After the geographical and thematic chapters, this last chapter wraps up the main arguments in favour of the thesis of this book: there is a global environmental justice movement. We prove with a wealth of documented empirical material that environmental justice conflicts are not punctual events, they are systemic. This movement for environmental justice is carried out by protesting social actors, their networks and the iconographies and vocabularies they share in many languages. Those who complain are often the rural poor and Indigenous, the peasants, farmers, fisherfolk but also urban dwellers, scientists, religious groups. This chapter is then a call for zadistes, zapatistas, feminists and eco-feminists, Indigenous peoples, the youth of Fridays for Future, peasants, workers’ trade unions, neighbours and citizens, EJOs and radicalized ecological scientists to make a pact for environmental justice and sustainability according to their own interests and values. This will be an environmentalism of the people, a powerful “antisystemic movement” (Yasin 2022).


The briefest summary of this book is that the enormous metabolic gap of the industrial economy causes many socio-ecological conflicts at the frontiers of commodity extraction and waste disposal. The protagonists of these conflicts display their own vocabulary, iconography, repertoires of contention and valuation languages. They are not helpless victims; they struggle through collective action for a future which is socially and environmentally just. A world counter-movement for environmental justice has arisen at the frontiers of commodity extraction and waste disposal.

The main purpose of the book is to make visible this movement across regions and issues. The enormous entropy hole in the industrial economy requires more and more extraction of materials and energy. Trade in early empires was mostly of “preciosities” although Rome imported also wheat and olive oil as “bulk commodities”. Industrial capitalism based its expansion and growth on sources outside Europe (African slaves, and imported “preciosities” and bulk commodities) in an ecologically unequal trade, and also by the internal rearrangements converting land and labour into marketable commodities subject to economic transactions and calculations. Communal property in land and water dissolved. In many of the colonies, land was expropriated by force or by depopulation from pandemics after the European conquests in the Americas and Australia. Landless urban proletariats grew later (and are still growing in China and India) because of population growth and displacement of peasants. The appropriation of common resources continues. Counter-movements arose for land reform, or for socialism and the defence of the proletariat. All this was happening in the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries in the midst of a great increase and changes in the social metabolism that continue today. The movements of anti-extractivist resistance considered in this book are different from the counter-movements described by Karl Polanyi, because they do not simply ask for protection but for autonomy, local self-determination and universal socio-ecological justice.

A reviewer (Bernstein 2005) of The Environmentalism of the Poor, my book of 2002, wrote that the work contained a number of vignettes, meaning short illustrations of environmental conflicts but not real case studies. The word vignette means a decorative motif in the form of a vine leaf. Bernstein believed that the “vignettes” were not weighty enough to support the thesis that there is a rural and urban global movement for environmental justice. (Keck and Sikkin 1998; Bandy and Smith 2005). The present book includes about other 500 “vignettes” drawn from the EJAtlas. As we look at the nearly 4,000 cases collected in the EJAtlas, we move from a few vignettes to a very large vineyard. This environmental movement of the poor and the Indigenous is sometimes successful. It must cope with repressive violence, meaning not only p. 679killing of activists as happens in some countries but also criminalization. Many poor people live in fear. But there are also successes in environmental justice. Therefore, the theory is based on many empirical examples. Take for instance the massacre in June 2009 in Bagua, Peru, when Indigenous people claiming their lands against extractive industries were attacked by the military police leaving over 30 dead; or take for instance the successful referendum organized in Esquel, Argentina in 2003 against gold mining. Both are instances of grassroots and collective protests that arose as a response to specific threats with local and some international support. They were movements against the international division of nature and appropriation of land, water and clean air. They were not trade unions movements asking for higher salaries.

In this book, the existence of a world EJ movement is assessed by looking at the properties of protest events (Diani 2022) in terms of the same commodities in question, the material causes as damage from mining, biomass, water use, land grabbing and so on. The action repertoires are also similar, with cultural variations. The participants are often local ad-hoc organizations which feel grievances and present claims. In general, they are not long-lasting. They speak for the poor and the Indigenous, the subaltern and downtrodden, they are anti-colonialist. Such protests are not NIMBYs but on the contrary they often are NIABYs, framed as part of broader collective campaigns at national or international levels. They share slogans and iconography. They often oppose the same international companies.

Delap's outstanding history of feminisms (2020) states that historians must take care not to erase the local specificity of struggles and activism. However, she adds, it would be a mistake to simply look at all these movements in isolation because they often share key ideas or draw inspiration from each other's struggles. Feminism is a global movement. For centuries, women from all walks of life have been mobilizing for gender justice. In 2022 the shout Jin, Jiyan, Azadi spread around the world from Iran, meaning “Woman, Life and Freedom”. The same grassroots replication applies to the environmentalism of the poor and the Indigenous. One can do analyses based on countries or regions but also cross-cultural analyses on topics such as copper mining and smelting, sand mining, oil palm plantations, dams, incinerators and landfills, coal-fired power plants (CFPPs), oil and gas extraction, nuclear reactors, concentrated animal farming operations (CAFOs), windmills and solar panels.


