Palm Oil; the invisible truth

Although we may not be aware of it, most of us consume or use palm oil on a daily basis. Products which contain palm oil range from the average Kit Kat to loaves of hearty wholemeal bread. However, the presence of palm oil is often disguised and labelled simply as “vegetable oil” or in some cases, not referred to at all. But what have these manufacturers got to hide?

A shocking image from the 2010 Greenpeace campaign to highlight the use of Palm Oil in Nestle products.

Greenpeace (2007) projects the global demand for palm oil will double by 2030. This expansion is fuelled by the ever increasing threat of global warming on our planet. First World leaders are constantly searching for renewable and clean energy solutions which will require minimum adaptation to our behaviour. Palm oil is often heralded as the perfect substitute for crude oil– a renewable energy source which allows us to continue to avoid public transport and linger safely within our autonomous vehicles. The EU supports this thinking and has set the ambitious target for palm biofuels to constitute 10% of transport fuels by 2020 (Greenpeace, 2007).

On the surface then, palm oil appears to be the saviour of our time; a handy global warming fix and a cheap ingredient in our tastiest snacks. However, all is not what it seems.

An palm oil plantation in Indonesia. Rows of palm crop inhabit the space that was once dense rainforest

In 2007, UNEP identified palm oil as the “leading cause of rainforest destruction”(Danielsen, 2009) and revealed that 28 million hectares of Indonesian rainforest has been destroyed since 1990 for plantations (Greenpeace, 2007). When dense rainforests, typically in Malaysia and Indonesia, are substituted for miles of monolithic palm oil crop, approximately 90% of biodiversity in the area is lost (WWF, 2012). This proves detrimental for iconic species such as the Sumatran Orangutan and Tiger who face extinction due to the expansion of the palm oil industry. Here, the age-old debate of environmental protection vs. economic expansion rears its environmentally unjust head. Although Malaysia and Indonesia are developing countries with abundant natural resources, do they really have the right to exploit these endemic ecosystems and species for economic gain?

An orangutan walks the deforested ground it used to inhabit

A road blockade protest by Penan people against loggers and palm oil companies entering their land

The palm oil industry also generates severe social injustices. In Sarawak, Borneo, the Penan people inhabit the forested areas which are destroyed for plantations. Traditionally, the tribe follow the ‘molong’ way of life which emphasises the necessity of never taking more than you need (Brosius, 1997). These nomadic hunter gatherers live extremely sustainable lives and rely completely on the natural resources they collect from the forest. However, natives maintain palm oil companies have entered and destroyed their lands “illegally, without consent” (Survival International, 2011). The severity of their injustice is highlighted through the 100 land rights cases Indigenous people have filed which have subsequently been ignored. Particularly when given the full backing of the government, traditional lands can be easily acquired due to a lack of formal ownership and title. Environmental activist Bruno Manser recognised this injustice and whilst living with the Penan people and communicated their plight to the government. Unfortunately his work caused him to be labelled an “enemy of the state” and has suspiciously been declared missing in the forest for 5 years. From the 1990s to the present day, Malaysian indigenous groups have continued protesting against this gross violation of their native customary rights through road blockades and grass-roots movements.

One of many “palm oil action groups” found on Facebook. Members update palm-oil-free product lists and share real time information

So how can geographers help to combat this global injustice? As an interdisciplinary and globally relevant discipline, Geography can contribute greatly to the palm oil debate. There are two ways in which geographers can do so, the first is through an ability to research and expose the social and environmental costs palm oil. From this exposure, geographers have the capability to propose and instigate viable and sustainable solutions for change such as alternative crops, increased biodiversity protection and strengthened indigenous land rights. One modern way in which geographer’s can generate exposure of the palm oil issue and showcase their research is through the social media many of us log onto every day. Sites such as Twitter and Facebook are becoming increasingly powerful tools with which to generate social movements through the exposure of traditionally geographical issues to the public in an accessible and motivating format. Social media is therefore stimulating a connection between geographical research and the public which can be utilised to raise awareness, challenge existing policy and shape future schemes within the palm oil debate.

Whatever the method of exposure, the social and environmental injustices of palm oil cannot be allowed to remain invisible.

