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Monday, August 16, 2010

Environmental Justice Revisited

Former Presidential candidate Al Gore is making the news quite frequently of late , but one can be certain it’s for issues he would soon forget . These range form break up with his long standing wife,and one time high school sweetheart Tipper, to accusations of sexual misconduct by a questionable female masseuse . We wish him well, as he move forward . The world owes a bit of gratitude, not only to Al Gore ,but to the US Supreme Court, for by their 2000 political election , Hanging Chad legal gesture in halting his political power ambition on one front. He was energized as a result to become an ‘eco- political’ champion ,and because of him ,we became more sensitize as to the problems that confronts us across the global commons , as well as the urgent necessity to take drastic actions to halt the continual degradations that we were unleashing upon our planet as a whole.

Like his legendary internet creation claims fiasco -he was tempted to take credit for- Al Gore did not introduce global warming theories to the world as such, but again , he came on to the grand stage, at an opportune time , and so became that much needed ,respectable,solid , coherent voice, which helped highlight concerns on matters such as disposal of chemicals, nuclear toxic waste, deforestations,acids rains, soil erosions, pollution, and climatic changes.
Most importantly, we were force to indirectly reassess questions of peace, security, and economic well being , away from narrow classical , state centric , self interest perspective , to now include a multilateral political cooperation , interdependency. It becomes clearer that we are all part of the global commons, and rapid advance in technology has made each member of the global village , a potential victim.
It has therefore force states large and small , regional, and global international bodies led by the UN to enter discussions, as well as come up with new and innovative laws and treaties , and agreements to grapple with such overlapping problems , before we all suffer.

Of course each of us is now fully well , of the billions of dollars worth in damage committed in the US Gulf Coast recently by the BP oil giant, but should not forget that for over 30 years ,similar and worst results occurred  in the Niger Delta due to oil exploration and extraction.

So yes , Nigeria might be plagued with numerous political problems, but such should not let us ignore the role, and adverse destructive health human rights injustice  handiworks of profiteering multilateral corporation at play, at the expense of fellow citizens in the global village.

The situations in Latin America led by Ecuador against it’s abused indigenous indian population are legendary .
I became acquainted with this issue , and was drawn to environmental justice politics due to an undergraduate seminar by a brave , unflinching and committed female Professor I had , to whom I'll forever be grateful.
Many might have forgotten the Bhopal Union Carbide tragedy that took place in India , as it happened some quarter century ago , but the families of the 28,000 victims of the American owned pesticide plant cannot , especially if some are still awaiting compensations, by unscrupulous corporatist, now known to have been in bed with complicit , and typically corrupt , local political elitist officials.
In the Middle East and most of the Persian gulf , years of successive wars, oil spillage, oil fires , and other wanton destruction must have some negative on the environment, and long term negative effects on health , both for victims , and participants in the struggles.

Twenty five years after the Ukraine Chernobyl disaster , the region and it’s people are still trying to come to grips with the environmental catastrophe- the worst in the history of mankind- that resulted in thousand of dead ,as well as similar numbers of long term sufferers , that experienced pollution across the neighboring region.

In the forward to her book ‘Voices from Chernobyl:- The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster,’ Author, Svetlana Alexievich, made a telling commentary, as she juxtaposed the American 9/11 Islamist terror attacks, with effects of the 1986 explosion , and nuclear fire at the Chernobyl plant. She said , “There were few survivors of the collapse of the two towers... however ,the effects at Chernobyl was the opposite. The initial blast killed just one plant worker. ...but in the next few weeks, no fewer that 30 workers and firemen died from radiation poisoning. But tens of thousands received extremely high doses of radiation- it was an accident that produced, in a way, more survivors than victim.”

America and many of her European allies are waking up to a stark reality , and that is they are stuck with deadly nuclear waste on the domestic plains , the result of spin offs from peaceful energy technology , they have come to depend on. Many of their citizens are saying however , not in our back yard, and so other poor and politically weak neighborhoods , as well as desperate countries ,are being forcefully encouraged to be the convenient toxic disposal garbage heap.