The social actors of socio-ecological conflicts are women and men taking part in highly intense or subdued conflicts as Indigenous peoples, farmers, neighbours and citizens, members of EJOs, landless peasants, industrial workers, pastoralists, fisherfolk or others. They are militant or “resigned” environmentalists (Lora-Wainright 2017). Some are scientists and professionals, or members of religious groups ‒ such as the murdered environmentalist nuns, Sister Valsa John in Jharkhand in 2011 and Dorothy Stang in Pará, 2005.

Other political ecologists researched grassroots environmentalism under other names, e.g. “liberation ecologies” (Peet and Watts 1996) or “subaltern environmentalism” (Egan 2002; Ruiz Cayuela 2018; Hassaniyan 2021). Banerjee et al, (2021) are similarly “bridging insights from subaltern studies and political ecology” to explain how forms of translocal resistance emerge. I refer here to Gayatri Spivak's critique (1988, 2011) against Ranajit Guha, denying the possibility for the subaltern to speak. Pulido (1996, p. 128), in her classic book on Hispano p. 680pastoralists’ claims in New Mexico, quoted Spivak: “being a subaltern includes lack of voice or at best a voice that is barely audible (…) moments of mobilization and uprising are then openings that allow us to interrogate those visions (…) to explore what they mean to the subaltern”. Arelí Valencia (2013) discussed ambientalismo subalterno in Peru while Italian historian Marco Armiero drew directly from Gramsci and wrote of subaltern environmentalism in the waste crisis in Campania, bypassing Ranajit Guha and Spivak (Armiero and Sedrez 2014), as Stefania Barca had done already (2012). The word “subaltern” was Gramsci's term in the Prison Notebooks, taken up by Ranajit Guha's remarkable school of historical “subaltern studies” in India in the 1980s (influencing the much younger Ramachandra Guha's pioneering environmental history of the Chipko movement (Guha, 1989)).

The global environmental justice movement is sometimes compared to the anti-slavery movement of the nineteenth century but its scope is larger. It is one of the movements that show other possible futures together with feminism (Delap 2020) and allied LGTBQI+ movements. The environmental justice movement also overlaps with the working-class movement (Chapter 20) but sometimes it clashes with it. It fits easily with agrarian movements (Chapter 21) and cooperates very strongly with the Indigenous revival and resistance movement (Chapter 25). It also overlaps with the international human rights movement, with popular health movements and with anti-militarist movements for peace. It is very close to anti-racist and anti-colonial movements. It is not identical to any of these other movements because of the emphasis on the environment. It could easily extend the concern for justice to other species, apart from humans, by recognizing the global validity of the notion of Rights of Nature as in the constitution of Ecuador (art. 71). There are sections in this book featuring emotional struggles for multispecies justice deploring cruelty to sharks, dolphins, tigers, rhinos, elephants, peafowl, black-necked cranes and black-necked swans, white-wing ducks, butterflies, bees, turtles, bulls, and other animals such as those housed in Concentrated Animal Farming Operations (CAFOs).

There are still doubts with respect to the existence of a Global Environmental Justice Movement. Walker (2009a, 2009b) affirmed its existence across different scales, while Sikor and Newell titled a special issue in Geoforum (54, 2014) “Globalizing Environmental Justice?”. I was not so prudent (Martinez-Alier 1992, 1995d, 1997; Guha and Martinez-Alier, 1999) and even less today when we have new methods and new abundant evidence to approach the question. In my 2002 book I distinguished between three ‘currents of environmentalism’: the ‘Cult of Wilderness’, the ‘Gospel of Eco-Efficiency’ (or Eco-Modernism), and the ‘Environmentalism of the Poor’. The latter movement is practised through many local forms of resistance by heterogeneous but overlapping protagonists. It constitutes the principal opposition to environmental destruction. In political science (and environmental sociology), concern for environmental problems was attributed (by Ronald Inglehart, 1995) to a “post-materialist” cultural turn. “Post-materialism” was a misnomer. When the environmental movement started in the 1960s and 1970s, it was concerned about material issues like DDT pesticides (Rachel Carson, 1962), nuclear radiation. There was an environmentalism against the very material “effluents of affluence”. Moreover, there are many materially deprived peoples complaining against dispossession of the commons (land, water) by the extractive industries and against pollution. This could be called The Environmentalism of the Dispossessed, as Leah Temper did in her doctoral thesis (2014), of the BIPOC, or the environmentalism of “the nobodies” (the nadies) as Eduardo Galeano called them and Francia Márquez (in Colombia) repeats in 2022. Or the “environmentalism of the people”, to acknowledge the different participants.p. 681

