Environmental conflicts and defenders: a global overview

Recent research and policies recognize the importance of environmental defenders for global sustainability and emphasize their need for protection against violence and repression. However, effective support may benefit from a more systematic understanding of the underlying environmental conflicts, as well as from better knowledge on the factors that enable environmental defenders to mobilize successfully. We have created the global Environmental Justice Atlas to address this knowledge gap. Here we present a large-n analysis of 2743 cases that sheds light on the characteristics of environmental conflicts and the environmental defenders involved, as well as on successful mobilization strategies. We find that bottom-up mobilizations for more sustainable and socially just uses of the environment occur worldwide across all income groups, testifying to the global existence of various forms of grassroots environmentalism as a promising force for sustainability. Environmental defenders are frequently members of vulnerable groups who employ largely non-violent protest forms. In 11% of cases globally, they contributed to halt environmentally destructive and socially conflictive projects, defending the environment and livelihoods. Combining strategies of preventive mobilization, protest diversification and litigation can increase this success rate significantly to up to 27%. However, defenders face globally also high rates of criminalization (20% of cases), physical violence (18%), and assassinations (13%), which significantly increase when Indigenous people are involved. Our results call for targeted actions to enhance the conditions enabling successful mobilizations, and for specific support for Indigenous environmental defenders.

Global Environmental Change, vol. 63, July 2020

Shifting Education Towards Sustainability – How Degrowth Can Transform Education for Sustainable Development

Key pedagogical approaches that work at fostering critical reflection and fostering transformative action become more effective when they are applied in a degrowth context.

Performing ‘blue degrowth’: critiquing seabed mining in Papua New Guinea through creative practice

Scripted as a sustainable alternative to terrestrial mining, the licence for the world’s first commercial deep-sea mining (DSM) site was issued in Papua New Guinea in 2011 to extract copper and gold from a deposit situated 1600 m below the surface of the Bismarck Sea. Whilst DSM’s proponents locate it as emergent part of a blue economy narrative, its critics point to the ecological and economic uncertainty that characterises the proposed practice. Yet, due its extreme geography, DSM is also profoundly elusive to direct human experience and thus presents a challenge to forms of resistance against an industry extolled as having ‘no human impact’. Against this background, this paper analyses the ways in which ‘blue degrowth’—as a distinct form of counter-narrative—might be ‘performed’, and which imagined (and alternative) geographies are invoked accordingly. To do this it critically reflects upon 2 years of participatory research in the Duke of York Islands focusing on three, community-developed methods of resisting DSM. Practices of counter mapping, sculpture and participatory drama all sought to ‘perform’ the deep-ocean environment imagined as relational whilst simultaneously questioning the very notion of ‘economy’ central to the discourse of ‘blue growth’.

Sustainability Science, vol. 15, 2020

Mapping and Analyzing Ecological Distribution Conflicts in Andean Countries

The extractive sector is increasingly important in the GDP and export basket of the four Andean countries under study (ACs) (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia). The analysis of an updated inventory of 296 environmental conflicts in the EJAtlas for these four countries reaches the following conclusions: extractivism causes environmental conflicts related to mining, fossil fuels, hydropower and biomass; indigenous, Afro-descendant and peasant communities are the most affected; behind the conflicts, there are not only environmental impacts but also social impacts that concern livelihoods, land deprivation and work insecurity, and also loss of cultural practices and cultural identity; most of the forms of collective action used in protests are peaceful, most notably petitions, street marches, media activism, lawsuits, while States and companies criminalize activists and are often violent (with about 75 cases in which there are deaths or disappearance of environmental defenders); socio-environmental movements (that sometimes include environmental NGOs) have achieved relative success, stopping 59 of the 296 conflict-generating projects and giving birth to new forms of resistance. While successfully stopping single projects cannot be construed as a general critique of economic growth, such attempts are congruent with post-development, community-centric, ecologically-balanced and culturally-sensitive Andean visions such as buen vivir or sumak kawsay. They are also congruent with policy proposals put forward from a post-economic growth perspective such as “leaving unburnable fuels in the ground” and “resource extraction caps”.

Ecological Economics, vol. 157, March 2019, pp. 80-91

Alternative and Resistance Movements: The Two Faces of Sustainability Transformations?

This article addresses the issue of sustainability transformations in Ecological Economics through the lens of social movements, by linking environmental resistance movements and alternative movements. We advocate for a more politicized, social-movement oriented and place-based approach to sustainability transformations, and contribute to the development of a more political and emancipatory conception of sustainability.

