Archive for March, 2013

Keystone XL Risks Harm To Houston Community: ‘This Is Obviously Environmental Racism’

March 30, 2013 1 comment

Keystone XL Risks Harm To Houston Community: 'This Is Obviously Environmental Racism'

This article is about environmental racism over the Keystone Pipeline in Houston. I thought this article was extremely relevant and quite interesting. I just wanted to post this as a heads up!


Maude Barlow – Recent Talk

March 22, 2013 2 comments

Welcome back from Spring Break!  We will embark our next unit: water justice.  We will begin by reading Maude Barlow’s book Blue Covenant.  You may be interested in hearing her talk on the same subject.

Not In My BackYard vs. Not In Anyone’s BackYard

March 14, 2013 Leave a comment

The film, “A Village Called Versailles” depicts the struggles of a group of Vietnamese refugees living in a housing project in New Orleans East before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina. One focus was the communities’ resistance to the opening of a toxic debris disposal facility placed near their neighborhood by Mayor Ray Nagin in order to cope with all the destruction from the Hurricane. They argued that the facility was opened without an environmental impact study, without protective lining on the bottom of the dump, and exactly next to the body of water that provides for them. After several protests and determination, the people of Versailles won the battle and the landfill was shut down.

Among other issues, Environmental Justice deals with the unequal distribution of environmental burdens and benefits in regards to race, income,  Our study of the subject thus far has presented countless cases, like the one given above, of local residents’ opposition of an environmentally hazardous facility sited near their community, such as landfills or confined animal feeding operations. These examples often take the “Not In My Backyard” (NIMBY) approach in which the communities are arguing against the location of the facility. However, this raises the question: If not there, then where? Although environmental racism should not be present in deciding who should be subjected to it, there is never going to be a “good” location for environmentally hazardous operations. Acknowledging this has led to a Not In Anybody’s Backyard (NIABY) attitude becoming more popular.

There are both some pros and cons with this attitude. The positive side is that without addressing the point source of the undesirable material, there will always be cases in which environmental injustice is of focus. For example, with more recycling there will be less debris and pollution and will lessen our need for these huge unwanted facilities. Also, if meat consumption and demand were to decrease, animals the use of concentrated animal feeding operations to increase efficiency and meet the huge demand would be unnecessary. However, is NIABY realistic in our current way of life? Moreover, some point source solutions are unwanted in peoples “backyard” as well. For example, a solution to decrease our dependency on coal would be wind energy; however, local communities have often been against wind turbines in their area because of how they disrupt the aesthetics of the region.

In conclusion, I believe in order to solve the NIABY problem, the modern habits of the world population need to change. This is inherently difficult to do, if not unfeasible. And if that is in fact not possible, there will always be unwanted facilities and environmental hazardous operations that will need to be located or deposited somewhere. There will never be a globally ideal place, and people will always be arguing “Not In My BackYard”.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Lack of Recognition Faced by the Village of Versailles.

March 11, 2013 Leave a comment

When most people think New Orleans, they tend to think African-American inhabitants, French and Cajun/Bayou culture, and Hurricane Katrina. A group not typically associated with New Orleans is the large Vietnamese community in New Orleans East, Versailles. This community faced many barriers during post-Katrina reconstruction, specifically procedural and distributive injustice through landfill siting practices. However, they were able to overcome these issues because of strong community ties to one another, which brought recognition to their community and issues they were fighting. Evidence for this claim is found in the movie, A Village Called Versailles and the article by Karen J. Leong; Resilient History and the Rebuilding of a Community: The Vietnamese American Community in New Orleans East.

Distributive injustice is evident in the placement of the landfill. The landfill was used to dispose of the post-Katrina debris for the entire city of New Orleans. The hazardous and non-hazardous waste was concentrated in this landfill upriver from the community of Versailles. The residents were supportive of the landfill and the placement, as long as the proper disposal procedures were followed. However, a liner was not installed in the landfill to properly contain the hazardous waste, which allowed for potential contamination of the river.

The Vietnamese community experiences procedural injustice from the Urban Land Institute (ULI). The ULI excluded the village of Versailles from the reconstruction plan. The top right corner of the reconstruction map proposed by the ULI ended right before the community of Versailles. City planners, as well as other decision makers involved in this issue, did not recognize that Versailles even existed, even though it is technically a part of New Orleans. The Vietnamese people struggled for recognition of their community and involvement in the decision-making process.