Certainly not all poor people behave as environmentalists. To assert this would be blatant nonsense. The theory (Martinez-Alier 2002) says that in many ecological distribution conflicts (which are caused by the increased and changing social metabolism), poor people are often on the side of environmental conservation and a clean environment against business corporations or the state. This was argued already in other terms by the US Environmental Justice movement since the early 1980s. It has not yet sufficiently permeated political science and environmental sociology. For instance, Ulrich Beck (1992) argued for many years that environmental risks were “class-blind”. His concept of the “risk society” was initially used to argue that globalization creates risks that concern people from all different classes; for example, nuclear radiation or climate change. To the contrary, the environmental justice movement in the US had argued that pollution was not “colour-blind” (Bullard 1993). However, the US EJ movement placed itself in a “minority” inferiority position, it has not tackled injustices coming from the US to the rest of the world, such as excessive GHG emissions and the uncounted damages from US corporations.

Conceptually this “environmentalism of the poor” is close to the US EJ movement but it applies to rural and Indigenous populations and poor citizens across the world. It was introduced by academics and also by activists like Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) in India and Hugo Blanco in Peru in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Since the mid-1990s, the explicit connection between the two movements ‒ EJ in the USA (Bullard 1990, 1993) and the environmentalism of the poor in Latin America, Africa, and Asia ‒ was established both in theory and practice (Martinez-Alier 1997; Guha and Martinez-Alier 1997, 1999). Classical books analyzed movements against dams (McCully 1996) and tree plantations (Carrere and Lohmann 1996) authored by activists while Leonardo Boff's Cry of the Earth and Cry of the Poor (1995) established the emotional connections between poverty and environmental complaints. Poverty is multidimensional: it is not only a question of dollars per day but of access to clean and sufficient water, land and air. People who are deprived of such access because of extractive industries or as victims of waste disposal, complain accordingly if they are still alive. They have lost freedoms.

The deaths of Chico Mendes (1988) fighting deforestation in Brazil, Ken Saro-Wiwa and his Ogoni comrades in the Niger Delta (1995) fighting oil extraction and gas flaring by Shell, down to Berta Cáceres in Honduras (2016) fighting the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam, grandmothers Gloria Capitan (2016) in the Philippines struggling against coal stockpiling in Mariveles and Fikile Ntshangase (2020) in South Africa also against coal mining, plus hundreds of other deaths of environmental defenders (as listed by Global Witness, and also in the EJAtlas), have cemented the links between EJ and the environmentalism of the poor. Across the whole sample of the 3,800 contentious episodes registered, in over 450 cases deaths of one or more environmental defenders are reported.

The EJAtlas promotes analyses of the types of mobilization in such conflicts, their actors, which variables explain the rates of “success” in stopping the extractive industries and creating new alternatives? In the EJAtlas, the conflicts are classified according to their outcome into (many) failures, (some) successes and (many) “don’t knows”. Among 3,800 cases, about 585 are deemed as “successes” in environmental justice ‒ there is no sustained social movement unless it obtains some successes from time to time. Reported “success” correlates closely with “project cancelled” as an outcome. (Rodriguez-Labajos and Özkaynak 2017; Aydin et al. 2017; Scheidel et al. 2020; Hanacek et al. 2020). In a few cases (about 60) the success stories are due to some extent to the strength that appearing in the EJAtlas has brought to local p. 682activist groups. We welcome this but the EJAtlas does not set itself the impossible task of impinging directly and case by case on reality.

The EJAtlas is an archive of environmental conflicts in the form of a “protest map” (Drozdz 2020), a product of a wave of “bottom-up” cartography at the service of social counter-movements and also of academic scholarship. In Drozdz's words (2020), it is an “advocacy map” on conflicts around environmental issues. It is a cosmopolitan, accurate map useful for activism, research and teaching, a database collaboratively collecting information on environmental conflicts coming directly from activists and, more often, indirectly from journalists and academics. For instance, the EJAtlas data are used to investigate the forms and networks of global opposition to gas fracking or to nuclear energy from uranium mining to breeder reactors. The collaborative maps from the EJAtlas provide an example of what critical mapping can do to reframe the dominant cartographic narrative. Maps sometimes present a view of the environment as a space dotted with strategic resources, which implies that their management and exploitation are the main focus of land use and resource policies (Drozdz 2020), looking at nature from the logic of so-called capital accumulation. The EJAtlas shifts the focus from what economic potential the environment holds to the consequences resulting from its exploitation and the resistance against them (Drozdz 2020). The EJAtlas registers victims of extractive violence, the dead, the criminalized, jailed or exiled (Scheidel et al. 2020), the wounded, the frightened and displaced by “the coercion present in natural resource extraction”, “socio-ecological warfare techniques to control human and natural resources”, “corporate counterinsurgency strategies” and “state terrorism” (Dunlap 2019; Brock and Dunlap 2018).

