News & Updates
Environmental Justice Atlas
April 21, 2014
Hear the term conflict resolution and it usually brings to mind parties involved in armed conflict. The violence and intensity of these situations commands our attention. The global community has evolved diplomatic, economic and other interventions to help opposing parties step back from violence and negotiate solutions to their differences. However, we are often less equipped to deal with very serious, but non-military, conflicts arising from unresolved global issues like climate change.
Perhaps it is because the events contributing to climate change and environmental degradation are more diffuse, slower moving and have consequences that are further in the future. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that the economic disruptions engendered by climate change could lead to armed conflict. Yet there has been no consensus on how to move forward. Environmental conflicts play out in locales across the world, often without much media attention. We have few at our disposal to help us grasp the scope and nature of the problem. But that may be changing.
The Environmental Justice Atlas is a new online tool that maps locations where environmental conflicts currently exist (see the atlas at http://ejatlas.org/) It was introduced the week of March 17th and is invaluable for those who study environmentally-based conflicts. The Environmental Justice Atlas was funded by the European Commission and built by Environmental Justice Organisations, Liabilities and Trade (EJOLT). There are 915 conflicts currently covered. “It’s only the tip of the iceberg,” says Nick Meynen, EJOLT spokesman. The group’s goal is to expand the initial coverage to 2,000 conflicts in the coming year. (Science, 28 March 2014, Vol. 343, p. 1413)
The tool uses a global map to highlight the hotspots of environmental conflict. A set of 100 filters covering categories such as Country, Company, Commodity, and Type let even environmental novices easily pinpoint specific sites of conflict and their origins. Though easy to use, the Environmental Justice Atlas is designed with a depth of information that will be appreciated by academicians and activists alike. The tool is also available to the public. Sites of environmental conflict are color coded to make it easy for the user to discern the type of environmental threat that exists at a specific location. In the U.S. for example, there are 35 sites of environmental conflict identified and described in detail.
The genius of this tool is that it simultaneously gives us the global picture of environmental threats and also lets us quickly get to the details of situations needing our attention. It is an open tool. Academics can provide input to expand the range of cases and fill in gaps. As the tool evolves, it may become a political force that makes it more difficult for politicians around the globe to ignore or defer action on environmental issues.
The stakes are high, especially for future generations who have no voice now in the decisions being made to avert catastrophic environmental damage from climate change, as well as potential armed conflict driven by these disruptive forces. Tools like the Environmental Justice Atlas can help focus our attention, avoid indecision, and make informed choices.