Indonesia: A Case Study of Environmental Injustice. Blog 4: How Geography Can Contribute to Eradicating Justice Issues in Indonesia

In the other blogs in this series I have looked at the environmental justice issues surrounding the production of palm oil in Indonesia and the effect it has had on the global environment, forests, animals and indigenous peoples. However, as a Geographer there are many ways in which the discipline can help to eradicate these justice issues in the nation and this blog will outline some of the ways that the subject can contribute to minimising the major environmental costs that are associated with oil palm plantations

The first way in which Geographers can add to this area of work is by our study and gaining of specific knowledge of spaces. By analysing the different land users of an area, we can find, use and collect specific data about climate impacts, species distribution and people’s cultural practices, norms and societal distributions which would be of great value to all of the key players surrounding the palm oil debates in Indonesia.

Moreover, Geographers also have the capability to use Geographical information systems (GIS) attaching information to satellite images to further increase understanding of the space in question. These satellite images can also provide clear direction as to the land use of a space, whether forested, cleared, plantations or human occupancy so can manage needs by consulting this GIS software, helping to reduce the impacts of planned plantations on animals and people.

Additionally, Geographers can also bring their knowledge of key concepts to areas. The concept that stands out in oil palm production is sustainability. We can work with local people to promote the sustainable development of communities, assuring that such communities can meet their own needs and those of future generations, possibly by promoting the sustainable use of wood and its replanting, or by promoting the efficiency of production of the palm oil crops to help prevent degrading of the local environment.

Geographers also have the capability to raise awareness about sensitive issues. By having the skills to write and present, we can use our particular knowledge to affect a wide audience about issues on both global and local scales, whether this is by writing scholarly articles and presenting at formal conferences or in less academic ways, for example: by writing and publicising blogs like this one, via social networking sites or just talking about the issues with other interested parties. Throughout my blogs I have used these resources to keep me informed.

Furthermore, Geographers can contribute by starting to think about solutions to the costs incurred. By using the particular skills that Geographers have accumulated after their years of study, and the detailed knowledge they have gathered about a place, its people, its characteristics and its culture, we can suggest practical solutions to problems that aim to satisfy as many interested parties as possible.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this series as much as I have enjoyed writing it. I intend to continue blogging on environmental issues as frequently as possible.


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.


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.



Indonesian Palm Oil: A Case Study of Environmental Injustice. Blog 3: Indigenous peoples

In previous blogs I have outlined the justice issues surrounding Indonesian palm oil production. Deforestation and the loss of biodiversity have been the two directions I have taken in describing and explaining the negative impacts of the product. However, the costs aren’t only to the environment or animals. People are also affected by the oil palm plantations associated with deforestation and have been marginalised in the push for economic gain.

Indonesia is one of the flashpoints in the world where indigenous peoples are fighting to defend their land and livelihoods (The Guardian, 2009). As palm oil companies extend their reach into the rainforests, more and more indigenous tribes are being uncovered and displaced as they fail to defend their lands. Many indigenous tribes all over Indonesia are at risk of losing their land and the possibility of extinction hangs over them due to the pressure imposed on them by state owned oil palm companies. One example of this is the indigenous tribe, the Pompang of the Sanggau region, West Kalimantan, Indonesia.

The Pompang tribe are a small tribe in comparison to many other indigenous peoples in the Diyak Bidayuh district of the Sanggau region. The Malay is the largest ethnic group that line the Kapuas River (Sirait, 2009). However, due to their comparative size and the position their lands fall in the area, the palm oil companies have pressured the tribe in to surrendering their lands in a most unjust manner.

In 1974, the state owned palm oil company PTPN XIII collaborated with police and the military to pressurize the Pompang tribe to release their indigenous lands for oil palm plantations. If the tribe had have rejected this proposal they would have been accused of rejecting the governments program and obstructing development (Sirait, 2009). Two years later, in 1976, each household outlined their land and what they wanted to be excluded from the oil palm plantations. Mostly, this included the rubber gardens and the village settlement. However, their ancestral land, including forest and rubber gardens that were far away from the settlement, was cleared for the plantations, even though they were explicit areas that the indigenous tribe wanted excluded.