We contend (Martinez-Alier et al. 2016; Martinez-Alier 2021) that there is indeed a global environmental justice movement where most struggles rest on local movements. There are often connections and networks creating global alliances, and the actors against which these struggles are addressed are often the same, namely transnational corporations. What the EJAtlas shows is that land and natural resource use cannot be simply viewed as a matter of post-political technical management but also of politics. There is a contagion effect across countries and topics carried out by ad-hoc or permanent EJOs through interpersonal networks as well as communication vehicles through the mass media.

In my view, we are like contemporary social historians steadily and modestly building up our own open access archive of environmental conflicts, “rearguard” actors to use Sousa Santos’ image (2014) making conflicts visible after they have taken place or are still burning actively or when their embers might revive. While Sousa Santos talks about a “sociology of absences”, Val Plumwood talked about “shadow places”, the disregarded places of economic or ecological support brought forward by the “forces of reproduction” (Barca 2020), the places that consumers of commodities in rich countries are not aware of (Plumwood 2008). Thus, in the course of making the EJAtlas we have increased our ignorance (but also our knowledge) of chemical engineering, and the changing industrial ecology of the elements in the Periodic Table.


Drawing on ecological economics and political ecology, and also industrial ecology, this book presents many instances of social mobilization of what could be called “subaltern environmentalism” or the environmental movements of the poor overlapping with Indigenous, p. 683agrarian, working-class, citizens and collective health movements. They often share key ideas or draw inspiration from each other's struggles. Through hundreds of cases, we bring alive the two main tenets of ecological economics. First, the economy can and should be described in terms of social metabolism (the growing and changing flows of energy and materials), and not only as economic accounting in money terms. Second, the conflicts for getting energy and materials and disposing of waste are fought out by displaying diverse valuation languages which cannot be reduced to a single unit. The EJAtlas opens up new avenues for research in comparative, statistical political ecology focusing on the power dynamics and valuation contests in EDC (O’Connor 1993; Veuthey and Gerber 2011). The combined value of ecology and culture is emphasized in Victor Toledo's notion of “biocultural memory” (2008). We have collected thousands of such valuation contests in the EJAtlas where, on the one side, economic costs and benefits and demands for monetary compensation for damages appear in the records but, on the other side non-monetary valuation languages are also strongly deployed. Which values will triumph? For most conflicts we can answer the question: which valuation languages have been brought into the dispute, and have politically prevailed? So, the EJAtlas is a research and teaching instrument not only in political ecology but also in ecological economics focused from its beginning (Otto Neurath, K.W. Kapp, Georgescu-Roegen) on plurality and incommensurability of values.


What is the sense of human history? As Enrique Leff (2021) has written, history is mobilized today not so much by social conflicts in the field of political economy, expressed in the form of “class struggle” or the labour movement, but “in the field of political ecology by socio-environmental conflicts”. Making sense of history now requires placing industrial ecology, ecological economics and political ecology at the centre of today's politics. We ask whether economic growth improves or harms the environment, and whether it is plausible to rely on technical change and on the ‘internalization of externalities' in the pricing system to achieve a sustainable economy. “Externalities” must be framed instead as systematic cost-shifting causing ecological distribution conflicts, which sometimes give rise to environmental movements (Fraser 2010). For instance, resistance to oil or coal exploitation exists for local reasons but also because of the need to curtail the carbon dioxide emissions that will be produced when burning the fossil fuels. This has been argued by Oilwatch since 1997. I was present at the COP in Copenhagen in 2009, when President Correa boycotted from Quito the international launching of the Yasuni ITT proposal.

To understand the movements for environmental justice, we appeal to the interplay between ecological economics, the study of social metabolism, and comparative political ecology. Conflicts are caused by the changing and growing social metabolism of industrial economies (Fischer-Kowalski and Haberl 1997, 2007, 2015; Haberl et al. 2012; Steinberger et al. 2010; Martinez-Alier, Temper, and Demaria 2014). Energy cannot be recycled. Similarly, materials can be recycled only in part. Attempts to change the energy system make new conflicts appear on the mining of new materials and land grabbing. Meanwhile, renewable resources (Georgescu-Roegen's “funds”) such as aquifers, timber and fisheries are overexploited, the fertility of the soil is jeopardized and biodiversity is depleted. The gains and losses of the p. 684use of the environment are often unjustly distributed not only with regard to other species or future generations of humans but also among humans living today. Such EDCs sometimes overlap with agrarian or wage-labour conflicts or other social conflicts on class, ethnicity or Indigenous identity, gender, caste or territorial rights. Sometimes there are also complaints against international ecologically and economically unequal exchange while in large countries such as India, Mexico, Brazil and Nigeria internal colonialism is blamed, as it could be in China. The increasing incorporation of biophysical processes into the market since the late 1980s is interpreted sometimes as “neoliberalization of nature”. This perspective helps to understand contemporary environmental issues but, in my view, the main drivers of conflicts are the changing configurations of social metabolism and not neoliberalism (Apostolopoulou and Cortes-Vazquez 2019).

