9th Global Conference
Sunday 11th July 2010 – Tuesday 13th July 2010
Mansfield College, Oxford
Environmental Justice and the Impact of Uncertainty
ESRC Centre for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability and Society (BRASS), Cardiff University
The “risk society” thesis suggests that the legitimacy of both public and private institutions depends on how they manage uncertainty by recruiting scientific expertise to define uncertainty as risk, and to present risks as neutral, objective features of the world. Their reliance on scientific expertise is also reflected in the ways they define harm, generally in terms of negative impacts on quantifiable, impersonal values.
I argue here that these definitions reflect particular social interpretations of the meaning of uncertainty and harm. In particular, they reflect a historically contingent and institutionally-privileged way of constructing the social future as amenable to predictive planning, top-down management and technical intervention.
The political and ethical significance of these definitions can be demonstrated if we examine how they operate within the governance of energy infrastructure planning, in which discourses around energy security and AGW increasingly mean that the planning system is a site in which clashes of interest are staged in relation to divergent spatial (global, national, local) and temporal (from the present to the distant future) dimensions. Drawing on interviews conducted within communities affected by the construction of the South Wales Gas Pipeline (perhaps the largest single energy infrastructure project undertaken in the UK in recent years), I argue that energy infrastructure conflicts can be understood as a clash of meanings rooted in different systems of value and competing rationalities.
The difference between these meanings lies in how they produce different “risk subjectivities”, ways of integrating uncertainty into social life. As a result it is necessary to recognise that they incorporate divergent interpretations of how socially-produced uncertainty should be faced, evaluated and responded to, conflicting judgements about what constitutes social justice and injustice, and clashing assessments of whether the imposition of uncertainty itself can be unjust.
Sharing and Shaping Perceptions: Dialogues with Expertise in Participatory Design of Renewable Energy Technologies
Carla Alvial Palavicino
Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, The University of Tokyo, Japan
Energy production is profoundly rooted in the way industrial society has been shaped. Any transition to a sustainable energy system would not only require technological upgrades, but also societal and cultural transformations in the way we understand energy.
Notions about energy vary among different groups. While among experts and decision makers the notions of energy serving economic development are mainstream, lay people’s perception of electricity derives from their daily life. These perceptions differ according to the history, social relations, culture, and can be strikingly different among those who have rarely seen electricity as means for “production” but rather as a mean to satisfy social norms of “comfort and leisure” of modernity.
The deployment of community based renewable energy projects necessarily confronts these visions, along with concepts of efficiency, risk, locality, resources and development. While experience has shown that “bottom-up” approaches are more likely to succeed, “top-down” approaches are the most common; however, there are also intermediate “mesogenic” cases where science fulfills its role in aligning with the needs of society, and where the attitude of experts (developers or researches) towards the community will define how deliberative the instances of design and decision making will be.
Here we present an ongoing case study of a “virtual power plant” implementation in a rural community in Chile, developed by engineers of a national university. This community exists because of its cultural and historical value, yet modernity and progress have only touched it until recent years. Electricity is a newly introduced but scarce resource, although not traded as a commodity. Using concepts of STS and public participation, this research is aimed to explore what are the different perceptions of electricity, how they have been constructed, its confrontation and shaping to satisfy the need of multiple stakeholder, addressing issues of expertise, power and participation.
Eradicating the Water and Sanitation Crises through Unification
Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Seattle Universit, USA
In September 2000, the United Nation’s Millennium Declaration established the goal of halving the proportion of people in the world who lack access to safe drinking water and sanitation by the year 2015. Despite some improvements, access to safe drinking water and sanitation for billions of people around the world continues to be a daily struggle and results in millions of deaths per year. In addition to water quality, global climate change will continue to affect the quantities of water that are available to developing communities. Access to sustainable water and sanitation solutions is a social justice issue and basic human right that can be afforded to all people through a combination of political will, innovation and collaboration.
Non-governmental organizations have been working with government partners to promote and provide access to safe water and sanitation for decades, yet many estimates predict that decades will be required to eradicate these nineteenth-century problems. This paper examines the economic, technological and political aspects of this critical social justice issue including the barriers to change and the exemplars for hope. Due in part to the development of sustainable technological solutions over the past twenty years, the financial costs of addressing the water and sanitation crises are relatively small. If these crises are to be eliminated during this century, the disparate groups who are working toward common objectives must set aside minor philosophical differences with regard to project implementation and be more cooperative. This paper will provide examples of successful collaborations through the work of Seattle University’s Engineers Without Borders student club for water projects in Zambia, Jamaica and Thailand. It also explores how action by government leaders may be catalyzed by galvanizing public opinion and reducing apathy through innovative uses of media including new forms of populist or grass-roots-based social media.
Water distribution is often considered a question of environmental justice. For example, water management schemes are often framed in the language of rights and fair access. However, water conservation strategies rarely address fairness in target, impact, or outcome. Yet, water conservation programs can be embedded in unequal social contexts no less than are other water management approaches. Moreover, such programs are often implemented by NGOs with the aim of empowering civil society. Examining such programs from with a justice lens not only allows for a new perspective from which to critique them, but also suggests new methods by which to improve interactions between NGOs and communities.
This paper combines an environmental justice focus on impacts and action with a feminist political ecology perspective on webs of relations between local, regional, national, and global forces to examine how water scarcity and related programs impact marginalized people in rural communities. In this case study of a multi-scale NGO-led program in rural Jordan, focused on women users, we find that, like macro-level water distribution schemes, the program ignored the multiple socio-political hierarchies that constrict access to and control over resources. As a result, it further marginalized those women and men who were already marginalized by water distribution systems. Similarly, the global agencies which supported this program were highly influential in determining program goals as well as the methods with which to achieve them. Thus local staff struggled to empower civil society and improve water management in locally effective ways. We conclude with recommendations for how such conservation initiatives could incorporate fairness, local agency, and micro-to-macro scale actions as guiding principles.