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.

Solar Panels in the Mojave Desert – America’s Contested Green Future

US President, Barack Obama speaks at the State of the Union Address, 2012.

In his final State of the Union address before the US elections, Barack Obama stated that the United States needed “an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy – a strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper and full of new jobs,” (Goldenberg, 2012). The target of the declaration was undoubtedly the Republican politicians who are determined to push Keystone XL through Congress, but it also bought attention back to the USA’s clean energy aims.

The Sierra Sun Tower, California

The United States Department of Energy had approved 18 solar farm projects at the end of 2011, indicating that they are working towards a greener stance on energy; as the world’s second largest consumer of energy (Swartz & Oster, 2010) the US would be wise to invest in renewable sources.

Many of the planned solar panel farms are set to be constructed in the vast Mojave Desert; however two particular projects (the $1 billion Genisis Solar Project and the Solar Millenium Project) have been met by protests from environmental activists and Native American Groups. Their concern is that these enormous wind farms will damage the desert environment; Alfredo Figueroa, a Chemeheuvi Indian has criticised the projects saying they will affect important cultural features such as ancient rock art and sacred heritage sites (Helmore, 2012).

Environmentally there are worries that billions of water will be taken from the desert habitat (Glennon, 2009) and that the solar farms will not be efficient in water conservation. Infrastructure associated with energy development is likely to cause changes to desert quality (Allen & McHughen, 2011). The life span of solar farms has also been under fire. Additionally there are over 2,500 species of plants and animals which call the Mojave home, and which will be affected by the construction of the huge solar farms. So for the indigenous groups and the desert ecosystems that will be affected, the solar farms do not do much in the way of justice.

The Mojave Desert Tortoise will be one of threatened species.

However, the solar farms have many positive facets. They will increase employment and economic investment in the area and provide clean energy to over 3 million homes. BrightSource, operator of Ivanpah (a $2.2 Google partnered project which will be the largest solar plant on earth after its construction) further argue that the farms will only take up 0.26% of the entire Mojave Desert (Helmore, 2012). They are also dedicated to ensuring the protection of desert species and meeting state regulations. Campbell et al. (2009) suggest that the solar farms are the best option for California’s green aims. The Mojave Desert has excellent conditions for solar farms, and Glennon (2009) argues that ‘the area seems perfect of solar power; it’s hot and flat and vast’.

Computer image of the proposed Ivanpah Solar Farm. The farm will supply energy to 140,000 homes, provide 1,400 construction jobs, and save 13.5 million tonnes of CO2 in its lifetime.

If we consider solar farms in the long term they look set to increase the US’s use of sustainable and clean energy. The determination to implement renewable energy schemes looks like a gesture towards a greener future and to environmental justice, and after all, isn’t that the aim of renewable energy?

Sources

Allen, Michael F.; & McHughen, Alan. (2011). Solar Power in the Desert: Are the current large-scale solar developments really improving California’s environment?. UC Riverside: Center for Conservation Biology. Retrieved from: http://escholarship.ucop.edu/uc/item/2ff17896

Campbell, H et al. . (2009). Here Comes the Sun: Solar Thermal in the Mojave Desert—Carbon Reduction or Loss of Sequestration?. Available: http://circleofblue.org/waternews/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/Solar-Thermal-Mojave-Desert.pdf. Last accessed 13th March 2012.

Glennon, R. (2009). Is Solar Power Dead in the Water?. Available: http://www.law.arizona.edu/news/Press/2009/Glennon060709.pdf. Last accessed 13th March 2012.

Goldenberg, S. (2012). State of the Union 2012: Barack Obama’s environment agenda in review. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/jan/25/state-of-union-2012-environment?INTCMP=SRCH. Last accessed 13th March 2012.

Helmore, E (2012) Solar power firms in Mojave desert feel glare of tribes and environmentalists. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/mar/11/solar-power-mojave-desert-tribes. Last accessed 12th March 2012.

Swartz, S and Oster, S. (2010). China Tops U.S. in Energy Use. Available: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703720504575376712353150310.html. Last accessed 13th March 2012.

