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.

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Are Race and Racism responsible for the Katrina Crisis?

 Hurricane Katrina developed over the Bahamas on the 23rd August 2005 creating a mild Category 1 hurricane, causing relative flooding. The storm developed into a Category 5 hurricane on August 29th, ripping through the U.S. Gulf Coast region and  destroyed the civilisation and infrastructure within the city of New Orleans. The hurricane accumulated a cost of $75 billion in damages (White et al., 2007). The Ninth Ward in particular, a 98% black populated area in New Orleans was one of the worst affected areas and unfortunately remains in the same state of devastation that Hurricane Katrina left it in, in August 2005.

Ninth Ward Destruction of Civilisation.

Prior to the hurricane, the city of New Orleans had a population of 480,000. 70% of this population were African American, and 30% of this population were living below the federal poverty line (Manning, 2006). Unfortunately due to low socio-economic characteristics of African-America citizens within New Orleans, many were unable to evacuate the city before the hurricane took place. Those who could not evacuate were told to take refuge in the Louisiana Superdome, yet the government did not expect the numbers to reach as high as 20,000 people.

Local citizens taking refuge in the Superdome.

The media displayed stories of murders, sexual assault, carjacking and terrorist shootings at rescue workers, carried out by African Americans within the Superdome (Manning, 2006). For carrying out these crimes the black citizens were not worthy of being saved, which could possibly describe the immediate inaction of the American government. The stories published encouraged the government to keep those in the Superdome captivated for as long as possible, preventing supplies and possible rescuers from entering the dome.  For days citizens were without adequate electricity, sanitation and food supplies (BBC News, 2005), with seven people dying due to the inability to cope with such conditions. The only bodies found were caused by either suicide or natural deaths (Solnit, 2009). Yet the government expected hundreds of murders, by the ‘so-called’ criminals. They even sent massive refrigerator trucks to collect the corpses.

Body being taken away from the Superdome by a refrigerated truck.

As a geographer, the concept of racism appears within many realms of society, and can be expressed through different scales. The accumulation of such racism can be manipulated and enforced substantially by the media, and the stories that they publish. The repercussions of the hurricane have increased expressions of global racism substantially, due to the climax of narrow-minded views and stories expressed about the Superdome refugees. BondGraham (2007) states that ‘Katrina was not a freak event’, it has been imminent for a long time. In fact the eradication of unfortunate neighbourhoods like the Ninth Ward has been an anticipated dream for many of New Orleans’ privileged communities. The event sparked the public expression of hatred of many white citizens against black citizens. In fact more recently, ‘Katrina’s Hidden Race War’ has been publicized. After the hurricane struck and people began to leave the city, there were 12 shooting cases that were carried out unprocessed by the police. White citizens aimed fire at black citizens, with the belief that the black citizens were looters. The shooters have been filmed admitting their criminality, and triumphant with their doings. The criminals have not yet been arrested for their offences even after the publication of their confessions. There seems to be no care or sympathy portrayed by the American police force.

The video below discusses this in more detail:

References:

BBC News. (2005). Refugees tell tales of horror. Available: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/4207944.stm. Last accessed 04.03.12.

D, BondGraham. (2007). The New Orleans that race built: racism, disaster and urban spatial relationships. Souls: A critical journal of black politics, culture and society. 9 (1), 4-18.

Manning, M. (2006). Race, Class, and the Katrina Crisis. Working USA. 9 (2), 155-160.

Picture 1: Jewell Parkerr Hodes.  http://jewellparkerrhodes.com/children/books/ninth-ward/the-real-ninth-ward/. Last accessed on 07.03.12.

Picture 2: Marcelo Monte Cino Blog.  http://marcelomontecino.blogspot.com/2010_08_01_archive.html. Last accessed on 07.03.12.

Picture 3: Ben Sklar Photography.  http://bensklar.photoshelter.com/image/I0000zdwpcGoru9A. Last accessed on 07.03.12.

Solnit, R. (2009). Four years on, Katrina remains cursed by rumour, cliché, lies and racism. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/aug/26/katrina-racism-us-media. Last accessed 03.03.12.

