Tag Archives environment

Urban heatwaves and senior citizens: Frugal solutions in The Hague

Urban heatwaves and senior citizens: Frugal solutions in The Hague

As The Netherlands is currently suffering from extreme heat, it is worth reminding ourselves of the effects of the latest heatwave, which took place from 10-16 August, 2020. Worryingly, the ...

Environmental destruction and resistance: a closer look at the violent reoccupation of the DRC’s Kahuzi-Biega National Park

Environmental destruction and resistance: a closer look at the violent reoccupation of the DRC’s Kahuzi-Biega National Park

The decision of the indigenous Batwa to reoccupy parts of eastern DRC’s Kahuzi-Biega National Park by force shocked many outside observers. They were further shocked when the Batwa started to ...

The Toxic Trail of our Oil Addiction

Forty years after the ‘clean up’ of the Amoco Cadiz oil spill, the shores of Brittany that have been forever blighted by the spill attest to our collective failure to manage the consequences of our addiction to oil. Clean-ups or compensation are not enough to address the permanent damage caused, writes Maryse Helbert—we need to find other ways to fix the zones that have been sacrificed during decades of oil exploitation.

The Amoco Cadiz spilling oil (1978) (Le Parisien)

Over recent decades, civil society actors in many countries running on oil, so to speak, have pushed oil companies to halt their activities and clean up the mess they’ve made. In Peru, Ecuador, and Nigeria, indigenous communities have engaged or sued oil companies to try to force them to either clean up oil spills or to provide compensation for the damage to their territory. Long-term lessons learned from the cleaning up the 1978 oil spill in Brittany, France can help us anticipate the challenges that lie ahead as the number of incidents increase. As this oil spill that took place over 40 years ago shows, it is next to impossible to return an environment destroyed by oil to its original state. Alternatives, then, should be found to compensate communities that have been affected by our oil addiction, and the long-term rehabilitation of the affected areas should be a top priority.

It has been estimated that, over the last five decades, approximately 9 to 13 million barrels of oil have been spilled in the Niger Delta region in Nigeria. For the northeastern Ecuadorian Amazon alone, between 2011 and 2014, the equivalent of around seven million barrels of crude oil was spilled in 464 events.  And in a report by Oxfam and Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos published last year, it was estimated that 474 oil spills had occurred between 2019 and 2020 along the Norperuano pipeline in Peru. It has also been estimated that over the course of eight years, between 1972 and 2017, around three billion barrels of toxic waste associated with oil production were leaked into the Amazon in northern Peru.

Impacted oil communities worldwide have sought compensation for the damage caused to their environment by oil extraction and transport processes and to force the cleaning up of spills. In 2012, in the Niger Delta, the Bodo community filed a lawsuit against Shell in a London high court. Following this lawsuit, in 2015 Shell agreed to a £55 million settlement to compensate the community for the harm incurred. Similarly, in 2008, three Nigerian villages sued Shell as a Dutch company in a Dutch court of law, while in 2014 the Peruvian government was forced by a Peruvian court to respond to the oil spill health crisis. And in Ecuador, early last year indigenous people living along the Ecuador’s northern Amazon pipeline launched a lawsuit against the Ecuadorian government and private and state oil companies operating in the area to provide compensation. This increase in lawsuits filed by indigenous communities against large companies that extract oil in countries in the Global South is a welcome first step. Yet compensation is too little, too late. Once the damage has been done, it is irreversible.

Walking along the northern coasts of Brittany reminds me of the impossibility of ever fully cleaning up oil spills. A story is told in my family of my uncle and aunt opening the shutters of their house at Portsall in Brittany early in the morning of the 17 March 1978 when the smell of oil hit them, immediately telling them that what they had feared for decades had finally happened. The Amoco Cadiz, on its way to Rotterdam, had run aground the previous day. In the following days, it spilled 223,000 litres of light crude oil and an additional 4,000 litres of bunker oil on a stretch of coastline of more than 300 kilometres. To this date it is the fifth-largest oil tanker accident in history. And the worst of all is that the tragedy could have been avoided: during its construction, it was known that the tanker had a leak that needed to be fixed, but the repair was postponed several times as delivering oil was prioritized and costs cut. The storm on the English Channel on the 16 March 1978 got the better of it, and environmental destruction ensued.

In the days following the spill, coastal communities themselves began the arduous process of cleaning up, scraping up the ‘chocolate mousse’ that the emulsification of oil and water was forming on the beaches. The scale of the disaster required the army to be recruited to help the local population clean up, and 300 students volunteered to collect the dead birds, which numbered in their thousands.

Fourteen years after the spill, in 1992, a US court ordered Amoco and Shell, who were responsible for the spill, to pay US$200 million in damages to the French government. The damages covered some of the economic costs of the clean-up, but the court denied claims for compensation for ecological destruction and losses. It has been estimated that these damages covered only 19% of the total environmental and economic costs of the oil spill. Half of the money simply helped pay for the trial in the US. The damage was far worse than anticipated, and the compensation helped get the oil off the tip of the iceberg, leaving the rest of it submerged.