Ecological Economics, vol. 159, May 2019, pp. 373-378

This is not an atlas: a global collection of counter-cartographies

“Maps articulate statements that are shaped by social relations, discourses and practices, but these statements also influence them in turn. Hence, maps (and atlases) are always political. “In this interplay between facts and perception, the cartographer is both witness and actor. […] In order to create, or, more accurately: to invent, “his worlds”, he finally arrives at a subtle mixture of the world as it is, and the world he desires” (Rekacewicz 2006). Thus, many of the maps presented in this volume are full of “ifs”, “buts” and question marks but also of desired worlds.”
(from the Editorial)

Who can challenge the imperial mode of living? The terrain of struggles for social-ecological transformation in the German population

This contribution draws on empirical evidence from the 2016 wave of the survey “Environmental Consciousness in Germany” to identify the potential social bases of both support for and resistance to attempts to overcome the current socio-ecological crisis by way of a broad social-ecological transformation. Firstly, the results of factor and cluster analyses of the survey’s items on attitudes are presented in the form of a typology of ten “syndromes” of discernibly different basic attitudes toward questions of sustainability and change. Basic sociodemographic information on each cluster is given, and each type is scrutinised more closely concerning its attitudes and reported practices in matters related to energy and the German energy transition (Energiewende), as a proxy for their respective stances concerning a broader, more fundamental transformation. By locating the clusters within Bourdieu’s two-dimensional model of social space (on a vertical “power axis” and a horizontal “modernisation axis”), it is then possible to reconstruct the current constellation of struggles between pro- and anti-transformation forces in the German population. Results indicate that resistance to transformation is not simply a matter of attitudes, but indeed deeply rooted in the infrastructures of the “imperial mode of living” and the specific ways social groups are integrated into them. Instead of “raising consciousness”, transformational strategies should therefore focus on leading the struggles that will be necessary to change those infrastructures themselves, and their proponents ought to acknowledge that significant segments of the populace will not be won over to support such change, but have to be politically defeated.

Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research, October 2019

The nowtopia of the riverbank: Elder environmental activism

Abstract: Degrowth imaginaries offer alternative ways of envisioning future societies. Those, predominantly working age and working class people, seeking to purposefully enact degrowth in the here and now are termed ‘nowtopians’. Based on empirical work undertaken along the River Adur valley in West Sussex, UK, this paper argues that dynamic examples of nowtopian initiatives can develop from alternative and overlooked demographics, such as rural community elders. Explored through a series of interlinking activist narratives, orientated around collective responses to changing riverbank environments, this paper argues that the genesis of this elder activism is a desire to re-assert agency in older age that can be linked to degrowth sensibilities. Contending with the new realities of living under ‘austerity localism’, many of these elders have undergone a personal, if not political, epiphany and have turned to forms of environmental activism to articulate their agency and demonstrate solidarity with fellow humans across generations. This paper argues that these elder nowtopians champion direct action, conviviality and living well. Ageing and place connectivity are the motivators which underpin one of the key nowtopian concepts: ‘redefining life’s purpose’. Reflecting back, projecting forward, but operating in the ‘now’, these elders help us to consider a ‘politics’ of degrowth through grassroots activism along a rural river catchment.

Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, August 2019

Geographies of degrowth: Nowtopias, resurgences and the decolonization of imaginaries and places

Abstract: The term ‘décroissance’ (degrowth) signifies a process of political and social transformation that reduces a society’s material and energy use while improving the quality of life. Degrowth calls for decolonizing imaginaries and institutions from – in Ursula Le Guin’s words – ‘a one-way future consisting only of growth’. Recent scholarship has focused on the ecological and social costs of growth, on policies that may secure prosperity without growth, and the study of grassroots alternatives pre-figuring a post-growth future. There has been limited engagement, however, with the geographical aspects of degrowth. This special issue addresses this gap, looking at the rooted experiences of peoples and collectives rebelling against, and experimenting with alternatives to, growth-based development. Our contributors approach such resurgent or ‘nowtopian’ efforts from a decolonial perspective, focusing on how they defend and produce new places, new subjectivities and new state relations. The stories told span from the Indigenous territories of the Chiapas in Mexico and Adivasi communities in southern India, to the streets of Athens, the centres of power in Turkey and the riverbanks of West Sussex.

Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, August 2019

Decolonizing degrowth in the post-development convergence: Questions, experiences, and proposals from two Indigenous territories

Abstract: A growing coalition of degrowth scholar-activist(s) seeks to transform degrowth into an interdisciplinary and international field bridging a rising network of social and environmental justice movements. We offer constructive decolonial and feminist critiques to foster their productive alliances with multiple feminisms, Indigenous, post-development and pluriversal thought and design (Escobar, 2018), and people on the ground. Our suggested pathway of decolonial transition includes re-situating degrowth relative to the global south and to Indigenous and other resistance movements. We see this decolonial degrowth as a profoundly material strategy of recovery, renewal, and resistance (resurgence) through practices of re-rooting and re-commoning. To illustrate what we mean by resurgence we draw from two examples where people are engaged in ongoing struggles to protect their territories from the impacts of rampant growth—Zapatista and allied Indigenous groups in Mexico, and three Adivasi communities in the Attappady region of southern India. They are building economies and ecologies of resurgence and simultaneous resistance to growth by deterritorialization. We argue that a decolonized degrowth must be what the growth paradigm is not, and imagine what does not yet exist: our separate and collective socio-ecological futures of sufficiency and celebration in the multiple worlds of the pluriverse. Together, the two cases demonstrate pathways to autonomy, sufficiency, and resurgence of territories and worlds, through persistence, innovation, and mobilization of traditional and new knowledges. We offer these as teachers for the transition to decolonial degrowth.

Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, May 2019

First Nations sovereignty, Environmental Justice, and Degrowth in Northwest BC, Canada

Abstract: Environmental Injustice has been intrinsic to Canadian extractivism, with First Nations displaced from their traditional territories and their cultural identity suppressed through an explicit policy of cultural genocide to make way for colonial extractivist practices. Likewise, this extractivism has long been legitimized in Canada through a rhetoric of economic growth. This paper presents an overview of Northwest Coast and Interior First Nations peoples anti-colonial struggles in British Columbia, Canada and demonstrates how First Nations struggles in BC for environmental defense, sovereignty, and traditional culture and governance deeply interweave shared objectives with both Environmental Justice and Degrowth.

Ecological Economics, Volume 162, August 2019, pp. 133-142

The Will of Life by Abu al-Qasim al-Shabi

Poem by Abu al-Qasim al-Shabi

Pro-Tourism Consensus Crumbles in Barcelona

Introduction: Barcelona, a city of 1.6 million people, was visited by 8.2 million tourists last year. For decades, city governments of all political stripes operated under the assumption that ‘growth is good’. Each annual increase in visitor numbers was announced with glee, with assurances the sector would bring immense economic benefits to the city.

But around three years ago, signs began to appear that the pro-tourism consensus was crumbling. It became clear that income generated by tourism was concentrated in the hands of a minority, while its negative consequences were borne by everyone else.

Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual

From the publisher: Before the election of Donald Trump the world was already speeding toward climate catastrophe. Now President Trump has jammed his foot on the global warming accelerator. Is there any way for the rest of us to put on the brakes?

Climate insurgency is a strategy for using people power to realize our common interest in protecting the climate. It uses mass, global, nonviolent action to challenge the legitimacy of public and corporate officials who are perpetrating climate destruction.

A global climate insurgency has already begun. It has the potential to halt and roll back Trump’s fossil fuel agenda and the global thrust toward climate destruction.

Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual tells how to put that strategy into action—and how it can succeed. It is a handbook for halting global warming and restoring our climate—a how-to for climate insurgents.

ISBN: 978-1-62963-385-5

Degrowth and Fracking

The presentation will be about hydraulic fracturing and unconventional oil and gas – developed so far mainly in the USA and Australia but also a possible threat in the UK, Poland, the Ukraine and Latin America. This industry is dependent on high prices as well as easy and cheap credit. Its likely failure will have tremendous implications for the stability of the finance sector. This is important to the faiths of the growth economy – the idea that depletion of fossil fuel can always be resolved by technological advance, that there is a future for fossil fuels that is low carbon and that economic growth can be pursued without risks. The contrary is true. Attempting to resolve growth limits with techno-fixes creates new problems. The struggle against fracking is a struggle against a coalition of fossil fuel and financial interests with friends in government, aided and abetted by a dishonest PR sector, over-specialised academics and a co-opted regulatory bureaucracy. The delusionary world view of this vested interest coalition is the same growth ideology that the Degrowth movement is trying to transcend. To resist it is necessary to organise communities who are well informed and committed to protecting clean local water, uncontaminated soils and clean air. There is a need for participatory governance systems working against the co-option of state regulation which cannot currently deliver the security that local communities need.

This media entry was a contribution to the special session „Degrowth and Fracking“ at the 5th International Degrowth Conference in Budapest in 2016.