To celebrate Mother Earth Day, Alejandro Perdomo reflects on the connection between the environment, the distribution of resources, and social justice.

The relationship between humans and the earth goes beyond our dependence on its ecosystems and their functions. Through time, our societies have developed depending on the natural resources that the diverse environments have offered. The availability of essential resources such as water and food have raised the question of what is considered “just” in terms of its distribution. This question concerns not only for these benefits (e.g. water, food, wood), but also applies to the environmental burdens attached to our development. “Environmental Justice” is a term that has developed from this concern. Having its roots in social movements with the objective of just distribution of environmental resources, it is a topic that has grown exponentially during the last decades, particularly due to the alarming consequences of climate change caused by human activity.

In today’s Earth Day celebration, it is important to highlight the necessity of environmental justice. We live in a world where environmental pollution tends to disproportionately affect those with lower incomes, as cases like the Toxic Waste disposal in black neighbourhoods in Warren County, USA during the late 1970s demonstrates; this is a clear example of the lack of environmental laws, policies and regulations. Although environmental laws around the world have developed considerably in the past decades, there is still much to do. Even in the most advanced countries such as Germany, a study has shown that those with a lower socio-economic position tend to live in more environmentally adverse communities.1

National and international movements that advocate for environmental justice have been crucial in raising the voice of many who have been affected by the atrocities generated by powerful companies, combined with the lack of action from local governments. Examples of this are movements such as the Clean Water Action in the US, who campaign to protect drinking water and access to healthy food. Similarly, there is the grass roots group FASE in Brazil fighting against soya monocultures that harms indigenous communities and the lands biodiversity. Advocates around the world are not only concerned with raising awareness about the harm that societies suffer. There is also a growing movement that urges the implementation of an international laws against crimes committed against the Earth’s rights. The movement ‘Eradicating Ecocide’ advocates for criminalizing ecosystem destruction.

The issue of environmental justice is inextricably linked with that of social justice. Environmental injustices extend beyond being an issue affecting only the most marginalized people; it is a struggle of the entire natural world and its inhabitants. Thus speaking about environmental injustice must inevitably also address climate change consequences, such as migration and displacement of communities caused by abnormal draughts and treacherously heavy rainfalls. These are issues that have no national borders; rather they affect the ecosystems on which all livelihoods depend on for survival – food, water, energy, among other essential resources. It is estimated that 200 million people will be displaced by 2050 due to climate change.2 What would our world look like if not acknowledging environmental justice continues? Most of all, where do we see our right of living in a clean, safe and healthy environment? Are these not constantly infringed upon by the existing global dynamics surrounding environmental justice?


Alejandro Perdomo is currently conducting an internship at the European Training and Research Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (ETC-Graz) in Austria.


Citations

  1. Bolte, G., Tamburlini, G., & Kohlhuber, M. (2010). Environmental inequalities among children in Europe—evaluation of scientific evidence and policy implications. European journal of public health20(1), 14-20.
  2. Opitz Sapleton, S., Nadin, R., Watson, C., & Kellett, J. (2017). Climate change, migration, and displacement: The need for a risk-informed and coherent approach. The Encyclopedia of Global Human Migration, (November), 36. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781444351071