Out In The Open and For All to See: Where Environmental Issues Are Causing Social Conflicts

As communities the world over struggle to protect their natural resources, and the livelihoods that are inextricably linked to these, extraction activities and large-scale 'development' projects designed to fuel the global economy continue to inflict a heavy environmental and social toll on some of the most marginalised populations.

Author Annalisa Dorigo, 10.20.15

As communities the world over struggle to protect their natural resources, and the livelihoods that are inextricably linked to these, extraction activities and large-scale ‘development’ projects designed to fuel the global economy continue to inflict a heavy environmental and social toll on some of the most marginalised populations. Pervasive as they are, these activities are often off the radar: concerned citizens cannot challenge them, happy bubble of consumerism remains intact. Until now…

The Environmental Justice Atlas (EJ Atlas) was born to provide a running commentary on social issues and conflict arising from activities such as mining, dams, tree plantations, fracking, gas flaring or incinerators. It does so by collecting stories from the very communities at the centre of such issues, highlighting their claims and testimonies, and pushing for corporate and state accountability for the human rights violations, injustices and malpractices that these activities are responsible for.

EJ Atlas is one of the main outcomes of the Environmental Justice Organisations, Liabilities and Trade (EJOLT) project, a European Commission-funded project that looks at ecological distribution issues and unites science, activism and policy-making.

How Is Data Compiled?

EJ Atlas data are collected in an online database, to which anyone can add and contribute, to highlight environment-related conflict happening around the world – an editorial team double checks information and standardises it to facilitate search functions. Every conflict page also has a commenting function that seeks to promote debate and exchange.

UNEP, World Resources Institute, NASA’s SEDAC are some of the agencies and research institutes contributing to the project, which also includes national planning agencies, civic society and organisations working on specific topics such as shale gas or land uses.  

Through the variety of socioeconomic and science data and indicators that these organisations contribute, EJ Atlas is able to produce detailed maps which illustrate not just where conflict is happening but also the context within which it arises. To date, the portal provides an overview of almost 1400 cases of environmental injustice across the globe.

Conflicts are mapped according to the following categories:

  • Nuclear
  • Mineral Ores and Building Extractions
  • Waste Management
  • Biomass and Land Conflicts
  • Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/ Energy
  • Water Management
  • Infrastructure and Built Environment
  • Tourism Recreation
  • Biodiversity Conservation Conflicts
  • Industrial and Utilities Conflicts

In addition to video and pictorial evidence, the atlas provides information on investors, their drivers, impact of activities, source of conflict and mobilisation, civic society campaigns and their outcomes, campaign success stories, plus references to legislation and relevant academic research.

The EJ Atlas is a detailed source of information, although by no means is it comprehensive. With social conflicts arising out of environmental injustice and the effects of climate change on the increase, the EJ Atlas team is keen to hear from anyone who has new information on the topic, and contributions to the platform are highly encouraged.  

Yet, its easy navigation enables anyone to explore and expose issues of environmental injustice, undemocratic practices, human rights violations and the contested benefits of often large-scale activities. Have a play and find out what’s going on in your corner of the world. You may just discover something new.

In this paper you can learn more about ecological conflicts and the role of the EJ Atlas, and you can also find out more in this lecture:

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