From injustice to justice – how are geographers impacting the environment?

My previous blogs have been concerning environmental injustice, however I would now like to take the time to talk about justice and how geographers can enable and create grounds for it. As a geographer I play my part in promoting environmental justice by creating awareness and sharing knowledge, however as a student my reach is limited, other geographers, environmentalists and scientists go beyond this and contribute in depth research and time consuming studies to the environmental justice and injustice debate.

Geographers have something unique, a situated knowledge. Geographers recognise the connections between society and the environment, because this is what we are taught to recognise and appreciate. Everything is linked, the world is a delicate ecosystem, and everything is connected, an action in one place may have an impact somewhere else down the line. The awareness of this connection enables geographers to give well rounded and educated advice to other countries, companies and NGOS concerning environmental policy, schemes, projects and law.

Geographer’s contributions can be seen in the development of REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) for example, where developing countries involved with the scheme faced difficulties in using high tech monitoring methods and top down approaches. Burgess et al (2010) suggested a shift away from technological methods and illustrated the positive effects well planned community based monitoring can have. Their evaluation of REDD+ in Tanzania demonstrated that embracing local knowledge of trees, plants and the local area increases the effectiveness of monitoring significantly. Local ability to measure the diameter of trees, correctly identify species and monitor changes in stock and species proved to be very cost effective for REDD+. This and other extensive studies on community based monitoring in REDD+ countries have demonstrated that in the long run it is beneficial for REDD+ in terms of cost effectiveness whilst also addressing poverty in the area through creating and sustaining reliable employment for locals. This example promotes the concept of justice through involving local communities in processes and decisions that have direct impact on their lives, at the same time as it protects the environment.

Geographers have previously and will continue to carry out progressive research on environmental justice and injustice. Through research they are able to highlight advantages and disadvantages of different policies and schemes to improve the future of the environment and society, so that both can evolve in harmony. The skills almost unique to geographers such as the ability to adopt flexible approaches and ‘to take location and scale into account’ (Liverman, 2004) as well as the ability to incorporate both interests and concerns of the people involved from indigenous populations to NGOs and multinational corporations means geography as a discipline and individual geographers are simultaneously invested in the rights of the stakeholders as well as the future of our environment. This holistic view that geographers have is evident in the advice they give policy makers, project leaders and countries concerning their environmental practices and results in fair environmental practice reducing conflicts such as those over land rights and environmental services.

References:

Burgess, N.D. et al., 2010. Getting ready for REDD+ in Tanzania: a case study of progress and challenges. Oryx, 44 (3), pp. 339–351.

Liverman, D., 2004. Who Governs, at What Scale and at What Price? Geography, Environmental Governance, and the Commodification of Nature. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 94 (4), pp. 734-738.

 

 

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.

References:

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].

 

 

The social cost of commodifying nature

The commodification of ecosystem services is a much contested and debated area within Geography. Commodification in its simplest form means to attach monetary value to something; this blog will examine the effects this can have. In eastern Africa value is attached to vast amounts of woodland as this woodland provides a means for carbon sequestration, a very valuable, regulating ecosystem service. Places of intense carbon sequestration also known as carbon sinks absorb carbon dioxide and have become a major component in the ever expanding emissions trading market. Emissions’ trading allows carbon credits to be bought and sold, it is a form of carbon offsetting which allows countries to offset their own emissions or sell the credits they create to other countries.

The New Forests Company (NFC) is currently planting and harvesting trees across Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and Rwanda, and hopes to attract revenue from carbon credits created, but this scheme is having negative social and economic impacts on the local population. Since the NFC was founded in 2004 it has acquired 90,000 hectares of land but claims made in a recent Oxfam report carried out in 2011 state that much of this land belonged to the indigenous communities (Lang, 2011).

Locals living in a hut after being evicted from their homes and land

Oxfam made serious allegations that as many as 20,000 people in Uganda were dispossessed or lost entitlements to their land during the proceedings. Evictions were allegedly very violent and involved the destruction of houses and crops (Granger and Geary, 2011). On top of this locals claim that they were not given enough prior notice and that objections were not taken into consideration, those who did lose their land and or property were not fully compensated or offered substitute land holdings, many were forced to reside in temporary shacks.

