012.

Swartz, S and Oster, S. (2010). China Tops U.S. in Energy Use. Available: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703720504575376712353150310.html. Last accessed 13th March 2012.

Picture Sources

  1. http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/287605/20120125/obama-state-union-mortgage-refinance-changes-obstacles.htm
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  3. http://www.theurbn.com/2011/05/animal-conservation-technology-tracking-threatened-tortoises/dtrelease_007_med/
  4. http://ivanpahsolar.com/

Wangaari Maathai: The visionary who brought environmental justice to the global population

Wangari Maathai

Wangaari Maathai’s passing in September 2011 was met with great sadness. This Nobel Prize winning activist set up the Green Belt Movement in 1977 empowering Kenyan women in the community, educating many about the importance of sustainable forestry and helping to secure a future for generations to come of impoverished African families. She rose to fame in the 80’s campaigning heavily against forest clearance proposed by the government and was arrested and vilified several times by the government of President Daniel Arap Moi. However, her legacy remains. The Green Belt movement is having a positive effect on the people who take part in the schemes and her vision is something that world leaders are calling for to combat global climatic change.

Kenya’s forests had been ravaged by government supported forest clearance The Green Belt movement was promoted by Maathai to engage women in planting trees to help meet their needs for fuel wood, building materials, and soil conservation. The project took into account traditional gender roles of men and women in Kenya, that differ so greatly from the gender roles in the UK today, reiterating the accepted roles of women in Kenya’s culture as home keepers, mothers and community organizers, whilst allowing men to get involved as agriculture is a unisex activity, avoiding as much internal conflict as possible. Although originally met with scepticism, the women who began the project had helped to plant over 30 million trees in Kenya by 2003 and now with Government backing, the Green Belt movement in the confidence of the government have looked to engage its 35000 schools, 16350 youth groups and 4300 women’s groups to target planting 1 billion trees a year as part of their official climate response strategy (Vidal, 2011). In November 2011 the government announced that the first 450 million had been planted, that’s just 419 million more than the UK planted this year.

Maathai’s vision to counter the drought, land degradation and water shortages in Kenya has lead to not only the ability for the indigenous communities to meet their own needs, and the empowerment of women in a male dominated cultural society, but has lead to the continued reforestation and climatic response that the world’s most economic countries need to engage with. Barrack Obama’s singular contribution to the Durban climate negotiations was to pay tribute to the work of Maathai and press the need for other countries to conserve their forests to help slow the effects of a steadily warming planet.

Kenya’s reforestation project is doing justice and improving the environment not only for their population, but is a beacon to all other nations showing how such a simple, inexpensive project can bring environmental justice to the global population.


Boyer-Rechlin, B. (2010) ‘Women in Forestry: A study of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement and Nepal’s Community Forestry Programme,’ Scandinavian Journal of Forest Research 25 (9), 69-72

Vidal, J. (2011) ‘Kenya – Ensuring Wangari Maathai’s Legacy Branches Out,’ Guardian [online] (last updated 11.22am Thursday 24th November) Available at: <http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2011/nov/24/kenya-wangari-maathai-legacy-trees?INTCMP=SRCH&gt; [Accessed 13th March 2012]

Vidal, J. (2011) ‘Barack Obama urges nations to follow lead of Wangari Maathai,’ Guardian [online] (last updated 04.46 pm Wednesday 7th December) Available at: <http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/dec/07/barack-obama-wangari-maathai?INTCMP=SRCH&gt; [Accessed 13thMarch 2012]

Developing countries are fuelling the rich.

No forests, no crops and no communities. Ethiopia's new landscape dominating of sugar canes.

You would have thought that land grabbing would have stopped due to the implications of the Hyland Clearances in the 18th and 19th century, but evidently not. Today land grabs are happening at a larger extent impacting the most vulnerable communities in the developing world (Zoomers 2010). Many land grabs happen to create biofuel plantations. We all presumed biofuel was aimed to reduce global warming, whereas actually it is increasing carbon dioxide levels due to deforestation.

