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One of the causes of the increasing number of ecological distribution conflicts around the world is the changing metabolism of the economy in terms of growing flows of energy and materials. There are conflicts on resource extraction, transport and waste disposal. Therefore, there are many local complaints, as shown in the Atlas of Environmental Justice (EJatlas) and other inventories. And not only complaints; there are also many successful examples of stopping projects and developing alternatives, testifying to the existence of a rural and urban global movement for environmental justice. Moreover, since the 1980s and 1990s, this movement has developed a set of concepts and campaign slogans to describe and intervene in such conflicts. They include environmental racism, popular epidemiology, the environmentalism of the poor and the indigenous, biopiracy, tree plantations are not forests, the ecological debt, climate justice, food sovereignty, land grabbing and water justice, among other concepts. These terms were born from socio-environmental activism, but sometimes they have also been taken up by academic political ecologists and ecological economists who, for their part, have contributed other concepts to the global environmental justice movement, such as ‘ecologically unequal exchange’ or the ‘ecological footprint’.
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Colloquium Paper No. 16
Is there a Global Environmental Justice Movement?
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February, 2016
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Is there a Global Environmental Justice Movement?
Joan Martinez-Alier, Leah Temper, Daniela Del Bene, and Arnim Scheidel
One of the causes of the increasing number of ecological distribution conflicts around the world is the
changing metabolism of the economy in terms of growing flows of energy and materials. There are
conflicts on resource extraction, transport, and waste disposal. Therefore, there are many local
complaints, as shown in the Atlas of Environmental Justice (EJatlas) and other inventories. And not
only complaints, there are also many successful examples of stopping projects and developing
alternatives, testifying to the existence of a rural and urban global movement for environmental
justice. Moreover, since the 1980s and 1990s, this movement developed a set of concepts and
campaign slogans to describe and intervene in such conflicts. They include environmental racism,
popular epidemiology, the environmentalism of the poor and the indigenous, biopiracy, tree
plantations are not forests, the ecological debt, climate justice, food sovereignty, land grabbing, water
justice, among other concepts. These terms were born from socio-environmental activism but
sometimes they have been taken up also by academic political ecologists and ecological economists
who, on their part, have contributed other concepts to the global environmental justice movement, e.g.
‘ecologically unequal exchange’ or the ‘ecological footprint’.
Keywords: Environmental justice, ecological distribution conflicts, collaborative research, activist
knowledge, EJatlas, environmental racism, environmentalism of the poor, climate justice, statistical
political ecology
This work received funding from the EJOLT Project, Environmental Justice Organisations, Liabilities
and Trade, an FP7 project supported by the European Commission, 2011-2015 [grant number
266642]; as well as by the Transformations Seed Grant [grant number T2S_PP_289] from the ISSC
under the Transformations to Sustainability Programme [grant number TKN150317115354].The
Transformations to Sustainability Programme represents a contribution to Future Earth. We are very
grateful to all partners in the EJOLT project and to the many outside collaborators with the EJAtlas.
Also we thank Lucia Arguelles and Yakup Cetinkaya for their technical support, as well as the critical
comments of two anonymous reviewers.
This paper is forthcoming in the Journal of Peasant Studies. It will be soon available at:
The fundamental clash between the economy and the environment can be largely related to the
changing social metabolism of industrial economies, understood as the appropriation, transformation
and disposal of materials and energy by society (Fischer-Kowalski and Haberl 1997, 2007, 2015;
Kraussman et al 2009; Steinberger et al. 2010; Muradian et al. 2012; Martinez-Alier et al. 2014).
Energy cannot be recycled. Therefore, energy from fossil fuels and new supplies of coal, oil and gas
must be obtained from constantly expanding ’commodity frontiers’ (Moore 2000). Similarly, materials
are recycled only in part, and therefore, even an economy that would not grow would need fresh
supplies of iron ore, bauxite, copper, and paper pulp. The industrial economy is not circular; it is
entropic (Haas et al. 2015). Meanwhile, renewable resources such as aquifers, timber, and fisheries are
overexploited, the fertility of the soil is jeopardized and biodiversity is depleted. Thus, the changing
social metabolism of industrial economies (including the excessive production of carbon dioxide)
gives rise to increasing numbers of ecological distribution conflicts that sometimes overlap with other
social conflicts related to class, ethnicity or indigenous identity, gender, caste and which may be
further related to institutional configurations such as property regimes or territorial rights.
Ecological distribution conflicts’ (Martinez-Alier 1995; Martinez-Alier and O’Connor 1996) is a term
for environmental injustices employed in ecological economics. For instance, a factory may be
polluting the river (which belongs to nobody or belongs to a community that manages the river as
studied by Ostrom (1990) and her school on management of the commons). Yet this damage is not
valued in the market and those impacted are not compensated. The same happens with climate change,
causing perhaps sea level rise in some Pacific islands or in Kuna islands in Panama. More than market
failures (a terminology that implies that such externalities could be valued in money terms and
internalized into the price system) these are ‘cost-shifting successes’ (Kapp 1950) which oftentimes
lead to complaints from those bearing them. If such complaints were effective (which is not the rule),
some activities could be banned, or, if we accept economic commensuration and reject
incommensurability of values (Martinez-Alier et al. 1998), ‘equivalent’ eco-compensation
mechanisms could be introduced. The economy would change accordingly.
Such ecological distribution conflicts were perceived in terms of persistent injustices towards ‘people
of color’ in the United States, giving rise to a social movement in the 1980s when the words
‘Environmental Justice’ (EJ) began to be used in struggles against the disproportionate dumping of
toxic waste in urban or periurban African–American areas. EJ is a powerful lens through which to
make sense of many struggles over the negative impacts that changing social metabolism imposes on
human livelihoods and nature conservation worldwide (Gottlieb 2009). As early as 1991, at the
Washington DC People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit ties were forged so as to begin to
build a national and international movement of all peoples of color to fight the destruction and taking
of our lands and communities.’
Another concept related to EJ is the ‘environmentalism of the poor’ (applied to rural and indigenous
populations in India and Latin America), introduced by academics and activists in the late 1980s (Anil
Agarwal and Sunita Narain of the CSE in India, Hugo Blanco (1991) in Peru). Since the mid-1990s
the explicit connection between the EJ movement in the United States and the environmentalism of the
poor in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, was established (Martinez-Alier 1997; Guha and Martinez-
Alier 1997, 1999; Varga et al. 2002) and further cemented following the deaths of Chico Mendes in
1988 fighting deforestation in Brazil and of Ken Saro-Wiwa and his Ogoni comrades in the Niger
Delta in 1995 fighting against oil extraction and gas flaring by Shell. This ‘environmentalism of the
poor’ increasingly manifests as an ‘environmentalism of the dispossessed’ (Temper 2014), a term
referring to a politicized environmentalism cognizant of the dialectic between expanded capitalist
accumulation at a global scale and environmental dispossession, and often motivated not only by local
material concerns but also at broader scales by opposition to d
ispossession of sovereignty and self-
governing authority. Such types of resistance are not limited to the poor. In the mid-1990s classical
books analyzing the reasons to oppose dams (McCully 1996) and tree plantations (Carrere and
Lohmann 1996) and the movements organized against them were published, while Leonardo Boff’s
‘Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor’ (1995) made the connections between poverty and environmental
There are several types of ecological distribution conflicts that can be a classified along the
commodity chains. There are conflicts on resource extraction, transport, and waste disposal.
Therefore, there are many local complaints as shown in the new Atlas of Environmental Justice
(herafter, EJatlas, and other inventories. Since the 1980s and 1990s the global
environmental justice movement developed a set of concepts and campaign slogans to describe and
intervene in such conflicts, such as environmental racism, popular epidemiology, the
environmentalism of the poor and the indigenous, biopiracy, tree plantations are not forests, the
ecological debt, climate justice, food sovereignty, land grabbing, water justice, and so on.
In this paper, preliminary results from the new EJatlas will be presented in an exercise towards
statistical political ecology (Kousis, 1998), in order to provide evidence of the vast number of
mobilizations for environmental justice, as well as to identify lines of future research on
environmental justice, available thanks to the growing EJatlas database. The EJatlas is an inventory so
far of 1600 cases (October 2015) and it is also a good source not yet explored to discover the
vocabulary of the environmental justice organizations (EJOs), their actions and their networks.
Following this, we provide a long list of (often interrerelated) terms deployed by the global EJ
movement to be further enriched with regional terms. A final section draws conclusions. The paper
relies therefore on two main bodies of evidence to answer in the affirmative the question in its title.
