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.

Fukushima through the eyes of the victims

Child Evacuees of Fukushima Prefecture


Children of the Tsunami was broadcast on BBC2 on 1st March 2012, the programme allowed the children who had been affected by the Tsunami and nuclear disaster that followed, to tell the World how their lives had changed forever. The Tsunami that struck off the coast of Japan on March 11th 2011 just before the end of the schools day destroyed dozens of schools along a two hundred mile stretch of the coastline, all the schools except Okawa primary school were evacuated. Okawa primary school was located 2 miles inland (100 miles south of Fukushima Nuclear Power plant) near the Kitami River and out of all the schools was located furthest inland. In total 74 pupils and 9 teachers died leaving many, especially parents, asking why so many died there.

Naomi is one of these parents she spent 6 months searching for her daughter 12 years old Kohoru, whose headless body was discovered by fishermen. Following the discovery of her daughter’s body Naomi continues to search for the remaining 4 children and 1 teacher that remain unaccounted for.

Soma a boy of 10 told how he was one of seventeen children in his class and only four survived. Soma said “our school was by the river and behind it was a big hill, why didn’t the teachers take us up the hill where it was safe?” Fuka a girl of 10 talked about her best friend Manno she kept saying “it was her birthday” she goes onto say that she can’t understand why nature is so cruel and why it had to take Manno away.

Large numbers of the evacuees are now living in Minamasota close to the edge of the exclusion zone their lives have changed beyond all recognition, the psychological effects linked to the disaster are clear to see with many struggling to deal with the aftermath of the disaster and fear about the future is rife.

Mutsumi lives in emergency housing with her Mum and 2 younger sisters, her mother says Mutsumi is concerned about the future; she’s asked “will I be able to have babies or marry?” Mutsumi say’s “we have to have babies to carry on living” and Ioka who lives in the evacuation zone says her family’s terrified of what the future holds.

David MacNeill reports that although compensation is available for the victims of this disaster those who evacuated voluntarily to reduce their exposure to radiation are excluded from the scheme, however, a one off payment of $1,043 has been offered to some of these. For those that were relocated by TEPCO financial support was made in an initial payment of $13,045 with the promise of further compensation in the future, the application form for compensation was so long and complicated that many haven’t claimed what is rightfully theirs

The real injustice is the fact that nuclear power was allowed to be sold to these people as clean, safe, and the answer to their energy needs, and how the nuclear industry has built up a system where polluters make huge profits, yet when it all went wrong, the responsibility to deal with the aftermath was thrown on the people of the area (MacNeil 2012).

BBC2: The Children of the Tsunami 01/03/2012

MacNeil, D. 2012: The Fight For Compenstation: Tales From The Disaster Zone. In: Lessons From Fukushima. Greenpeace.org available on-line at http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/publications/nuclear/2012/Fukushima/Lessons-from-Fukushima.pdf accessed 09/03/2012

Image, Anonymous: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-T4MHllfFZF4/ThkuqEjxYqI/AAAAAAAAABU/XIR-YIH8Who/s640/Young+evacuees+from+Futaba-cho%252C+Fukushima+Prefecture%252C+Japan.jpeg

The Legacy of Fukushima


Source: Anonymous

So how have the Tsunami and the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, affected the lives of people living in the area? The people of Fukushima prefecture have been affected by tragedy in many ways & not all of them are immediately obvious to the rest of us, not only have they had to deal with the loss of loved ones and their homes, they‘ve also had to deal with loss of jobs, community and a way of life that may never be the same again! Through our work as Geographers we can help others understand the devastating effects that events such as these are having, not only on the people in the immediate vicinity, but also how they affect the rest of the World, and ultimately that no matter who we are, we’re responsible for the future of our planet.

Problems facing the people of the region will be on-going for many generations, on top of health problems associated with exposure to radiation; victims are at risk of psychological problems such as post-traumatic stress syndrome, depression and schizophrenia (Lancet, 2011). Children living in the region have all been issued with dosimeters by Tokyo University as part of a study to establish the effects of long term exposure to radiation (BBC2, 2012), and although studies were carried out following Chernobyl the effects of low dose radiation especially in children remain undetermined (Akabayashi, 2011).

Approximately 80,000 people are still waiting to hear whether or not they’ll be allowed to return home, many of them feel this will never happen and feel that their lives are in limbo (BBC2, 2012). Kakuchi, 2011, claims people no longer trusted the Government or TEPCO (the company that ran Fukushima nuclear power plant) because they weren’t informed immediately when the power plant went into meltdown, exposing everyone to unnecessary health risks.