With issues such as famine, poverty and droughts common in the developing world, land grabbing is another unwanted problem.  The Guardian stated that over 66% of land grabs in Africa were intended for biofuel, so far causing a loss of 277 million hectors. In some cases land areas the size of Britain are given to investors (Oxfam 2011). Imagine, if the UK was used for biofuel plantations where would we all be living? Replacing land once used for crops with palm oil trees has increased starvation and resulted in communities being dispersed. The developing world is suffering to fuel the rich’s greed.

Ethiopia receives approximately 700,000 tonnes of food and 1.8 billion of aid each year from the developed world.  If Ethiopia stopped selling land for as cheap as £150 for 1000mi² it could reduce reliance on aid and prevent starvation. The Gambella region in Ethiopia has attracted over 896 worldwide investors in the last nine years (Vermeulen and Cotula 2010). In Gambella, there is no consultation between the government, investors and local people. Farmers have been killed, jailed and tortured trying to protect their land and community. Due to the government’s dominance many villagers are too afraid to protest for their human rights. This raises questions as to whether biofuel plantations are a step forward in the world’s development.

Forest is being burnt in the Karuturi compound in order to create biofuel plantations.

Karuturi PLC brought a piece of land in Ethiopia the size of Wales for biofuel plantations. With the forced eviction of thousands of African tribes and exploitation of workers the company is now under the eye of the Human Rights Watch. Karuturi’s promise of building schools and homes are nowhere to be seen, it appears that their focus is only on profit. In 2010, flooding occurred in Ethiopia and Karuturi lost 12,000 hectors of planted crops, could this resemble some natural justice for the displaced communities perhaps?

With Ethiopia’s Ministry of Agriculture agreeing with biofuel plantations stating they were key for development, like foreign investors he is prioritising economic growth over the people’s welfare and the environment (Zoomers 2010). Many impoverished communities lack justice and are rarely compensated for loss of land and food, explicitly demonstrating how investors are denying people their human rights (Vermeulen and Cotula 2010).

As a geographer I believe that this neoliberal policy was aimed to create sustainable development. Biofuel plantations could be successful if locals are properly compensated and allowed a say in the country’s development programme. Furthermore, companies could create oil palms on degradable land instead of destroying existing farmland, communities and people’s rights.


Guardian 2012, Global land grab could trigger conflict, report says. http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2012/feb/02/global-land-grab-trigger-conflict-report?INTCMP=SRCH. Last Accessed 08/03/2012

Guardian 2009,The cost of the biofuel boom on Indonesia’s forests.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jan/21/network-biofuels?INTCMP=SRCH. Last Accessed 08/03/2012

Vermeulen and Cotula, 2010, Over the heads of local people: consultation, consent, and recompense in large-scale land deals for biofuels projects in Africa, Journal of Peasant Studies, 37 (4), 899-916

Zoomers 2010, Globalisation and the foreignisation of space: seven processes driving the current global land grab, Journal of Peasant Studies, 37 (2), 429-447

Picture 1: Alfredo Bini. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-17116284. Last Accessed 08/03/2012

Picture 2: Alfredo Bini. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-17116284. Last Accessed 08/03/2012

Video: John Vidal, 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6yGkJsR7-HY. Last Accessed 08/03/2012

Too Little, Too late?


Just over two hundred years ago aboriginal language was rife. Around one million people spoke over 250 different aboriginal languages (BBC News, 2011). Yet since the colonialization of Australia, aboriginal language has been suppressed by the ever overpowering English language. In 2009 the BBC reported that only 60 aboriginal languages – roughly, are still spoken from day-to-day amongst aboriginal communities. These languages can be lost within a generation and are the embodiment of the aboriginal lifestyle, way of being, thinking and seeing. To lose a language is to lose a precious source of history, not just Australian history but the history of language evolution, the history of land management and the history of colonial experience. It is essential that Aboriginal groups receive the justice deserved and their voices are heightened rather than squandered and killed.