The most distant commodity extraction frontiers in the Arctic, the Amazon, Mozambique or Madagascar or Patagonia and Kalimantan are reached in the search for fossil fuels, metals or biomass, and local resistances arise against such incursions. The EJAtlas is an archive that helps to find the sense of human history ‒ how we got into the mess of climate change and rapid biodiversity loss, scarcity and dissipation of materials and struggles on land, water and clean air. Who is fighting for a better future in the name of socio-environmental justice? Recent history could be interpreted on other lines ‒ the coming of socialism through class struggle; the end of patriarchy; the end of coloniality and racism; the abolition of poverty and also the conservation of other species; the triumph (or defeat) of Western liberalism against religious political fanaticism; the succession of empires including the breakdown or resurrection of the Russian empire and the rise of the Chinese empire; the continuous improvement of technology through the application of science and the colonization of outer space; the miraculous arrival of the circular economy and green economic growth; the increasing respect for human rights and the rights of nature; the nuclear energy accidents and the regional nuclear wars, the next pandemics etc.

This book optimistically focuses on the contemporary environmental justice movement as a harbinger of the future. It shows multiple intersections of this movement, it recalls old ideas and discusses news issues; it updates stories of success and remembers famous environmentalists killed, acknowledges grassroots mapping of environmental conflicts, and it builds on meetings with like-minded people at academic conferences and other meetings like social forums and COPs while crossing and recrossing provincial and national borders. This book also supports an end to human population growth, something less frequent on the left but that I defend based on feminist activists such as Emma Goldman and Maria Lacerda de Moura (Chapter 29). As Françoise d’Eaubonne wrote plainly in her 1974 book: “One of the two most serious threats to humanity is the current rate of global demography. The other, parallel to it, is the destruction of the environment”. She added: “We will come back to this in our conclusions about the need to develop an ‘ecofeminism’”.

Pierre Charbonnier (2019) has brilliantly reconstructed the Western political and economic philosophy since the seventeenth century, leading him to the conclusion that political ecology should have occupied and must now occupy the centre of politics. He feels empathy with the ecological “technocrats” of the US in the 1930s, such as M.K. Hubbert, who were followers of Frederick Soddy's proto-ecological economics. He prefers the US “technocrats” of the 1930s to melancholic anti-industrialist French thinkers such as Jacques Ellul and Bernard Charbonneau. I agree to some extent but I think that Charbonnier leaves aside as protagonists of the coming changes the “subaltern classes”, the peasants, the Indigenous, the ecofeminists, p. 685the downtrodden of the world peripheries, the racialized oppressed peoples, the Dalit and Adivasi. I hope that zadistes, zapatistas, feminists and ecofeminists, but also Indigenous peoples, the youth of Fridays for Future, peasants, workers’ trade unions, neighbours and citizens, EJOs and radicalized ecological scientists make a pact for environmental justice and sustainability according to their own interests and values. This will be an environmentalism of the people, a powerful “antisystemic movement” (Yasin 2022). This is the line proposed also by the anthropologist Philippe Descola, a common cause between the zadistes from Nantes and the Achuar in Ecuador fighting against oil pollution and metal mining. 1 The protagonists are, in Ariel Salleh's words, a “meta-industrial class” meaning intersecting social groups including but beyond waged industrial workers.


Figure 1.5 in the introductory chapter lists the protagonists of EDC and their frequency in the EJAtlas, the local and international EJOs, the neighbours and citizens, peasants and farmers, the Indigenous and traditional communities etc. To a question from Lorenzo Pellegrini about the social class analysis of socio-ecological conflicts (in an interview in Development and Change, 2012) I gave this answer, ten years ago:

Who are the protagonists of what James O’Connor called “the second contradiction of capitalism”? Ecological distribution conflicts are often conflicts of “accumulation by dispossession” (as David Harvey calls them) or “accumulation through contamination” (profits increase because there is no liability for climate change, and because extractive industries generally do not pay for damages). This could be brought into a Marxist framework. But the social actors of the world environmental justice movement are very diverse, they do not fit into neat categories as rentier landowners and capitalist farmers (in Ricardo's model) or bourgeois capitalists and proletarians (in Marx's model). In environmental struggles, reproduction of human society and of nature's functions are equally or more important than fights over the (purported) economic surplus.