Locally grown food can no longer be used following contamination, and even food on local supermarket shelves has been contaminated (Kakuchi, 2011). Minori a child evacuee living in Minamosota on the edge of the exclusion zone,  20kms from Fukushima nuclear power plant, says her parents don’t buy anything that’s grown in Fukushima,  its contaminated, she says her parents want to move further away, however there aren’t any flats available just emergency housing (BBC2, 2012).

Others struggle to deal with devastating loses they have suffered as a result of this disaster and even children are exhibiting signs of psychological stress such as, Toshiyoki a four year old who hasn’t talked since the Tsunami took place, although he was a capable linguist before the event. (BBC2, 2012)

For these people life has changed forever; Japan had convinced them that nuclear power was safe (Kakuchi, 2011) and a clean alternative to fossil fuels (anonymous 28/03/2012) and as anonymous, 2012 stated “this should give the World pause for thought” what does the future hold? Should we rely on nuclear power to secure our energy needs for the future or are the risks just too great?

For details on the Tsunami and nuclear disaster see my earlier post entitled: The Human Cost of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Disaster

Akabayashi, A, 2011: Fukushima Research Needs World’s Support. Science, 333, pp. 696

Anonymous. 2012: Japan’s nuclear disaster: a long half-life. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/feb/28/japan-nuclear-disaster-fukushima-editorial accessed 01/03/2012

BBC2. 01/03/2012: The children of the Tsunami

Kakuchi, S. 2011: Japanese mothers rise up against nuclear power. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/dec/22/japanese-mothers-rise-nuclear-power accessed 01/03/2012

Image, Anonymous:http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fukushima_children_get_to_play_outside_for_the_first_time_in_5_months.jpg#filelinks

The Human cost of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

Source: Anonymous

At 2.46pm on March 11th 2011 an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale struck off the eastern coast of Japan, followed by a tsunami that according to Russia Today reached 23m in height, later estimates claimed the waves reached 15m. When the earthquake struck four nuclear power plants including Fukushima-Daiichi automatically shut down. Diesel backup generators that were supposed to kick in when power was lost didn’t survive the tsunami leaving the emergency batteries to run the plant, within eight hours these batteries had failed leaving the nuclear plant with no way of cooling itself (Biello. D, 2011) within three days the reactors were in meltdown and explosions began to destroy the reactor buildings (Greenpeace, 2011). By the 12/03/2011 Japan’s Nuclear & Industrial Safety Agency had shut down another 11 nuclear plants for growing fears over safety (Russia Today).

Fukushima is located 160Km north of Japan, an exclusion zone of 20Kms was set up around the Fukushima plant, people were told to avoid drinking tap water and keep their mouths, noses and exposed skin covered whilst outside and wash thoroughly on returning home.  By the 15/03/2011 over 200,000 people had been evacuated from the area with 160,000 believed to have been exposed to high levels of radiation, only 600 remained in the area. (Russia Today)

Following a 4th blast on 15th March staff from the nuclear plant were evacuated, leaving behind just 50 individuals all over the age of 60 to continue with attempts to cool the reactors (This World: Inside the Meltdown: BBC 2, 23/2/2012)

The latest figures suggest that over 20,000 people died as a result of the disaster and 100,000 plus have had to leave their homes where many families have lived for numerous generations. Between the 26th and 30th March 2011 Japan’s Nuclear Safety Commission screened 1080 children under 15, from the Japanese Fukushima prefecture (Migagi, Iwaite and Fukushima) for thyroid exposure to radiation and found 45% of these children tested positive. (Russia Today)

Radiation levels at their peak reached alarming levels, levels in seawater reached 4500 times’ normal levels, and on 5th April 2011 according to TEPCO (the company who ran Fukushima) levels of Iodine-131 (8 day half-life) (Argonne National Laboratory) was at 7.5 million times the legal limit and Cesium-137 (30.7 years half-life) (Centre for Disease control and prevention) was at 1.1 million times the legal limit. It is believed that it will be 20 – 30 years before residents will be allowed to return to their homes due to the length of time it’ll take radiation levels to drop to safe levels; on 10/05/2011 residents from 52 households were allowed to return home to collect personal belongings, many opted to collect items of sentimental value such as photographs. (Russia Today)