Sources:

Brosius, Peter (1997) ‘Prior Transcripts, Divergent Paths: Resistance and Acquiesence to Logging in Sarawak, East Malaysia’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol 39, No 3

Danielsen, F. Beukema, H. Burgess, N. Parish, F. and Brühl, C. (2009) ‘Biofuel Plantations on Forested Lands: Double Jeopardy for Biodiversity and Climate’, Conservation Biology, 23 (2), pp.348-358.

Greenpeace (2012) Image 1 – Kit-Kat Orangutan, Avaliable: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/climate-change/kitkat/ Last Accessed 07/05/2012

Greenpeace. (2007) How the Palm Oil industry is Cooking the Climate, London: Greenpeace.

Gerber, J. (2010) ‘An overview of resistance against industrial tree plantations in the global South’,  Economic & Political Weekly, 41, pp.30-34.

Hickman, M. (2009) The guilty secrets of palm oil: Are you unwittingly contributing to the devestation of the rainforests?, The Independent, Avaliable: http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/the-guilty-secrets-of-palm-oil-are-you-unwittingly-contributing-to-the-devastation-of-the-rain-forests-1676218.html Last Accessed 07/05/2012

Lee, P. (2009) Image 3 – Penan protests, Avaliable: http://www.foei.org/en/what-we-do/forests-and-biodiversity/latest-news/indigenous-peoples-fight-to-repel-loggers Last Accessed 07/05/2012

Lim, S. and Teong, L. (2010) ‘Recent trends, opportunities and challenges of biodiesel in Malaysia: An overview’, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 14 (3), pp.38–954.

Palm Oil Action Group (2012) Image 4 – Facebook profile of Palm Oil Action Group, Avaliabe: http://www.facebook.com/#!/palmoilaction Last Accessed 07/05/2012

Survival International (2010) Borneo tribes under threat from massive palm oil expansion, Avaliable: http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/6787%2020/dec/2010 Last Accessed 07/05/2012

Survival International (2011) Penan hunter-gatherers to be dumped in vast oil palm plantation, Avaliable: http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/7370 Last Accessed 07/05/2012

The Environmental Investigation Agency (2012) Image 2 – Orangutan on deforested land, Avaliable: http://www.habitatadvocate.com.au/?tag=palm-oil-plantations Last Accessed 07/05/2012

Wicke, B. Sikkema, R. Dornburg, V. and Faaij, A. (2011) ‘Exploring Land Use Changes and he Role of Palm Oil Production in Indonesia and Malaysia’, Land Use Policy, 28 (1), pp.193-206.

Vaswani, K. (2011) Palm oil threat to Indonesia’s orangutans, BBC News, Avaliabe: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-16336582, Last Accessed 07/05/2012

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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].

 

 

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.

The real power of environmental justice movements

Indigenous land rights conflicts are widespread today, often as the result of certain global power structures. Western favoured capitalistic and economic views of the environment are coming increasingly into conflict with the cultural and highly spiritual beliefs of various indigenous populations. But what happens after the land rights conflicts are established? The conflicts don’t merely simmer out; one of the two competing groups is almost always eventually displaced.  It is frequently the case that economic values of the environment prevail, and the groups which are in favour of it are able to come up with a list of reasons which make displacing the indigenous groups justifiable. Indigenous groups are increasingly viewed has having little power compared to official bodies in their country – and other countries – which means that their arguments are rarely backed up by enough reasons or people, creating a situation where they yet again suffer injustice.

So, what happens in the opposite situation, where indigenous groups do stand up for themselves and do not back down? The Dongria Kondh people are a highly spiritual indigenous group in the Niyamgiri hills, East India, who have had to fight for their land, their culture and their lives. The British mining group Vedanta had claims to set up an open-pit mine on the Dongria Kondh’s most sacred mountain in order to extract Bauxite. Survival International successfully led the campaign to support the land rights of the Dongria Kondh in which there were 10,000 letters sent to the Indian Government, 1000’s of demonstrations all over the world and eventually over £42 million disinvested by Vedanta shareholders. This victory has been described as “stunning”, “historic” and one which “nobody would have believed possible”. Most people would have deemed Vedanta, the $8 billion company to have the most power and to come out on top in a conflict between them and the almost entirely illiterate Eastern Indian tribe, which makes their victory even more unbelievable.