Many disputes have erupted over entitlements to the land. Some indigenous folk argue that they were given deeds for their land by the Idi Amin government in return for their or their relatives’ service in the Second World War; other locals say that the land was rightfully theirs as they purchased it legally from the government (Vidal, 2011). The NFC excuses itself from the debate saying that it was the Ugandan government who were responsible for the evictions and it was their responsibility to resolve conflicts over land, both the NFC and Ugandan government say cases that did arise were disregarded on account of their illegitimacy, but lawyers say many cases are still active and will most likely never be resolved.

The injustice present here is undeniable. The commodification of carbon sinks present in Uganda and East Africa as a whole have jeopardised indigenous peoples way of life, and in too many cases taken away their way of life completely. As a geographer I appreciate the need to protect the environment and investing in carbon sinks and carbon sequestration projects is admirable and effective, however it should not come at such a high social cost.

References:

Grainger, M. and Geary, K. 2011. The New Forests Company and its Uganda plantations. Oxfam international.

Lang, C., 2011. Ugandan farmers kicked off their land for New Forests Company’s carbon project forest project. Available from: http://www.redd-monitor.org/2011/09/23/ugandan-farmers-kicked-off-their-land-for-new-forests-companys-carbon-project/ [Accessed 3 March 2012].

Vidal, J., 2011. Ugandan Farmer: ‘my land gave me everything. Now I’m one of the poorest’. Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/sep/22/uganda-farmer-land-gave-me-everything?INTCMP=SRCH [Accessed 3 March 2012].

 

Picture references:

Rawles, S., 2011. Ugandan Farmer: ‘my land gave me everything. Now I’m one of the poorest’ [photograph]. Oxfam. Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/sep/22/ uganda-farmer-land-gave-me-everything?INTCMP=SRCH [Accessed 2 March 2012]

 

Nuclear power conflicts in the UK

Over the last decade the UK government has become increasingly pro nuclear as it is believed to address climate change mitigation and energy security issues, however much of the general public are opposed to nuclear power. A recent analysis of responses to the DTI’s consultation on its energy white paper, Our Energy Challenge, reveals that waste disposal, cost of electricity generation, actual efficiency in reducing carbon emissions and the extent to which it is sustainable, are key concerns surrounding nuclear power among the 527 respondents (Greenhalgh and Azapagic, 2009). These concerns are currently driving protests at Hinkley Point near Bridgwater in Somerset. Here locals and anti-nuclear activists from all over the UK have been protesting against EDF’s plans to build 2 new nuclear reactors in the area.

Protestors claim that nuclear power is not as low carbon as the government lead us to believe (Stop Nuclear Power Network UK, 2012), in fact the nuclear industry is dependent on fossil fuels at each stage of production and in the building of the reactors at Hinkley C an area twice the size of Wembley stadium will be destroyed. Issues of waste disposal are also prominent amongst protestors as radioactive waste within close proximity to humans is known to seriously affect health. Also there is also a danger that radioactive waste will be leaked into the nearby ocean which will have a disastrous impact on marine life.

Currently small scale protesting is occurring in the area intended to be cleared to build the power plant. A group of 7 people have been occupying a farm building on the land and another group of protestors have been occupying trees on the site in an effort to save them and the land. These have been attempts to stop EDF prematurely destroying the land before IPC give planning permission. However, detrimental to protestors, EDF claim to have entered an agreement with local authorities allowing them to begin the initial stages of building in the near future (BBC News, 2012).

Protesters at Hinkley Point in Somerset

Protests have been taking place at the proposed site for the Hinkley C power station since 2010 when hundreds of protestors gatheredto form a chain around the site, hundreds more gathered in 2011 to do the same thing. This year activists from Green Peace, Stop Nuclear and many other organisations are encouraging more people to come along to take a stand against EDF and the proposed plant.

This year’s movement took place in March and is known as ‘Surround Hinkley’. Protestors claimed to be defending democracy, future generations and the entire direction of Britain’s energy policy (Stop New Nuclear, 2012). The movement is concerned with promoting not just environmental justice but justice for the people concerned. The land has the right to remain just as much as the people have the right to be concerned about the destruction of the land and possible side effects of a nuclear power plant.