Now if, one wonders, Mr Convenience Truth Al Gore, and lawmakers , cannot save a bunch of native Nevadians from turning Indian Country near the Yucca Mountain into a nuclear waste land , then who can have the courage to prevent desperate tourist Caribbean Islands , and fishermen in similar areas from being the unwholesome beneficiaries of nuclear waste garbage , often for a few dollars more , or sometimes without their full knowledge?
Grace Thorpe, who is the Sac and Fox Tribal Health Commissioner ,stated to the National Congress of American Indians, "The nuclear waste issue is causing mental and possibly genocidal decisions regarding the future of our people. It is wrong to say that it is natural that we, as Native Americans, should accept radioactive waste on our lands, as the US Department of Energy has said. It is a perversion of our beliefs and an insult to our intelligence to say that we are natural stewards of these wastes.

It is not only in the Native American Indian communities that this social malady of Environmental Justice is prevalent, but in many Black neighborhood.According to Dr. Robert Bullard - a lone voice crying in the wilderness-enough is not being done in the media , academia, or in governmental agencies such as the EPA, to highlight the ghastly environmental situation, often with long terms health implication for African American citizens , and that's a tragedy in my estimation.
He is further quoted as saying,"Black communities became the dumping grounds for various types of unpopular facilities, including toxic wastes, dangerous chemicals, paper mills, and other polluting industries. The path out of this environmental quagmire is clearly one that involves more communities in activities designed to reclaim the basic right of all Americans---the right to live and work in a healthy environment."
He added, "A political strategy is also needed that can draw from a wide cross-section of individuals and groups who share a common interest in preservation of environmental standards.

Wider afield ,the situation is even more telling. The question needs to be asked , what about the blow back when a few developing countries are also prepared to say , not in our back yard as well?

This commentary might appear scandalous, when the folks from that surrounding region have been demonized in the media , as uncontrollable , savage thugs and pirates , with little sense of appreciation for globally acceptable norms and practice. An interview I conducted recently with folks intimately familiar with the region , seems to indicate that the allegations of toxic dumping , and the 'alleged pirates,' reactions ,to that as a result to a rash of illnesses that have struck the folks from the Somalia costal regions and lands , might make us pause.

In ending , let me hasten to add that not only is the cost of nuclear energy, and war machine technology , extremely burdensome , but the devastating , and long term negative impact on the environment, and health of all life , are worst than any thing imaginable, as proven by Chernobyl .

It is about time for a new paradigm , and that should include , new safe Green revolutionary tools, as well as transparent and enforceable legal actions. Peace Security and economic prosperity , must of necessity be part and parcel of Environmental Justice for the strong , as well as the weak and defenseless.
It is obvious as to why critical matters, that relates to the global environment , must not only be the purview of the rich , privilege , and elite of any society , country , continent or region. We are part of a global village, and destruction of one section , or community , affects us all. The time for action is now.
Stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

On July 23, the Dutch court fined swiss-based trafigura company some 1.3 million dollars, for exporting hazardous waste, to the impoverished west african state.It is difficult to know however, the potential beneficiaries. corporate responsiblities of MCs, like trafigura, binds them to global social good. United nations is calling upon multinational corporations and global business ventures for a partnership, through global compact. The challenge, calls for business community to incorporate into their practice, the ideals of the UN including the millenium development goals.

Nrayprof said...

Thanks for this response, and your valid contribution is much appreciated. You have correctly laid blame squarely on the shoulders of one of the chief culprits, that seeks to threaten the balance of our world's life -sustaining ecosystem, and by extension , peace and security, as we would desire.
We must remain vigilant, and play whatever role we can, to continually throw light on this ongoing , ghastly development, when we see it.
Since profit is always a motive, and politicians from both weak, as well as powerful nations , can obviously be brought , and sold where convenient, then it is left to the international community , perhaps led by Civil Society ,to be motivated into action of encouraging strict communal regulations of the commons,highlighting our shared conservation values , and our sense of equity and justice for all citizens.

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Speaking truth,as one major prerequisite, to concrete justice. A novel form of social advocacy.