Environmental Racism and Ecological Crises in the Global South.

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Environmental Racism and Ecological Crises in the Global South.

Written by Antonella D'Autilia

There is a direct relationship between coloniality, the location of toxic sites, environmental conflicts, and the climate emergency. This short essay aims to unravel these connections.

To introduce the topic, let us first clarify what is meant by coloniality. This word was first used by Aníbal Quijano, a Peruvian sociologist, who defined it as that device of power that operates on a global scale and that, within the same historical horizon, has produced social hierarchies by classifying populations according to their degree of adherence to the Eurocentric standards of modernity. This means that although colonialism can be seen as a historical process that has formally come to an end, at an ideological and cultural level it has produced world views that continue to generate inequalities between peoples and individuals. In this way, some populations (or sub-groups of them) have been defined as backward or less modern than others.

Coloniality also plays a role in climate crises. This was noted in a Greenpeace UK report, which stated that because of systemic racism, black people are the most affected by environmental emergencies, as well as being the least consulted and empowered.

The term ‘environmental racism’ was introduced in 1992 during demonstrations by the environmental justice movement in Warren County, North Carolina, following the decision to locate a PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) landfill in the area. The definition was first coined by the Reverend Benjamin F. Chavis, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, one of the first civil rights organisations in the US. For Chavis, environmental racism is inequality in environmental policy. It is the deliberate siting of harmful industries in areas with black or marginalised communities. It is the exclusion of these communities from environmental regulatory bodies and decision-making councils.

Since the exemplary revolts of the environmental justice movement, an awareness has emerged that is now reflected in a growing sensitivity at the level of supranational institutional bodies, such as the Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation CM/Rec(2022)20 to member states on human rights and environmental protection, or the UN Report A/HRC/49/53 on human rights obligations related to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

Environmental inequalities and defuturing

According to many studies, environmental inequalities underlie value hierarchies in which some people are seen as less deserving than others of living in a healthy environment. We are talking about populations forced to pay enormous costs in terms of social mobility and quality of life in the name of profit. This is the case of the Ogoni people of the Niger Delta, who for decades have witnessed the impoverishment and destruction of their land, and increased rates of mortality and disease among the indigenous population. A similar fate befell the people of Somkhele in South Africa’s Kwa-Zulu province after the Tendele coal mine was awarded in 2007.

In Brazil, the multinational VALE has several mining projects underway, the most important of which is Carajás Serra Sul in the Carajás National Forest (Pará). In the Xikrin do Cateté area, there are fourteen VALE operations with very high impacts on natural ecosystems and local communities.

Women, among other vulnerable groups, are particularly exploited and subordinated. According to a recent study, this situation is very common in several mega-projects in Latin America.

The International Articulation of People Affected by Vale (AIAAV) is a solidarity network that, since 2009, has brought together different organisations from all over the world to fight against the socio-environmental impact of multinational companies.

To better understand these strategies of economic domination over the human habitat and nature, it seems useful to refer to the concept of defuturation introduced by the philosopher Tony Fry. According to the scholar,defuturing means removing the future from the representational surface of the present. It means removing from the public imagination the consequences that might one day result from socially and environmentally unsustainable practices. But Fry tells us that even if the actions of the present are overshadowed by political and economic power, the effects of colonisation on the future of populations are already a fact. Knowing where our actions are going, and the limits beyond which humans must not go, is important in being aware of what we have the power to destroy and what we have the capacity to create.

A case of environmental racism

“The will of the people of Trieste has prevailed. We have never seen such a sky in Servola”. These were the words of the then Minister for Economic Development, Stefano Patuanelli, commenting on the closure of the hot zone of the Trieste steelworks on 9 April 2020. It was not the first time that the Italian state had intervened to protect the population of northern Italy from the effects of industrial pollution. In 2005, an agreement between the Riva Group and the institutions had already sanctioned the closure of the ILVA hot zone in Cornigliano, as it had been declared incompatible with human life. Following this controversial decision, all the hot production in Genoa was transferred to Taranto. Taranto, as we all know, is home to the largest steelworks in Europe. That the case of the former ILVA in Taranto should be considered as environmental racism can be read in the 3,700 pages that make up the grounds of the Ambiente Svenduto ruling. According to the Court of Taranto, the management of the steel plant is very similar to the cases of environmental racism that Reverend Chavis spoke of at the time. Taranto, like areas in Africa, was identified as an expendable site, an economically backward area where a very polluting plant could be installed. The transfer of production from Genoa to Taranto clearly shows that the life of a citizen of the North is more important to the Italian state than the life of a citizen of the South.

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EASY

Environmental Racism and Ecological Crises in the Global South.

Written by Antonella D'Autilia

There is a direct relationship between coloniality, the location of toxic sites, environmental conflicts, and the climate emergency. This short essay aims to unravel these connections.

The concept of coloniality, introduced by Aníbal Quijano, refers to a global apparatus of power that has produced social hierarchies based on Eurocentric standards of modernity. Although colonialism can be seen as a formally completed historical process, coloniality persists at an ideological and cultural level, producing worldviews that continue to produce inequalities between peoples and individuals.

The term “environmental racism” was first coined in 1992 during the demonstrations of the environmental justice movement in the United States. It refers to inequalities in environmental policy, the deliberate siting of harmful industries in black or marginalised communities, and the exclusion of these populations from environmental regulatory bodies and decision-making processes.

Benjamin F. Chavis, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and refers to the deliberate practice of locating harmful industries in areas inhabited by black, marginalised, and low-income communities. The decision to locate industries in these areas can have serious health and environmental consequences for these communities, contributing to a cycle of environmental inequality.

A Greenpeace UK study found that because of systemic racism, black people are most affected by environmental emergencies and have the least decision-making power in these matters. These environmental inequalities are reflected in situations where communities are exposed to environmental hazards, such as the location of toxic sites.

Environmental inequalities are particularly evident in countries of the global South, where indigenous communities often suffer the negative impacts of industrial activities.

In Brazil, the multinational VALE has several mining projects underway, the most important of which is Carajás Serra Sul in the Carajás National Forest (Pará). In the Xikrin do Cateté area, there are fourteen VALE operations with a very high impact on natural ecosystems and local communities. Women, among other vulnerable groups, are particularly exploited and subordinated. According to a recent study, this situation is very common in several mega-projects in Latin America. The International Articulation of People Affected by Vale (AIAAV) is a solidarity network that, since 2009, has brought together different organisations from around the world to fight the socio-environmental impacts of multinational companies.

To better understand these strategies of economic domination over the human habitat and nature, it seems useful to refer to the concept of defuturation introduced by the philosopher Tony Fry. According to the scholar, defuturing means removing the future from the representational surface of the present. It means removing from the public imagination the consequences that might one day result from socially and environmentally unsustainable practices.

Another case is that of the Niger Delta, where local people have witnessed decades of impoverishment, land destruction and increased mortality following the award of the Tendele coal mine in 2007.

The case of the Trieste steel plant and the former ILVA in Taranto, Italy, highlights environmental racism, where the lives of northern citizens are considered more valuable than those of southern Italian residents, who are often relegated to expendable sites for highly polluting industries.

In short, coloniality and environmental racism play an important role in ecological crises by influencing the location of toxic sites and creating inequalities in the distribution of environmental impacts. Raising awareness of these issues is crucial to addressing environmental challenges in an equitable and sustainable way.

 

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