I stick to this answer. I am glad I said “nature's functions” and not “nature's services” (Muradian and Gómez-Bagghetun, 2021) By “purported” economic surplus I meant – to give again an instance from Peruvian economic history – that labour employed as indentured labour or wage labour in the extraction and shipping of guano had a monetary cost lower than the export price of guano. The Mehrarbeit was transformed into Mehrwert. But the physical, ecological production of guano (bird excrement after feeding on fishes, mostly Engraulis ringens) was not factored into the economic accounts. There was no real surplus in the extraction of the accumulated guano. There was extraction, depletion, dissipation. In ecological economics, after 1992, this led to the split between weak and strong meanings of “sustainability”. “Weak sustainability” meant that manufactured capital could be substituted as a rule for so-called “natural capital”.

Marx offered a sense of history in the maxim “The history of all hitherto existing human society is the history of class struggles”. Until the end of the twentieth century, the environmental justice movement was not a central theme for Marxist economists or historians precisely because of their myopia regarding the flows of energy and materials in the economy. Authors working on “industrial metabolism” (Ayres 1989) or “social metabolism” (Fischer-Kowalski 1998; Haberl 2001) look at the economy in terms of flows of energy and materials. p. 686Together with the ecological economists, we see the economy as a subsystem of a larger physical system. Marx (1818‒83) and Engels (1820‒95) were contemporaries of the physicists and physiologists who established the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics in the 1840s and early 1850s (J.R. Mayer, 1814‒78, J.P. Joule, 1818‒89, R. Clausius, 1822‒88, W. Thomson, later Lord Kelvin, 1824‒1907). They followed many of the remarkable scientific and technical novelties of their time. Engels wrote in 1888 (letter to Danielson) that the nineteenth century would be remembered not only as the century of the theory of evolution but also of the theory of the transformation of energy, the century of Darwin, Mayer, Joule and Clausius. However, Marx and Engels did not consider the relations between their analytical concepts (means of production, production, accumulation of capital, productive forces, surplus labour, surplus value, exploitation) and the language of energy as they could have done in their mature work after the 1850s.

“Social metabolism” was a term that Marx himself used. He knew Moleschott's theory of metabolism in Der Kreislauf des Lebens. Marx, having read Liebig, understood the metabolism of fertilizers in agriculture. Liebig was a remarkable scientist and agricultural chemist, and also what we now call an ecological modernizer. Marx quoted his argument that large-scale commercial agriculture implied an export of nutrients from the fields. There was a gap in the circularity of nutrients not coming back to the land. Import of guano from Peru could become exhausted or be endangered by local geopolitics. Liebig was alarmed by the threats to the supply of this organic product, the excrement from birds feeding on the abundant fish off the coast of Peru. Guano was extracted through the cheap labour of Chinese indentured workers. The circularity rift in agricultural nutrients in Europe and the US was remedied later by nitrates from saltpetre from Chile until 1914 (Martinez-Alier 1987, pp. 37–44). The deficiency of nutrients in commercial agriculture that alarmed Liebig in 1840 could be repaired by factory fertilizers, as he himself preached. In fact, with the Haber–Bosch process, natural gas is upgraded by combination with nitrogen from the air to form nitrogen fertilizer. The “natural” nitrogen cycle that Boussingault had discovered is supplemented by fossil fuels whose energy is used for fertilizers that have increased crops. Phosphorus continues to have a problematic supply and is also a cause of pollution and eutrophication (Chapter 21).

Marx (and Engels) did not say that the industrial economy was entropic as they could have said after Clausius introduced this word in 1867. In Marx's economic theory of unbalanced economic growth, the so-called “schemes of reproduction” are an original contribution to economic theory that divides the economy into a sector producing means of production and another producing consumption goods, looking at their dynamics (This is in Capital, vol. 2, part 3 as edited by Engels). However, Marx's schemes of simple or expanded reproduction of the economic system had little to do with ecology (i.e. the physical availability of energy and materials, and the entropy law). Much later, the Sraffian system of “production of commodities by means of commodities” (1960) was an input–output system, whose analytical objective was to find out the cost of production of different commodities (the “production price”), and whose political objective was precisely to show that such prices depend on the distribution of income (between wages and profits). Therefore, the value of the capital stock depended on the ‘class struggle’, so to speak. This was a Marxian analysis, where “commodities” were produced by other commodities and by (exploited) human labour, while we know in fact that primary commodities are produced by bio-chemical-geological processes.

The owners of means of production are able to extract labour from those they employ, a Mehrarbeit (an extra work) that they convert into Mehrwert, an extra economic value. They p. 687also rely on the reproduction of labour at the homes of the workers, mainly by unpaid women's work. Moreover, they exploit, again without paying for their reproduction, through naked power or through ownership (mining concessions for instance), the products of nature or the sinks for waste provided by nature in the oceans, the land and the atmosphere (Barca 2020).