Video 1: Video Nation, Youtube. youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5r1X_G7cWak. Last accessed on 06.03.12

White, I. et al. (2007). Feeling the pain of my people: Hurricane Katrina, Racial Inequality, and the Psyche of Black America. Journal of Black Studies. 37 (4), 523-538.

Dam Construction forces tribal relocation in Ethiopia

Dam construction influences the degradation of rivers and other wetland ecosystems (McCartney, 2007:6). This degradation promotes overwhelming economic and social implications for those who utilise the natural ecosystems for their well-being and livelihoods. Unfortunately these implications can lead to the displacement of many communities. The WCD report estimates that worldwide, dam-triggered displacements have accumulated to between 40 and 80 million people. There is significant disproportion in those who are displaced, with the majority of whom being lower class and poor citizens (McCartney, 2007:6).

The Gilgel Gibe III dam in Ethiopia began construction in 2006 and has an estimated construction cost of $1.7 billion, but requires more than double this estimate for running costs and new power generation projects. When complete the dam will be the largest infrastructure investment to date in Ethiopia, and Africa’s largest hydropower plant (Vidal, 2012). The dam is located on the Omo River downstream from the Goieb and Give Rivers, and will be owned and operated by the state-owned Ethiopia Electric Power Corporation.

The Gilgel Gibe Dam poses considerable affects to the local communities surrounding the Omo river valley.

The construction of the dam has been criticised for its inadequate planning and lack of contact with local people affected from the construction of the dam (International Rivers, 2008). Before the construction of the dam, the affected communities had limited voice within the resettlement process, and have not yet been notified by planners or the government for ways to address this ongoing problem. This however is not uncommon in Africa, as more than 400,000 people have been resettled as a direct result of dam construction (Vidal, 2012).

Dam construction currently taking place on the Omo river valley.

More recently the construction of the dam has come to a halt due to the accumulation of human rights abuse allegations. Vidal (2012) notes that thousands of semi-nomadic tribes people are being forced to move from their traditional lands in southern Ethiopia, in order to clear the land for the construction of the Gilgel Gibe III. The clearance of the Omo tribes has been displayed through violent attacks against them committed by the military, stripping local people of all human rights. The tribes have been told that resettlement will be complete by the end of 2012, but received no consultation of their displacement prior to this. This lack of consultation would not happen on this scale in a First world country, which leads me to believe Environmental Racism exists.

The relocation of the Omo tribes will destroy their livelihoods and their subsistence lifestyle. The Omo tribes are described as some of the most diverse in the world, and have until recently relied on the three-month flooding period that happens annually to survive. The flood deposits fertile silt and allows the tribes to plant various vegetation types, yet without the land for cultivation the tribes will be forced into a state of famine.

The construction of the dam has destroyed the land used for grazing!

The watchdog group International Rivers, believe that the construction of the Gilgel Gibe III could eventually affect the lives of more than 1.5 million people. The proportion affected is on such a large scale that from a Western country citizen’s perspective the project should never have started. As a Geographer, I can acknowledge the possibility of discrimination due to location between the North/South divide. This makes it seem probable that due to the location of Ethiopia, Environmental Racism could be present in which has forced local tribes to resettle.

References:

International Rivers. (2008). What Cost Ethiopia’s Dam Boom?: A look inside the Expansion of Ethiopia’s Energy Sector . Available: http://www.internationalrivers.org/files/EthioReport06Feb08.pdf. Last accessed 27th February 2012.

McCartney, M.P (2007). Decision Support Systems for Large Dam Planning and Operation in Africa. Colombo, Sri Lanka: International Water Management Institute.

Vidal, J. (2012). Ethiopia dam project rides roughshod over heritage of local tribes people. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2012/feb/23/ethiopia-dam-project-resettlement-concerns. Last accessed 29th February 2012.

Picture References

Picture 1: http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2012/feb/23/ethiopia-dam-project-resettlement-concerns

Picture 2: http://grandmillenniumdam.net/salini-starts-filling-gibe-iii-dam/

Picture 3: http://peakwater.org/tag/lake-turkana/

Picture 4: http://ethiopiaforums.com/hundreds-of-groups-sign-petition-against-ethiopian-dam

Chevron: A Racist Oil Company?