This land rights battle was never easy for the groups on either half, but especially not for the Dongira Kondh people.  They were up against a huge multinational company, who had the power to claim that their environmental policies were among the best and that the marginalised tribe was always considered with best

'The real Avatar Tribe'

interests. When people within the tribe first started to protest, some were physically abused and almost all were illegally pushed out of their homes which were often bulldozed down. Yet, the Dongira Kondh people stood together and refused profoundly to let Vedanta win the conflict, and with the help of Survival International, groups and individuals all over the world, won the right to live and worship on their sacred land and mountain. It is with the help of people, especially human geographers – who can apply their knowledge of the environment, culture and the reasons behind exploitation of  natural resources – that both sides of issues like this can be spread publicly, allowing the general public to voice their opinions. This is ultimately what a social movement is; a large group of people who all believe the same thing protesting in a variety of ways. It may be that after hearing both sides of such a conflict, the largest percentage of people still favour the interests of the multinational company, such as Vedanta in this instance. This would be fine, because at least that decision would be informed. The real problem here is that marginalised indigenous groups such as the Dongria Kondh often struggle to get their voices heard, meaning that no one can ever even begin to consider their side of the story. It is therefore incredibly important that human geographers, groups like Survival International or anyone else who has the ability to, spread the word of both sides of any conflict, give a voice to the marginalised groups and give people’s beliefs the justice they deserve.

This triumph can be used as an example of the power of social movements and to help people see that all people’s opinions and values need to be considered equally in order for the decision-making people to make a fully informed decision.  Despite this, the success  of the tribe is threatened as India’s Supreme Court is currently reviewing the case, suggesting that the world still has a long way to go before the values and beliefs of all different groups from all parts of the world are considered to be equal.

Anon., (2010) India rejects Vedanta plans to mine tribal land. Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-11067678. Last Accessed 10th March 2012.

Brett, C., (2002). The indigenous environmental movement in the United States. Organization & Environment. 15 (4) 410-442.

Grammaticas, D., (2008) Tribe takes on global mining firm. Available:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/7486252.stm. Last Accessed 10th March 2012.

Survival International, (2010) David v. Goliath: Indian tribe in ‘stunning’ victory over mining giant. Available: http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/6385. Last accessed 10th March 2012.

Survival International, The Dongria Kondh. Available: http://www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/dongria. Last accessed 10th March 2012.

Survival International, Mine: Story of a Sacred Mountain. Available: http://www.survivalinternational.org/films/mine. Last accessed 10th March 2012.

Judicial Systems and Environmental Justice

You might be on one side of the world, but what you do is affecting somebody else in another continent very far away. But you would rather protect your profits than nature. There might be, there will be, millions of people who are affected, and may even die because of those actions. Is this not genocide?”

– Pablo Solon, Bolivia’s UN Ambassador, 2010

The location of the Andes Mountain range and Mount Illimani

The snow capped mountains of the Andes are vital to the livelihoods of many communities. However, due to rising temperatures, the snow is retreating and locals are struggling to cope without the water supply. It is important to be aware of the situation in the Andes but it is even more important to recognise what actions can be taken.

Andres Schipani writing for the BBC noted the profound sense of anxiety amongst locals in the small village of Khapi, situated below Mount Illimani in Bolivia. In recent years, half of the community has left due to the severe lack of water which keeps their animals alive and crops flourishing (Schipani, 2010). Over the past 10 years, changing weather patterns have made the area three times hotter which rapidly melted the snow and the streams became torrents. Now, the streams are nothing more than a trickle, the crops are dry and the animals are dead.

The villagers argue that those who caused the snow to retreat should be brought before an international court (Schipani, 2010). An International Court for Environmental Justice would provide an authority that will have flexibility and impartiality, that rarely a state possesses, to oversee environmental activities (Raghavan, 1997).

The snow capped Mount Illimani is a vital source of water for locals in Bolivia.

In Bolivia, it would allow the Khapi community to seek compensation from the global community for environmental damage impacting their community thousands of kilometres away (Schipani, 2010).

Leading the campaign is Alvio Aruquipa, one of the community leaders who argued that any compensation received would be used to build dykes to store the water and improve their supply. Strongly supporting the campaign for an environmental judiciary system is the Bolivian Government who perceive the COP15 climate change talks in Copenhagen in 2009 to be a failure and called for an alternative civil-society conference (Schipani, 2010).