In this line, Marx read but did not quite understand one early article on quantitative agricultural energetics sent to him by S.A. Podolinsky (1850‒91). This young author started his article of 1880 by discussing how sun energy reaches the earth, and the thermodynamics of this flow of energy. He then showed with statistics that natural forest and pasture produced kcal by photosynthesis without human labour (so many kcal per hectare). However, in agriculture, by adding hours of human and animal work, the production of one hectare of wheat would be larger than that of one hectare of forest or pasture land would be without such inputs or work. Nature was producing forests and pastures, and with human ingenuity and work, it could produce larger crops (all measured in kcal, both the inputs of human and animal work and the output). According to him, this was a Mehrarbeit, a surplus created by work of humans and animals directed by humans. The Mehrarbeit could be transformed into Mehrwert (an added economic value). This, he thought, should be of interest to Marx. (I add that the surplus was produced not only by human and animal work but also by seed selection, fertilizers and photosynthesis. Podolinsky knew this of course, but in his model he limited the agricultural accounts to the ratio between the input of energy in human and animal work, and the output of production measured in calories) (Martinez-Alier and Naredo 1982; Martinez-Alier 1987, 1990).

What did Marx do after reading Podolinsky's article and corresponding with him? He made some notes, 2 quoting Clausius and trying to understand Podolinsky's work, and he asked for Engels’ comments on the article. In December 1882, Engels famously replied that one should not mix economics and physics (Martinez-Alier 1987, 1990). Podolinsky was counting calories, and Marx and Engels did not quite understand it, or approve of it. Marx was perplexed and Engels gave the wrong answer. Engels also falsely accused Podolinsky of not knowing that coal was exhaustible. This rejection of Podolinsky's agricultural energetics did not help to increase Marxists’ interest in energy accounting. The field of “energy and society” was not cultivated by some Marxist economists and historians until one hundred years later, in the 1980s. For instance, Cottrell's book on energy and society, subtitled “The Relation Between Energy, Social Change, and Economic Development” (1955) does not seem to have been influenced by or have influenced Marxist historians. Later authors such as Rappaport (1968), or in the 1980s Charles Hall and Vaclav Smil counted energy flows, and they were not Marxists and were not inspired by Marx. Rolf Sieferle's book (influenced by Marx) was published in 1982. Der unterirdische Wald was not translated for almost 20 years. The topic of energy did not play the role it deserves in explaining the “thermo-industrial” revolution and economic growth. The wide discussion on energy and society between 1880 and 1940 did not count on Marxist contributions and was also left aside by mainstream economists.

Podolinsky is relevant for the history of ecological economics because he authored one of the first studies on the socio-metabolic flow of energy. Trained as a medical doctor and physiologist, he had a short life but left a strong trace in Ukrainian nationalist and federalist politics (as a friend of Mikhailo Drahomanov) and also in the Narodnik movements against the Russian autocracy (as a young colleague of Piotr Lavrov though also with close friends in the Narodnaya Volya group 3 ). It stands to reason that being born in 1850 and with training in physiology, he was better equipped than Marx and Engels to write on agricultural p. 688energetics. Unfortunately, his health deteriorated after 1882. His pioneering work on energy and the economy, and in particular on agricultural energetics, was praised by Vernadsky in La Géochimie (1924) in a section where he reviewed authors such as Felix Auerbach and others who had explained life as a process which reversed or slowed down the dissipation of energy. Vernadsky then added a long paragraph on Podolinsky with a memorable phrase: Podolinsky had studied the energetics of life and tried to apply his findings to the study of the economy (Martinez-Alier 1987, 1990). 4 Between Podolinsky's agricultural energetics in 1880‒81 and H.T. Odum's “farming with petroleum” in 1971 and David Pimentel et al.'s article in Science on agricultural energetics in 1973, 90 years went by. Odum and Pimentel also looked at agriculture as a transformation of energy. They showed that in modern agriculture the energy input increased more than the production. The energy efficiency decreased. This can be expressed as the decreasing EROI (energy return on investment) of modern agriculture (Martinez-Alier, 2011), a relevant fact to understand the “biofuel delusion” or the fallacy of large-scale agro-biofuels production (Giampietro and Mayumi 2009).

Marx died when the early accounts of social metabolism of the economy in energy and material terms were starting to be developed by a variety of non-Marxist authors. He died before oil was used in large amounts and before radioactivity was discovered at the end of the nineteenth century. Marx could not have discussed the development of nuclear energy or the increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere before his death in 1883. But he and Engels could have acknowledged explicitly the relevance of the entropy law for the growth and dynamics of a capitalist system based on coal mining and burning. They did not. They did not support Podolinsky's empirical agricultural energetics accounts.