First, the mapping and research of hundreds of environmental conflicts worldwide, opposing
dispossessions and local pollution that share common characteristics and linkages between them.
Second, the actions of networks of EJOs at national and global scale developing their own common
terms and campaign slogans that are becoming common currency.
The Atlas of Environmental Justice: an overview
The EJatlas maps ecological distribution conflicts relying on co-production of knowledge between
academics and activists.
Based on an 'ecology of diverse knowledges' (Sousa Santos 2007), it makes
visible many environmental injustices and instances of resistance that would remain hidden otherwise.
It follows in the steps of the EJ movement in the United States, which was from the start a movement
relying on community-led science and participatory action (Bacon et al. 2013). Such forms of
engagement recognize communities as producers of knowledge in their own right, rather than being
merely objects of study (Casas-Cortés et al. 2008). The EJatlas classifies conflicts by a ‘commodity’
approach, with the ability to filter across over 100 fields. It resembles an old world map – while some
countries in different regions, such as Colombia, Spain or Madagascar, have been mapped, many
remain still to be filled. Conflicts can be sorted or filtered by commodity, by company, by country, by
forms of mobilization (from blockades to local referendums), by the social actors involved, by types of
environmental, social, health and economic impacts, and by outcomes, referring to different events
and processes associated with a conflict, as indicated in the EJatlas data form.
The unit of analysis is a well documented project-based campaign or place-based struggle, which
sometimes results in influential national protest-events or broader campaigns. These contestations are
made visible through press reports and court cases, campaigning, petitions, meetings, demonstrations,
boycotts, strikes, threats, civil disobedience, collective violence, and other action forms. For each
conflict, two or three pages of detailed information are available, as reported by over 100+
collaborators at present, from Environmental Justice Organizations (EJOs) or academics and graduate
students working on the ground or from secondary sources around that issue. A laborious moderation
process, facilitated by ICTA/UAB assures quality and consistency of each entry before being
published online (for more details see Temper et al. 2015). Conflicts are classified in the first instance
Boff is a Brazilian ‘Liberation theologist’, whose work is fully vindicated in the encyclical Laudato si of 2015,
which itself calls for environmental justice in many of its paragraphs.
A previous article drawing on the EJatlas has been published by L. Temper, D. Del Bene and J. Martinez-Alier
in the Journal of Political Ecology, where we focused on the methodology (Temper et al, 2015). The coverage
and analysis of the EJatlas will be expanded counting on the new 2015-18 project “Academic-Activist Co-
Produced Knowledge for Environmental Justice” (funded by the ISSC Transformations for Sustainability
programme), coordinated by Leah Temper (ICTA-UAB) and Ashish Kothari of Kalpavriksh (India).
in one out of ten categories (1
level), and all relevant 2
level classications can be added (see Table
1). For instance, a conflict born from a project for copper mining would be classified under mineral
ores (1
level) although it also involves as 2
level ‘land grabbing’ and has consequences on water
and air pollution.
Table 1: Conflict classifications in the Atlas of Environmental Justice (EJAtlas)
level categories
(mutually exclusive)
level classification (multiple selection across categories), some
Nuclear energy e.g., uranium extraction; nuclear power plants; nuclear waste storage
Mineral ores and
building materials
e.g., mineral extraction; mineral processing; tailings; building material
Waste management e.g., e-waste and other waste import zones; ship-breaking; waste
privatization; waste-pickers; incinerators; landfills; uncontrolled dump
sites; industrial; municipal waste
Biomass and land
e.g., land acquisition; tree plantations; logging; non-timber products;
deforestation; agro-toxics; GMOs; agro-fuels; mangroves vs. shrimps;
bio-piracy and bio-prospection; intensive food production (monoculture &
livestock); fisheries
Fossil fuels and climate
justice/ energy
e.g., oil and gas extraction; oil spills; gas flaring; coal extraction; climate
change related conflicts (glaciers & small islands); REDD/CDM;
windmills; gas fracking
Infrastructure and built
e.g., megaprojects, high speed trains, airports, urban development
Water management e.g., dams, water transfers, aquifers, hydro-ways, desalination
Biodiversity conservation
e.g., invasive species, damage to nature, conservation conflicts
Industrial and utilities
e.g., factory emissions, industrial pollution
Tourism recreation
e.g., establishment of tourism facilities
In some countries, a participatory process has been undertaken amongst the EJ community and
scholars to choose the most relevant cases. In the US a survey was administered to over 200 EJ
leaders, activist groups and scholars by collaborators at the University of Michigan's School of Natural
Resources and Environment to select the 60 most influential cases in recent American history.
Entering of cases in the US will continue. A similar process for selection of cases was made for the
Italian sub-platform. A group of researchers at ASUD-CDCA with experience in the field since 2007,
led by Marianna Sori and Lucie Greyl, conducted an extensive survey across Italy with NGOs,
committees, scholars, environmentalists, journalists, etc. They identified in this way the top 24 cases
of conflict in the country to be included in the global map and later expanded the coverage to 80 cases
which were presented in the national platform (, and which are not yet incorporated
into EJatlas. For some countries, we rely on academic inputs (as for China). The EJatlas must be seen
as an ‘incomplete inventory’ which however is steadily growing.
In the EJatlas we draw on ‘activist knowledge’ (Escobar 2008). Some networks (OCMAL, Oilwatch,
the WRM) had been inventorying and mapping environmental conflicts, and this was a source of
inspiration for the EJatlas that now documents the expressions of EJ movements globally born from
conflicts (at different scales). Most research on such conflicts is undertaken at either the case study
level or sometimes at the national or regional level or sectoral level (Bebbington et al. 2007, Veuthey
and Gerber 2011, Urkidi, 2010). The EJatlas is more ambitious. From the data collected, some
interesting statistical results can be obtained in the future, aiming to develop a statistical political
ecology, eventually testing correlations between conflicts and material flows, population density,
water scarcity and other indicators. One academic article (in a major environmental journal) has been
published analyzing 64 environmental conflict cases in Ecuador between 1980 and 2010 (Latorre et al.
2015) followed by a second article explaining the origins, the methodology, the data collection and the
uses and outputs of the EJatlas data (Temper et al. 2015). The next section provides a first general
overview of the main characteristics of conflicts, their actors, and outcomes, which have been covered
so far by the EJatlas. While these preliminary results might change with a growing number of cases
registered, we identify some first trends, as working hypotheses, worth to be pursued in future
Preliminary results from the EJatlas
The resources in conflict and the affected population groups
Among the most represented types of conflicts covered by the EJatlas by April 2015 (1354 cases),
were those about mining (21%); industrial extraction of fossil fuels (19%); land conflicts (17%) and
water management conflicts (14%), particularly hydroelectric dams. Hence, the majority of reported
conflicts are located in the extraction phase of resources which are central to maintain current
society’s metabolism. The EJatlas offers also information on conflicts arising from disposal of waste
materials. Here we shall find also conflicts caused by excessive carbon dixide emissions, related to
REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) or Clean Development
Mechanism (CDM) projects, as well as conflicts related to large-scale material waste disposal, such as
in shipbreaking yards in India and Bangladesh (Demaria 2010). The EJatlas, thus, offers insights of
how environmental conflicts are created along local and global commodity chains, from cradle to
By April 2015 most conflicts in EJatlas were from rural areas (63%) while only 17% were located in
urban areas, and the rest in ‘semi-urban’ areas. The historical EJ movement in the US was born from
urban resistance to exposure to toxic waste; the EJatlas focuses on rural conflicts in which diminished
or denied access to local environmental resources, their degradation and corporate or state enclosures
affect local communities and their livelihood. Many urban or ‘rurban’ conflicts in the EJatlas are
related to infrastructure and development projects, such as expansion of ports or airports,
gentrification processes and ‘renovation’ of ancient neighborhoods, waste management and industrial
facilities. The huge mobilization at Gezi Park in Istanbul (Özkaynak et al. 2015) examplified the
European movement against Grands Projets Inutiles Imposés. There are also many urban waste
disposal conflicts.