The Bolivian city of Cochabamba hosted this conference in April 2010 which brought together indigenous groups, NGOs, scientists, activists and government delegations to talk about how justice can be achieved through an international court (Schipani, 2010).

Bolivia’s Conference on Climate Change focused on the plight of the world’s poorest people

Bolivia’s ambassador to the UN, Pablo Solon, stated

“What we want is justice. We are speaking about how to sanction actions that seriously affect the environment and have consequences for populations and nations that may even disappear. The environmental situation we are facing deserves a new judicial system”

Creating a judicial body for the environment would likely be opposed by nations who resent parting with their sovereignty, but the need for such a judicial organ is ‘imperative, especially if any meaningful progress is to be made in the field of international environmental law’ and justice (Raghavan, 1997)

Indigenous people attending the conference hoped that an International Court of Environmental Justice would be introduced.

The people of Khapi would not be the only people to lodge a case if an international court was established, as there are hundreds of other communities across the globe suffering from the environmentally damaging actions of others. Most environmental disputes have consequences that will affect the planet for centuries to come, and therefore an international court would have the ability to rule that the interests of future generations are paramount.

As Raghavan (1997) states

“No single generation can guide the destiny of our universe, and the international environmental court will be the current generation’s contribution in making the lives of those yet to inhabit planet earth a little more secure”

Ultimately, as geographers, we need to continuously explore new ways in which we can deal with environmental injustice, whether this is through a legal route or not. Being aware of global injustice stories is crucial, but not enough, we always need to take it further and think of solutions if we are serious about justice.

Sources

Raghavan, V. (1997). Is it time for an International Court of Environmental Justice?. Available: http://www.nls.ac.in/students/SBR/issues/vol9/901.pdf.Last accessed 3rd March 2012.

Schipani, A. (2010). Bolivian villagers want compensation as glaciers melt. Available: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8629379.stm. Last accessed 3rd March 2012

Image Sources

One: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8629379.stm

Two: http://www.nickbuxton.info/photos/mountains/nick_118.html

Three: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_pictures/8634293.stm

Four: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_pictures/8634293.stm

Another oil disaster waiting to happen…

The Chukchi Sea, Alsaka will soon be stripped of it's natural beauty by oil giant Shell.

Isn’t Climate Change affecting the Arctic enough? Evidently not as Oil Company ‘Shell’ are planning to exploit the region even more. Transnational Company Shell is prioritising its economical advantages rather than considering the lives of all people and wildlife within the area. It would seem logical that a country or area rich in resources would have high economic growth. However, they are more vulnerable to exploitation from countries that are poorer in resources (Rajan 2011). Earlier this week oil giant Shell was given the green light by the ‘Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’, to drill oil from the Chukchi Sea, Alaska. This seems highly controversial that the United States has granted rights for the Dutch Company to extract oil from the area.  Who gives the USA the privileges for a final decision when Canada, Norway, Russia and Denmark also have land rights to the Arctic? Or should not the Arctic Indigenous cultures be allowed a say on an event that will damage their lives more than any other country?

Image of Shells proposed drilling platform.

Increasing demand each year for oil has caused companies to move to remote areas of the world to exploit their resources (Rajan 2011). Greenpeace activists stated that drilling into untouched waters and inhabited areas will destroy the planet’s last few places of wilderness. With Indigenous voices unheard in global debates and wildlife/land having no say, environmentalists ‘Greenpeace’ are fighting for their rights. On the 21st February 2012, BBC reported that eight activists climbed to the rooftop of London’s National Gallery. The iconic location was chosen due to a Shell meeting being held at this venue. Protestors brought with them a forty metre banner stating ‘It’s no oil painting’ which they hung across the National Gallery and a life size electric polar bear which captured the attention of many passersby.

The electric Polar Bear Paula attracted attention from the public.

