Environment and Sustainability

The growing Environment and Sustainability list is at the heart of our remit to publish quality scholarship that addresses global social challenges.

This list covers a broad spectrum of issues and focuses on the social justice dimensions of environmental sustainability, including in: climate change; environmental politics; developing sustainable economies; transport and sustainability; and environmentalist thought and ideology.

The new Open Access Global Social Challenges Journal incorporates these themes to facilitate critical thinking across disciplines and fields.

Environment and Sustainability

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To achieve the dual goals of minimising global pollution and meeting diverse demands for environmental justice, energy transitions need to involve not only a shift to renewable energy sources but also the safe decommissioning of older energy infrastructures and management of their toxic legacies. While the global scale of the decommissioning challenge is yet to be accurately quantified, the climate impacts are significant: each year, more than an estimated 29 million abandoned oil and gas wells around the world emit 2.5 million tons of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. In the US alone, at least 14 million people live within a mile of an abandoned oil or gas well, creating pollution that is concentrated among low-income areas and communities of colour. The costs involved in decommissioning projects are significant, raising urgent questions about responsibility and whether companies who have profited from the sale of extracted resources will be held liable for clean-up, remediation and management costs. Recognising these political goals and policy challenges, this article invites further research, scrutiny and debate on what would constitute the successful and safe decommissioning of sites affected by fossil fuel operations – with a particular focus on accountability, environmental inequality, the temporality of energy transitions, and strategies for phasing out or phasing down fossil fuel extraction.

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This panel discussion session explores some of the central dimensions of the Crisis in the Anthropocene that constitute global social challenges in the context of development studies. The conference theme highlighted the profound human impact on our blue-green-brown planet, that is already breaching planetary boundaries and pushing us beyond the roughly 1.5°C tipping point. This threatens liveability and sustainability in many localities and regions and may well rapidly be ‘off the scale’ of imaginability and survivability. Inevitably, as mounting empirical evidence and increasingly clear projections by the IPCC and other authoritative bodies show, these impacts are unevenly spread, both socially and spatially, both now and over the coming decades. The urgency of appropriate action is undeniable and we already know many dimensions of the required adaptations and transformations. Yet progress mostly remains too slow. These challenges are vital to the development studies community – heterogenous as it is – with our concerns for tackling poverty, inequality, deprivation and environmental degradation globally and locally.

Hence this symposium asks what the crisis means for development theory, policy and practice and what development studies can and should be contributing to – and, indeed, whether it is capable of – addressing some key dimensions that warrant greater attention.

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The term polycrisis has recently gained much interest in academia and policy-making circles as a perspective to understand the nature of ‘overlapping emergencies’ – geopolitical, ecological, pandemics and economic – that are disrupting policy and politics in the Global North and South. How do we understand the nature of these new forms of crisis? This provocation argues that polycrisis, while a good descriptive term for the overlapping emergencies that characterise the current conjecture, should be analysed in terms of the larger crisis of capitalist social reproduction. The polycrisis needs to be understood as a political crisis that arises from a contradiction between social reproduction and the crisis of capital accumulation. It leads to increasing authoritarian statist forms as well as the growing resistance and dissent that is a feature of the broken politics of time and distinguishes the multiple intersecting crises of the 21st century.

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With the election of Narendra Modi as prime minister in 2014, opportunities for inward investment by global capital have flourished, generating resistance to its socio-environmental impact. Land grabs aimed at extracting minerals have seen the state backing transnational corporations against communities; Special Economic Zones and corridors for industrial development have multiplied with relaxed labour and environmental regulations, displacing communities and leaving those remaining fighting against pollution and contamination; the impacts of growth have led to urban gentrification and battles over diffuse pollution and access to space. Moreover, the funding of the non-profit sector has been inextricably linked to the global market through philanthrocapitalism by international Foundations and Corporate Social Responsibility, with widespread co-option into the neoliberal agenda. Environmental justice campaigners are faced with a significant challenge of supporting people’s movements at the grassroots whilst working for a coordinated opposition to its cause in post-colonial neoliberalism.

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This chapter provides an introduction and theoretical overview of the book. It explores how the environment is a key battle ground and location for struggle, as economic decision making in the interests of capital accumulation lead to cost shifting onto the environments of those with least economic or political leverage. Building on the lasting legacies of colonialism and settler colonial relations, in the current stage of neoliberalism this environmental-economic dumping has become increasingly acute and systematic. Moreover, it has generated new waves of self-reflective community action and social movement processes in which community development plays a role. Such resistance draws on the rich yet conflicted theoretical resources which have developed through academic labour around analysing the social practices of community, development and environmental justice as well as the intellectual work of ordinary people engaged in material struggles to change the world from where they live and work and make community.

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This chapter reflects on the processes of production of the book and the themes which have emerged across diverse contexts. Our commitment to the interface between activist knowledge and academic reflection has taken different forms and generated insights which are often excluded in academic publications. It has raised challenging questions about who speaks for whom, about voice, authorship, interests and justification. All contributors are facing the exploiting and fragmenting impacts of neoliberalism on communities, workers and the environment in different ways and resisting at the interface of community development and popular struggle. Both the impacts and resistance are mediated by settler colonialism, post colonialism, ethnic and gendered divisions, and traditional and new of structures of power and class struggle. Through reflecting on these struggles we are drawn back to the principles of community development in agency and solidarity and how these are continually reinvented in the struggles for environmental justice.

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Palestine enjoys a privileged geographical location lying between three continents: Asia, Europe and Africa. Palestine is a small area compared to many other countries, yet its environment contains a wide range of temperatures, rainfall, and topography. In addition, throughout history it has been the cradle several different civilizations, religions, and cultures. Land is central to the conflict between Palestinians and the Zionist movement. Actions taken by the Israeli occupiers have disrupted the delicate ecosystem and damaged the unique environment of Palestine in addition to harming the people, so many Palestinians have forgotten the importance of preserving their homeland. However, the successful preservation of the land is intertwined with the continuing struggle for justice by the Palestinian people. Without the consideration of the ecology of Palestine, the Palestinian people may never find true and lasting justice.

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This chapter explores how the environment in Palestine has been a site of struggle for control between settler colonisers and Palestinians for over 100 years. It argues that the Zionist settler colonisation of Palestine may be understood as an ecological distribution conflict since the action of colonisers – from the British Mandate through the establishment of the state of Israel through to the military occupation of the remainder of the Palestinian territory – has been predicated on the expropriation of resources and the expulsion of the Palestinian population. Community development has been a component of the Palestinian popular struggle against settler colonisation. By exploring examples of community development, the chapter will analyse the context in which this has become integral to the popular struggle as well as threats that community development, especially in relation to environmental issues, has been used to normalise and legitimise the Zionist occupation.

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Struggles for environmental justice involve communities mobilising against powerful forces which advocate ‘development’, driven increasingly by neoliberal imperatives. In doing so, communities face questions about their alliances with other groups, working with outsiders and issues of class, race, ethnicity, gender, worker/community and settler/indigenous relationships.

Written by a wide range of international scholars and activists, contributors explore these dynamics and the opportunities for agency and solidarity. They critique the practice of community development professionals, academics, trade union organisers, social movements and activists and inform those engaged in the pursuit of justice as community, development and environment interact.

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