On the companies involved in the conflicts
Global commodity chains entail a complex network of actors involved in environmental conflicts. The
EJatlas lists the frequency of conflicts in which any company was reported to be involved abroad
either directly or via a subsidiary company (i.e. the number of conflicts located in a country different
to the company’s country of origin). Due to the current conflict coverage, companies come mainly
from the fossil fuels sector (e.g. Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron Corporation; Exxon Mobil Corporation);
the mining sector (e.g., BHP Billiton, Barrick Gold Corporation), or agro-industries (e.g. Monsanto
Corporation). The ranking of companies associated with the conflicts reported in the EJatlas might
change, as we double the number of cases and increase the number of conflicts in under-represented
areas. While network analysis, based on EJatlas data, has been done for mining companies, as well as
for EJO networks responding to mining conflicts (Özkaynak et al. 2015), there is much further
research to do to better understand how global companies are involved via complex networks in
environmental justice conflicts, as well as how EJOs may respond based on global collaborations.
Protesters and their forms of mobilization
The database forms include a space to list social actors mobilizing in conflicts. As shown in Figure 1,
the actors that most often mobilize against projects are locally organized groups (local EJOS). Several
actors can be listed simultaneously. Preliminary results show a high occurrence of cases involving
indigenous and traditional communities plus ethnically discriminated groups. They are involved in
over one third of the cases documented with large regional variations. Indigenous peoples will often
appeal to their territorial rights, or special protections such as the Right to Free Prior and Informed
consent afforded to them through ILO 169 or, in India, adivasi forest rights.
The leading role of women in ecological conflicts is not sufficiently represented in Figure 1. How
conflicts intersect with processes of gender empowerment is an important issue for research (Veuthey
and Gerber 2010). In the database form we insisted in putting ‘women’ as a separate category under
mobilizing actors (often a redundant question) in the hope of identifying conflicts where gender issues
were key and where women took leadership roles. Research could be done on the subset of cases
where women appear explicitly as actors (about 250, as of April 2015, Fig. 1).
Figure 1: Frequency of actors mobilizing for environmental justice. Source: Authors’ elaboration
based on data as reported in the EJAtlas in April 2015 (1354 cases).
Forms of mobilizations: strategic, tactical and discursive repertoires
Social movement theory (SMT) (Della Porta and Rucht 2002, Tarrow 2005, 2011, Giugni et al. 1999,
Tilly 1978, 1993) seeks to explain why and how social mobilization occurs, how it manifests itself,
and what the outcomes are. It explains how movements and organizations rely on a wide vocabulary
of protest or repertoire of contention to counteract powerful actors and achieve their aims, ranging
from institutional means (lobbying, public hearings, campaigns, testimonies, political pressures during
elections) to direct action tactics (protest, demonstrations, boycotts, denunciations, shaming, strikes).
The question of what strategies are viable in different political contexts will depend on what SMT
scholars refer to as shifting ‘political opportunity structures’: the context and resources that facilitate
or constrain the possibilities for collective action. In EJ, the strategic and tactical choices will further
be shaped by the biophysical properties of the commodity and extraction processes. For example,
blockades may be more effective when used to block access to extractive resources such as mines or
logging in areas with dispersed populations and few access roads. Tree plantation resistance often
entails pulling out of the saplings.
Marginalized groups negatively impacted will often build alliances or coalitions with more powerful
actors that may exert more influence. At the local level, this may include local scientists, recreational
users, organized NGOs or trade unions. In particular, links with sympathetic local government and
political parties can help increase the leverage of contentious actors. Another important source of
support entails alliances with extra-local actors such as scientific consultants who are experts, for
instance, on hydrogeology, environmental chemistry or low level radiation (Conde 2014) and with
conservationist organizations from Northern countries, in temporary coalitions. We could select for
study cases where local campaigns have been significantly strengthened by such alliances.
Ramachandra Guha (in Guha and Martinez-Alier 1997: 13-15) listed seven or eight forms of action of
social and environmental protest in India. In the EJatlas (April 2015), out of 60 documented cases of
hunger strikes, half (30 cases of local bhook hartal) come from India. Also sacredness is a traditional
powerful valuation language (as in the Niyamgiri Hill in Odisha, Temper and Martinez-Alier 2013)
but innovation in the repertoire of contention has also proven effective in leading to desired outcomes.
Recently many popular community-organized consultations or referendums appealing to local
democracy have taken place across Latin America against mining projects (Urkidi and Walter 2011,
Walter and Urkidi 2015). Local consultations appear so far in 98 cases in EJatlas. Further work can
establish how such action forms diffuse across locations. The ability to challenge Enviromental Impact
Assessments (EIAs) has improved in some countries and is widespread, with some 355 cases entailing
such challenges. Financial divestment campaigns and some forms of shareholder activism have
become more prevalent in recent years, yet as of April 2015, we only see this in some 40 cases
registered in the EJatlas.
Figure 2 shows the frequency of such mobilization forms. Most commonly reported forms of
mobilizations include classic protest methods, such as complaint letters, public campaigns, street
protests, the development of a network for collective action and furthermore, the involvement of
national and international NGOs (Keck and Sikkink 1998). Gamson's (1990) Strategy of Social Protest
represented an important effort to analyse different social movement strategies, however, regarding the
effects of mobilizations on the final outcome of a conflict case, there is much statistical analysis to do
in the future. Research from EJatlas may help to clarify this point.
Figure 2: Frequency of forms of mobilizations for environmental justice. Source: Authors’
elaboration, based on data as reported in the EJAtlas in April 2015 (1354 cases).
Conflict outcomes: processes and perceived success or failure
From the perspective of the involved local communities, we separate positive from negative outcomes,
referring to different events and processes that occurred along the history of a conflict, as reported in
the EJatlas dataform. One conflict can of course have different outcomes. So far, ‘strengthening of
participation’ across affected stakeholders has been observed as the most common positive outcome of
environmental conflicts (419 cases), followed by compensations, where however we do not know, in
how many cases compensations were perceived as adequate or not. There follows moratoria or other
successful ways of stopping projects. Negotiated alternative solutions, as well as environmental
improvement, representing a set of compromise responses to environmental injustice, follow. On the
negative outcomes, the most common cases are displacement (297), followed by criminalization of
activists (245), repression (239 cases), corruption (235 cases), violent targeting of activists (233 cases)
and deaths (162 cases).
For the affected people and local EJOs, quite often, the central goal of their campaigns is to stop a
project, or to impede that planning and construction moves forward. Thus, the last project status,
ranging from ‘proposed’ (exploration phase), over ‘planned’ (decision taken to go ahead), ‘under
construction’ and ‘in operation’, to ‘project stopped’, is a relevant variable to explain conflict
outcome. The chance of stopping a project may vary with the timing of the resistance, with the type of
social actors and their allies, with the type of commodity in question. While tourism and waste
management projects currently appear as those most often stopped (over 30% of ‘stopped’ rate), fossil
fuels (e.g. oil explorations) and water management (e.g. hydroelectric dams) projects are those that
most rarely have been stopped (in less than 15% of cases). Such variations may help to reflect of the
strategic interests at stake as well as the capital investment and mobility of different project types (for
example point resources such as mines v. mobile projects such as factories and agricultural
In the EJatlas a field offers the contributor (the one entering the conflict) the possibility to provide,
either as involved actor or expert having substantial knowledge on the case, a classification of the
outcome in terms of perceived EJ success or failure, accompanied by an open-ended text field in
which the contributor is asked to explain his classification. Of all cases (n. 1354 by April 2015)
contributors chose to answer the question with ‘not sure’ in over 34% of cases while 49% were
characterized as EJ failures, in which from the perspective of the contributor, environmental justice
was not served. In contrast, 17% of cases have been marked as EJ ‘successes’. Analysis of the
‘successes’ in EJ (and their contextual meaning), and the alternatives that they give birth to, are crucial
topics. Nothing like this has ever been done for such large number of cases; some first attempts of
analysis on a smaller set of mining conflicts can be found in Özkaynak et al. (2015), published as the
14th EJOLT report.
The vocabulary of environmental justice
Critical to the development of global EJ networks and activist movements has been the conceptual
language that has arisen from particular conflicts such as those collected in the EJatlas. We present
here a set of concepts with origins outside academia and which are used by the global EJ movement
(Martinez-Alier et al. 2014) linked to what Tilly called ‘repertoires of collective action’ (Tilly and
Tilly 1981). Short definitions and the dates of origin of such concepts are provided in Table 2. This
does not come only from the knowledge acquired through the EJOLT project (2011-15) and the
compilation of the EJatlas but from collaborative research with activists over many years (Martinez-
Alier 2002; Healy et al. 2012). There are concepts of academic origin (such as ‘working class
environmentalism’ (Barca 2012), ‘ecologically unequal trade’ (Hornborg 1998) or ‘ecological
footprint’) that are also used or could be used by the global EJ movement. Here we focus on concepts
of non-academic origin. The EJatlas is an excellent source to discover further concepts of regional,
national or international range.
