Center for Conflict Studies Knowledge as Action, Action as Change

Panel I: Environmental Justice

Friday, November 15, 2013 at 11:30 AM

1. Mike Ewall: When Equity is Not Enough: Environmental Justice as a Response to Environmental Racism

2. Michael Vincent McGinnis: Expanding the Discourse on Justice in an Age of Climate Disturbance

3. David Betge and Ulrike Zeigermann: Restorative Justice and Land Reform in South Africa

4. Anu Mandavilli: Jal, Jangal, Zameen: People’s Struggle for a Clean Environment and Their Place in it


Mike Ewall


Mike Ewall is the founder and director of the Energy Justice Network, a national network supporting grassroots resistance against dirty energy and waste facilities, notably incinerators, biomass, coal and natural gas.  Active since high school in 1990, he's been a leader in the national Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC), and in 2004, was a founding member of Energy Action Coalition (EAC), host of the PowerShift conferences.  In his home state of Pennsylvania, he has led winning campaigns stopping numerous incinerators, a nuclear waste dump, a coal-to-oil refinery, a liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal, water fluoridation and much more.  Since 2006, he's built national networks of grassroots activists fighting off coal plants and biomass incinerators.  In 2008, his extensive work against environmental racism earned him a "tuition-free law school for activists" scholarship to the social justice activist-run law school at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC). 


When Equity is Not Enough: Environmental Justice as a Response to Environmental Racism

Environmental justice is the movement’s response to the phenomenon of environmental racism: a trend where polluting industries tend to be concentrated in communities of color. While low-income communities also are unfairly burdened, some studies have shown race to be more of a factor than class.  For example, with hazardous waste facilities, a middle-class black or Hispanic community has a better chance of such a facility proposed for their neighborhood than a low-income white community.

While the phenomenon of environmental racism has existed much longer, the term didn’t exist until 1982, while coined during a struggle against a hazardous waste landfill in North Carolina.  The movement response was codified in 17 Principles of Environmental Justice, adopted in the 1991 First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit.

The government response to the demands of the environmental justice (EJ) movement has largely been to approach it with an “environmental equity” framework – essentially, a “poison people equally” policy.  The EJ movement’s principles are explicitly a “stop poisoning people, period” vision, though many groups, even long-standing EJ groups, have been sucked into the government’s framework, which now uses the justice term, but means “equity” and fails to even be able to deliver that.

For years, grassroots environmental and environmental justice groups have struggled with racism and classism within the environmental movement, as large environmental groups cut deals and trade away the interests of grassroots communities and communities of color in particular.  While the well-funded groups tend to focus on state and national policy, where compromises are necessary to get anything accomplished, most of the victories against polluters have been won at the grassroots level.  Local “not-in-my-backyard” (NIMBY) groups tend to get networked with each other and end up reshaping entire industries with a “not-in-anyone’s-backyard” (NIABY) approach, which has been effective at stopping 50-90+% of entire waves of industrial development.  Such unnecessary and polluting technologies as nuclear reactors, incinerators and fossil fueled power plants are usually defeated at the local level, not by DC-based lobbying efforts. Energy Justice Network is one of the leading groups creating grassroots networks to increase the amount of victories won at the local level across the U.S.

The environmental justice movement is about radical, deep, institutional changes.  Huge corporate propaganda machines exist to derail people from thinking in these terms, choosing to divert the public’s attention to individual change tactics.  Power elites (the “1%”) use these divide and conquer tactics to stay in power, dividing people every way possible except along “1% vs. 99%” class lines, where we outnumber them.  This public relations tactics can be subtle and pervasive and will be explored in this panel discussion. 

Michael Vincent McGinnis


Michael Vincent McGinnis is currently an Associate Professor at The Middlebury Institute of International Studies. Mike is interested in the interface between science and policymaking. He has fifteen years of professional and academic experience in the area of environmental policymaking and planning in diverse cultural and socio-economic settings. His edited compendium Bioregionalism (Routledge, 1999) is the primary text in the field. He has also contributed to federal and state policymaking and planning activities for marine sanctuary management plans and watershed-based plans across coastal California. From 1999-2008 he was an advisor to federal agencies in the development of marine ecosystem-based planning in California assisting the National Marine Sanctuary (NMS) Program in all of the planning aspects associated with the designation of marine reserves within the Channel Islands NMS. Michael is currently completing two books on the subject of the role of ecology and politics in large-scale ecosystem-based planning and decision-making.


