Environmental Justice has become an increasingly important issue globally. But what remains unclear are the ideas that people and their communities hold about what environmental justice is to them and whether or not these are reflected in responses to real world environmental problems. With forest conservation decisions often arising from national and global levels, this can have detrimental effects on those living amongst it.
Although these high level decisions attempt to protect valuable resource for the benefit of the national economy, climate change, and conservation of biological diversity, what can often be overlooked is the rights of those that live within or near such forests.
Different experiences and interests often influence stakeholders to act in a certain way to environmental problems, making this a rather different set of principles to that of the local people. And these differences in opinions on what environmental justice embodies is exactly what UEA are regarding to be highly important because of their effect on conservation and ultimately, human wellbeing.
Lead researcher of the project, Prof Adrian Martin, along with researchers Dr Iokiñe Rodriguez, Dr Bereket Kebede and Dr Nicole Gross-Camp, all from UEA’s School of International Development, are looking at the different views on environmental Justice of local people in Bolivia, China and Tanzania.
The research group have taken on the challenge of reconciling the aims of forest conservation with being fully committed to social justice. In order to do this, it has been crucial to uncover exactly how stakeholder groups understand environmental justice and to be able to grasp the different factors that shape local people’s opinions of what constitutes environmental justice.
The team used three methods to help with their research: context studies to understand on what basis environmental management occurs, exploring local conceptions of environmental justice to decipher opinions on what is and isn’t a fair way to make decisions on forest management and distributing cost and benefits for the disruption of such actions, and what current opinions of environmental justice are evident in policies already and how these are locally implemented. Furthermore, the team compared the views of local people to those expressed in forest policies and projects led by government agencies and NGOs.
Semi-structured surveys were used to gain a deeper understanding of local opinion as well as experimental economic games to help researchers to look at principles of justice that people utilise to showcase how people conclude what is the fairest way to distribute village forest revenues.
Furthermore, individual and group interviews were used to gather more detailed information on perceptions, as well as using Participatory Video – a great tool for helping people connect with policy makers and to get across their ideas and concerns on environmental justice. The research team found this to be a particularly valuable asset to their work. The idea behind Participatory Video is a methodological approach whereby individuals film on an interest or concern that is of importance to them so that they can showcase what is important in their view and how they would like to be perceived. By the team using such a method helped to draw out key issues from those who perhaps felt unheard on issues of forest conservation. And the result of such a video is effectively a film, capturing the important feelings, emotions and views of the people most affected by conservation.
The fact that the videos are made entirely by the local people has great value dignifying the communities and helping to strengthen their self-esteem, as said by the General Chief of CICOL, Anacleto Peña from the indigenous territory of Lomerio in Bolivia, “for the first time we are the protagonist of our own history, and we have been able to tell the story ourselves, not someone from the outside. That is why ‘we’ are the narrators and not some external person talking about ‘them’”. The project was also very valuable in helping to move forward the Indigenous Autonomy agenda of the Monkoxi peoples from Lomerio.¹
The project has completed its field work phase and the research team is now working on the publication of the results. Yet in all cases, activities in the research sites continue through the committed work of the in-country collaborators. In one particular case, Bolivia, UEA managed to secure funds to give continuity to the activities through the “Academic and Activist co-produced knowledge of Environmental Justice” (ACKnowl_EJ) Project², currently in its initial phase.
PUBLICATIONS AND RELATED CONTENT
Gross-Camp, N., Rodriguez, I., Martin, A., Jun, H., Massao, G., Inturias, M (2016). Using participatory video as a research tool to capture dimensions of environment justice. DEV Research Briefing 12 (January).
University of East Anglia, Norwich.