Table 2: Vocabulary of the global environmental justice movement
Concept EJOs and actors
promoting it
Short description
Environmental Justice
USA Civil Rights
Movement, North Carolina
1982 against environmental
injustices (Bullard 1990;
“People of color” and low-income populations
suffer disproportionate harm from waste sites,
refineries and incinerators, transport
Environmental racism Rev Benjamin Chavis, c.
The fight for EJ, against pollution in Black,
Hispanic, Indigenous areas, was seen as a fight
against environmental racism.
Ecological debt Instituto Ecología Política,
Chile, 1992, Acción
Ecológica 1997
Rich countries’ liability for resource plunder and
disproportionate use of space for waste dumping
(e.g. GHG).
Popular epidemiology Brown, P. , 1992, 1997 “Lay” local knowledge of illnesses from pollution
may be more valid than official knowledge
(sometimes absent).
Environmentalism of
the poor
A. Agarwal/S. Narain (CSE,
Delhi) c. 1989
Struggles by poor/ indigenous peoples against
deforestation, dams, mining… ; proactive
collective projects for water harvesting, and forest
Food sovereignty Via Campesina, c. 1996 People’s right to healthy, culturally appropriate,
sustainably produced food. Right to define own
food and agriculture systems.
Biopiracy RAFI (Pat Mooney) 1993,
popularized by Vandana
Appropriation of genetic resources (in medicinal or
agricultural plants) without recognition of
knowledge and property rights of indigenous
Climate justice CES (Delhi), 1991, Durban
Alliance, CorpWatch 1999-
Radically reduce excessive per capita emissions of
carbon dioxide and other GHG. “Subsistence
emissions vs. luxury emissions”,
Water justice, hydric
Rutgerd Boelens, EJOs in
Latin America (e.g.
CENSAT). 2011.
Water should not run towards money, or towards
power. It should go to those needing it for
Water as human right Pablo Solon (Bolivian envoy
to UN), Maud Barlow
(Council of Canadians),
Human Right to Water recognized at UN level in
2011, as an independent human right.
“Green Deserts” Brazil, network against
eucalyptus plantations, Rede
Alerta contra o Deserto
Verde, 1999
Brazilian local term for eucalyptus plantations,
used by networked CSO and communities, also by
researchers and activists for any tree plantation.
Tree Plantations are
not Forests
Pulping the South, 1996 by
R. Carrere, L. Lohmann,
World Rainforest Movement
The WRM collects and spreads information on tree
plantation conflicts. It proposes a change in the
FAO definition of forest, to exclude tree
Land grabbing GRAIN ( small pro-peasant
EJO), 2008
The wave of land acquisitions in Southern
countries for plantations for exports, leading to first
statistics on land-grabbing
Resource caps Resource Cap Coalition,
RCC Europe, c. 2010
It advocates reduction in global resource use and in
poverty. It calls for a European energy quota
scheme and the ratification of the Rimini protocol.
To Ogonize / Yasunize ERA Nigeria, Acción
Ecológica, Oilwatch, 1997-
Leave oil in the soil to prevent damage to human
rights and biodiversity, and against climate change.
Adopted by anti-shale gas fracking, tar sands and
open cast coal mining movements.
Rights of Nature Ecuador, Constitutional
Assembly, 2008
In Constitution of Ecuador 2008, art 71, pushed by
Acción Ecológica and Alberto Acosta. Actionable
in court.
Friends of the Earth
International, 1992-2002
At UN Johannesburg summit, FoE proposed the
adoption of a Corporate Accountability
Convention, against lukewarm CSR principles.
“Critical mass”,
cyclists rights
San Francisco 1992 (Chris
International, reclaiming the streets with cyclists
marching to impose cyclists’ rights.
Urban waste recyclers
c. 2005, GAIA against
incineration and “energy
valorization” of urban waste.
Unions or cooperatives of urban waste gatherers,
with their positive environmental impact, including
climate change (movements in Delhi, Pune,
Urban “guerrilla food
c. 2000, started byfood
justice” networks
Vacant lot food growing, permaculture, community
gardening movements in cities around the world.
Toxic colonialism,
toxic imperialism
BAN, Basel Action
Network, c. 2000
Fighting the long-distance export of waste from
rich to poor countries, forbidden by the Basel
Treaty. E.g. ship-breaking in India or Bangladesh,
chemical residues or nuclear waste, electronic
Post-extractivism Latin America, 2007,
Eduardo Gudynas (CLAES),
Alberto Acosta, Maristella
Against the reprimarization of LA economies.
Transition to a sustainable economy based on solar
energy and renewable materials. Impose quotas
and taxes on raw materials exports.
Buen Vivir, Sumak
Ecuador and Bolivia 2008 Adopted in Constitutions of both countries,
inspired by indigenous traditions and by the “post-
development” approach.
Indigenous territorial
rights, and prior
Convention 169 of ILO,
1989; adivasi forest rights in
India, etc.
In conflicts on mining, oil exploitation, dams, etc.,
communities ask for applying legislation defending
indigenous rights.
“Sand mafias” Name given c. 2005 by
environmental movement,
The illegal “mining” of sand and gravel in India in
many rivers, driven by the growing building and
public works industry.
“Cancer villages” In China, popular name
adopted by academics,
officials (Lora-Wainwright,
Rural villages where industry has caused pollution
(e.g. heavy metals), where lay knowledge of illness
is relevant, and subdued protests take place.
The first concept in the list is ‘environmental justice’, born in the United States in struggles against
waste dumping in North Carolina in 1982, as mentioned in the Introduction. Activist authors such as
sociologist Robert Bullard but also civil rights activists with no academic affiliation and members of
Christian churches, saw themselves as militants of EJ (Bullard 1990; Bryant and Mohai 1992;
Agyeman et al. 2003; Pellow 2000, 2002). The fight against the disproportionate incidence of
pollution in areas predominantly black, Hispanic, or indigenous was also seen as a fight against
‘environmental racism’, a concept that in the EJOs’ language means to treat badly other people in
pollution or resource extraction injustices on grounds of membership of particular ethnic groups,
social class or caste. In EJ conflicts, evidence of disproportionate incidence of morbidity or mortality
sometimes cannot be proven from official statistics because of the lack of doctors or hospitals in the
areas concerned. Hence the rise of so-called ‘popular epidemiology’ (Brown 1992, 1997), a concept of
relevance in many struggles inside and outside the United States— for instance for the plaintiffs in the
Chevron-Texaco case in Ecuador (Martin Beristain et al. 2009). Popular epidemiology implies that
‘lay’ knowledge of pollution illnesses is not less valid than official knowledge. It is a concept that fits
into the ‘post-normal science’ theory (Funtowicz and Ravetz 1993) and ‘street science’ (Corburn
2005). In the EJatlas database form, one question elicits whether there are scientific disputes involved
in the conflict in question, so that a subset of such cases could be selected for examination.
Reflecting the specific environmental challenges and distributional inequities of the global South,
some EJOs adopted the term ‘environmentalism of the poor’ which as explained in the Introdution, is
very close to the notion of EJ born in the US but applies less to urban than to rural peoples in the
global South, similar to the Navajo in New Mexico who suffered from uranium mining. Although
academics started to use this term in 1988–89 (drawing on research on India and Latin America),
similar words had been used by Anil Agarwal, the founder of the Centre for Science and Environment
(CSE) in Delhi, and editor of the firstcitizens reports on the state of India’s environment. His
successor, Sunita Narain, often uses the term ‘environmentalism of the poor’ to refer to the struggles
in India against dams, deforestation, mining projects, and nuclear power stations (Narain 2008). Also
in India, Shrivastava and Kothari (2012) have compiled many socio-environmental struggles and
successes while putting forward a proposal for a radical ecology democracy.
The ‘environmentalism of the poor(and of the indigenous) is a concept opposed to the influential
‘post-materialist’ interpretation of environmentalism (and other new social movements) by Ronald
Inglehart (1995). It does not envision environmental preservation as a luxury good, contrary to what
Inglehart did. And in contrast to Ulrich Beck’s view of environmental risks as being impartial to social
class (as might have been the case for a nuclear accident such as Chernobyl but which is not true in
general—for example, for hurricane Katrina in New Orleans) (Beck 1992), the environmental
movements of the poor and indigenous are place-based struggles for their own material livelihoods
(Nixon 2011). In many ecological distribution conflicts, the poor are often on the side of preservation
of nature against business firms and the state. This behavior is consistent with their interests and their
values. Those affected may be motivated to act, in relation to other factors, such as degree of
democracy, or if they are suffocated or not by fear, or violently repressed, as is often the case. In the
EJatlas, currently about 12% of conflicts report ‘deaths’ of environmental defenders.
