Building Climate Resilience in Pakistan’s High Mountain Regions
In this inspirational podcast with Prof. Barton Thompson, Ayesha Khan, of the Mountain & Glacier Protection Organization (MGPO) and Civil Society Coalition on Climate Change, and 2019 Stanford Bright Award winner, shares her journey - from being an adventure seeker in the Karakoram Range to a full time professional working to enhance the the adaptive resilience of communities to climate change and economic uncertainty in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region.
She shares crucial details of how she won the trust of mountain communities and survived, and indeed, thrived, in tough high-altitude environments. The key, according to her, is to give communities ownership over their resources and operate with full transparency in economic matters. The strategy she used was to help these communities create representative decision bodies and provide technical and strategic assistance in building adaptive resilience to the ever changing mountains. She assisted mountain communities with setting up tent systems for trekkers and collect crucial additional income. A part of this income went into clean up operations, and the large majority, back to the community. After two decades of following this model of work, where communities begin reaping the benefits of their own work (guided by MGPO), many now approach MGPO for solutions to various issues.
Most importantly, Ayesha ensured that these representative bodies had at least 40 percent participation from women, and that a representative from MGPO was also included to ensure financial transparency.
On the topic of what motivated her to work for the betterment of mountain communities, Ayesha candidly shared that once she actually went to the Karakoram and witnessed the wilderness up close, she was both overwhelmed by the sheer beauty, and concerned about the real life impacts on mountain hydrology due to climate change.
MGPO works at the grassroots as well as policy level, and a combination of both these types of work is crucial to building adaptive resilience in communities, according to Ayesha.
On the policy front, Ayesha helped create the Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change, a group of more than 50 organizations, individuals, and institutions collaborating to drive greater climate action in the South Asian subcontinent.
Environmental Racism in NC Hog Farming
In this highly informative podcast, Hannah Perls of the Harvard Environment & Energy Law Program speaks with Naeema Muhammad of the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network and Alexis Andiman of Earthjustice about the long running operation of hog farms and operations in eastern NC. Since the 1990s, these hog farming facilities have been operating without regard to impacts of fecal sewage on surrounding farmland and communities of color, particularly African-American and Latinx communities.
Despite this, the NC Department of Environmental Quality granted a general permit for 2,000 such hog farms to operate without necessary measures in place to address serious and disparate public health impacts on these communities and the environment. Specifically, permits were granted despite unlawful use of a lagoon and spray system of waste treatment used by these farms.
The Environmental Justice Network, Waterkeeper Alliance, and Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help, worked with Earthjustice and the University of North Carolina School of Law, to file a complaint against the Department in 2014. In this complaint, they raised serious issues with disparate impacts of the farms on surrounding communities.
What made this issue particularly complex was the overlap between (a) the powerful pork industry-legislature alliance and lobbying against any community action against farms, (b) the presence of these farms in a floodplain which led all the fecal sewage and contaminants to settle in common areas, (c) the location of these farms around areas inhabited by communities of color, and (d) the broad exemptions for agricultural activities under mainstream environmental law such as the Clean Water Act.
Naeema describes the immense difficulty in developing a strong narrative to show that the pollution was intentionally caused by the hog farms, a requirement under Title VI of the Civil rights Act of 1964. The grassroots organizations, along with Earthjustice and University of North Carolina prepared their own research consisting of documentary evidence from community members, to push the Department to come to the mediation table. Even at this stage, representatives from the Pork Industry made it difficult for any meaningful settlement by insisting on being a part of the mediation process, forcing Naeema and her partners to seek protection against intimidation from the courts.
After a long drawn struggle, the Environmental Protection Agency finally acknowledged that the hog farms had in fact acted in a discriminatory way but fell short of making a formal finding. The Department and agreed to enter into a settlement agreement with the Environmental Justice Network and partners, in which it agreed to closely monitor the hog farms for disparate impacts on communities and pollution.
The situation remains dire, with the North Carolina legislature continuing to pass laws granting protections to hog farmers.
Litigating for the Environment
In this podcast, Deborah Goldberg of Earthjustice, talks about beginning her public interest career right out of Harvard Law, juggling paid environmental law work with her own women and reproductive rights boutique law practice. She found private environmental law practice to be markedly different from her work at Earthjustice, in that, she now takes on builders and oil companies that she earlier used to assist with reviewing applicable environmental regulations. One reason for this was a certain 'discomfort' that she felt in defending big corporate interests against smaller groups of people.