Expanding the Discourse on Justice in an Age of Climate Disturbance

Climate-related events have socio-ecological significance, and continue to impact the health and integrity diverse places and peoples.  As in the past, climate change has led to famine and drought and associated conflicts over scare resources.  Today, we can expect tremendous loss of socio-ecological security and one consequence of the dramatic synergistic impacts and effects of climate change.  Our shared capacity and capability to adapt to these impacts requires an expanded theory and practice for justice.  Ecological security is irrevocably connected to and dependent on the maintenance of the health and integrity of ecosystems.  Over the past several decades scholars have focused on the development of a theory and practice of justice that until recently has been limited in its scope and general anthropocentric foundation.  As we recognize the importance of diversity to diverse biocultural systems, it is important that we begin to expand a theory and practice of justice that can be extended to ecosystems.  The landscapes, the marine system, and the aquatic ecosystems that human depend on for survival should be part of a broader conceptualization of justice and equity.  This presentation will first provide a brief overview of the academic and practical discourses that support social justice.  Second, I describe an emerging earth-based theory and practice that supports just treatment of others, including ecosystems.  Biocultural justice recognizes the diversity of epistemologies of place, links alternative knowledge systems (both traditional forms of ecological knowledge and scientific knowledge) with principles of sustaining ecological security.  A theory and practice of biocultural justice should support adaptation to pressures and threats associated with climate disturbance.  Biocultural justice should support the maintenance of local and place-based food, water, and energy security; and should ensure the protection of diverse epistemologies of place (as reflected in language, knowledge systems, and traditions) that are essential to cultural adaptation and cultural resilience.

Biocultural justice represents a shift from “shallow”, anthropocentric theories of social justice to a “deep” practice of an ecologically-based theory of justice.  Building on the work of Schlosberg among others, the presentation’s emphasis will be on the need to develop a theory and practice of biocultural justice.  Recent scholars have argued for a spatial expansion of an epistemology of justice horizontally into a broader ecological range of social issues and vertically into examinations of the global nature of injustices that are associated with food, energy and water insecurity.  This conceptual shift underscores the need to support a theory of justice that represents a deeper realm of human relationship with the more than human world where protecting ecosystem health and integrity are understood as essential principles and conditions that can support a practice of justice.

David Betge and Ulrike Zeigermann


David Betge (presenter) is a PhD Candidate at the Freie Universität Berlin and holds a Diploma in Political Science. For the last two years he has researched on the South African and the Indian land reform programmes with a special focus on the role of NGOs in the implementation process. He undertook field research in South Africa in 2011 and will return there for further research in 2014. David is a scholar of the Heinrich Boell Foundation. In 2013 he published a book on the South African land reform process: The Policies of Land Reform in South Africa – An analysis of actors and institutions based on four case studies, Edition:Forschung, Lit Verlag, Münster, 2013.

Ulrike Zeigermann is a PhD Candidate at the University of Münster conducting research on policy coherence for development and comparative policy analysis of security policies in the UK, France and Germany. Prior to this, she completed an MSc in Human Rights at the London School of Economics and Political Science, focusing on the international human rights framework and human rights in the developing world. Her dissertation examined the implementation of the human rights based approach to development in British development cooperation with India. She also holds a “Diplôme de Sciences Po” from the IEP Lille, France, specializing in European studies, as well as a Diploma in Political Science and Public Law from the University of Münster, Germany. Besides her full-time studies Ulrike has worked as a research assistant at the University of Surrey and at the University of Münster.


Restorative Justice and Land Reform in South Africa

Land questions are central for successful conflict resolution and conflict prevention in South Africa. The South African land reform programme was started in 1994 going through a series of amendments over the years. The focus shifted from an explicit "pro-poor" approach towards more market-oriented programmes. What remained unchanged over the last 19 years is the premise that land reform policies are intended to even out historical injustices. A fair distribution of land is considered to be a critical condition for the stability of South Africa's young democracy and sustainable human development. At the same time, the country’s agrarian economy is focused on export-oriented and capital-intensive production. This leads to a situation where, on the one hand, land reform legislation is based on ideas of restorative justice and, on the other hand, aspects of restorative justice are de facto irrelevant on the implementation level of land reforms.