Picture Sources

  1. http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/287605/20120125/obama-state-union-mortgage-refinance-changes-obstacles.htm
  2. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=first-us-power-tower-lights-up-california
  3. http://www.theurbn.com/2011/05/animal-conservation-technology-tracking-threatened-tortoises/dtrelease_007_med/
  4. http://ivanpahsolar.com/

Wangaari Maathai: The visionary who brought environmental justice to the global population

Wangari Maathai

Wangaari Maathai’s passing in September 2011 was met with great sadness. This Nobel Prize winning activist set up the Green Belt Movement in 1977 empowering Kenyan women in the community, educating many about the importance of sustainable forestry and helping to secure a future for generations to come of impoverished African families. She rose to fame in the 80’s campaigning heavily against forest clearance proposed by the government and was arrested and vilified several times by the government of President Daniel Arap Moi. However, her legacy remains. The Green Belt movement is having a positive effect on the people who take part in the schemes and her vision is something that world leaders are calling for to combat global climatic change.

Kenya’s forests had been ravaged by government supported forest clearance The Green Belt movement was promoted by Maathai to engage women in planting trees to help meet their needs for fuel wood, building materials, and soil conservation. The project took into account traditional gender roles of men and women in Kenya, that differ so greatly from the gender roles in the UK today, reiterating the accepted roles of women in Kenya’s culture as home keepers, mothers and community organizers, whilst allowing men to get involved as agriculture is a unisex activity, avoiding as much internal conflict as possible. Although originally met with scepticism, the women who began the project had helped to plant over 30 million trees in Kenya by 2003 and now with Government backing, the Green Belt movement in the confidence of the government have looked to engage its 35000 schools, 16350 youth groups and 4300 women’s groups to target planting 1 billion trees a year as part of their official climate response strategy (Vidal, 2011). In November 2011 the government announced that the first 450 million had been planted, that’s just 419 million more than the UK planted this year.

Maathai’s vision to counter the drought, land degradation and water shortages in Kenya has lead to not only the ability for the indigenous communities to meet their own needs, and the empowerment of women in a male dominated cultural society, but has lead to the continued reforestation and climatic response that the world’s most economic countries need to engage with. Barrack Obama’s singular contribution to the Durban climate negotiations was to pay tribute to the work of Maathai and press the need for other countries to conserve their forests to help slow the effects of a steadily warming planet.

Kenya’s reforestation project is doing justice and improving the environment not only for their population, but is a beacon to all other nations showing how such a simple, inexpensive project can bring environmental justice to the global population.

References:

Boyer-Rechlin, B. (2010) ‘Women in Forestry: A study of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement and Nepal’s Community Forestry Programme,’ Scandinavian Journal of Forest Research 25 (9), 69-72

Vidal, J. (2011) ‘Kenya – Ensuring Wangari Maathai’s Legacy Branches Out,’ Guardian [online] (last updated 11.22am Thursday 24th November) Available at: <http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2011/nov/24/kenya-wangari-maathai-legacy-trees?INTCMP=SRCH&gt; [Accessed 13th March 2012]

Vidal, J. (2011) ‘Barack Obama urges nations to follow lead of Wangari Maathai,’ Guardian [online] (last updated 04.46 pm Wednesday 7th December) Available at: <http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/dec/07/barack-obama-wangari-maathai?INTCMP=SRCH&gt; [Accessed 13thMarch 2012]

Developing countries are fuelling the rich.

No forests, no crops and no communities. Ethiopia's new landscape dominating of sugar canes.

You would have thought that land grabbing would have stopped due to the implications of the Hyland Clearances in the 18th and 19th century, but evidently not. Today land grabs are happening at a larger extent impacting the most vulnerable communities in the developing world (Zoomers 2010). Many land grabs happen to create biofuel plantations. We all presumed biofuel was aimed to reduce global warming, whereas actually it is increasing carbon dioxide levels due to deforestation.

With issues such as famine, poverty and droughts common in the developing world, land grabbing is another unwanted problem.  The Guardian stated that over 66% of land grabs in Africa were intended for biofuel, so far causing a loss of 277 million hectors. In some cases land areas the size of Britain are given to investors (Oxfam 2011). Imagine, if the UK was used for biofuel plantations where would we all be living? Replacing land once used for crops with palm oil trees has increased starvation and resulted in communities being dispersed. The developing world is suffering to fuel the rich’s greed.

