Environmental Justice: From Cancer Alley to the Aarhus Convention

Environmental Justice: From Cancer Alley to the Aarhus Convention

Paul Fischer


Teaching Assistant Jeremy Romanul

Professor Katlyn Morris

Environmental Justice: From Cancer Alley to the Aarhus Convention

One group that bears the effects of environmental pollution disproportionately are rural farm-workers. This is because protective gear does not always work and because the government is not present to ensure the efficacy of such gear. More importantly rampant illiteracy among this group in nations such as South Africa or Brazil mean that members of this group are frequently associated with a sense of hopelessness that reflects their inability to take action to better such a situation. This is a classic example of environmental injustice. Organizations in the developed world such as the Farmworker Association of Florida have taken steps to try and better fellow workers attempts to complete their work.

One such organization, Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), deals with another group of the disenfranchised: the chronically poor who live in Kosovo and other Central and Eastern European areas. One study from these regions showed that 88% of the children under the age of 6 had severe lead poisoning such that immediate medical intervention was necessitated. These groups communicate through the forum of conventions, such as the 1998 Aarhus Convention, which HEAL adheres to.

Both farm workplace poisoning as well as lead poisoning are specific examples of environmental harms that can exist without groups who stand in the way of corporate or national interests. An example of benefits that can occur as a result of Environmental Justice activism includes the success of Concerned Citizens of Norco, founded by Margie Richard in 1990. The town in Louisiana is home to 120 petrochemical facilities, incinerators, and landfills and is known by Chemical Corridor or Cancer Alley. After a prolonged period of visible campaigns and a 2001 presentation in the Netherlands at the headquarters of Royal/Dutch Shell, relocation was offered to community members affected by pollution and emissions were reduced by 30%. Richard won the 2004 Goldman Environmental Prize.

One area that remains muddy is how corporations have avoided to make environmental justice concerns a fundamental pillar of economic and political considerations even in the United States, nevermind other nations with severely affected or culpable communities. NGOs are a start, but even the EPA is clearly not sufficient to adequately direct the actions of massive corporations many times the size of any government bureau or office. Because many resource of Earth are shared, and the effect of pollution is rarely contained to any one entity, it may be time for international organizations to step up in a major fashion to achieve tangible goals and objectives.

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