One of the primary environmental challenges faced by populations of the global South stems from an
economic system that produces ‘ecologically unequal trade’, an academic concept (Bunker 1985;
Hornborg 1998, 2005; Hornborg et al. 2007). One aspect of such unequal trade was given the name of
biopiracy (by Pat Mooney of RAFI in 1993, Shiva 1997). Biopiracy denotes the appropriation of
genetic resources (in medicinal or agricultural plants) without any recognition of the original
knowledge and ‘property rights’ of indigenous peoples. The word ‘biopiracy’ has been used in many
complaints by EJOs. Even state authorities in Brazil and India have started to use this term. Academics
writers and doctoral students also use it (Robinson 2010).
There are a number of other EJO concepts and policies that stem from conflicts over biomass. The
many complaints against tree plantations grown for wood or paper pulp, depriving local people of land
and water, gave rise 20 years ago to the slogan and movement ‘Plantations are not forests’. In Brazil,
‘green deserts’ was the spontaneous, bottom up name for eucalyptus plantations in Espirito Santo and
other regions, opposed by local peasants and indigenous peoples. This was certainly a form of
enclosure of forest commons. The driving force was the export of paper pulp and cellulose.
Relatedly, the concept ‘food sovereignty’ was introduced in the early 1990s by Via Campesina, an
international movement of farmers, peasants, and landless workers. Food sovereignty means the right
of rural people (including women in particular) to grow their own food for themselves and for local
markets, against corporate agriculture, particularly against agrofuel and tree plantations (Schutter
2012; GRAIN 2005). A small organization called GRAIN (which started in the 1980s in the fights
There are several monographic reports and analyses on tree plantations conflicts, Gerber, 2011; Kröger, 2011;
W. Overbeek, M. Kröger, J.F. Gerber 2012; Kröger, M. 2014.
against agricultural ‘biopiracy’) introduced the term and the first statistics for ‘land-grabbing’ in 2008
for the new wave of land acquisitions often by force in Southern countries, for new plantations for
exports. The term was then taken up by the Journal of Peasant Studies in special issues.
A term from the EJOs that has been very successful in the fights against ecologically unequal trade
and climate change is that of the ‘ecological debt’ (Robleto and Marcelo 1992; Borrero 1994). There
was an alternative treaty in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 on the ecological debt from North to South, and
Acción Ecológica of Ecuador took the term and the struggle up in 1997, with several publications
which included a definition and many examples. The ecological debt arises from the plunder of
resources and also from the occupation of disproportionate environmental space by the rich countries
(for example, to deposit an excessive amount of carbon dioxide in the oceans and the atmosphere,
which belong to all humans equally). Some governments from countries of the South have deployed
the concept of ‘ecological debt’ (or one part of it, the ‘climate debt’) in international negotiations on
climate change (Bond 2010a,b). In the 2009 Copenhagen Conference of the Parties (COP), perhaps
over 30 heads of government or ministers talked about the ecological debt awakening the fury of the
US Ambassador, Todd Stern (Reuters 2009). The origin of the concept and many of the theoretical
developments are mainly due to Latin American EJOs (Martinez-Alier 2002) and to some extent also
to the international Friends of the Earth (FoE) and Jubilee South. Academics joined in later doing
some calculations (Paredis et al. 2008; Srinivasan et al. 2008; Rice 2009; Roberts and Parks 2007a,b,
2009, Warlenius et al. 2015). Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si of June 2015 devotes two
paragraphs (51 and 52) to the ecological debt from North to South.
Unsurprisingly, it was also EJOs that introduced and developed the concept of ‘climate justice’. An
influential role in its introduction and dissemination was played by the CSE (Delhi) booklet of 1991,
Global Warming in an unequal world: A Case of Environmental Colonialism, authored by Anil
Agarwal and Sunita Narain (1991) pointing out that there were subsistence carbon dioxide emissions
vs. luxury carbon dioxide emissions (Shue 1994, 1999). Then in the late 1990s came the Jubilee
campaign against Northern financial bullying of the South, comparing the large ecological debt from
North to South to the financial debt from South to North (Simms et al. 1999; Simms 2005). The
concept of climate debt was supported by the World Council of Churches (Peralta 2007), the Third
World Network, Action Aid, and Christian Aid.
A 2000 event in The Hague sponsored by the New York group CorpWatch was the first known
conference based on this term (Bond 2013). CorpWatch in a document in November 1999 stated that
‘Climate Justice means, first of all, removing the causes of global warming and allowing the Earth to
continue to nourish our lives and those of all living beings. This entails radically reducing emissions of
carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Climate Justice means opposing destruction wreaked by
the Greenhouse Gangsters at every step of the production and distribution process—from a
moratorium on new oil exploration, to stopping the poisoning of communities by refinery emissions—
from drastic domestic reductions in auto emissions, to the promotion of efficient and effective public
transportation’ (Bruno et al. 1999). Four years later, the Durban Group for Climate Justice was
launched. It has made itself well-known by its campaigns against fake Clean Development Mechanism
The concept of water justice is associated with a university professor, Rutgerd Boelens (Wageningen
University) but he has been working so closely with activists for many years that he himself would no
doubt like water justice or hydric justice to be seen as concept of the EJOs (Boelens et al. 2011; Isch et
al. 2012). Their favorite slogans are ‘water runs towards power’, and ‘water runs towards money’
unless stopped by civil society movements. The World Commission on Dams (WCD) was a civil
society initiative that reported its conclusions in 2000 (WCD 2000). The WCD’s conclusions went
directly against the unidimensional cost–benefit analysis procedures for deciding on dam building.
The WCD report recommendations have not been implemented. Anti-dam movements continue to
denounce water enclosures along with forced acquisition of land, diversion of rivers, and
dispossession and displacement of rural and indigenous communities inhabiting territories rich in
biodiversity and water sources (Rodriguez-Labajos and Martinez-Alier 2015). They include the
See also Hadden’s (2015) recent book about activist networks in the international climate change movement.
Brazilian MAB (Movement of People Affected by Dams) and the MAPDER network in Mexico. The
EJatlas provides many cases on conflicts on water in which contrasting valuation languages are
Meanwhile, another new term is appearing with greater regularity in recent years in EJ struggles: the
commons movement. This sees the commons as a crucial sector of the economy which must be
defended to preserve decommodified access to food, water, forests, and clean air (Di Chiro 1998).
Influenced by Karl Polanyi, the movement fights against old and new enclosures. Since the late 1980s,
as a reaction against Garrett Hardin’s misnamed ‘tragedy of the commons’, authors like John Kurien
defended small scale fisheries against large scale industry, using the term ‘modern enclosures’ or ‘the
tragedy of enclosures’ (Martinez-Alier 1991). In municipal water management, paradigmatic
movements against privatization of urban water services as in Cochabamba, Bolivia, are sources of
inspiration for the defense of the commons in general (including access to information) and also for
the defense of the human right to water.
Proposals to ‘leave oil in the soil’, also in defense of the commons, were first put forward in 1997. We
now call them Yasunizing or Ogonizing and they come from Acción Ecológica Ecuador, ERA of
Nigeria, and the Oilwatch network founded in 1995. The proposals apply also to tar sands, to coal
(‘leave coal in the hole’), shale gas. In the form of moratoria to extraction projects, they are meant for
areas of great biodiversity value and where human rights are threatened. To such local reasons, climate
change reasons are added, based on the thesis that there are ‘unburnable fuels’ if we want to stop
increasing the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (Temper et al. 2013). A new major
public figure in the climate justice movement, Naomi Klein, became acutely aware of Ogonization and
Yasunization movements - she calls them Blockadia, a name used by activists in Canada and the US
(sometimes indigenous) stopping the contruction of oil and gas pipelines.
Also in the field of energy policy, the civil society movements against nuclear energy since the 1970s
gave rise to their own concepts. One of them, in Germany, was Energiewende (born in Wheyl, c.