Languages are declining at a record rate and not by choice (Mercer, 2008). It is believed that once a language dies, once the last speaker passes away, it is almost impossible to bring the language back to life. However, in Chifley College Dunheved Campus justice for aboriginals was acknowledged (Mercer, 2009). On point of principle rather than a source of indigenous knowledge, aboriginal lessons were organised and written records of the Dharug language were used to bring the language back to life. This attempt for justice was a complete success. Both Aboriginal school children and non-aboriginals partook in the lessons twice a week. Many of the aboriginal students spoke of how Dharug lessons had helped develop their aboriginal culture, identity and pride in a community where their aboriginal roots were frequently overlooked. For this school in New South Wales Dharug is now on their curriculum (Mercer, 2009).

Acknowledgement of the importance of aboriginal languages is vital, but its only one step. More than this has to be done to stop the death of anymore of these precious languages. As a geographer the knowledge contained within these capsules of language need to savoured and shared, but not just for reasons than some may believe. Undoubtedly it is massively important to maintain aboriginal culture, but aboriginal language also contains knowledge that may not have been shared. This knowledge needs to be respected. This knowledge needs to be understood. And under Aboriginal regulation this knowledge need to be utilised. This special community knows more about the environment, land management techniques and the evolution of their surrounding than any others. Why would anyone force this knowledge out of existence? We must use what aboriginals have already spent thousands of years developing to understand our environment, as well as maintain their fabulously rich culture.

However, there are 60 aboriginal languages spoken day to day, less than 300 years ago over four times this existed, any move from here on in, will it just be too little too late?

Anon, 2010. Borrowed terms. Australian geographic. 7th July 2010

Anon, 2011. Australian project hunts lost indigenous languages. BBC News. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-14503382

Barada, W. 2008. English will be the death of Aboriginal languages. Crikey.com.au http://www.crikey.com.au/Politics/20081120-The-fate-of-Aboriginal-languages.html

Crystal, D. 2000. What can be done? In Language death (pp.127-169). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Mercer, P.  2009. Lost Aboriginal language retrieved. BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/7992565.stm

Mercer, P. 2008. Aboriginal languages ‘dying out’. BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/7225570.stm

Photograph: http://religionandmediacourse.blogspot.com/2010/11/religious-representation-of-australian.html

Water: The Real Fashion Victim

The fashion industry’s water usage has a significant impact on environmental justice which will be explored in terms of cotton growing and the discharge of water waste from dyeing. Dr Pamela Ravasio (2012), a consultant specialising in sustainable fashion business, noted that of all Earth’s water, 2.5% is freshwater of which only 3% is readily accessible to human which is equivalent to 0.01% of all water on Earth. 22% of this 0.01% is used by industry with the remaining 70% for irrigation and 8% for domestic use (Ravasio, 2012).

A cotton field

Cotton is used to produce 40% of all clothing globally but this natural fibre demands huge quantities of water. The Environmental Justice Foundation (2011) found that it takes over 2000 litres of water to produce just one cotton t-shirt. Cotton growing negatively impacts freshwater ecosystems and biodiversity due to excessive water withdrawal for irrigation, pesticide application and dam construction (Environmental Justice Foundation, 2011). The resulting salinisation, pollution and loss of soil and biodiversity are depleting the livelihoods of those who rely on the rivers.

More land is used in the US, China and India to grow cotton than for food crops and fuel (Ravasio, 2012). In a world of huge food insecurity, are our priorities misplaced? Ultimately, there are alternatives to cotton but no alternatives to food. As the world’s population continues to grow and climatic conditions become more extreme, the ease of accessing water will become more complicated and the fashion industry’s reliance on cotton will be forced to change (Ravasio, 2012).