Why should we let a company who is prone to disasters destroy the Arctic?  Not only would they damage the environment and wildlife they would slowly kill the Indigenous culture. In 2011, Shell caused major oil spills in the North Sea and close to the Niger Delta. Tony Okonedo a spokesman from Shell stated that the Nigeria oil disaster was the worst oil spill of the decade with over 40,000 barrels of crude oil contaminating the coast of Nigeria. Envisage the pristine waters and white ice sheets covered in black oil and polar bears fur tainted with oil residue due to Shells new project. If an oil spill occurred in the Alaskan region a clean-up programme would almost be impossible. Due to Shells new remote location it lacks equipment and infrastructure to clear up a spill. Deep oceans, dark days and extreme climates would also make emergency responses more difficult. This time consuming response would cause oil to be trapped in ice sheets and travel thousands of miles around the globe; killing ecosystems on its way (Aronson et.al 2011).

This episode of Geopolitics can only teach academics that all Indigenous communities deserve a voice and none should be marginalised in any activity in the environment. Greenpeace are still continuing their protests to prevent oil drilling in the Arctic, however, it can be seen that Shell is planning to start work from July 2012.

REFERENCES

Aronson, R. B., Thatje, S., McClintock, J. B. and Hughes, K. A., 2011, Anthropogenic impacts on marine ecosystems in Antarctica, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1223: 82–107.

Rajan, S.C., 2011, Poor little rich countries: another look at the ‘resource curse’, Environmental Politics, 20(5), 617-632.

Okonedo 2011, Nigeria on alert as Shell announces worst oil spill in a decade. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/dec/22/nigerian-shell-oil-spill. Last accessed 25th February 2012.

Greenpeace Activists, 2012, Greenpeace activists scale National Gallery’s roof. Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-17119963. Last accessed 25th February 2012.

Picture 1- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Chukchi_Sea.JPG Last accessed 27th February 2012.

Picture 2- http://www.thearcticsounder.com/article/1129looking_ahead_shell_oil_weighs_options_for

Picture 3- http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/blog/climate/tweeting-rooftops-shell-keep-out-arctic-20120221 Last accessed 27th February 2012.

Keystone XL – Justice for Who?

On Wednesday 18th January 2012, Barack Obama controversially rejected the permit needed for the go-ahead on Keystone XL, drawing huge praise from environmental groups who had been campaigning for just such an action, and criticisms from TransCanada (an oil company) and the Canadian government.

Keystone XL is a proposed 1,661-mile pipeline that would transport crude oil from Alberta’s Oil Sands to refineries in Texas. Those who support the pipeline argue that almost 20,000 new jobs will be generated; furthermore the United States would become energy secure. However environmental groups have accused TransCanada of boosting the numbers of jobs that Keystone XL will generate; they say numbers could be as low as 5,000 which is only a quarter of what the oil company has suggested.

The Oil Sands in themselves are hugely damaging to the environment; they produce huge amounts of toxic waste water and pollution which damage the local surroundings. There have been proven health impacts on local people who had no power to stop oil mining in the area, including increases in several serious diseases such as cancer and lupus. The area has a huge rate of deforestation, second only to the Amazon basin. If Keystone XL is passed then production in the area is likely to increase, causing even more damage to the environment and a rise in greenhouse gas emissions in the area.

In terms of justice, Keystone XL certainly looks very bleak. As of 17th October 2011, TransCanada held eminent domain actions against 34 landowners in Texas and 22 in South Dakota, meaning that people will be offered compensation for their land but under law they cannot stop the pipeline from being constructed on their property; compensation does not act as justice for these landowners. Much of the American Congress has disregarded environmental justice in favour of the economic potential Keystone XL could bring. Many activists have been arrested at demonstrations against Keystone XL, culling their right to freedom of speech, and halting their fight for environmental justice; at a demonstration in front of the White House in August 2011, 143 activists were arrested. The impacts of Keystone will also not be just; the oil is likely to spill, water will become polluted, boreal ecosystems will be at further threat, and there will be an even bigger dependence on oil.

TransCanada are still determined to make Keystone XL happen, but the environmental groups will be fighting hard for justice. Bill McKibben, writer, environmentalist and owner of 350.org wrote in an email to supporters that Obama had made a ‘brave decision’. He encouraged people to support the cause to stop oil companies from ‘using the atmosphere as an open sewer into which they dump their carbon for free’, and to fight back against the control they have held for too long. In Spring 2011 NASA environmental scientist James Hansen stated that the pipeline would be ‘game over for the planet’, and McKibben left his message to the environmental supporters on the note that they needed to fight back because ‘the world depends on it’. The big question is whether Obama will maintain his support of the environment, or if justice will be quashed in favour of big oil.