The legal fight against Chevron dates back to the 1970s and 80s, when Texaco, now classified as a part of Chevron, discharged billions of gallons of toxic waste into Ecuador, affecting over 1,500 square miles. The company is now being taken to court for $18 billion because of Environmental Racism accusations during its operation in Ecuador from 1964 to 1992 (The Guardian, 2012).

The Ecuadorian government invited Texaco in 1964 to explore and produce oil within the region. The country had no experience in the oil industry and thus decided to give Texaco the role of designing the wells, and building the pipelines that would transport oil across the Andes Mountains to the Pacific Coast. The government trusted Texaco, and believed that they would use the same technological standards policies that they use elsewhere. Texaco’s common policy was to dispose of wastewater by replacing it into the ground, where it cannot affect the environment. Unfortunately Texaco did the opposite, and disposed of the production water, by dumping it in unmarked pits adjacent to water wells (Jacques, 2012). The wastewater produced was highly toxic, and oil workers would drain the pits into nearby streams and rivers, enforcing the spread of dangerous chemicals such as Benzene, Toluene, Xylems and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, chemicals of which are associated with possible causes of cancer. Reports claim that Texaco managed to save $5 billion through carrying out this procedure in Ecuador.

Texaco’s involvement within Ecuador enforced the extinction of three indigenous tribes. The Cofan tribe in particular, had an estimated population of 15,000 people before the oil wells were built on their land in 1971. More recently their population has been reduced to a few hundred. The tribe depends on the rivers for their food, hygiene and transportation yet due to the dumping of toxic waste the rivers have become useless, and they have been forced to migrate.

A study performed in 1993 by The Centre for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), noted that the exposure to levels of oil-related contaminants on the residents of the Ecuadorian Amazon substantially exceeded international safety limits. This could thus enhance the diagnosis of skin problems such as dermatomes (Jacques, 2012).

Texaco on the other hand state that they saved a lot less than the claimed $5 billion, and that they followed the Ecuadorian environmental laws and international petroleum industry standards. The corporation believes that facts have been twisted and scientific data has been ignored within the lawsuit (Texaco 2012). They claim that Texaco spent $40 million cleaning up everything that it was responsible for in the 1990s before handing over the site back to the state-owned company Petroecuador, yet residents claim that the pollution continues to be widespread.

A recent article in the Guardian (2012) states that the lawyers representing Ecuadorian plaintiffs have accused Chevron of racism, due to the different planning policies they uphold outside of Ecuador.  They pay particular attention to indigenous people, claiming that Chevron does not want to recognise the indigenous or poor people’s right to justice in the same respect they would of those in First World countries. Martinez-Aller (2001) states that Environmental racism can be deemed a useful language for conflicts to assert indigenous territorial rights. Chevron may not have intentionally tried to affect the lives of the Ecuadorians, yet to state the obvious would be to deem them racist.

References:

Jacques, K. (2012). Environmental Justice Case Study: Texaco’s oil production in the Ecuadorian Rainforest. Available: http://www.umich.edu/~snre492/Jones/texaco.htm . Last accessed 18.02.12.

Martinez-Aller, J. (2001). Mining conflicts, environmental justice and valuation. Journal of Hazardous Materials. 86 (1-3), 153-170

Rushe, D. (2012). Chevron accuse of racism as it fights Ecuador pollution ruling. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/jan/04/chevron-accused-racism-ecuador-pollution. Last accessed 20.02.12

Texaco. (2012). Plaintiffs, Myths, Distortions and Fabrications.Available: http://www.texaco.com/sitelets/ecuador/en/PlaintiffsMyths.aspx. Last accessed 23.02.12.

Picture References:

Picture 1: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-16404268

Picture 2: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-16404268

Picture 3: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/jan/04/ecuador-upholds-chevron-fine

Picture 4: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/jan/04/chevron-accused-racism-ecuador-pollution

Is Environmental Racism just a coincidence?

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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