She spoke of issues concerning monitoring regional energy bills, natural gas infrastructure and its upstream and downstream impacts in the product cycle, repowering coal powered plants that had long been retired, developing clean energy plans to address the rapid shut downs of coal fired plants, and working with communities of color that bear and unfair share of environmental burdens such as toxic pollution. Crucially, Earthjustice views environmental justice as a body of work rather than one off cases, as it dives deeper into representing Native American and port impacted communities.
In the absence of a specific legislation dealing with environmental justice, she points towards regional and departmental environmental justice policies, filing complaints with administrative agencies pushing companies to pay closer attention to the impacts of industrial processes, and using tools within existing Clean Air law.
Her advice for aspiring environmental lawyers is to keep an eye on environmental work even if it means holding off for a few years to pay off loans, while continuing working racial and environmental justice issues on the sidelines, to build credibility.
Also listen: A conversation with Earthjustice's Abbie Dillen
A Human Rights View on Climate Change
In this podcast, Aminta Ossom talks about looking at climate change through the lens of International Human Rights Law (IHL). She defines the importance of economic, social and cultural rights and explains how they require positive action by the government to be effective. Under IHL, all rights are interdependent. Not providing one right is equivalent to infringing the other rights. For example, your right to live will be hampered if the government does not take some active measures to ensure that your right to health is not hampered.
She talks about how many countries, including the United States, have not adopted legal institutions and international covenants to implement economic, social and cultural rights. These rights also include rights to basic amenities including water and sanitation. These rights are looked upon as bonus rights which are not primarily important.
She also talks about her research methods which use a fact finding methodology. She elaborated on the need for fact finding outside the existing legislative framework to evaluate how IHRL can be used for climate litigation. The IHRL framework provides an accountability and a duty to protect and fulfill the rights to environmental issues.
Adding on to this, Tripti Poddar talked about how the right to a habitable environment is also a necessary human right. It is a human right to continue staying in the place of one's choice and not be displaced because of environmental calamities. They are intrinsically linked and the realization of one without the other is not possible and if it happens it would be futile. This was one of her reasons to link IHL with climate change. Her second reason was the adversity that accompanies climate changes and how it only severely impacts the marginalized communities.
Most of the time such communities don't have enough resources to handle such crises. Therefore, it's very important that any mitigation strategy to adjust climate change meaningfully engages with communities, meaningfully engages with communities from the lens of human rights violation and the lens of violation of other socioeconomic rights.
Climate Policy and the Environmental Justice Movement
In this podcast, Michael Mendez talks about his book, ‘Climate Change on the Streets’. His work focuses on the problematic aspect of carbon reductionism. He details how policies focused on carbon reductionism solely focuses on reducing carbon emissions instead of formation of mitigation policies to provide for marginalized committees suffering the negative impacts of climate change. Lack of any emphasis on cumulative impact of GHG emissions will not only lead to futile policies but will also aggravate the impact of such emissions on public health. Majority of the environment justice groups have been in opposition of cap-and-trade systems or any market approach for GHG emissions. Lack of mandates on the usage of revenues from the system is also detrimental to any progress in providing environmental justice.
He also talks about how in the initial phase of climate regulations most of these policies favored the majoritarian sides and the benefits of such regulation to the impoverished were close to none. He adds on that with time, increased representation of people of color and excessive campaigning by environmental groups have allowed for some amendments in such policies which allows them to benefit the marginalized communities to an extent.
California cap-and-trade system (which has been analyzed very closely in this book) has a system where the industrialists can pay the community owners of forests in places like Brazil and Mexico to preserve them to reduce their carbon footprint globally and allow such forests to exist as carbon sinks. However this system has created a lot of discontent in environmental groups as it allows the industries to pollute the area unchecked and indigenous communities will lose rights over their forest lands if they take part in such policies as the industrialist will need to access the area in detail be very sure if the protected area is actually working as a carbon sink to secure offsets.
In the end, he talks about the need to focus on climate change and its intersection between poverty and public health. A climate change legislation needs to focus not only on planetary health but also on public health.
Climate Change and Policy in Latin America
In this episode of Unpacking Climate Change, Mauricio Cardenas (former financial Minister of Colombia) discusses the impact of climate change and policies to reduce emissions in Latin America, based on his recent book. This book discusses the approach that Latin America needs to curb emissions and to adapt to it. Mauricio talks about how deadly is the impact of climate change in Latin America as the number of environmental disasters have increased.