Picture References

  1. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/oct/07/keystone-xl-pipeline-final-public-hearing
  2. http://www.theurbn.com/2011/03/alberta-oil-sands/
  3. http://inhabitat.com/keystone-xl-pipeline-could-add-as-few-as-20-yes-just-20-jobs-once-built/

Mining Injustice in Panama

Ngobe People Protesting- Cortesia de Patria Grande

Half the gold mined in the world from 1995-2015 is likely to come from indigenous lands (Ukiri, 2011). Each time this occurs the potential is generated for an often violent clash between local indigenous groups and government officials. This week, the Latin American country of Panama epitomised such a confrontation whereby 3 people were killed as the Nagabe-Bugle tribe formed a human blockade across the Pan-America highway to protest against proposed mining developments on their land.

The Nagabe-Bugle tribe, one of the largest in Panama, sits on top of the Cerro Colorado copper deposit.  As one of the richest mineral deposits in Latin America, the Cerro Colorado has the potential to provide 270,000 tonnes of copper for extraction over a 30 year period. Although there was once a law within Panama which protected indigenous land rights and sovereignty within the country, last week this law was abandoned by the Panama government in order to allow foreign mining companies to enter the area without breaching legislation. The site has already been opened for tender. However, the recently elected female spokesperson for the Nagabe-Bugle tribe, Silvia Carrera, argues that mining will not only obliterate pristine rainforest (second largest only to the Amazon) but also the livelihoods of thousands of indigenous tribes people.

Carrera professes that the invasion of foreign mining companies generates great injustice for the Nagbe-Bugle people who appear to be “ignored” and at times “used to entertain the government”. Carrera suggests that the indigenous people have much more than a sustenance connection to their land. The tribes people profess a spiritual connection to the earth whereby it is seen not only as a physical territory on which they live, but as a “mother” figure from which they are given life. Such a deep-rooted duty to care and protect the environment in its own right seems to fall deaf on the seemingly ignorant ears of the Panama government. Such a lack of recognition of the voices and opinions of the indigenous people sparked yesterday’s road blockade along Panama’s busiest highway.

Carrera maintains that the indigenous protest is wholly peaceful and continues to be the only medium they have to defend themselves and their lands, stating “we don’t have anything, we only have words”.  But what use are these words when they are not listened to? Indigenous reports state that their peaceful protest was met with a riot response from the police and government, utilising tear gas and rubber bullets on all protestors including women and children which resulted in three indigenous deaths. Even if the indigenous protest was not ultimately as peaceful as spokesmen imply, this reaction simply cannot be considered to  be “just” response by the police or the government to the desperate plea from the people for a recognition of their rights over the land.

Unfortunately, this unjust scenario is not specific to Panama.  An interesting recent journal by Urkidi reiterates an equivalent process occurring in Guatemala. Here “95% of mining licences granted in 2004 were in indigenous provinces” (Urkidi, 2004), this demonstrates great injustice for indigenous people who have their homeland forcibly removed from them and their spiritual connection undermined. We can conclude therefore that the development of these communitarian struggles are not simply motivated by environmental injustice, but more prominently factors of social justice, land rights, ethnicity and human rights of the indigenous people. Indigenous communities world wide must be acknowledged to posses agency- the agency to make their own decisions and have their views not only heard, but taken into consideration and positively acted upon.

Sources:

Black, R.  (2012), Panama clashes: Indigenous groups angry over mining law. Available:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-12513084 Last accessed 21.2.2012

Cook, C. (2012), Indigenous Mining Protestors Killed in Panama. Available: http://www.pacificfreepress.com/news/1/10893-indigenous-mining-protesters-killed-in-panama.html Last accessed 21.2.2012

URKIDI, L. (2011), The Defence of Community in the Anti-Mining Movement of Guatemala. Journal of Agrarian Change, 11: 556–580.

Image Source:

Ngobe People Protesting- Cortesia de Patria Grande http://www.internationalrivers.org/blog/monti-aguirre/2012-2-7/stop-violence-against-ngobe-indigenous-peoples Last accessed 21.2.2012