The Environmental Justice (EJ) combines human rights with environmental topics. The Environmental Justice is based on the premises that everybody has the right to live in a healthy and safe environment, independently of the race, ethnic group or economic status. Moreover, all of us have the right (and the duty) to take part in the processes to improve our environment.
Owing to the consumer society of nowadays, especially a small proportion of the world’s population who accumulate an important fraction of the economic resources (according to Oxfam (2014), the 46% of the world’s wealth is owned by only he 1% of the population) and the population growth, the hunt for energy and raw materials to cover all these consumption needs creates inequalities. The extraction processes (mining industry, etc.), the industrial processes to transform the raw materials, as well as the final phase of waste disposal (dumpling sites, solid-waste incinerators) generate environmental impacts that are unequally distributed among the communities. Actually, the most vulnerable and/or marginalised communities are those who receive a higher impact: the poorest, the ethnic minorities, and indigenous populations (who strongly depend on natural resources).
There exist a huge number of environmental justices, not only in a global level but also within the same country/region. One of the objectives of the “Environmental Justice Organisations, Liabilities and Trade” project (EJOLT, FP7, http://www.ejolt.org/), coordinated by the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA, UAB) is the creation of a big database of ecological-distribution conflicts (Environmental Justice Atlas: http://ejatlas.org/, Figure 1), to make public the principal conflicts of environmental justice. Through this atlas, many conflicts that otherwise would remain unknown, are presented and give voice to those who have less power to access to the environmental justice.
Figure 1. Environmental Justice Atlas (http://ejatlas.org/). Interactive map that locates the main conflicts of environmental justice.
Most of the conflicts are located in developing countries, where the environmental legislations are usually less restrictive and the government are characterized by high corruption indexes. Two examples of environmental injustices could be the Yasuni oil exploitation (Ecuador) and the e-waste dumping site in Agbogbloshie (Ghana).
The Yasuní National Park (Ecuadorian Amazonia) is one of the most important biodiversity reserves in the world (it is a Bisophere Reserve by the UNESCO) which has oil reserves in the subsoil which will be exploited by different oil companies. As an answer to an indigenous/local population movement (Figure 2), the Ecuadorian Government, the president Rafael Correa, undertake an initiative: Ecuador will leave the oil in the subsoil if there is an international contribution of 3.600 million dolars (which corresponds to the 50% of what they would earn in case of the exploitation). Leaving the oil in the soil implies keeping the natural resources, the biodiversity and 407 tons of carbon dioxide (one of the main greenhouse gases) will be prevented of being emitted. Regrettably, the international response was not enough and the oil exploitation will be carried out.
Moving to another continent, the dumpsite for e-waste in Agbogbloshie (Accra, Ghana) is one of the biggest in the world. Whole families rely on their work in this dumpsite, where both adults and children work breaking up electronic devices to recover the cooper and lead tosell this components. However, this income is in exchange of their health. In fact, high concentration of Fe, Sb, Pb and and PAH metabolites have been found in the urine of the dumpsite workers (Asante et al., 2012; Feldt et al., 2014). Clouds of black smoke arise from fires lighted up to burn the plastic components to leave the metals accessible, this smoke transport high concentrations of toxic components: metals, PAH, dioxins and furans (Figure 3).
But there is no need to go so far away, there are examples in our own region. More than 700.000 cubic meters of toxics residues which contain heavy metals (such as mercury, in very high concentrations and cadmium; Palanques et al., 2014), organochlorine compounds and radioactive residues had been poured in the Ebre river by the electrochemical company Ercros (formerly named Electroquímica and Erkimia), which is active from 1987. All these components, keep trapped in the Flix (Tarragona) dam. Nowadays, it is on process the removal of these sediments to proceed with their decontamination (Figure 4) in benefit of the river and Flix inhabitants health. However, note that of around 165 milions of Euros that this action will cost, the company Ercros will only pay 10.
These three cases (and the many more than you can investigate in the Environmental Justice Atlas) are examples of power outrage that generate a serious risk to the environment (biodiversity loss; water, soil, air pollution; etc.) and to the people, whom health and well-being diminish considerably.
Ioar Rivas Lara
Asante, K.A., Agusa, T., Bisney, C.A. Agyekum, W.A., Bello, M., Otsuka, M., Itai, T., Takahashi, S., Tanabe, S. (2012). Multi-trace element levels and arsenic speciation in urine of e-waste recycling workers from Agbogbloshie, Accra in Ghana. Science of the Total Environment 424, 63–73.
Atles Global de Justícia Ambiental (Projecte EJOLT): http://ejatlas.org/
Decontamination Flix: http://decontaminationflix.com/
Elisenda Flores (Ecologistes en Acció). Contaminación en Flix. El ecologista nº 47. Marzo 2006. https://www.ecologistasenaccion.org/article18233.html
Espinosa, C. (2013). The riddle of leaving the oil in the soil—Ecuador’s Yasuní-ITT project from a discourse perspective. Forest Policy and Economics 36, 27–36.
Feldt, T., Fobil, J.N., Wittsiepe, J., Wilhelm, M., Till, H., Zoufaly, A., Burchard, G., Göen, T. (2014). High levels of PAH-metabolites in urine of e-waste recycling workersfrom Agbogbloshie, Ghana. Science of the Total Environment 466–467, 369–376.
Gobierno Nacional de la Republica de Equador. Iniciativa Yasuní-ITT: http://yasuni-itt.gob.ec/inicio.aspx
Hirsch, A. (2013). This is not a good place to live’: inside Ghana’s dump for electronic waste. The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/dec/14/ghana-dump-electronic-waste-not-good-place-live
Oxfam (2014). Gobernar para las élites. Secuestro democrático y desigualdad económica. Informe de Oxfam nº178. Disponible a: http://www.oxfamintermon.org/sites/default/files/documentos/files/bp-working-for-few-political-capture-economic-inequality-200114-es.pdf
Palanques, A., Grimalt, J., Belzunces, M., Estrada, F., Puig, P., Guillén, J. (2014). Massive accumulation of highly polluted sedimentary deposits by river damming. Science of the Total Environment 497–498, 369–381.
Pellegrini, L., Arsel, M., Falconí, F., Muradian, R. (2014). The demise of a new conservation and development policy? Exploring the tensions of the Yasuní ITT initiative. The Extractive Industries and Society, In press.
Pérez Pons, M. Descontaminación contra reloj en el embalse de Flix . El País, 17 Marzo 2013. http://sociedad.elpais.com/sociedad/2013/03/17/actualidad/1363554355_882551.html
Projecte EJOLT (FP7): http://www.ejolt.org/
Sachs, W. & Santarius, T. (dirs). (2007). Un futuro justo. Recursos limitados y justicia global. Icaria Editorial, Barcelona.
STEP, Solving the E-waste Problem: http://www.step-initiative.org/