Ethiopia receives approximately 700,000 tonnes of food and 1.8 billion of aid each year from the developed world.  If Ethiopia stopped selling land for as cheap as £150 for 1000mi² it could reduce reliance on aid and prevent starvation. The Gambella region in Ethiopia has attracted over 896 worldwide investors in the last nine years (Vermeulen and Cotula 2010). In Gambella, there is no consultation between the government, investors and local people. Farmers have been killed, jailed and tortured trying to protect their land and community. Due to the government’s dominance many villagers are too afraid to protest for their human rights. This raises questions as to whether biofuel plantations are a step forward in the world’s development.

Forest is being burnt in the Karuturi compound in order to create biofuel plantations.

Karuturi PLC brought a piece of land in Ethiopia the size of Wales for biofuel plantations. With the forced eviction of thousands of African tribes and exploitation of workers the company is now under the eye of the Human Rights Watch. Karuturi’s promise of building schools and homes are nowhere to be seen, it appears that their focus is only on profit. In 2010, flooding occurred in Ethiopia and Karuturi lost 12,000 hectors of planted crops, could this resemble some natural justice for the displaced communities perhaps?

With Ethiopia’s Ministry of Agriculture agreeing with biofuel plantations stating they were key for development, like foreign investors he is prioritising economic growth over the people’s welfare and the environment (Zoomers 2010). Many impoverished communities lack justice and are rarely compensated for loss of land and food, explicitly demonstrating how investors are denying people their human rights (Vermeulen and Cotula 2010).

As a geographer I believe that this neoliberal policy was aimed to create sustainable development. Biofuel plantations could be successful if locals are properly compensated and allowed a say in the country’s development programme. Furthermore, companies could create oil palms on degradable land instead of destroying existing farmland, communities and people’s rights.

References.

Guardian 2012, Global land grab could trigger conflict, report says. http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2012/feb/02/global-land-grab-trigger-conflict-report?INTCMP=SRCH. Last Accessed 08/03/2012

Guardian 2009,The cost of the biofuel boom on Indonesia’s forests.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jan/21/network-biofuels?INTCMP=SRCH. Last Accessed 08/03/2012

Vermeulen and Cotula, 2010, Over the heads of local people: consultation, consent, and recompense in large-scale land deals for biofuels projects in Africa, Journal of Peasant Studies, 37 (4), 899-916

Zoomers 2010, Globalisation and the foreignisation of space: seven processes driving the current global land grab, Journal of Peasant Studies, 37 (2), 429-447

Picture 1: Alfredo Bini. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-17116284. Last Accessed 08/03/2012

Picture 2: Alfredo Bini. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-17116284. Last Accessed 08/03/2012

Video: John Vidal, 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6yGkJsR7-HY. Last Accessed 08/03/2012

Too Little, Too late?

Image

Just over two hundred years ago aboriginal language was rife. Around one million people spoke over 250 different aboriginal languages (BBC News, 2011). Yet since the colonialization of Australia, aboriginal language has been suppressed by the ever overpowering English language. In 2009 the BBC reported that only 60 aboriginal languages – roughly, are still spoken from day-to-day amongst aboriginal communities. These languages can be lost within a generation and are the embodiment of the aboriginal lifestyle, way of being, thinking and seeing. To lose a language is to lose a precious source of history, not just Australian history but the history of language evolution, the history of land management and the history of colonial experience. It is essential that Aboriginal groups receive the justice deserved and their voices are heightened rather than squandered and killed.

Languages are declining at a record rate and not by choice (Mercer, 2008). It is believed that once a language dies, once the last speaker passes away, it is almost impossible to bring the language back to life. However, in Chifley College Dunheved Campus justice for aboriginals was acknowledged (Mercer, 2009). On point of principle rather than a source of indigenous knowledge, aboriginal lessons were organised and written records of the Dharug language were used to bring the language back to life. This attempt for justice was a complete success. Both Aboriginal school children and non-aboriginals partook in the lessons twice a week. Many of the aboriginal students spoke of how Dharug lessons had helped develop their aboriginal culture, identity and pride in a community where their aboriginal roots were frequently overlooked. For this school in New South Wales Dharug is now on their curriculum (Mercer, 2009).