1980) which is now used in official public policy. Germans use sometimes a parallel term,
Wachstumwende (growth turnaround), to translate the French décroissance or English ‘degrowth’, a
movement in some Northern countries born in alternative urban or rural movements (Hess 2009;
Conill et al. 2012; Chatterton and Pickerell 2010) that disengage mentally and practically from the
growth economy. In Germany, post-Wachstum is also used. The degrowth movement might support EJ
(Healy et al. 2012), for instance by asking for resource caps, meaning a policy to reduce extraction of
materials. Resource caps have been discussed since the 1990s (Spangenberg 1995) in terms of
calculations of ‘fair shares’ in the use of limited resources and limited environmental space. Degrowth
is also very sympathetic to claims of an ecological debt from the South. This ‘degrowth’ movement
has different sources (Martinez-Alier et al. 2010; Demaria et al. 2013; D’Alisa et al. 2014; Asara et al.
2015) including the proto-ecological economist Georgescu-Roegen (1971) but also the ‘post-
development’ movement of the 1980s of Ashish Nandy, Gustavo Esteva, Arturo Escobar, Wolfgang
Sachs, Serge Latouche, and Vandana Shiva (Sachs 1992). An alliance between the degrowth (or
steady-state economy or post Wachstum) movements in the North and the global EJ movement was
proposed by Martinez-Alier (2012) while in South America there are calls for a ‘post-extractivist’
economy (Gudynas 2012) leading to buen vivir instead of economic growth.
Other new concepts that are growing among the EJOs are ‘energy sovereignty’, ‘sacrifice zones’
(Lerner 2010), ‘ecocide’ (Zierler 2011) and the call for an international environmental crimes tribunal
(complementary to demands for civil liabilities). The organization Global Witness provides statistics
on the hundreds of environmentalists killed in many countries o
f the South. Refusing to participate in
the game of corporate social responsibility, the EJOs have asked for corporate accountability (Utting
2008; Broad and Cavanagh 1999; Broad 2002). The new provision on the rights of nature (introduced
in Ecuador’s Constitution 2008, article 71, after an original idea from Accion Ecologica) is also
popular among the EJOs that see themselves as fighting against crimes against humanity and crimes
against nature.
The movement in Southern Italy denounces the eco-mafia and campaigns against waste dumping,
complaining about ‘biocide’ (Armiero and D’Alisa 2012). There must be many other national or
regional terms of EJ the use of which we could discover through the EJatlas. For instance, in India
conflicts on sand and gravel mining from rivers or beaches are particularly acute (with people getting
killed in different states), and the new label ‘sand mafias’ was given to this phenomenon. Similarly in
China, in the complaints against pollution not only in urban areas but also in rural areas, the term
‘cancer villages’ began to be used in the last ten years or so (Lora-Wainright 2013). Researchers of
such complaints in China appeal to the notion of ‘popular epidemiology’ born in the 1980s in the
United States. In Argentina there is a growing movement against glyphosate (used for transgenic soy
cultivation introduced by Monsanto), under the name paremos de fumigar (‘stop fumigating’).
Laudato si (para. 135) mentions the danger to people living near fumigated fields. This links up with
EJ campaigns by the Pesticide Action Network (Harrison 2011). In Brazil one term from local
transport conflicts is justiça nos trilhos, ‘justice in the railways’ against the loss of life in accidents
caused by massive iron ore transport to the export harbours (Porto et al. 2013) while in 2015 the EJ
movement in the US has mapped the trajectories of what they term ‘bomb trains’ to demonstrate how
in California risks from the hazardous transport of oil trains are disproportionately felt in Black or
Hispanic areas.
For the EJ movement of the 1980s, with urban roots, a good environment as defined by the 1991
People of Color Environmental Leadership conference in Washington DC was a safe, non-polluted
place for living and making a living environment is where we ‘live, work, and play’. Most of the
world population is now urban. Inside cities, there are inter-connected movements introducing new
concepts for a less unsustainable economy, such as ‘food justice’, ‘transit justice’ (Lucas 2004), cyclist
and pedestrian rights (cyclists’ ‘critical mass’ movements in many cities) (Carlsson 2008), and fights
against gentrification (Mitchell 2003). Such urban movements give a political meaning to squatting
(Cattaneo 2011), they remake places for groups in danger of being ‘dis-placed’, re-assert traditional or
new practices of land use, urban food prodution and water harvesting, and try to protect territory from
contamination, land grabbing, gentrification, and real estate speculation (Gottlieb 2009; Gottlieb and
Joshi 2010; Anguelovski and Martinez-Alier 2014).
Ecological distribution conflicts are largely related to growth and changes in the social metabolism,
which is concomitant with economic growth, while other more proximate causes may further be
related, for example, to population density, or land and water scarcity, or to institutional dimensions
such as the particular behavior of different corporations, the property regimes, the financial
speculation in raw materials, the degree of democracy in the country in question, or also the presence
of indigenous populations. Further expansion of the EJatlas will allow such causal links to be
explored for a large number of cases.
We claim that there is a global movement for environmental justice, although almost all conflicts in
the EJatlas are local and they target specific local grievances. The movement is global because such
local events belong to classes of conflicts that appear regularly elsewhere in the world (e.g. on open
cast copper mining, on oil palm plantations), or because they raise the conflict issue to a global level
through movements’ connections and networks and by doing so, they actually create and operate at a
global scale (Sikor and Newell 2014). The actors in the conflicts are similar to some extent (the
companies are sometimes the same, also the forms of mobilization are often the same), and national
and international EJOs or networks (such as OCMAL, Oilwatch, WRM, GRAIN) were born from such
conflicts. We claim that there is a Global Environmental Justice Movement that shares some common
goals, frames and forms of mobilization, although obviously there is no single united organization in
charge, no politbureau or central committee. This is also the case, for instance, in the global feminist
The gains and losses of the use of the environment are often unjustly distributed not only as regards
other species or future generations of humans but also among humans living today. There are many
local movements expressing their grievances over such environmental injustices, although
For the full report, see
environmental injustice does not always lead to open complaints. Several groups have been producing
inventories of ecological distribution conflicts (by country or by theme), such as OCMAL in Latin
America on mining conflicts, or in Brazil Fiocruz and the EJ movement (Porto 2012). Our own
contribution has been to build up the EJatlas at ICTA-UAB with many outside collaborators. Although
its coverage is still geographically and thematically uneven, on reaching 1600 cases by October 2015
we start to see some first trends and recurring dynamics in such conflicts, which need to be pursued
further. For instance, indigenous populations appear to be involved in ecological distribution conflicts
much more often than one would expect by their share in the population as a whole, perhaps because
accelerated search for resources is increasingly expanding the ‘commodity frontiers’ to their
territories, or because of increasing organization and recognition of indigenous territorial rights and
correspondingly stronger movements.
Social mobilizations over resource extraction, environmental degradation, or waste disposal are not
only about the distribution of environmental benefits and costs (expressed in monetary or non-
monetary valuation languages); they are also about participation in decision-making and recognition of
group identities. All such issues appear very regularly in the cases collected in the EJatlas (Schlosberg
2007; Walker 2012; Sikor and Newell 2014; Urkidi and Walter 2011). EJ research encompasses issues
of exclusion (Agarwal 2001) but also of the potential new leadership of environmental movements by
different social actors, e.g. in the environmentalism of the poor as in EJ movements in general, it is
crucial to recognize the contribution women make in poor communities both rural and urban (Agarwal
1992). Since the 1980s, EJOs and their networks have provided definitions and analyses of a wide
array of concepts and slogans related to environmental inequities, and explored the connections
between them. Thus, demands for ‘food sovereignty’ from the Via Campesina fit in with complaints
against biopiracy, land grabbing and tree plantations, and also with climate change issues, as in the
slogan ‘traditional peasant agriculture cools down the Earth’ (Martinez-Alier 2011). The protests
against the World Trade Organization in Seattle in 1999 and at the World Social Forums of the 2000s
certainly pushed forward the globalization of EJ (for instance, the Ecological Debt was featured in the
successful alternative meetings to the WB and IMF assembly in Prague in 2000). There were earlier
underpinnings in the alternative ‘treaties’ signed at Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and in the 1991 People of
Color Environmental Justice Leadership Summit. EJ spread through organizations like FoE, which,
while born in California as a ‘white’ conservationist movement, brought in EJOs which existed since
the 1980s like CENSAT in Colombia and WALHI in Indonesia. Many other important environmental
organizations such as the CSE in Delhi and Acción Ecológica in Ecuador linked the idea of
environmentalism of the poor with wider notions of EJ and climate justice (FOEI 2005).