He points out the lack of recognition of partnerships in civil society for reducing climate change. Even though there are no climate change deniers in Latin America, there is no agreement on the measures required to prevent and adapt to climate change. The problem with effective implementation of climate change regulations is that most Latin American countries are developed on colonial lines where the state does not have much control in the country side or remote areas.
Climate Change and Policy in Latin America
In this podcast by the Environmental Change and Security Program, Erika Weinthal talks about water being a source of conflict in the postmodern world. She explores the intricacies of water management of trans boundary rivers. Her research currently focuses on water bodies in armed conflicts. She works in areas where non-traditional and proxy wars are more common like Iraq, Israel and Palestine.
She focuses on the role water plays in active and protracted conflicts, specifically the consequences of targeting water systems and weaponizing water during war. One way water this is done is through “slow violence,” a process that unfolds gradually with such long-term effects that may seem invisible, such as restrictive government policies or contaminated natural resources. The oil contamination of the Niger River Delta and the displacement of people from large dams (like in Iraq) are examples of slow violence.
A large part of her research focuses on the impact that the Israeli occupation has had on water access in the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli permit denials are preventing Palestinians from seeing new water infrastructure built, wastewater treatment systems installed, and new wells drilled. Long term impacts on ecosystems and well-being are often ignored. For example, it creates climate refugees. Lack of water resources forces people to move out of their areas and can internally displace people in their own countries.
Defending the Planet
Michael B. Gerrard, is a founder and director of Sabin Centre for Climate Change law. He hosts this podcast to discuss many predominant issues related to climate change policies around the world. In this episode, he invites professor Olatunde C.A. Johnson and Ruth Santiago to discuss environmental justice.
She explains that environmental justice is the fusion of the civil rights movement into environmental issues. It's a fight for equal and equitable distribution of benefits especially to the historically disadvantaged colored and indigenous communities.
Professor Johnson talks about the usage of the equal protection clause of the Constitution to help in reducing environmental racism. She also referenced judgments like in Alexander v. Sandowal which will help in using the American Constitution and civil rights statutes to ensure environmental equity. She explains that one of the biggest reasons to use civil rights cases to ensure environmental equity is that it helps in curbing systemic forms of racism present in the Environment Protection Agency. At this point Santiago added that the climate change movement has become increasingly intersectional, which helps in strengthening the claims of marginalized communities.
As a member of White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, Santiago also talked about various infrastructure programs being sponsored by White house. These programs include safe and affordable and sustainable Housing, development of clean- water infrastructure and remediation and reduction of legacy pollution. Their work also includes updating the existing environmental law regulations in the United States. The council will also monitor implementation of the policies they create. The council is currently focused on creating policies for restorative and corrective justice for environmental wrongs. The Biden administration, according to Santiago, is focused on providing equity assessment for all the work done by environmental agencies.
When the Ice Melts
In this podcast, independent environmental journalist Sharada Balasubramanian talks to Arindan Mandal, a PhD student at JNU’s School of Environmental Sciences, and Mohammad Farooq Azam, a glaciologist, and professor at IIT, Indore. This podcast talks about the impact of rising temperature on Chhota Sigri glacier in Lahual, Himachal Pradesh. The glacier is an important water resource in the area. Ablation of this glacier will not only mean water scarcity in the region but will also lead to creation of Glacial floods in the area (which have been known to be catastrophic).
Mohammad Azam's study is an important milestone in the field of glaciology in India owing to the lack of glacial studies in the Indian Himalayas and it helps in understanding the future of water availability This study is termed as a benchmark glacier study as this glacier was studied for 20 years). The conditions at this glacier are somewhat accessible when compared to other Himalayan glaciers. Using a very simple formula of mass balance he explains how a glacier accumulates and ablates in changing seasons. This mass balance equation is important to understand the relation between climate change and glacial health. His studies show the rate of water loss in the glacier and how it's losing mass every year. The water discharge from this glacier will be at its peak in the 2040s-2050s. The discharge will be at its lowest in the 2070s. He recommends an inter-university cooperation to study accessible Himalayan Glaciers to create a data inventory. Instead of mitigation measures, he recommends adaptive measures for the people living downstream to the glacier.
Environmental Justice and People Based Policy for transformational Change
In this podcast, Tina Johnson, director of National Black Environmental Justice Network talks about the requirement of environmental justice and the need for transformational policies to ensure equity. She talks about how her group indulges in community lawyering, narrative building, creating awareness in impacted communities. The need for representation is important for creation of inclusive policies.