Taking this disjunction as a starting point the paper explores results from field research that was undertaken in 2011, including interviews with key actors involved in the implementation of land reform and participant observation in South Africa. It offers a new perspective on the critical matter using Fritz Scharpf's concept of Institutional Framework (2000) to analyse different concepts, interests and beliefs revolving around land reform. It identifies main actors involved in the implementation of land reform and explores the interactions of these actors for four different cases.

The results from these case studies show that the notion of restorative justice holds only very limited significance on the level of implementation. Based on an in-depth analysis of two cases of failed attempts of land redistribution the paper argues that the integration of the concept of restorative justice on the implementation level would empower landless people when faced with unwilling landholders and un-cooperative state agencies. It would change the power relationships that put landless farmers at a structural disadvantage within the land reform process.

We further demonstrate that the disregard for restorative justice in the land reform policies must also be criticized from a perspective of policy coherence for development. Addressing challenges related to restorative justice, food security and international economic performance requires South Africa to re-conceptualize the application process for land. While the focus on agricultural viability needs to remain an integral part of the application a much greater focus must be put on the constitutionally guaranteed right of equitable access to land. This is particularly important with regard to recent violent encounters between socially marginalized people and the state, and therefore with regard to conflict prevention in South Africa. In this year’s State of the Nation address President Jacob Zuma announced a revised approach to land redistribution. The exact shape of the new policies has not been determined yet. Now would be the time to draw up legislation that truly empowers the landless rural population of South Africa. Accordingly, this paper offers evidence-based solutions for land reform as a mechanism for restorative justice in post-conflict situations.

Anu Mandavilli


Anu Mandavilli has been involved in social justice work with community organizations, social movements and labor unions in India and the United States. As part of the research collective MZPSG (Mining Zone Peoples’ Solidarity Group), Anu is currently working on a divestment campaign that is in solidarity with farming and fishing communities in Orissa, India, which are struggling against loss of their lands and livelihoods owing to massive land grab by steel giant POSCO. Previously, she was involved in international campaigns around Hindu Nationalism and Corporate Accountability. Anu holds a graduate degree in Cultural Studies and has shared her research at various academic and activist settings including the U.S. Social Forum.


Jal, Jangal, Zameen: People’s Struggle for a Clean Environment and Their Place in it

This presentation will explore the issue of environmental justice and conflicts due to the extraction of natural resources through the example of a grassroots struggle against a large industrial project in Orissa, India. The project, by South Korean steel company POSCO, involves investments of USD $12 billion and comprises a steel plant, captive mines and dedicated port facilities.  The sheer scope of the project and its requirements in terms of natural resources have made it clear that the rights of local communities are going to be subverted in the interest of giving POSCO access to the same with neither consultation nor permission of the local residents. The project has therefore faced strong resistance from a vigorous people’s movement on the ground, comprised of farmers and fishermen as well as indigenous communities that are all apprehensive of losing lands and livelihoods.  Consequently, eight years after the project was launched, the POSCO project is still embroiled in legal, logistical and procedural quagmires.

The local government claims that the POSCO project will “bring prosperity and well-being to its people” but independent research has shown that the data cited by the government and by POSCO with regards to employment generation and tax revenues are grossly inaccurate. The presentation will consist of comprehensive analysis of the claims advanced by the State and Central governments, and the POSCO company itself, about the various benefits that would accrue to the people. Going beyond the standard narratives of revenues and cash flow, this presentation will describe the actual impacts of the POSCO project on the residents of Jagatsinghpur, Keonjhar and Sundergerh (where the steel plant, the port, and the mines will be set up) in the context of Social and Environmental Justice. Through research conducted on the ground, we studied the pivotal roles played by the various institutions of the government in justifying and implementing this project, many times in an undemocratic, illegal and coercive manner. In particular, we examined how the environmental clearance process failed to capture and respond to public concerns about the project.

The conflict over the POSCO project illustrates a state of affairs where the state has abandoned its role as a champion of public interest, but is instead actively promoting particular corporate interests. It is a typical example of the manner in which, under a neo-liberal economic order, private entities begin to exercise influence and authority in domains that, in a democratic framework, are governed by legitimate custodians of public interest. I argue that such exercise of power by corporate entities, in so far as it is hidden from public scrutiny, functions to alienate decision-making from marginalized groups. In other words, the devolution of responsibility by the state, in parallel with the lack of accountability by powerful private actors works to induce conflict between people and the unresponsive state.