With these activist and social movement roots, the concepts of EJ were then taken up in academic
research in political ecology studying Southern countries. Going beyond case studies, researchers now
generate statistics on ecological distribution conflicts (Özkaynak and Rodriguez-Labajos 2012;
Özkaynak et al. 2015; Latorre et al. 2015) made possible by the EJatlas. The social sustainability
sciences (human ecology, ecological economics, political ecology, environmental law, environmental
sociology, ecological anthropology, environmental history, environmental politics, urban ecology,
agroecology, industrial ecology) have an academic origin, with international societies, academic
journals and handbooks, and professorships that go under such names. Many concepts and theories
have been produced by these booming fields of science in the last 30 years. There are also grassroots
concepts for sustainability introduced by EJOs which have been discussed here and which are also
objects of academic research. Such concepts support the global EJ movement; at the same time they
also support local rural and urban movements protecting territo
ry and defending place-based interests
and values (Escobar 2008; Anguelovski and Martinez-Alier 2014).
To conclude, the EJatlas mapping is a means of showing not only injustices but also the instances of
resistance to land and water grabbing, pollution from oil extraction, mining or waste disposal,
uncertain threats from technologies like pesticide spraying or nuclear energy, demonstrating how
global movements for environmental justice are spreading geographically, globalizing their claims and
sharing resources and becoming increasingly networked amongst themselves. The EJatlas collects
many successes in stopping projects. The global movement for environmental justice is formed not
only by these many local foci of resistance but also by intermediary rural or urban-based organizations
which have developed their own vocabulary and slogans and put forward interlinked claims at several
scales. All this testifies to the existence of a rural and urban global movement for environmental
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... 3 See relevant discussion in Edelman and Borras Jr (2016), especially on movement organizations that belong to the IPC for Food Sovereignty; see also Mills (2021). 4 See relevant discussions in Holt Giménez and Shattuck (2011), Martinez-Alier et al. (2016), Claeys and Delgado Pugley (2017), Scheidel et al. (2020). 5 For relevant history on this topic, see Shanin (1983aShanin ( , 1983b; and for a recent discussion, see Borras (2020). ...
... It is likely to gain more momentum and wider traction in the coming time as global capitalism continues to cause misery for working people and the politics of climate change heats up even more (Borras et al. 2022b;Yaşın 2022). In contemporary anti-capitalist struggles, agrarian justice movements are among the most dynamic, alongside environmental justice movements (Martinez-Alier et al. 2016;Scheidel et al. 2020;Kröger 2021;Bjork-James, Checker, and Edelman 2022). 40 They offer political projects that, despite unresolved contradictions and shortcomings, arouse and enable a radical reimagining of a world that ought to be. ...
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La Via Campesina has revalorized agrarian politics, transformed knowledge politics, and co-constructed the field of Critical Agrarian Studies. It has shown the important role of agrarian movements in anti-capitalist struggles and the radical reimagination and construction of a positive future. The significance of LVC is found not in the shrinking numerical size of farming populations or in agriculture’s dwindling macroeconomic contributions to national economies, in relative terms, but in the political heft of what it represents in terms of an alternative future that is so different from the current agrarian world.
... Martinez-Alier et al., 2016; see also M'Gonigle, 1999 for a pioneering effort). Ecological distribution conflicts arise from the unequal distribution of benefits and burdens of economic activities derived from changes in the metabolism of societies(Martinez-Alier, 1993;Martinez-Alier & O'Connor, 1996;Martinez-Alier et al., 2016). ...
... Martinez-Alier et al., 2016; see also M'Gonigle, 1999 for a pioneering effort). Ecological distribution conflicts arise from the unequal distribution of benefits and burdens of economic activities derived from changes in the metabolism of societies(Martinez-Alier, 1993;Martinez-Alier & O'Connor, 1996;Martinez-Alier et al., 2016). Social metabolism has been instrumental to illustrate economic and environmental asymmetries and conflicts (seeOppon et al., 2018;Oulu, 2015; Infante-Amate & Krausmann, 2019 for recent examples) and adding precision to the claims of environmental justice organizations and the quantification of injustices(Hornborg & Martinez-Alier, 2016). ...
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This chapter aims to give an overarching vision of the plural epistemological basis of the Barcelona school of ecological economics and political ecology, as well as to provide examples of the cross-fertilization between disciplines, methods and approaches that we think constitute one of the main contributions of the School. The chapter identifies the main bonding elements of the scholars that belong to the School, briefly explains the diverse core concepts and methods on which the School relies, and elaborates on how the interaction between them have resulted in an original and relevant research program during the past 30 years.
... Drawing on their understanding of SES functioning and the changes such systems can endure, IPLC have been proactive in implementing innovative strategies to prevent, limit, or stop activities that potentially led to SES degradation Martinez-Alier et al., 2016), sometimes even facing violence for defending the land and resources (Scheidel et al., 2020). Thus, IPLC, through the world, have resisted mining operations, hydrocarbon exploration, infrastructure development, and toxic waste dumping (Martinez-Alier et al., 2016;Orta-Martínez & Finer, 2010;Reyes-García et al., 2020). ...
... Drawing on their understanding of SES functioning and the changes such systems can endure, IPLC have been proactive in implementing innovative strategies to prevent, limit, or stop activities that potentially led to SES degradation Martinez-Alier et al., 2016), sometimes even facing violence for defending the land and resources (Scheidel et al., 2020). Thus, IPLC, through the world, have resisted mining operations, hydrocarbon exploration, infrastructure development, and toxic waste dumping (Martinez-Alier et al., 2016;Orta-Martínez & Finer, 2010;Reyes-García et al., 2020). Some of these actions have been preventive, such as the fight of the Dongria Kondh against bauxite mining in their sacred homelands in India, in which IPLC used their understanding of SES functioning to raise opposition before the activity started to operate (Temper & Martinez-Alier, 2013). ...
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Social-ecological systems are complex and adaptive, for which their governance requires holistic understanding of the different components of the system and their relations, capacity to respond to change and uncertainty, and well-functioning institutional frameworks. Probably because Indigenous and local knowledge systems often entail these characteristics, lands and waters managed by Indigenous peoples and local communities experience a less rapid decline of biodiversity and continue to maintain their functions than other land and seascapes. In this chapter, I draw on published research to summarize how Indigenous and local knowledge systems (1) draw on conceptualizations of nature that contribute to the long-term maintenance of functioning social-ecological systems, (2) enhance our understanding of complex social-ecological systems, and (3) articulate resistance to social-ecological systems degradation. The chapter discusses why, although Indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ contributions to complex social-ecological system management are growingly recognized, such contributions will not be fully realized unless Indigenous peoples and local communities are fully acknowledged as equal partners at different levels of environmental governance. The chapter concludes by suggesting that the post-normal science approach proposed by the Barcelona School offers principles to do so.
... Environmental justice is a wide-ranging discourse with many definitions and applications (Martinez-Alier et al. 2016). We follow the development of the term as "ecological justice" in environmental political theory (Schlosberg 2007), refined for application in Latin America (Carruthers 2008;Schlosberg and Carruthers 2010;Haines 2015;Forman et al. 2016, Cruz andForman 2023). ...
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To pursue just, inclusive, and participatory climate adaptation planning and policy, it is important to understand both regional climate trends and the ecological services that reduce vulnerability and exposure to climate risks at the community level. Rapidly growing cities like Tijuana and San Diego are doubly exposed to climate change because they have fewer resources to confront them and yet responsible for basic services that support everyday life of their residents, challenges that are complicated by the divided institutional and social context of an international border region. In the binational context, the regional community is fragmented by institutional, academic, and cultural factors, leading to adaptation planning that stops at the border despite the shared ecological setting of human settlements. This fragmentation is particularly dangerous for climate adaptation planning because it obscures inequalities as well as opportunities contained in the binational region. To address this deficit, we have synthesized information from a variety of regional spatial datasets to construct a continuous binational social vulnerability index (BSVI) at the census tract level across the San Diego-Tijuana border region. This paper details the datasets and methodology used to create the BSVI and explores some of the preliminary results of the analysis by juxtaposing this score with spatially explicit information on vegetation cover and climate projections of heat and rainfall extremes across the region. We close with a discussion on use of this research as a tool for local environmental justice and regional adaptation.
