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The Global Environmental Justice Atlas (EJAtlas): ecological distribution conflicts as forces for sustainability

By Leah Temper, Federico Demaria, Arnim Scheidel, Daniela Del Bene, Joan Martinez-Alier


The environmental movement may be “the most comprehensive and influential movement of our time” (Castells 1997: 67), representing for the ‘post-industrial’ age what the workers’ movement was for the industrial period. Yet while strike statistics have been collected for many countries since the late nineteenth century (van der Velden 2007),1 until the present no administrative body tracks the occurrence and frequency of mobilizations or protests related to environmental issues at the global scale, in the way that the World Labour Organization tracks the occurrence of strike action.2 Thus until the present it has been impossible to properly document the prevalence and incidence of contentious activity related to environmental issues or to track the ebb and flow of protest activity. Such an exercise is necessary because if the twentieth century has been the one of workers struggles, the twenty-first century could well be the one of environmentalists. This Special Feature presents the results from such an exercise—The Global Atlas of Environmental Justice—a unique global inventory of cases of socio-environmental conflicts built through a collaborative process between academics and activist groups which includes both qualitative and quantitative data on thousands of conflictive projects as well as on the social response.

This Special Feature applies the lenses of political ecology and ecological economics to unpack and understand these socio-environmental conflicts, otherwise known as ‘ecological distribution conflicts’, (hereafter EDCs, Martinez-Alier 1995, 2002). The contributions in this special feature explore the why, what, how and who of these contentious processes within a new comparative political ecology.

The articles in this special issue underline the need for a politicization of socio-environmental debates, whereby political refers to the struggle over the kinds of worlds the people want to create and the types of ecologies they want to live in. We put the focus on who gains and who loses in ecological processes arguing that these issues need to be at the center of sustainability science. Secondly, we demonstrate how environmental justice groups and movements coming out of those conflicts play a fundamental role in redefining and promoting sustainability. We contend that protests are not disruptions to smooth governance that need to be managed and resolved, but that they express grievances as well as aspirations and demands and in this way may serve as potent forces that can lead to the transformation towards sustainability of our economies, societies and ecologies.



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How to cite

Temper, L., Demaria, F., Scheidel, A. et al. Sustain Sci (2018) 13: 573.

Further information

This article is part of the Special Feature: Case Report The EJAtlas: Ecological Distribution Conflicts as Forces for Sustainability in Sustainability Science

One comment

  1. On amar kadhm said:

    Why are there important reports for international environmental organizations that shed light on the environmental violations of the oil and gas companies in the world, except for some cases in the countries of Africa or South America led by human rights organizations?