Walking along these beaches since the spill occurred many years ago shows that the word ‘clean-up’ is a misnomer. In the first decades, it was impossible to go even a short distance on the beaches without coming across balls of oil in the sand and patches of oil slicking the rocks or a layer of oily residue thirty centimetres deep in the sand along the whole length of the beach. Nowadays, these obvious signs of the spills have only partly disappeared. The spill has had long-term consequences. It resulted in the largest loss of marine life ever recorded. Even today, sea life has still not entirely recovered from the long-term consequences of the toxicity of the oil, but also from products such as dissolvents that were used to disperse and sink the oil during the cleaning process. Sightings of oil have also not disappeared. On the more remote islands, there are still layers of oil residue under the sand and oil still slicks the rocks and pebbles on some beaches. The oil can be traced back to the Amoco Cadiz by DNA testing.

The most controversial topic though is the fate of the ‘chocolate mousse’. In the initial rush to clean up the oil slick, the oil recovered was buried in landfills, particularly in dunes along the coast. Forty years later and with erosion due to climate change, there is a fear that oil could again leak from these sites into the coastal environment. This secondary oil spill could be equally devastating.

The Amoco Cadiz spill gives us a small-scale snapshot of the titanic challenges of cleaning up oil spills. But the spill in Brittany is dwarfed by the scale of oil pollution in the Niger Delta, Ecuador, Peru and many other oil extraction sites. Every year since oil extraction began in the Niger Delta, an average of four times more oil than the Brittany oil spill has been spilled from terminals, pipes, pumping stations and oil platforms in the area. The scale of oil spills is thus only increasing, and companies are still not taking responsibility.

While clean-up initiatives are absolutely needed, they fall short in meeting the challenges of repairing the damage caused. Forty years after the ‘clean up’ of the Amoco Cadiz oil spill, the shores of Brittany attest to our collective failure to manage the consequences of our addiction to oil: they remain polluted and may be considered permanently damaged. There is arguably a lack of capacity, whether financial or technological, to fully restore polluted sites. We need to find other ways to fix the zones that have been sacrificed during decades of oil exploitation, and financial compensation is just the start.

About the author:

Maryse Helbert

Maryse Helbert is a Post-doctoral Research Fellow at the ISS. Prior to that, she was a Post-doctoral Research Fellow at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society. She has been an advocate for women’s rights for decades, having worked for AWID (Association for Women in Development), DIPD (Danish Institute for Parties and Democracies), and she is a gender-based violence research expert to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals for the United Nations Development Programme. Taking an ecofeminist approach, her PhD looked at oil industry and its economic, social and environmental impacts on women in three countries. In her latest work, she takes on the lessons learnt from the fossil fuels industry to explore the challenges of a post-carbon society.

 

 

 

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Resisting environmental and social injustice through commoning

Resisting environmental and social injustice through commoning

Lize Swartz in conversation with Dr Gustavo García-López, 2019-2021 Prince Claus Chair Social and environmental injustice are increasing globally as neoliberalism tightens its grip. Crisis upon crisis are hitting especially vulnerable ...

The question of democracy in environmental politics: The Green Road Project in Turkey by Melek Mutioglu Ozkesen

Road construction is usually presented as a major condition for development, but the question is: development for who and whose land is being intruded for the construction of the road? ...

Toward ‘fisheries justice’?: the global ‘fisheries crisis’ and how small-scale fishers are fighting back by Elyse Mills

The global ‘fisheries crisis’—in which fish stocks are depleted, environmental destruction has reached an apex, and small-scale fisheries are disappearing—is causing irreversible damage to both the fisheries sector and communities sustained by fishing activities. Governments implement stricter regulations and resource management strategies in an attempt to solve the crisis, but these approaches typically leave out the perspectives of small-scale fishers. Despite this, fishing communities are constructing innovative ways to make their voices heard and to protect their lives and livelihoods.


Transforming global fisheries

The overlap of the global food crisis (sparked by the 2007-2008 food price spike), and rapid economic growth occurring in the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) has contributed to significantly altering patterns of food production, consumption and trade worldwide. Economic growth has also facilitated changing dietary preferences, contributing to a rising global demand for animal protein. Fish protein has become particularly popular in light of health warnings about industrially farmed animals and eating too much red meat. This has caused fish consumption to double worldwide in the last 50 years.

Rising consumption has intensified pressure on the global fisheries sector—particularly to meet the demands of highly populated countries like China. Even South Africa, which has the smallest economy and population among the BRICS, saw fish consumption increase by 26% between 1999 and 2012. In terms of production, China is by far the world leader, and at its 2012 peak contributed 70% of fish to the global supply. Between 2012 and 2014, it further expanded its capture fishing sector by almost 2 million tonnes and its aquaculture sector by nearly 5 million tonnes. India produced at a similar level, contributing 50% of the global fish supply in 2012—ranking third in global capture fisheries (after China and Peru) and second in aquaculture. South Africa has one of the largest capture fishing sectors in the African continent, contributing approximately US$ 435 million to the national economy in 2012.