Acknowledgement of the importance of aboriginal languages is vital, but its only one step. More than this has to be done to stop the death of anymore of these precious languages. As a geographer the knowledge contained within these capsules of language need to savoured and shared, but not just for reasons than some may believe. Undoubtedly it is massively important to maintain aboriginal culture, but aboriginal language also contains knowledge that may not have been shared. This knowledge needs to be respected. This knowledge needs to be understood. And under Aboriginal regulation this knowledge need to be utilised. This special community knows more about the environment, land management techniques and the evolution of their surrounding than any others. Why would anyone force this knowledge out of existence? We must use what aboriginals have already spent thousands of years developing to understand our environment, as well as maintain their fabulously rich culture.

However, there are 60 aboriginal languages spoken day to day, less than 300 years ago over four times this existed, any move from here on in, will it just be too little too late?

Anon, 2010. Borrowed terms. Australian geographic. 7th July 2010

Anon, 2011. Australian project hunts lost indigenous languages. BBC News. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-14503382

Barada, W. 2008. English will be the death of Aboriginal languages. Crikey.com.au http://www.crikey.com.au/Politics/20081120-The-fate-of-Aboriginal-languages.html

Crystal, D. 2000. What can be done? In Language death (pp.127-169). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Mercer, P.  2009. Lost Aboriginal language retrieved. BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/7992565.stm

Mercer, P. 2008. Aboriginal languages ‘dying out’. BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/7225570.stm

Photograph: http://religionandmediacourse.blogspot.com/2010/11/religious-representation-of-australian.html

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…

Sources:

Environmental Justice Foundation. (2011). Water and Cotton. Available: http://www.ejfoundation.org/page334.html. 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: http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/blog/cotton-farming-fashion-fuel-food-shortages. Last accessed 9th March 2012.

Ravasio, P. (2012). How can we stop water from becoming a fashion victim?. Available: http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/water-scarcity-fashion-industry. Last accessed 9th March 2012.

Spencer, J. (2007). China Pays Steep Price As Textile Exports Boom.Available: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118580938555882301.html. Last accessed 9th March 2012.

Welsh, P. (2000). The Aral Sea Tragedy. Available: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/678898.stm. Last accessed 9th March 2012.

Images:

One: http://calliecollins.blogspot.com/

Two: http://artistsarahshaw.blogspot.com/

Three: http://forums.vr-zone.com/newsroom/201933-news-pollution-turns-china-river-dark-red.html

Four: http://mrahayes.blogspot.com/2011/01/pick-your-cotton-carefully.html

Video:

Unknown. (2010). Shrinking of the Aral Sea. Available: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-1R634vpRQ&feature=related Last accessed 10th 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.

Fukushima through the eyes of the victims

Child Evacuees of Fukushima Prefecture

Source:anonymous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Invasion of the Pylons

There are currently around 88,000 electricity pylons in the UK. However, these pylons are about to be joined by thousands more as our current national grid system is updated. As our old power network approaches obsolescence, the proposed spread of pylons across Britain’s iconic rural landscapes has met with much resistance.

Westmill windfarm is situated several miles away from the nearest major towns and villages

So, why are these further intrusions on our crowded landscape necessary? To meet EU Sustainability targets, one quarter of our existing power stations must be closed down and replaced with greener renewable solutions. One of the most favoured yet most contested alternatives is wind energy. Clean, cheap and renewable, wind energy is often heralded as the renewable saviour of time yet it requires a specific set of preconditions which are often disputed. Unlike non-renewable energy sources, wind farms and other environmentally friendly alternatives are located in remote areas to maximise energy efficiency and production. Unfortunately, these remote rural locations are often extremely far away from residential and business districts. An increase in renewable energy plants has therefore amplified the necessity for additional electricity pylons to connect the remote renewable energy supply to demand.