The Vietnamese were able to rebuild their community at a very quick rate compared to other groups, such as African Americans. Many people attributed the difference in rebuilding to to stereotypical beliefs about the various groups; Asian Americans are hard working and self sufficient, whereas African Americans just want to wait around for the government to save them. In reality, both groups believed that federal government assistance was necessary to rebuild, and their communities had not received the assistance they deserved from the state and city. The difference in the strength of the communities is the key to understanding the difference in ability to rebuild between the Vietnamese and the other minorities.

The strong sense of community between members of the community of Versailles helped them battle the environmental injustice that was taking place in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Karen Leong describes the common status and history held by the Vietnamese people. Most of the Vietnamese inhabitants in this community were refugees from Vietnam. This history enabled them to form strong bonds between one another, which in turn created a strong informed community. Through common experiences and hardships, these Vietnamese people found relocation due to the hurricane to be less threatening than relocation from their homeland of Vietnam. Leong explains how this sense of community eventually allowed for over 90 percent of the Vietnamese Americans to return to Versailles by 2007. Through the determination fueled by others in the community, these Vietnamese Americans were able to bring recognition to their community and issues.

Lack of recognition, distributive injustice, and procedural injustice all played vital roles for the Vietnamese citizens when the livelihood of their community was at stake. The small amount of recognition to these people and their burdens did not stop their desire to rebuild. By banding together and stepping up as a united community these people were able to rebuild what Hurricane Katrina destroyed.

Categories: Uncategorized

The ever lacking historic perspective

March 9, 2013 Leave a comment

One of the emerging topics in Environmental Justice is toxic trading especially as it relates to international relations. What once was a debate focused on the location of dumps in economically challenged cities has expanded to a business of trading toxic waste with economic challenged countries.  In order to diagnose the formation and the remediation of current toxic waste trading trends, further analysis of the current economic, social, and political situation of the community receiving the waste is needed.

Nicholas low and Brendan Gleeson’s article” Justice within the Global Environment” from Justice, society and Nature: An exploration of political ecology focuses mostly on the effect of the first world countries on toxic trading.  They point out that those in charge of global environmental regulations were only representing the world leaders.  This ignores the voices of the economically struggling nations, who are those most in need of protection.

Those countries that do not have the ability to defend themselves on the financial market are at a disadvantage in political negotiations for many reasons.  The most notably is their lack the financial power and education to understand the political role they are being forced to play.  This, in turn, leads to the different social history between countries of the world.  What was a power struggle for conquering lands for resources has turned into concurring land for waste disposal.

These very dynamic power struggles expose multi-dimensional aspects that do not fit well into a cookie-cutter explanation of the history of injustice, even when narrowed down to the toxic trading.  It is part of a game that is generations in the making and unfortunately generations in changing.  Low and Gleeson give a good history of the political history of toxic waste trading and highlighting the injustice from the start. However, as demonstrated in Gordon Walker’s novel Environmental Justice: Concepts, Evidence and Politics, this is by no means the whole story and one case study does not bring a holistic view to a global issue.

Unfortunately, with a lot of topics in the environmental justice field, while there may be patterns, it is critically important to treat each case as a new experience with the previous discussion as a basis of knowledge. As current events become history articles, and new and different environmental justice topic surface, by far the most important skill is the ability to apply the past knowledge to the ever changing world.

Low, Nicholas, and Brendan Gleeson. Justice, Society, and Nature: An Exploration of Political Ecology. London: Routledge, 1998. Print.
Walker, Gordon. Environmental Justice: Concepts, Evidence and Politics. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2012. Print.
Categories: Uncategorized

What are the Barriers to Reconstruction that the People of New Orleans Face?

March 8, 2013 Leave a comment

When the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl in the newly constructed stadium, the streets were filled with people celebrating the triumph. The victory gave the residents of New Orleans something to cheer for, perhaps a sign that New Orleans had risen from the ashes of Katrina. However, these celebrations were superficial. The day after the Super Bowl, the destruction was still there. People were still picking up the pieces of their lives, regardless of who had won a football game. 

The film, “When the Levees Broke,” interviews a wide variety of people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the challenges that they still face. From the mayor of the city to residents that have been ousted from their homes, the film provided a wide array of perspectives to the crisis. The most important question that I found was: What are the barriers to reconstruction that the people of New Orleans face?