Fighting for policy change in South Africa

Capture fishing in South Africa is an important source of livelihoods for many coastal communities, of which a large proportion engages in small-scale fishing. Of the 43,458 commercial fishers and 29,233 subsistence fishers in South Africa, approximately 50,000 are considered small-scale.[i] However, despite comprising almost 62% of the fishing population, the South African Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries’ national policies have historically not recognised the particular needs of small-scale fishers and the difficulties they are facing, focusing instead on expanding the large-scale industrial fishing industry. This has sparked intense resistance from fishing communities.

After the government adopted its 2005 long-term fisheries policy, leaving small-scale fishers without any access or fishing rights, a group of fishing communities, led by community organisations Masifundise and Coastal Links, took the issue to the South African Equality Court. The Court finally ruled in favour of the development of a new policy. In 2012, the new Policy for the Small-Scale Fisheries Sector in South Africa was completed, introducing new strategies for managing the sector, which aim to secure rights and access for communities by prioritising human rights, gender, and development as key issues. This marked an important victory for South African fishers, demonstrating their capacity for mobilisation and to achieve change. In 2014, Masifundise and Coastal Links also published Small-scale Fisheries Policy: A Handbook for Fishing Communities, providing fishers with accessible information on how the policy could be applied in their daily lives.

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Handline fishers off the coast of Cape Point, South Africa. Photo: Rodger Bosch

Fishers’ participation in governance processes

Considering South Africa’s 2012 policy was developed partly as a response to pressure from fishing communities, it has set an important precedent for future fisheries policies, both nationally and internationally. Masifundise and Coastal Links also played key roles in discussions with the FAO’s Committee on Fisheries (COFI), which led to the publication of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF Guidelines) in 2015. These guidelines were the result of a bottom-up participatory process that included 4,000 representatives from small-scale fishing communities, governments, fish workers’ organisations, research institutes, and NGOs.

The development of the SSF Guidelines and South Africa’s national policy signal an important shift in the perception and governance of fisheries sectors. While small-scale fishers have been crucial contributors to the global food system for generations, their rights are only now beginning to be more formally recognised. There appears to be an important connection between this newfound recognition and increasing mobilisation within fishing communities both nationally and around the world.

The rise of a global ‘fisheries justice’ movement?

Increasing mobilisation among fishers, particularly within the last few decades, has demonstrated their commitment to participating in, and shaping, the transformation of the fisheries sector and its socio-political context. Fishers are also joining forces with farmers, pastoralists, rural, and indigenous peoples, as overlapping food and climate crises highlight common struggles between social movements. Their shared commitment to creating a fair food system has contributed both to a transnational convergence of resource justice movements (e.g. agrarian, climate, environmental), as well as the emergence of what I would argue is a global ‘fisheries justice’ movement.

A key actor in this movement is the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP), of which Masifundise and Coastal Links are active members. Founded in 1997, the WFFP now links 43 national small-scale fishers’ organisations in 40 countries around the world. It focuses on addressing the issues threatening small-scale fisheries (e.g. privatisation, climate change) and advocates for fishers’ human rights and secure livelihoods. The WFFP holds a triennial General Assembly and an annual Coordinating Committee meeting for member organisations to come together, reflect on their goals and actions taken, and develop new strategies for the future.

In an era when power within the food system is increasingly being concentrated in the hands of a few huge corporations, movements of small-scale food producers and their allies offer alternatives based on social justice, sustainable production methods, and protecting the environment that rejuvenate hope for the way forward.


[i] Small-scale fishers refers to: ‘Persons that fish to meet food and basic livelihood needs, or are directly involved in harvesting/processing or marketing fish, traditionally operate on or near shore fishing grounds, predominantly employ traditional low technology or passive fishing gear, usually undertake single day fishing trips, and are engaged in the sale or barter or are involved in commercial activity’. Definition from Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) (2012), Policy for the Small-Scale Fisheries Sector in South Africa.


Untitled.pngAbout the author:

Elyse Mills is a PhD researcher in the Political Ecology Research Group at the ISS. Her PhD research focuses on the dynamics of fisheries and fishers’ movements in the context of global food and climate politics. She also co-coordinates the Initiatives in Critical Agrarian Studies (ICAS), and is part of the Emancipatory Rural Politics Initiative (ERPI) Secretariat.

 

Deglobalisation Series | Will deglobalisation save the environment? by Sylvanus Kwaku Afesorgbor and Binyam Afewerk Demena

Deglobalisation Series | Will deglobalisation save the environment? by Sylvanus Kwaku Afesorgbor and Binyam Afewerk Demena

Anti-globalists and some environmentalists argue that globalisation is harmful to the environment because it leads to an increase in the global demand for and supply of goods and increased energy ...