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Environmental Justice Reporters Face Deadly Threats, Intimidation
By Jeannette Cwienk
Shubham Mani Tripathi, newspaper reporter, India: shot dead in June 2020 for exposing illegal sand mining. Maria Efigenia Vasquez Astudillo, radio reporter, Colombia: struck and killed by a projectile in October 2017 while covering clashes between the Indigenous community and local police. Joseph Oduha, journalist, South Sudan: fled the country in 2019 after imprisonment and torture for uncovering environmental destruction by international oil companies.
These are just three of the individuals highlighted by Reporters without Borders (RSF). According to the press freedom group, at least 20 journalists have died over the past decade as a result of their reporting on cases of environmental destruction.
Indigenous Communities Threatened
Environmental journalists in Europe also face intimidation and harassment, said RSF spokesperson Christoph Dreyer, pointing to cases connected to the destruction of the Hambach Forest in northwestern Germany or unsustainable agriculture practices in Brittany, France. But most of these attacks, more than 65%, are recorded in Asia and the Americas.
"These cases exist in places where raw materials are being mined or where land is being seized for agriculture, in countries where the government is on the side of industry," said Dreyer.
It's in these areas, where Indigenous communities often live amid untapped natural resources and unspoiled forest, where local journalists are usually the first to report on the conflicts. Often, they're the only ones on the scene."
In some Latin American countries, the dominant traditional media are heavily controlled by the economic and political elites," said Dreyer. "They often hold back from critical reporting on environmental issues, because it clashes with their interests." As a result, when local media decide to take a closer look they're put under extreme pressure, he added.
Local Journalists Under Pressure
The work of local journalists is extremely important for Indigenous communities, said Kathrin Wessendorf, head of the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA). "Each Indigenous community has its own language, and only community reporters can report in that language," she told DW. "They also know how best to approach the community to spread the message."
Patricia Gualinga, who fights for Indigenous rights in Ecuador, told DW that large national media networks are often slow to report on environmental and human rights issues. "It's really very difficult to get coverage on TV. And if an issue isn't reported by the media, it doesn't exist," she said.
Gualinga belongs to the Sarayaku Indigenous group who, in 2002, sued the state of Ecuador at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for giving the go-ahead to oil drilling ventures on their land without consulting them. Numerous attempts to intimidate the group were made during the litigation process — especially against Gualinga, who represented the Sarayaku in court. But in 2012, judges ruled in their favor and awarded the community $1.3 million (€1.1 million) in damages.
Violence against environmental activists has increased significantly in recent years, as shown in a report released by the environmental and human rights organization Global Witness in July. According to Global Witness, 212 environmentalists were murdered worldwide in 2019 — the highest number the group has recorded in a single year.
Media Coverage Provides Protection
Journalism is needed to bring such crimes to light, said Wessendorf, adding that international media have a particularly important responsibility.
"Journalists can bring the human rights violations often associated with environmental destruction to the attention of the wider public," she said. "This, in turn, can lead to international solidarity and put pressure on governments or companies."
Media coverage of the widespread fires in the Amazon region in 2019 and 2020, for example, brought the issue to a global audience, highlighting the destructive practice of slash-and-burn agriculture and the treatment of Indigenous peoples. This has led to support from many international campaigns.
"International solidarity is very important for the local population," said Gualinga. "When they realize they're no longer alone, that they're visible and supported by others, it also helps ease their fear."
Documenting Violence and Intimidation Across Borders
Gualinga and other media workers from Latin America discussed the role of journalism in the fight for environmental protection and human rights during a a recent panel discussionat DW's Global Media Forum. Also taking part was Andres Bermudez Lievano, a Colombian journalist and one of the editors of Tierra de Resistentes ("Land of Resistants"). The investigative data journalism project, available in English, Spanish and Portuguese, was launched by Colombian Journalists' Association, Consejo de Redaccion, with the support of the DW Akademie.
In the project, journalists from 10 different countries documented the fates of hundreds of environmental activists in Latin America who have been threatened and killed for their work. Nearly 2,400 cases have been compiled to date, with some now taken up by UN organizations.
"It was only with this transnational project that we were able to realize how big the problem of violence and intimidation really is, and that ethnic minorities are particularly affected," said Lievano.
What also became clear was how little authorities were doing to address the problem. Of all the documented cases, only 12% made it to court — and just 10 victims saw justice. Bermudez highlighted a particularly shocking detail: in more than half of the cases, authorities were informed ahead of time of planned efforts to silence environmentalists.