Katrina destroyed over 275,000 homes in Louisiana, leaving countless refugees. These people had to scatter across the United States, forced to form new lives outside of their communities. People who wanted to return did not find the communities that once gave them support. Businesses had all closed down because there were no people, but the people could not come back because all of the businesses and services were gone. The people who wanted to come back and rebuild their homes had nowhere to stay while they tried to rebuild their lives, making the reconstruction effort much harder than it should have been. People would have to drive from Houston to New Orleans to work for a few hours salvaging what was left of their homes, and they would have to turn around and make the long, arduous trip back to Houston because they had no place to stay. In the absence of substantial government assistance, celebrities like Brad Pitt provided funding for housing projects. In the Film, Brad Pitt walked around a neighborhood of “green” houses in the 9th ward that his organization helped rebuild. The houses were storm resistant and had solar panels, and were sold to the previous homeowners for around $150,000. From what was seen, this appeared to be a successful project that gave 150 sustainable homes back to residents in New Orleans. However, this is a very small part of the population that, at the time, had no help and no way to rebuild.

The magnitude of the disaster caught the government and other institutions off guard. Relief stations that were set up were overwhelmed and inadequate for the huge numbers of people coming in. The lack of structure in New Orleans provided a breeding ground for crime. Whole communities were gone with no means of returning. Lack of insurance exacerbated social inequalities and cost of reconstruction.

This film hints to the need for government and institutional reform in terms of disaster relief and preparedness for environmental impacts, which are expected to increase in the future.


Categories: Uncategorized

Were Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Homes the Right Answer for the Rebuilding of the Lower 9th Ward?

March 7, 2013 Leave a comment

Throughout several of our class readings and documentaries, we have become aware of the various perspectives involving the devastations people of NOLA were faced with in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As the media covered the destruction, they depicted the Lower 9th Ward as an area with the greatest amount of destruction. What was next for the residents in that community when the national and state governments were not willing to help? Is any help better than no help at all?

It was August of 2005 when Hurricane Katrina destroyed more than 4,000 homes in the Lower 9th Ward, leaving the city paralyzed. Due to the fact that this neighborhood is a low-lying area, the high waters from the levee breaches did not only rush in but also stayed for months – acting almost like a bathtub. After the water eventually receded, the entire area’s landscape was coated in a gray mud. Brad Pitt established the Make it Right Foundation that committed itself to building 150 affordable “green” homes for families living in the Lower 9th Ward. The Foundation collaborates with Global Green USA for other projects such as the Holy Cross Project with the same itinerary of building sustainable homes in the rebuilding process of this community.

The Make it Right Foundation gave residents a sense of hope for a better future with a chance to rebuild a home that has a stronger resilience to this type of disaster. The new subsidized homes are designed to be storm resistant, equipped with their own water management systems, some even had solar panels to generate their own electricity, and were LEED certified. Some devastated families of this neighborhood were able to reestablish their lives through the ownership of their very own home and had the chance to rebuild a sense of community that was once there before the hurricane. Brad Pitt homeowners receive many benefits that they may have not have had the chance to do so before, for instance the solar power panels on their roofs, that were once predominantly thought to be for higher class populations, generate electricity for the home and cut their electric bills in half. This brings me to my next question of the environmental injustices – are these fantastic benefits equally dispersed throughout the Lower 9th Ward community?

Current residents of these beautiful homes were able to purchase the house for about $150,000, but unlike many other people who lived in this neighborhood before the hurricane, they had something to start with – money. Even if someone received money for the destroyed home (insurance money), they would still have to borrow money to make a down payment for a “Brad Pitt Home”. The lack of jobs, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina available for the returnees, makes it almost impossible for most folks to even make monthly payments on new homes. I respect every single volunteer or donation to help rebuild the Lower 9th Ward, but some of the help was not exactly what was needed. Volunteers helped build the Brad Pitt homes when the area was in desperate need for good paying jobs; the builders of these new green homes could have been the local workers who needed that help the most. Rebuilding the area does not always mean build materialistic things like a nice, colorful, energy efficient home – you have to start by rebuilding the people, giving them a chance to make money, because without money how are they to buy these homes?

I applaud Brad Pitt’s efforts along with many other organizations that are truly helping to rebuild New Orleans in the best way possible, because at the end of the day some help is better than no help. Although The Make It Right housing developments contain many flaws and pose other injustice issues previously discussed, it should be used as a model for further rebuilding the community by continuing the green building efforts already established. The model may serve as a foundation for ways to better serve the community. For instance implementing a project standard for the use of solar power would empower city residents to learn about what green building actually is and in the end save them money. It has been eight years since Katrina and the devastation is still noticeable throughout NOLA. Why is this community still suffering?How much longer will it take until the rebuilding process is complete? What will it take to get there?


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