A report from the environmental centered NGO Global Witness found that 212 environmental activists were killed in 2019, which averages to more than four per week.
The findings from the organization found that half of all reported killings occurred in Colombia and the Philippines. In 2019, 64 activists were killed in Colombia while 43 were killed in the Philippines.
The report found that 40% of the victims belonged to indigenous communities, with over a third of all fatal attacks between 2015 and 2019 being targeted toward indigenous people. Over 1 in 10 environmental activists who were killed were women.
“For years, land and environmental defenders have been the first line of defence against climate breakdown,” the report said. “Yet despite clearer evidence than ever of the crucial role they play, far too many businesses, financiers and governments fail to safeguard their vital and peaceful work.”
The Environmental Agency’s Office of Inspector General set the integration of environmental justice into the agency as a priority, according to a letter from the inspector general.
“Across the country, communities of low-income and people of color live adjacent to heavily polluted industries or “hot spots” of chemical pollution,” the inspector general said. “For example, studies show that 70 percent of hazardous waste sites officially listed on the National Priorities List under Superfund are located within one mile of federally assisted housing.”
The inspector general addressed gaps in environmental justice when it came to air quality management, drinking water, toxic releases to surface waters, Superfund sites, emergency response, and environmental education. The EPA laid out a plan to improve environmental justice through:
Setting standards and regulations
Facility permitting decisions
Reviews of proposed federal agency actions
The EPA’s map tool Environmental Justice Screening and Mapping Tool (EJSCREEN) provides maps of environmental hazards and demographics to help inform the public when it comes to environmental justice concerns.
It has seemed like a while since the Flint water crises has hit news circuits. The small city in Michigan has reached an almost celebrity status as a beacon of misfortune, plagued by lead poisoning, poverty, and, famously, unemployment, as examined in Michael Moore’s 1989 documentary Roger and Me.
What followed in the next few years was improper water treatment, corroded pipes, and government inaction, all of it cumulating into what has eventually become a massive nationwide discussion on ethics, the environment, and how the two intertwine.
On October 16th, 2015, the water supply was switched back to the Detroit River, but the level of corrosion in the pipes was still a major concern for Flint citizens, resulting in several declarations of urgency: a state of emergency order from Obama in January of 2016, and an emergency order from the EPA.
Eric Holthaus, a University of Iowa graduate, was hired on to provide focus and strategy to existing city-wide sustainability initiatives and to spearhead new efforts. Since beginning his work with the city in November, he helped implement a 90 kilowatt solar panel array on the roof of the Northwest Cedar Rapids Transit Garage and establish a policy that prohibits city vehicles from idling for longer than one minute.
Upon his hire, Holthaus created a 21-point sustainability assessment of the city. In addition to other findings, he notes that Cedar Rapids has clean drinking water, but difficulty with “food deserts,” or areas of town where populations have restricted access to food.
At the end of June, Holthaus and his team released a document titled, “State of Affairs: Cedar Rapids’ Pursuit of Sustainability.” The document lays a foundational definition for sustainability and why it matters to people in Cedar Rapids.
To Holthaus, sustainability reaches beyond environmental issues,
HOLTHAUS: “And so sustainability to me is be able to have a high quality of life, and it also means to me to connect the social and economic aspects. A lot of people don’t meet their daily needs, you know, if there’s an opportunity for us to eat better, to have cleaner water, to have more access to those resources, how can prioritize people that have the least and build stronger communities when we do that intentionally?”
Cedar Rapids is only the third city in the Hawkeye state to create a sustainability coordinator position, following Iowa City and Dubuque.
To learn more about Eric’s position, or to read more about Cedar Rapids’ sustainability goals, visit Iowa-Environmental-Focus dot org.
For the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.
“For me, environmental justice just means everybody has access to healthy outdoor spaces,” Stevens said in an interview with the Ames Tribune. “And the spaces where we live and work and play, no matter who you are or what your socioeconomic status is or where you live, everybody has a healthy place.”
In 2013, Stevens and a group of landscape architecture students began work on an outdoor classroom project at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women in Mitchellville, utilizing feedback from inmates on what to include in the design.
“You wouldn’t find another internship that includes working with the demographic of offenders. It’s an experience hardly anyone else will have,” said Lauren Iversen, a senior who worked on the project last summer.
Stevens said she hopes the PPN will expand to include outreach programs at area schools. For more information about the Environmental Justice PPN, check out the group’s LinkedIn page.
Students in the University of Iowa’s Environmental Justice course have created a blog so they can publicly share their final papers about the Canadian tar sands.
The blog – Iowa Tar Sands Project – features nearly two dozen reports on various aspects of the tar sands industry ranging from environmental impacts to social issues. One student (yours truly) produced a video documentary focusing on energy alternatives including efforts being taken in Iowa and specifically on the University of Iowa campus.
Kyle Vint – a PhD student in Communication Studies – examined how donations to public universities affect research, with specific focus on the tar sands. He highlighted a $6 million donation that the University of Louisville is expected to receive from the the Charles Koch Foundation and Papa John’s CEO, John Schnatter. Charles Koch and his brother David have also made massive donations to George Mason University ($23 million) and Florida State University ($2.8 million) which some have criticized, citing that it jeopardizes the integrity of objective research and unfairly impacts administrative decisions. Vint points out that the Koch brothers are “are the largest foreign lease holder of lands slated for tar sands development in Canada” and that “[they] are financially invested in the outcomes of major policy decisions concerning tar sands development.”
The Environmental Justice course is taught by visiting professor Dr. Nicholas A. Brown and is offered by the UI’s Department of Geographical and Sustainable Sciences.