The case of the Aral Sea serves as a reminder of the damage caused by excessive cotton production. Once a huge lake located in the desert of Central Asia with a drainage basin covering 7 nations, very little of it remains. In 1960, the Aral Sea was the world’s fourth largest inland water body according to area (Micklin, 2007). However, the Soviet Union diverted the Syr Dar-ya and Amu Dar-ya, which flowed in to the Aral Sea, to the desert in order to irrigate cotton fields (Welsh, 2000). The scale of this diversion was tragic:

  • It is just 15% of its former volume and salinity has risen by almost 600% killing all the water’s native fish leaving thousands of fisherman jobless (Micklin, 2000)
  • The exposed former sea bed, an area the size of six million football pitches, is a crusty white layer of salt preventing growth (Environmental Justice Foundation).
  • Before the diversion, there were 70 mammal species and 319 bird species living in the deltas but today only 32 species of the former and 160 of the latter remain (Micklin, 2000)
  • The local population suffer acute health problems due to the inhalation of salt, poorer diets due to the loss of fish and contaminated drinking water (Welsh, 2000)

The video below demonstrates the huge decline of the Aral Sea:

Cotton needs to be treated and dyed, another environmentally harmful stage of the production process. Jane Spencer (2007), highlighted the impact of a booming textile industry on China’s environment. In one case, villagers living nearby the Fuan Textiles Mill in Southern China noticed their river water had turned red. A visit by Government authorities discovered a pipe underneath the factory which was dumping 20 000 tons of contaminated water from dyeing operations into the river every day (Spencer, 2007).

'Made in China' The familiar words found on labels

It is easy to criticise China but we need to recognise the role that multinational companies play in China’s environmental problems through demanding lower priced products, which in turn is fuelled by consumer demand. We need to ask ourselves why prices are so low and go beyond the sweatshop answer. Costs are so low because China dumps its waste water directly into nearby rivers, avoiding the expensive process of treating contaminated water and therefore when you purchase these products you’re not paying for the costs of pollution (Spencer, 2007).

A heavily polluted river in China

The majority of players in the fashion industry don’t respect the rights of citizens to access safe water. In China, 300 million people lack access to clean drinking water due to toxic runoff from the textile industry, which turns rivers into sludge resembling open sewers (Spencer, 2007). The rivers emit pungent stenches and are littered with plastic bags, shoes, electrical wires and carcasses of dead animals (Spencer, 2007). The once clear waters, which villagers fished from and swam in, are a distant memory. It shouldn’t be the case that Chinese residents can tell what colours are in fashion by looking at the rivers.

It is our responsibility to pressurise retailers to re-evaluate their production processes. We need to use our understanding of environmental justice to show others how our consumption is impacting the lives of others somewhere else on Earth. We are guilty of passively buying what is supplied to us with little regard to the wider implications of our consumerism. Retailers and designers dictate fashion but as geographers we need to be more responsible and realise that nothing is more fashionable than being environmentally friendly…


Environmental Justice Foundation. (2011). Water and Cotton. Available: http://www.ejfoundation.org/page334.html. Last accessed 9th March 2012.

Micklin, P. (2007). The Aral Sea Disaster. Earth and Planetary Sciences. 35, 47-72.

Ravasio, P. (2012). Does fashion fuel food shortages?. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/blog/cotton-farming-fashion-fuel-food-shortages. Last accessed 9th March 2012.

Ravasio, P. (2012). How can we stop water from becoming a fashion victim?. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/water-scarcity-fashion-industry. Last accessed 9th March 2012.

Spencer, J. (2007). China Pays Steep Price As Textile Exports Boom.Available: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118580938555882301.html. Last accessed 9th March 2012.

Welsh, P. (2000). The Aral Sea Tragedy. Available: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/678898.stm. Last accessed 9th March 2012.


One: http://calliecollins.blogspot.com/

Two: http://artistsarahshaw.blogspot.com/

Three: http://forums.vr-zone.com/newsroom/201933-news-pollution-turns-china-river-dark-red.html

Four: http://mrahayes.blogspot.com/2011/01/pick-your-cotton-carefully.html


Unknown. (2010). Shrinking of the Aral Sea. Available: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-1R634vpRQ&feature=related Last accessed 10th March 2012.