A post-capitalist world in which social equality prevails, the planet is not further burdened and different lifestyles can be lived in parallel? What sounds like a utopia was explored by GLOCAL Cohort V students as part of the Global Political Ecology elective course at the University of Barcelona. The students got together in groups of two people according to their fields of interest and explored how alternative approaches to development can be applied to existing ills in the world. The basis for this was the environmental justice conflicts researched in the first step, for which each student wrote an entry in the global database “Environmental Justice Atlas” (EJ Atlas) as part of the course.
Here we now present our contributions for a “pluriversal” world. Many approaches for a healthy co-existence of society and environment already exist, whether in science or in practice. However, these are often not given space. As part of our #glocalexperience, we were curious and grateful to gain such a perspective in our Barcelona semester.
Body Politics (Lu & Mel)
Our essay was all about bodies and their role in environmental conflicts as sites of resistance, especially those of women. We studied two conflicts (one in Guatemala and one in India) where indigenous women’s bodies were exposed to violence from environmental conflicts while protesting against them and protecting their land and lives. These conflicts happen every day in different parts of the world, but it does not have to be this way. We looked at the concept of “body politics” as a counter to the current capitalist-driven dominant practices that are destroying parts of our environment, depriving people of their habitat and making violence the dominant language. This foregrounds bodies as active subjects of conflict, feeling emotions and taking on a political role, and states that all economic, political and social decisions should be based on this. This is the only way to prevent the objectification of bodies and the use of violence against them in the future.
Extractivism (Teo & Anna)
Although our cases were very different — one about manganese mining by a U.S. American company operating in Georgia, and one about a Canadian logging company operating in Canada — the uniting concept of study was extractivism. Broadly speaking, extractivism is the global practice of extracting natural resources, usually perpetrated by a company from the West in a country in the Global South (although this is not always the dynamic, as can be seen in the Canadian case study). The causes and impacts of extractivism are complex, and the system is deeply interwoven and ingrained in the global economy. Our research question asked how local forms of resistance can present a challenge to extractivism, and our case studies found that while they can have local impacts, resistance is not global enough to truly challenge the status quo as of yet. To demonstrate these challenges, we organized an interactive negotiation activity, where half the class represented a local population being negatively impacted by an extractive project, the other half was the company in charge of the project, and the professor was assigned the mediator role. The details of the activity can be seen in the image below. Perhaps unexpectedly, the activity almost became emotional for some students, as it effectively highlighted the injustices that are inherent to extractivism. The resolution at the end of the negotiation largely favored the multinational mining company, demonstrating how deep the practice of extractivism can go, and how difficult it is to break away from unfettered capitalism and the neoliberal paradigm.
Food Sovereignty (Nneoma & Rachel)
Our essay was about the current global food production system and their relationship with environmental conflict. We studied two conflicts ( one in Nigeria and one in Chile) where animal production and Avocado production have led to environmental conflicts and have led to locals lacking access to basic human necessities. We examined the concept of “ Food sovereignty” as an alternative to the current global food production system. In the food sovereignty approach, locals have control over the production system and emphasis is on sustaining human life, having an egalitarian society and new forms of social power over the food system. To overcome the rising conflict associated to food production and achieve an inclusive and sustainable society less attention should be paid to profit maximization and more attention to the people and its environment.
Renewable Energy (Ken & Marc)
Our essay focuses on mainly two renewable energy projects: a wind farm park in Catalonia, Spain, and a hydropower station in Styria, Austria. Although distinct industries in different countries are concerned, the cases share a lot of similarities. One mayor analogy is that both cases have attracted a great deal of criticism but in somehow different way.
In the case of Catalonia, 36 solar wind parks have been announced in recent years without considering the opinion of local councils and residents. It has further been argued that a pattern was established whereby wind turbines were being placed in poor counties with low GDP, low population and therefore little opposition. In the case of the hydropower plant in Austria along the river Mur, the main fear of locak authorities was based on its impacts on drinking water quality and on the last breeding areas for the endangered fish species Huchen. However, in both cases, the local community has been barely involved in the decision-making process which has triggered an aversion towards those projects.
Toxic Colonialism (Ale & Chang-Lin)
Our two cases exemplified the phenomenon of toxic colonialism, which is defined as the targeting of “less developed” countries as waste trade and illegal waste disposal destination. Thailand and the Philippines were victims of the above, and how locals began to protest not to be used as dumping grounds of the world. In response to this tricky issue, we proposed a variety of methods: including regional collaboration for public policy implementation and a transformational endeavour based on the book Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary. Moreover, given that toxic colonialism entails a relationship of dominance and geopolitical power, we picked the Undevolping the North transformative initiative, which, for the sceptics of political ecology, does not attempt to undermine capitalism or modernization. It essentially tries to decrease or remove the ties of domination that flow from Global North to Global South. Reducing historic privileges, and preventing the usage of Global South for the benefit of the Global North, are all paths to accomplish this.