Protecting sources, therefore, is a top priority for the Tierra de Resistentes project, and the reporters are very careful in their work. "In certain regions, we report back to the editorial office every hour, so that everyone knows where we are and whether everything is okay," said Bermudez. "We announce our route ahead of time, detail who we're meeting with and if anything has changed."
Using international associations, networks and public visibility, journalists can continue to report on environmental efforts. Without them, warns Reporters Without Borders, these stories will go untold — and the environmental destruction will continue.
This article has been adapted from German.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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By Eric Tate and Christopher Emrich
Disasters stemming from hazards like floods, wildfires, and disease often garner attention because of their extreme conditions and heavy societal impacts. Although the nature of the damage may vary, major disasters are alike in that socially vulnerable populations often experience the worst repercussions. For example, we saw this following Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, each of which generated widespread physical damage and outsized impacts to low-income and minority survivors.
Mapping Social Vulnerability<p>Figure 1a is a typical map of social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract level based on the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) algorithm of <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1540-6237.8402002" target="_blank"><em>Cutter et al.</em></a> . Spatial representation of the index depicts high social vulnerability regionally in the Southwest, upper Great Plains, eastern Oklahoma, southern Texas, and southern Appalachia, among other places. With such a map, users can focus attention on select places and identify population characteristics associated with elevated vulnerabilities.</p>
Fig. 1. (a) Social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract scale is mapped here following the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI). Red and pink hues indicate high social vulnerability. (b) This bivariate map depicts social vulnerability (blue hues) and annualized per capita hazard losses (pink hues) for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019.<p>Many current indexes in the United States and abroad are direct or conceptual offshoots of SoVI, which has been widely replicated [e.g., <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13753-016-0090-9" target="_blank"><em>de Loyola Hummell et al.</em></a>, 2016]. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/placeandhealth/svi/index.html" target="_blank">has also developed</a> a commonly used social vulnerability index intended to help local officials identify communities that may need support before, during, and after disasters.</p><p>The first modeling and mapping efforts, starting around the mid-2000s, largely focused on describing spatial distributions of social vulnerability at varying geographic scales. Over time, research in this area came to emphasize spatial comparisons between social vulnerability and physical hazards [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-009-9376-1" target="_blank"><em>Wood et al.</em></a>, 2010], modeling population dynamics following disasters [<a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11111-008-0072-y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Myers et al.</em></a>, 2008], and quantifying the robustness of social vulnerability measures [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-012-0152-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate</em></a>, 2012].</p><p>More recent work is beginning to dissolve barriers between social vulnerability and environmental justice scholarship [<a href="https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304846" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Chakraborty et al.</em></a>, 2019], which has traditionally focused on root causes of exposure to pollution hazards. Another prominent new research direction involves deeper interrogation of social vulnerability drivers in specific hazard contexts and disaster phases (e.g., before, during, after). Such work has revealed that interactions among drivers are important, but existing case studies are ill suited to guiding development of new indicators [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2015.09.013" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Rufat et al.</em></a>, 2015].</p><p>Advances in geostatistical analyses have enabled researchers to characterize interactions more accurately among social vulnerability and hazard outcomes. Figure 1b depicts social vulnerability and annualized per capita hazard losses for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019, facilitating visualization of the spatial coincidence of pre‑event susceptibilities and hazard impacts. Places ranked high in both dimensions may be priority locations for management interventions. Further, such analysis provides invaluable comparisons between places as well as information summarizing state and regional conditions.</p><p>In Figure 2, we take the analysis of interactions a step further, dividing counties into two categories: those experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019. The differences among individual race, ethnicity, and poverty variables between the two county groups are small. But expressing race together with poverty (poverty attenuated by race) produces quite different results: Counties with high hazard losses have higher percentages of both impoverished Black populations and impoverished white populations than counties with low hazard losses. These county differences are most pronounced for impoverished Black populations.</p>