If that wasn’t enough of an injustice, the proposed compensation ranging from $2.50-$27.50 per hectare was not administered after the clearing. The Pompang had no means to generate income, little to cultivate to feed their families and had lost their cultural relationship with the forested area that was cleared (Sirait, 2009).

The cost of this forced removal and deforestation was the loss the Pompang’s identity, livelihood and heritage. Some may say that with the 26 tribes in the Sanggau region of Sumatra,that this was just collateral damage in reaching development. But the way the Pompang tribe were treated in the forced capture of their cultural heritage is a worrying fact for human rights activists and other campaigners against the palm oil companies. However, as Geographers, we have the capacity to change this injustice, and this is what I will be discussing in my next blog.


Sirait, M.T. (2009) ‘Indigenous Peoples and Oil Palm Plantation Expansion in West Kalimantan, Indonesia,’ Indonesia Country Report, Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Law Faculty

Anon. (2009) ‘Flashpoints where indigenous people are fighting to defend their lands’ The Guardian [online] (last updated 10.12 am on Monday 15 June 2009) Available at: <; [Accessed 6 May 2012]

Indonesian Palm Oil: A Case Study of Environmental Injustice. Blog 2: Endangerment of Endemic Species

Environmental injustice as a result of the expanding palm oil industry in Indonesia is rife. In my first blog I spoke about the justice issues surrounding the clear felling of Indonesian rainforest in terms of its contribution to global warming. … Continue reading

Indonesian Oil Palm: A Case Study of Environmental Injustice. Blog 1: Deforestation

Irvin Callicut (2012) Oil palm Plantation

Oil palm in Indonesia is a rapidly expanding industry for many agricultural smallholders. Since 1961, the area of agricultural landdedicated to oil palm plantations has increased from 3.6 million hectares to 8.1 million hectares (Rist et al., 2010), with many companies and members of the population realising the potential profits that can be gained from the product’s high demand. Both state and private companies are investing in oil palm plantations, as well as local farmers who set up small holdings of the crop.The associated costs of palm oil production have huge negative implications on the environment, biodiversity and for indigenous peoples, and all of these costs manifest themselves in the plantations of Indonesia. Here, the driver that links all of these affected areas is deforestation. Indonesia and Malaysia contain 80% of Southeast Asian forest (Fitzherbert et al., 2008). and 11% of the World’s tropical rainforest (Koh & Wilcove, 2008) but, as demand for palm oil continues to grow the amount of forest is decreasing. In Indonesia between 1990 and 2005 forest area declined by 28,072,000 hectares and 56% of this decline was the clearing of forests for conversion to oil palm plantations (Koh & Wilcove, 2008). This deforestation is a concern not only to the population of the country, but to a worldwide audience who are increasingly concerned about climate change issues and biodiversity decline.

Deforestation in Riau Province for Oil Palm Plantation

With the clearing of tropical rainforests for the creation of oil palm plantations, comes a loss of a vital carbon sink. Tropical rainforests are responsible for storing 235 tons of Carbon per hectare, one of the most important carbon stores on the planet, whereas the palm oil plantations only amass 48 tons of carbon per hectare, a net loss of 187 tons of carbon per hectare which makes its way into the atmosphere accelerating the greenhouse effect (Reijnders & Huijbregts, 2008). Not only is the clearing affecting atmospheric carbon concentrations in this way, but the slash and burn techniques to clear the tropical forests also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. By burning the felled areas, high concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane are emitted. A study of these techniques in Brazil revealed an estimated 1,700 megatons of Carbon dioxide and 10 megatons of methane released into the atmosphere in 1987 alone (Tinker et al., 1996). These are alarming figures considering the increase of oil palm production in Indonesia and a concern for the global population. Moreover, Indonesia is one of the most vulnerable countries to the associated outcomes of global climatic change: sea level rise could affect 94 million people by 2100; delayed monsoon could increase the frequency of drought in the country and with rising temperatures increases the amount of vector-borne diseases that could increasingly affect the Indonesian population (Case et al., 2010).

