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Learn: Books


Crimes Against Nature: Illegal Industries and the Global Environment

By Elizabeth Hanfman

The book "Crimes Against Nature: Illegal Industries and the Global Environment" by Donald Liddick, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Penn State Fayette, focuses on the most prevalent types of eco-crime we are currently faced with. It includes chapters on illegal garbage and hazardous waste dumping, wildlife trafficking, fishing and logging which all provide a good background of the topic as well as a review of current regulations.

The first topic, garbage and hazardous waste disposal is not only focused on the difficulties of finding places to put waste. Control of waste disposal through organized crime is a big concern as focus is placed on how much money can be made instead of environmental safety. The relationship between wealthy and poor countries is also discussed in terms of sending waste to poor countries who will take it for small amounts of money despite consequences to the environment and health of their people.

Illegal wildlife trafficking is driven by the demand for exotic pets and consumer products made from trafficked wildlife. Threats to the environment include a decrease in biodiversity as well as the extinction of various species. The book includes a comprehensive list of endangered species from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and discusses the catch-22 which makes listed endangered species more valuable for wildlife traffickers. It is eye-opening that this is comparable to drug and arms trafficking as there does not seem to be as much publicity surrounding these crimes.

Countries that are most environmentally affected by illegal fishing are poor and politically unstable with rich coastline resources. Because of a lack of ability to protect and monitor their coastlines, they are more likely to be targeted for illegal fishing by other countries as well as among their own corrupt political leaders. The ability to use their own resources in a legal manner would provide them with more money, employment as well as more protein-rich food for their people.

The demand for high quality furniture in wealthy countries is a major driver of the illegal logging industry. This practice endangers certain species of trees and impacts the lives of people indigenous to high -demand areas. One of the most memorable stories in the book recalls illegal loggers cutting down large numbers of trees in a remote forest where indigenous people live off of the land and leaving the majority of them to rot because the wood was not "perfect" upon further inspection.

This book highlights the difficulty in finding solutions to eco-crime because of the conflicting interests between people who make money off of these illegal activities versus protection of the environment and local populations. In addition, the complicated, confusing and geographically choppy laws and regulations make progress difficult. The need for laws and regulations that are consistent across countries and easy to understand is apparent.

The inclusion of an appendix with three important environmental laws from the United Nations and the United States that are discussed throughout the book, the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their disposal (Basel Convention), CITES and the Lacey Act, make this book a good reference for environmental law.


The Quest for Environmental Justice

By Elizabeth Hanfman

“The Quest for Environmental Justice” which is edited by Robert Bullard is a collection of essays highlighting the history of the Environmental Justice (EJ) movement primarily in the United States but also on a global level. This is a follow-up to his 1994 book, “Unequal Protection: Environmental Justice and Communities of Color.” Dr. Bullard is the Ware Distinguished Professor of Sociology and the Director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University.

The essays, written by a mix of front-line activists and scholars, highlight the advances made in the EJ field. This book challenges government and industry policy and the effects that globalization has had internationally on the unequal distribution of environmental hazards that impact the poor and people of color.

Part one provides a history of the EJ movement and focuses on the role that women have had in advancing this field by highlighting examples of grassroots campaigns where they have fought against major corporations and won. It also discusses the comparison between the First and Second National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summits which took place in 1991 and 2002 in Washington, D.C.

Part two includes case studies of EJ struggles in the United States. One area of focus is Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley” where there are numerous industries along the Mississippi River that have been polluting the surrounding environment for many years. They connect the legacy of slavery and racism to the various case studies. One community of focus is Convent, LA where grassroots activism did lead to success to effectively use the legal system to protect their rights.

In part three, the primary focus is on the west and southwest United States. The essays discuss the struggles to develop more park and recreational land for poor minorities in Los Angeles, protection of Native American land and the unique experiences of Chicanos living in the United States.

Finally, part four takes a more global approach to EJ. The section focuses on environmental racism in South Africa, the violence surrounding the oil industry in Nigeria and the unequal distribution of burden and resources on citizens there. Also, the struggle on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, where a United States military base has caused seemingly irreparable damage to the land, is discussed.

The case studies presented are inspiring reminders that justice can be achieved even at the grassroots level with the unfair disadvantage of being up against rich, multinational corporations. Despite the victories cited in this book and the milestones reached through the EJ movement, there is still a lot of room for advancement. Instead of mobilizing communities to fight against injustice, more efforts should be made via policy, smart growth and social justice to prevent environmental racism from occurring in the first place.


Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash by Elizabeth Royte

by Elizabeth Hanfman

Throughout the book Garbage Land, Brooklyn-based author Elizabeth Royte analyzes her daily trash journal to consider the kinds of things her family throws away for a year. This activity leads her to ask where her trash, recyclables and sewage goes after it leaves her home. Her thought process regarding what she and her family use and throw away on a regular basis leads her to question whether they really need certain items and how long they would be useful to them.

In Royte’s exploration of where her waste goes, she spends time with her local sanitation men and visits the facilities that service her neighborhood. She is persistent in interviewing the people who run the landfills, recycling centers and transfer stations although they are not always interested in talking with her due to numerous rules and regulations in the industry. Part of her experience is with the Fresh Kills landfill which although closed, she was still not able to go into without finding a personal, informal tour guide who was familiar with the area. She also travels to a Pennsylvania landfill where a lot of New York City’s trash ends up however she was met with resistance when she asked for an interview and tour.

One of her main purposes of writing this book was to portray how once household waste is picked up from the curb people do not generally think about where it ends up. It is a classic case of “out of sight, out of mind.” In many cases the trash and recyclables are shipped hundreds of miles away. She also discusses how while she agrees that recycling is a good thing, it does still have negative effects on the environment. She finds that although consumer and household waste make up a very small percentage of what goes into landfills, the best strategy is for consumers to reduce their consumption overall.


Garbage Wars:

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.

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