References:

BBC News, 2012. Notice served to campers protesting at Hinkley Point. Available from:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-17085088 [Accessed 25 February 2012].

Greenhalgh, C. and Azapagic, A., 2009. Review of drivers and barriers for nuclear power in the UK. Environmental Science and Policy, 12 (7), pp. 1054-1067.

Stop New Nuclear, 2012. No more Fukushimas- 10-11: Surround Hinkley Point. Available from: http://www.stopnewnuclear.org.uk/node/228 [Accessed 25 February 2012].

Stop Nuclear Power Network UK, 2012. Stop the next generation of nuclear power stations with a blockade at Hinkley Point. Available from: http://stopnuclearpoweruk.net/content/stop-next-generation-nuclear-power-stations-blockade-hinkley-point-join-us-hinkley-3-october [Accessed 24 February 2012].

Picture source:

BBC News, 2011. Hinkley Point Protest: Blockade at nuclear power station [photograph]. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-15146781 [Accessed 26 February 2012].

Injustice in the Amazon

The amazon rainforest is an incredibly valuable natural resource not only to the 8 countries it spans across in South America but for the world as a whole. As climate change and global warming become increasingly recognised across the globe by people from all walks of life the importance of the Amazonian rainforest in mitigating the impacts of climate change has too become increasingly recognised. The link between the health of the Amazon and the health of the planet is undeniably strong, the 1.4 billion acres of rainforests that make up the Amazon contain 90-140 billion metric tons of carbon which helps stabilise the local and global climate.

Deforestation has become a key issue surrounding the Amazon rainforest, not only does it reduce the efficiency of the rainforests as a carbon sink, it has also become a concern for local and indigenous peoples where land has been taken from them by companies invested in logging and cattle ranching. The forest is important for local populations as they rely on it for agriculture, clothing and medicine. Therefore recent struggles by locals and activists have attempted to equally address the immediate needs of the locals and also the needs of future generations.

However this bright future is darkened by the violence which has become increasingly associated with environmental activism in the Brazilian Amazon, many lives have been threatened and many taken over the last 30 years. The execution of ‘eco-icon’ (Hecht, 2011) Chico Mendes in 1988 for his association with social and environmental justice movements in Acre, Brazil sparked concern and outrage across the globe, bringing environmental degradation, exploitation and corruption onto the world stage. Since 1988 many laws and acts have been implemented to protect the rights of the indigenous communities and to prevent further destruction of the Amazonian Rainforest but such measures have not been effective in eliminating violence.

Dorothy Stang was a Catholic nun and rain forest Activist in Brazil and was killed in 2005 at 73 after she fought to preserve an area of land that ranchers wanted to clear for logging and cattle ranching, the murder was ordered by a rancher after Stang had blocked him from taking land the government gave to local farmers. A similar story is reflected in the case of rainforest activists Jose’ Claudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife Maria do Espirito Santa when they were murdered in 2011 for their involvement in a 15 year campaign against illegal loggers and ranchers who stole the land from the rural poor, land which was given to them by the government and was legally theirs.

These sad stories have made international headlines and measures have been taken to prevent such occurrences but this injustice continues to occur alongside environmental and social activism in the Amazon Rainforest. Even though more measures have been taken to allow for sustainable use of the forest from the drying of Amazon nuts to make oils and soaps to sell, an activity undertaken by da Silva and his wife to wide spread conservation projects, violence and murder are rife. This violence represents the clash between those invested in preservation and those invested in destruction as these different groups value the rainforest in different ways or for different purposes. This conflict of interests has caused many to loose their lives, but shouldn’t life hold the greatest value of all?

 

Hecht, S. 2011. The new Amazon geographies: insurgent citizenship, “Amazon Nation” and the politics of environmentalisms. Journal of Cultural Geography 28 (1): 203-223.

http://www.worldwildlife.org/what/wherewework/amazon/index.html

http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/sister_dorothy_stang/index.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/sep/28/amazon-brazil-protect-trees