However, as the global demand for the product increases, Indonesia maintains the clearing of its forests to supply a global demand vital to boosting the country’s economy. As the associated costs grow, it is here that justice is not being done, as I will explore in later blogs.


Case, M., Ardiansyah, F. and Spector, E. (2010) ‘Climate Change in Indonesia: Implications for Humans and Nature,’ WWF [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 20 March 2012]

Fitzherbert, E., Struebig, M., Morel, A., Danielsen, F., Bruhl, C., Donald,P. and Phalan, B. (2008) ‘How will oil palm expansion affect biodiversity?’ Trends in Ecology and Evolution 23 (10), 538-545

Irvin, Callicut (2012) ‘Oil Palm Plantation’ [electronic print] Available at: <>

Koh, L.P. and Wilcove, D.S. (2008) ‘Is oil palm agriculture really dest

roying tropical biodiversity?’ Conservation Letters 1 (2), 60-64

Reijnders, L. and Huijbregts, M.A.J. (2008) ‘Palm oil and the emission of carbon based greenhouse gases’ Journal of Cleaner Production 16, 477-482

Riau Palm Oil 2007, [electronic print] Available at: <>

Rist, L., Feintrenie, L. and Levang, P. (2010) ‘The livelihood impacts of oil palm: smallholders in Indonesia,’ Biodiversity and Conservation 19, 1009-1024

Tinker, P., Ingram, J. and Struwe, S. (1996) ‘Effects of slash-and-burn agriculture and deforestation on climate change,’ Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 58, 13-22]

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 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.

The Sardar Sarovar Project: winners and losers

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Randolph, E., 2010. India protest over Narmada dam builds awareness of rights. Available from: [Accessed 19 March 2012].


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

Picture reference:

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



Water: The Real Fashion Victim

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

A cotton field

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Made in China' The familiar words found on labels

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

A heavily polluted river in China

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

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


Environmental Justice Foundation. (2011). Water and Cotton. Available: Last accessed 9th March 2012.

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

Ravasio, P. (2012). Does fashion fuel food shortages?. Available: Last accessed 9th March 2012.

Ravasio, P. (2012). How can we stop water from becoming a fashion victim?. Available: Last accessed 9th March 2012.

Spencer, J. (2007). China Pays Steep Price As Textile Exports Boom.Available: Last accessed 9th March 2012.

Welsh, P. (2000). The Aral Sea Tragedy. Available: Last accessed 9th March 2012.







Unknown. (2010). Shrinking of the Aral Sea. Available: Last accessed 10th March 2012.

“We’re a human being, We’re not an animal!” – Woodside Energy’s empty promises?

What’s at stake? See for yourself…

The Kimberly is a very sparsely populated and vast region in the far north west of Western Australia; its uniqueness is prevailing and is thus thought to be one of the few global assets. This pocket of tranquillity is home to some of the most endangered marine animals, including the humpback whale that swims just off the shore, furthermore Kimberly’s ecosystem and landscape is as immense as its beauty. The indigenous foundations are strong amongst Kimberly’s identity, oozing with an ever present aboriginal culture. Yet amongst this tranquillity the world’s second largest gas extractor plans to be built. Woodside Energy Ltd, a transnational gas company submitted an application to build a gas extraction plant in the sea, as well as a terminal on the Dampier Peninsula cliffs. The land right in this area are legally owned by the local indigenous group and in 2010, after a long debated period of bullying and empty promises, the aboriginal group approved the project. But where is the justice? Was this choice truly theirs? And how will this impact upon their current and future lifestyles?

Australia is economically dependent on mineral resources extraction. By exporting commodities such as iron and uranium, Australia can afford to import manufactured goods. Although, the bi-product of this reliance on natural resource seems to be the widespread disputes amongst environmentalists, energy companies, government officials and aboriginal communities. For energy companies as well as government organisations, the economic benefits outweigh the disruption and further marginalisation of precious Australian sub cultures, as well as the environmental damage caused. But in the case of the Kimberly gas extractor, some voices will not be ignored.

