The Struggle for Environmental Justice in Chicago
by David Pellow
Reviewed by Elizabeth Hanfman
Garbage Wars was written by David Pellow, a Sociologist who is the Don A. Martindale Endowed Chair in Sociology at the University of Minnesota. The book is an expanded version of his PhD dissertation which he wrote in 1998 while studying Sociology at Northwestern University.
The book focuses on the history of waste and how it has been shaped by politics and social movements. The conflict between where and how garbage is disposed throughout the United States is discussed with a focus on Chicago. Environmental justice concerns include how environmental hazards and waste management facilities are located disproportionately in low income neighborhoods with predominantly minority populations. Case studies pertaining to illegal waste dumping, incineration and recycling facilities and landfills are presented. Specific cases include the Northwest and Robbins incinerators, the Resource Center and the Blue Bag recycling program. Not only are there health risks to those who live in the neighborhoods, but also to the sanitation and recycling services workers who work for low wages and are predominantly immigrants and minorities.
The interaction between communities of people, industry and government and their relationship to waste in terms of who is making money from waste and who is dealing with the negative affects of its disposal is discussed. It also focuses on how some communities have fought back against the disproportionate environmental hazards they face. Pellow talks about how some environmental groups and minorities have actually contributed to the inequalities with one case study highlighted in particular- the Silver Shovel illegal dumping case where local aldermen were bribed to accept hazardous waste in the communities they represented.
In the concluding chapter, Pellow shows the cycle of waste disposal methods in the United States and how the industry does not reinvent itself but cycles back to similar controversial methods used in the past. In the last paragraph he effectively sums up that “environmental justice in Chicago, the United States, and on Mother Earth will never be achieved without resisting corporate power and the ideology of profit before people and the environment that supports it.”
Water Wars: An Abstract
By Jennifer Young
Water Wars, by Vandana Shiva, is a commentary and analysis of the global trend towards water privatization and its effects on society, the environment, and the economy, particularly in the Global South. In the introduction, Shiva begins by explaining that water scarcity is one of the most pressing environmental problems facing our world and the main cause behind water privatization. Though two thirds of our planet is covered in water, only three percent of that water is fresh water. Humans are using that fresh water at a rate faster than the hydrologic cycle can replace and if this continues, it will all become polluted beyond return or salify. Already, millions of the world’s people suffer from water scarcity and those that suffer the worst are the world’s impoverished, the least financially equipped to remedy their situation.
The book is then broken into seven chapters. The most key issues are outlined in the first and fourth chapters. In the first, she outlines the relationship between the state, the community, the market, and people’s inherent water rights. The state and the market assume that there is an infinite supply of water; this is at the core of the problem of water scarcity. The market would also assume that water pollution could be remedied by diverting water from one location to another; this only inflates water prices in the area of need and causes water scarcity in the location the water is being diverted from. According to Shiva, water democracy is the only solution to save the environment and the people from the effects of water shortage.
In chapter four, Shiva shows how big water “development” projects by global organizations like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), actually benefit the powerful and strip the weak. These projects take the control over water away from the community and give it to big corporations like Vivendi Environment, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Suez, and Nestle. These large organizations have taken water and turned it from a right into a commodity, further impoverishing people and exacerbating water scarcity. Later in the book, Shiva presents several case studies where water scarcity has caused serious conflict to support her claim that lack of access to water is a deterrent to democracy.
In Water Wars reveals the inherent injustice that lies in water privatization. Shiva advocates democracy as the only real means to solve the social aspect of water scarcity and sustainable water management as the only means to solve the environmental aspect of water scarcity. If humanity wants to continue to live on this planet, it must learn to value its water and not take it for granted.