So what does the future hold for the people of Fukushima and surrounding areas? Although TEPCO were reported to be paying up to $12,000 to each of the 50,000 families that lived within the 30Km exclusion zone can this ever compensate them for their loss? Or, the future health problems they are likely to encounter? (Russia Today)

Biello. D,2011: Anatomy of a nuclear crisis: A chronology of Fukushima http://e360.yale.edu/feature/anatomy_of_a_nuclear_crisis_a_chronology_of_fukushima/2385/  accessed 23/02/12

Greenpeace 2011: Fukushima nuclear disaster timeline: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/Global/international/publications/nuclear/2012/Fukushima/Fact%20Sheets/Fukushima_Timeline.pdf accessed 23/02/12

BBC 2 2012: Inside the Meltdown: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01cpd2m/This_World_Inside_the_Meltdown/http://rt.com/news/japan-tsunami-reconstruction-photos-111/ accessed 24/02/12

Argonne National Laboratory, EVS, Human Health Facts, 2005 http://www.evs.anl.gov/pub/doc/Iodine.pdf accessed 25/02/12

Centre for Disease control and prevention: http://www.bt.cdc.gov/radiation/isotopes/cesium.asp accessed 25/02/12


Anonymous, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fukushima_I_reactor_units_3_and_4_by_Digital_Globe.jpg?uselang=en-gb accessed 24/02/12

Should Wind Turbines be sited close to residential properties?

Wind farms are beginning to crop up in many locations around the UK; however, although wind turbines are a source of clean renewable energy there is growing resistance to the siting of them in residential areas.

An article that appeared on the this is Somerset website highlighted the battle currently taking place between the residents of Huntspill, a village near Bridgewater in Somerset and two energy companies EDF Energy and Ecotricty, who have put forward plans for two wind farms in the area. EDF wants to build five turbines on the eastern side of the M5 and Ecotricity are proposing the building of four on the West.

The energy companies say that wind turbines are an effective way of reducing the use of fossil fuels, meeting Government energy targets and at the same time cut Greenhouse gas emissions.

However, local residents claim that the turbines will affect their quality of life, ruin the landscape and affect local tourism. Alan and Anita Wilkinson who run Emerald Pool Fisheries and own 6 Holiday cottages say the noise and flashing lights from the turbines will reduce people’s enjoyment of the tranquil location and affect their night angling business. They also mention the fact that people who live within a mile of existing wind farms suffer the effects of sleep deprivation and other effects from the noise produced by the turbines.

In June 2009 Dr Christopher Hanning Honorary consultant in Sleep Disorder Medicine to the University Hospitals of Leicester and founder of the Leicester Sleep Disorder Services at Leicester General Hospital wrote a report entitled “Sleep Disturbance and Wind Turbine Noise” In the report Dr Hanning states “There can be no doubt that wind farms generate sufficient noise to disturb sleep and impair the health of those living nearby” The report looks into how the noise from wind turbines can disrupt “critical sleep cycles” and lead to fatigue, headaches, poor memory and concentration.

Dr Hanning stresses that disrupted sleep has recently been linked to impaired glucose tolerance, increased risks of obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer and depression; he also points out that recent studies have shown that seven out of ten children who were exposed to wind turbine noise had a marked decline in their performance at school and their behaviour was also affected.

Dr Nina Pierpont MD testified at the New York State energy committee 7/3/2006 that there are recognised symptoms associated with the noise from wind farms and these occur in significant numbers of people who live in close proximity to them. Dr Pierpont recommends that wind turbines due to health implications shouldn’t be sited within one and a half miles of any school, home or hospital (Barry, 2009 and Kansas wind alert). However, as Mr and Mrs Wilkinson point out two of the proposed turbines would be sited within 500 meters of their property affecting their livelihoods and their quality of life.

So are wind farms the answer to our future energy needs or, does further research need to be done into the impacts turbines may or may not have on residents health and quality of life?

Anonymous, 2012: Anti wind turbine protesters stage blimp uprising on Somerset countryside: http://www.thisissomerset.co.uk/Anti-wind-turbine-protesters-stage-blimp-uprising/story-15223827-detail/story.html

Anonymous: What does it harm? It squanders our capital on a false promise: http://www.kansaswindalert.org/kwa/what_does_it_harm.html

Barry, L. 2009: Why is wind turbine noise a potential health hazard?: http://betterplan.squarespace.com/todays-special/2009/7/22/72209-why-is-wind-turbine-noise-a-potential-health-hazard.html

Hanning, C, 2009: Sleep Disturbance and Wind Turbine Noise.