Woodside Energy Ltd promised a number of benefits that the aboriginal groups would reap upon commencing the project. These included; better education for young indigenous people, training and employment, support systems, protection of cultural heritage, environmental reassurance and compensating native title claims. Figures as high as $30 billion are thought to be assigned to helping and protecting indigenous culture. Yet, before constructing has even begun, aboriginals feel like the rights, the voice and the empowerment they were so forcefully lead to believe they would have, are vanishing.

Socially the long term impacts of this development could ruin the aboriginal community. The affirmative decision to allow the project instantly divided many communities, and since, the attitude of gas worker and associates toward indigenous people has been degrading and racist. As well as this, from an environmental perspective greater pressure, on the already stressed housing in Kimberly would worsen, tourism rates would plummet and the impact of the toxic fumes would put further strain of the health services in Kimberly. The project promises jobs for indigenous groups, but after further examination it seems these would be both short term and have few long term benefits. In previous cases, the white invasion has caused dependence on alcohol and drugs for indigenous groups, as well as sexual corruption from the white workers. Environmentally the cost of this gas plant would be very high. Continuous polluting flares will degrade not just the environment, but the fragile ecosystem as a whole. But above all, I struggle to comprehend when indigenous voices are still not equal. Some women speak about how they are treated like dogs. “We’re a human being! We’re not an animal!” (Crombie, 2012). This should not be stood for.

To allow aboriginals the freedom and right the not only deserve, but are entitled to, this project needs supervisor at the roots. We need to protect the Kimberly, its residents and its wildlife, before it’s too late.

Rethink the wilderness

For far too many people the ‘wilderness’ is seen as a fragile, delicate pocket of land, free from the plague of people, noise and pollution. An island of tranquillity amongst the sea of urban-industrial modernity, (Cronon, 1995) and an area we can turn to for refuge from our modern over commoditisation, materialism and industrialisation. This romanticism of wilderness has, of course, called for people, with the best intentions, to savour these segments, as a foundation to saving the planet.
But think critically. Viewing wilderness in this way, it is not shallow and artificial, should we not consider the deeper, truer histories of the land? In the 18th century the words tied with the concept of wilderness were those of ‘untamed’, ‘unkept’, ‘dangerous’, ‘savage’ and ‘inhospitable’. It was not until the nineteenth century that the wilderness became a positive concept, and pivoted in its framework by becoming desirable. By this time tourism had flourished into one of the most prosperous global economies, with no sign of stopping or slowing, and thus the hanker to ‘discover’ more remote, extreme areas was paramount. The use of language by many companies, societies and the like, has allowed for indigenous groups to be marginalised from their own land. As the first world hunts for the untouched, indigenous people are campaigning and highlighting, that in actually fact, this seek for wilderness leads to a dead end, because this is their land, their ‘dangerous’ ‘savage’ wilderness, that under strict management is being maintained, inhabited and sustained.
As a geographer I urge you to consider; is this land truly uninhabited or are we, the first world, making the most important people in this debate, obscured from view, or even, totally invisible. Increasingly there has been more consideration to the idea that some areas perceived as wild, are actually not at all, and rather inhabited by indigenous groups. Not only in regards to their land rights but also in the management methods of their wilderness, which often differ to how outsiders ideas. However the concept of wilderness has allowed for reinforcement of colonial roots, and thus, over centuries of misrepresentation, racism and stereotyping is frequently prominent for these small societies. This coupled with a magnitude environmental campaigns, that seek to treasure the remaining wilderness have lead to indigenous groups being marginalised from society and their land.
So how do we solve this pressing issue? Whilst the UN has resolves to ensure no indigenous people are forcibly removed from their land, any changes have been very slow and small. Under aboriginal Australian understanding, it is believed the environment and culture are one and the same, and thus can not be separated. By adapting this understanding, the first world may begin to be educated in their ignorance of these issues. As it stands environment preservation is prioritised above indigenous rights, but why can a content medium be reached between the two? Understanding and acknowledgement of indigenous groups could not mean defeat, but should rather be a celebration of beautiful land and cultures.
The time is now, to raise awareness of the wilderness, the lack of it and its misconception. Not only geographers but holiday makers and the like, I call, to rethink your current understanding, consider its history, and who you might be uprooting as you touch down in their wilderness.
William Cronon 1995 –
Jenny Pickerill – Finding Common Ground?