... Related justice scholarship includes that on climate, water, energy and biodiversity, and is both conceptual and empirical and considers the unequal responsibilities for environmental degradation, the differential impacts of climate change, unequal access to energy 17 , transport, food and water 18 , and justice for women, Indigenous peoples and non-humans. The Environmental Justice Atlas reveals cases of injustice in different parts of the world 19 and the Sabin Climate Litigation Database documents how justice is being addressed in the courts 20 . A growing literature addresses justice in solutions to environmental change including, for example, in climate mitigation and adaptation projects, the need for compensation for loss and damage, and just conservation, energy and food transitions 21 . ...
Living within planetary limits requires attention to justice as biophysical boundaries are not inherently just. Through collaboration between natural and social scientists, the Earth Commission defines and operationalizes Earth system justice to ensure that boundaries reduce harm, increase well-being, and reflect substantive and procedural justice. Such stringent boundaries may also affect ‘just access’ to food, water, energy and infrastructure. We show how boundaries may need to be adjusted to reduce harm and increase access, and challenge inequality to ensure a safe and just future for people, other species and the planet. Earth system justice may enable living justly within boundaries. Biophysical boundaries are not inherently just. A collaboration between social and natural scientists, the Earth Commission, defines and operationalizes Earth system justice to ensure that biophysical boundaries reduce harm, increase well-being, and reflect substantive and procedural justice.
... Based on the EJAtlas dataset, academic articles have provided global overviews on EJ conflicts (Martinez-Alier et al., 2016), as well as regional and thematic analyses on topics such as resistance and violence in Central America (Navas et al., 2018), struggles against mega wind power projects (Ávila, 2018), violence around hydropower dams , resistance to conventional and nonconventional energy projects , and global patterns of violence against environmental defenders and their role in building sustainability . ...
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In this chapter, we revise the trajectory and relevance of the Global Atlas of Environmental Justice (EJAtlas) as one of the main research projects and outcomes of the Barcelona Research Group in Environmental Justice Studies and Political Ecology. We first trace the origins, scope, and methodology of the EJAtlas as a unique participatory mapping project that is both global in scope and informed by the co-production of knowledge between academia and groups seeking environmental justice. We then highlight how the work of the EJAtlas reflects and contributes to a larger trend in the field of Environmental Justice that looks to integrate critical cartography and mapping practices into both research and activist efforts. Looking ahead, we reflect on the limits and unresolved challenges of the platform, as well as on the innovative uses of the tool for advancing a spatial, comparative, and statistical political ecology.
... Demaria, 2010). Local communities and social movements contest the resulting distributional injustices locally, nationally, and globally through protests and mobilizations that shed light on the causes of unsustainable and unjust resource uses (Martinez-Alier et al., 2016;Walter & Urkidi, 2017). This 'environmentalism of the poor' (Martinez-Alier, 2002) has become a powerful social force for more sustainable and just resource uses Temper et al., 2018b) Environmental conflicts are not limited to the extraction sites, but occur along the entire resource use chain, from the cradle to grave of commodities (Martinez-Alier et al., 2010). ...
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Increases in social metabolism drive environmental conflicts . This proposition, frequently found in the literature on ecological distribution conflicts, has stimulated much research at the interface of ecological economics and political ecology. However, under which conditions is this proposition valid and useful? This chapter briefly reviews the theoretical foundations underlying this proposition and discusses further socio-metabolic properties that may shape the dynamics of environmental conflicts. Furthermore, the chapter relates the socio-metabolic perspective to other ‘grand explanations’ of environmental conflicts, particularly, to the expansion of capitalism under a neo-Marxist perspective. The chapter argues that a socio-metabolic perspective has much to offer to understand some of the structural drivers of environmental conflicts. A socio-metabolic perspective links local environmental conflicts to the resource use profiles of economies as well as to global production and consumption systems, no matter whether these are capitalist societies, resource-intensive planning economies, autocratic monarchies, or illicit resource extractions occurring in the shadow economy. The chapter closes by recalling the need to integrate biophysical and social dynamics in a balanced manner for the nuanced study of environmental conflicts.
Umweltgerechtigkeit ist ein breites Konzept mit vielen Strömungen und Diskussionen. Dieser Beitrag möchte einen Einstieg in das Themenfeld liefern und zur soziologischen Anschlusskommunikation einladen. Hierzu werden verschiedene Definitionen von Umweltgerechtigkeit diskutiert. Außerdem wird ein Schwerpunkt auf die Zusammenhänge von Umweltgerechtigkeit und sozialer Ungleichheit gelegt, um einerseits an reiche Theorietraditionen in der soziologischen Ungleichheitsforschung anzuknüpfen und gleichzeitig auf bestehende Leerstellen in der Untersuchung von Umweltgerechtigkeit hinzuweisen. Der Beitrag schließt mit einigen Aufgaben für die zukünftige soziologische Erforschung von Umweltgerechtigkeit.
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Joan Martínez Alier has made relevant contributions to the agrarian question by treating the southwestern Spanish latifundio and Latin American hacienda systems as capitalist ways of exploiting land and labour, not as backward feudal remnants. He has also invoked the resistance of Latin American tenant-labourers and other smallholder peasants as an explanation for the limited extent of wage labour. To that end, he helped rescue Alexander Chayanov and the former Narodnik movement from oblivion. With José Manuel Naredo, he paid tribute to Sergei Podolinsky, another member of this peasant neo-populist current, for pioneering the first calculation of energy balances and returns from agricultural systems. As agricultural and environmental historians, we have followed both paths to develop new proposals for a form of agrarian metabolism that, while contributing to ecological economics, is also aligned with agroecology. We summarize our contributions to these topics, developed together with Eduardo Sevilla Guzmán, Victor Toledo and Gloria Guzmán, as well as some of the researchers at the Institute of Social Ecology in Vienna and many other participants in the international project on Sustainable Farm Systems (SFS). Our teams have also started using these socio-metabolic accounts to take up the agrarian question of labour and gender exploitation through the unequal appropriation of natural resources from a historical point of view, as well as contribute to the next agroecology transition to a fairer food regime within planetary boundaries.
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Minority groups and marginalized communities affected by extractive industries are increasingly allying with scientists to coproduce new alternative knowledge in order to challenge the data and narratives produced by the company or some state departments. Under the counter-expertise umbrella this process understood as Activism Mobilizing Science (AMS) is characterized by being driven by activists or local grassroots groups, where local and scientific knowledge are merged to coproduce new scientific knowledge. As we show through three case studies – two of uranium mines in Africa and an oil extraction case in the Peruvian Amazon – the main objective of these groups is to understand what are the negative impacts of extractive industry activities, to challenge the company’s or state’s discourse or data, and to gain legitimacy and visibility. We pose that the empowerment of these groups is as much a result of the newly coproduced knowledge as the dynamics of the AMS process itself.
This book argues that past failure to address fundamental inequalities in the ability of low-income households to access adequate transport has undermined effective delivery of welfare policies in the US and UK. It describes the new policies and initiatives being developed to address this oversight, and outlines the case for including transport as an area of social-policy inquiry. Key factors are identified and case-study examples of practical initiatives from both sides of the Atlantic are used to draw lessons for future policy and practice. The comparison between US and UK policy and practice adds a new dimension to those familiar with the subject.
Environmental movements and their activities are studied from various angles, by different methods, and at different levels. While both detailed studies on single incidents of conflict and broad overviews of movements are available, relatively little work has been done at the intermediate level between these extremes. We argue that it is fruitful to engage at this level by undertaking comparative analysis of environmental campaigns. Such studies could help deal with inconclusive observations and findings on the changes of environmental movements during the last three decades. We hypothesize that indeed environmental activism has changed remarkably. By and large, conflicts are no longer marked by a relatively simple constellation of one challenger facing one target or opponent. Instead, we find a complex web of involved actors reaching from local to international levels. These actors tend to form broad alliances, and to link on different issues. Also, their activities are not restricted to only one arena or strategy but involve all available channels, arenas, and action repertoires to have an impact. Quite often, we observe loose coalitions of groups that act in an implicit division of labor, thereby playing on their respective backgrounds, foci, and experiences. Given the variety of actors, their organizational forms and tactics on the one hand and their different contexts on the other, it is unlikely that a common pattern of conflict will emerge across various issues and geographical areas. This is all the more true when comparing environmental conflicts in the Western and Non-Western world.
This article, a reprint of a seminal 1991 paper, argues that developing countries like India were being burdened unfairly with the responsibility of addressing climate change. The authors discuss how allocating responsibility for climate change involved juggling with numbers. It argues for a fair allocation of natural sinks as an important part of any use of the global commons.