Since the National Grid’s propositions began in 2010, numerous pressure groups from Mid-Wales to Suffolk have begun to campaign against the proposed “invasion” (Heap, 2011) of pylons in their rural communities. Following the innovative new design of Icelandic pylons, the National Grid launched a 2011 national competition to redesign the structures in the hope of making them more palatable to the eye.

Innovative Islandic Pylon Design - a unique feature or a dominating eyesore?

We must consider however if such eye catching structures are the right approach to take? It could be argued that these impressive pieces of engineering are more suited to the National Gallery than rural Suffolk. Many suggest therefore that this proposed structural incursion will not only become a visual eyesore for local residents but also have the potential to disrupt local businesses which rely on the ‘natural’ state of the landscape to attract tourism to the area. On BBC Radio 4’s Costing the Earth, Tom Heap interviewed a local resident who claimed that although National Grid has held two public consultations, the anxieties expressed by local communities are “still largely being ignored” (Heap, 2011). The resistance to pylons has occurred since the birth of the national electricity supply in 1927 whereby a group of local residents from Somerset articulately compared them to “nude giant girls that have no secrets” (CPRW, 2012) in a letter to the Times. Here local residents appear to be experiencing an injustice as their views and opinions are side-lined in favour of meeting EU targets.

Electricity Pylons in the Scottish Highlands to become a much more regular sight

Some may claim however that such opposition and intense feeling of injustice stems from the “not in my back yard” theory whereby if the issue was transferred elsewhere, it would no longer cause a dispute. However, if we analyse this situation through a geographical lens, the scheme becomes much more than a simple disruption of local scenery. As geographers it is imperative to recognise that not only does the intrusion of a pylon disrupt the visual aesthetics of an area, it also has the potential to modify our entire social construction of the rural idyll and rural landscape. British identity is synonymous with the rolling hills, green pastures and quaint open spaces yet the proposed inclusion of huge concrete structures upon this idyllic scenery has the potential to destroy the entire notion of the British rural idyll. From this approach then, we could see the proposed scheme as not only an injustice for local residents but also for British citizens.

This policy has the potential to completely reshape the aesthetics and symbolism of our rural countryside and the face of Britain for generations to come. Heap therefore calls for this scheme to become part of a “national debate”(2011)  which we must, as both geographers and UK citizens, continue to take a vested interest in.

BBC Look East report on Suffolk protests against pylons (begins 2 minutes into clip)

Sources:

Anon (2011) Mid and west Wales power protesters at Senedd, BBC News, Avaliable: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-13498707 Last Accessed 07/03/2012

Benson, M. (2010), Landscape, imagination and experience: processes of emplacement among the British in rural France. The Sociological Review, 58: 61–77

Bunkse, E. (2007) ‘Feeling is believing, or landscape as a way of being in the world’, Geografiska Annaler, Vol. 89, pp.219-231

 

Geere, D. (2010) Human pylons carry electricity across Iceland, Avaliable: http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2010-08/16/human-pylons, Last Accessed 07/03/2012

Heep, T. (2011) March of the Pylons, ‘Costing the Earth’, BBC Radio 4, Last Broadcast 20/10/2011

Holland, D. (2012) Stour Valley Underground, Avaliable: http://www.stourvalleyunderground.org.uk/, Last Accessed  07/03/2012

National Grid. (2012) Major Infrastructure Projects, Avaliable: http://www.nationalgrid.com/uk/Electricity/MajorProjects/ Last Accessed 07/03/2012

Wylie, J. (2005) A Single Day’s Walking: Narrating itself and lanscape on the Southwest Coast Path, Transactions of the Instititue British Geographers, 30 (2), pp.234-247

Photograph Sources:

  1.  Anon. (2012) Wind Farm, Suffolk. Avaliabe:http://www.windjobsuk.com/wind-farm-jobs.cms.asp Last Accessed: 07/03/2012
  2. Anon (2012) Iclandic Wind Farms, Avaliabel: http://www.crikey.com.au/2010/09/29/when-pressed-abbott-discovers-he-has-a-pair/ Last Accessed: 07/03/2012
  3. Anon (2012) Wind Farms Scottish Highlands, Avaliable: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/jan/31/burying-electric-pylons-cheaper-government Last Accessed 07/03/2012