Fig. 2. Differences in population percentages between counties experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019 for individual and compound social vulnerability indicators (race and poverty).<p>Our current work focuses on social vulnerability to floods using geostatistical modeling and mapping. The research directions are twofold. The first is to develop hazard-specific indicators of social vulnerability to aid in mitigation planning [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-020-04470-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate et al.</em></a>, 2021]. Because natural hazards differ in their innate characteristics (e.g., rate of onset, spatial extent), causal processes (e.g., urbanization, meteorology), and programmatic responses by government, manifestations of social vulnerability vary across hazards.</p><p>The second is to assess the degree to which socially vulnerable populations benefit from the leading disaster recovery programs [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/17477891.2019.1675578" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Emrich et al.</em></a>, 2020], such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) <a href="https://www.fema.gov/individual-disaster-assistance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Individual Assistance</a> program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) <a href="https://www.hudexchange.info/programs/cdbg-dr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Disaster Recovery</a> program. Both research directions posit social vulnerability indicators as potential measures of social equity.</p>
Social Vulnerability as a Measure of Equity<p>Given their focus on social marginalization and economic barriers, social vulnerability indicators are attracting growing scientific interest as measures of inequity resulting from disasters. Indeed, social vulnerability and inequity are related concepts. Social vulnerability research explores the differential susceptibilities and capacities of disaster-affected populations, whereas social equity analyses tend to focus on population disparities in the allocation of resources for hazard mitigation and disaster recovery. Interventions with an equity focus emphasize full and equal resource access for all people with unmet disaster needs.</p><p>Yet newer studies of inequity in disaster programs have documented troubling disparities in income, race, and home ownership among those who <a href="https://eos.org/articles/equity-concerns-raised-in-federal-flood-property-buyouts" target="_blank">participate in flood buyout programs</a>, are <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063477407" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eligible for postdisaster loans</a>, receive short-term recovery assistance [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2020.102010" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Drakes et al.</em></a>, 2021], and have <a href="https://www.texastribune.org/2020/08/25/texas-natural-disasters--mental-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">access to mental health services</a>. For example, a recent analysis of federal flood buyouts found racial privilege to be infused at multiple program stages and geographic scales, resulting in resources that disproportionately benefit whiter and more urban counties and neighborhoods [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/2378023120905439" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Elliott et al.</em></a>, 2020].</p><p>Investments in disaster risk reduction are largely prioritized on the basis of hazard modeling, historical impacts, and economic risk. Social equity, meanwhile, has been far less integrated into the considerations of public agencies for hazard and disaster management. But this situation may be beginning to shift. Following the adage of "what gets measured gets managed," social equity metrics are increasingly being inserted into disaster management.</p><p>At the national level, FEMA has <a href="https://www.fema.gov/news-release/20200220/fema-releases-affordability-framework-national-flood-insurance-program" target="_blank">developed options</a> to increase the affordability of flood insurance [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2018]. At the subnational scale, Puerto Rico has integrated social vulnerability into its CDBG Mitigation Action Plan, expanding its considerations of risk beyond only economic factors. At the local level, Harris County, Texas, has begun using social vulnerability indicators alongside traditional measures of flood risk to introduce equity into the prioritization of flood mitigation projects [<a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/Portals/62/Resilience/Bond-Program/Prioritization-Framework/final_prioritization-framework-report_20190827.pdf?ver=2019-09-19-092535-743" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Harris County Flood Control District</em></a>, 2019].</p><p>Unfortunately, many existing measures of disaster equity fall short. They may be unidimensional, using single indicators such as income in places where underlying vulnerability processes suggest that a multidimensional measure like racialized poverty (Figure 2) would be more valid. And criteria presumed to be objective and neutral for determining resource allocation, such as economic loss and cost-benefit ratios, prioritize asset value over social equity. For example, following the <a href="http://www.cedar-rapids.org/discover_cedar_rapids/flood_of_2008/2008_flood_facts.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2008 flooding</a> in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, cost-benefit criteria supported new flood protections for the city's central business district on the east side of the Cedar River but not for vulnerable populations and workforce housing on the west side.</p><p>Furthermore, many equity measures are aspatial or ahistorical, even though the roots of marginalization may lie in systemic and spatially explicit processes that originated long ago like redlining and urban renewal. More research is thus needed to understand which measures are most suitable for which social equity analyses.</p>
Challenges for Disaster Equity Analysis<p>Across studies that quantify, map, and analyze social vulnerability to natural hazards, modelers have faced recurrent measurement challenges, many of which also apply in measuring disaster equity (Table 1). The first is clearly establishing the purpose of an equity analysis by defining characteristics such as the end user and intended use, the type of hazard, and the disaster stage (i.e., mitigation, response, or recovery). Analyses using generalized indicators like the CDC Social Vulnerability Index may be appropriate for identifying broad areas of concern, whereas more detailed analyses are ideal for high-stakes decisions about budget allocations and project prioritization.</p>
By Jessica Corbett
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday was the lone progressive to vote against Tom Vilsack reprising his role as secretary of agriculture, citing concerns that progressive advocacy groups have been raising since even before President Joe Biden officially nominated the former Obama administration appointee.