Throughout the twentieth century, almost to the end, Marxist economists and historians did not develop an empirical view of the industrial economy in terms of energy use. Marxists did not write “The entropy law and the economic process”, Georgescu-Roegen did in 1971. Marx and Engels’ lack of appreciation for Podolinsky's agricultural energetics was a missed chance for ecological Marxism. Capital “accumulation” in money and property means actually a lot of dissipation of energy from the fossil fuels and much mining of materials which will not be recycled or produced anew by nature. Capitalist “growth” means growth of the entropic gap. It is therefore not real growth if we take into account the loss of energy and materials, the increased greenhouse effect, the loss of biodiversity, the chemical pollution and the loss of cultures and knowledge. The “productive forces” have a counterpart in destruction and dissipation. Frederick Soddy complained that Marxist authors failed to consider the entropy law. He published Wealth, Virtual Wealth and Debt in 1926. His economic ideas apply today. It is easy for the financial system to increase the debts (private or public), and to mistake this expansion of credit for the creation of real wealth. However, in the industrial system, growth of production and consumption imply growth in the extraction and final destruction of fossil fuels. Energy is dissipated and cannot be recycled. Real wealth would be instead the current flow of energy from the sun. Economic accounting is false because it mistakes depletion of resources and the increase of entropy for wealth creation. The obligation to pay debts at compound interest could be fulfilled by squeezing the debtors for a while. Other means of paying the debt are either inflation (debasement of the value of money) or economic growth ‒ which is falsely measured because it is based on undervalued exhaustible resources and unvalued pollution. This was Soddy's doctrine. He was certainly a precursor of ecological economics.

The study of energy and material flows as a concomitant factor of economic growth was not developed by Marxist scholars but rather by precursors of industrial ecology and ecological p. 689economics. In particular, Bob Ayres and Allen Kneese “basically presented in 1969 the full program of what in the 1990s was carried out as material flow analyses of national economies” (Fischer-Kowalski 1998, p. 71). Their pioneering study in 1969 set up an appropriate conceptual framework and arrived at reasonable empirical results. Thirty years later, the concept of social metabolism and the methods for calculating the flow of materials have become widely accepted. So, by 2020, to beginning students of social metabolism, one would undoubtedly recommend Vaclav Smil for energy accounts, and Fischer-Kowalski, Haberl, Krausmann et al. for accounts of material flows. The precursors in the empirical study of the metabolism of human societies have been studied by Martinez-Alier (1987) and Vianna Franco and Missemer (2022).

The insistence on Marx's glimpses of social metabolism as a solid foundation for an ecological Marxism is bound to fail. Marx and Engels’ scarce and uncomprehending mentions of the “entropy law” accompanied the lack of any influential Marxist debate on energy and society for many decades after their death. These debates were carried out by others. However, there is another approach to an “ecological Marxism”. We find inspiration in Marx's ideas on “class struggle”. If complemented by the empirical study of social metabolism, they may be relevant to today's ecological economics and political ecology. Provided, also, that we abandon the theory of labour value or rather than we complement it with a “value theory of nature” (Yasin 2022). Class struggles, in Marx, were struggles over the Mehrarbeit and the Mehrwert, so that questioning the “labour theory of value” while continuing to believe in “class struggles” is difficult for Marxists.

Another reason of interest for an “ecological Marxism” is the momentous fact that the Chinese political system is directed by a solidly established single party which is explicitly Marxist, founded in 1921 through Leninist influence. So, given the self-professed Marxism of the Chinese Communist Party that rules the country and plans to celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2121, which are the ecological elaborations of Marxism that can be useful to them and, in turn, to the rest of the world? One can be cynical about Chinese Marxism, in the same way that one can confront the strength of the ideology of market fundamentalism in the United States with the realities of state intervention in the military-industrial complex. Chinese socialism has no doubt many capitalist characteristics, not least the great external trade surplus in money terms that allows or indeed needs a wave of international investments along the “Belt and Road”, incidentally helping China to secure raw materials. “Flag follows trade”. But China, like the rest of the world, faces climate change, while burning four billion tons of coal per year (Chapter 6). Appeals to a distant “ecological civilization” of two thousand years ago, or to the Marxism of one hundred years ago, will not solve the main problems. What China does will impact the world. An ecological Marxism, if such could exist, could be useful in Chinese politics.

As Saito states politely, “Marx did not elaborate on the squandering of natural resources in as much detail as the cruel exploitation of labor power” (Saito 2017, p. 129). Perhaps Saito himself could write a book on Marx in the Entropocene, imagining how Marx could have written on the Entropy Law and the future of capitalism. Instead of the abundance foreseen in the Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875), Marx could have anticipated Saito's “degrowth communism” as also Wolfgang Harich's (Harich, 1975). I imagine myself that Marx would have been interested in the growing clash between economy and environment and on the interpretations that some later Marxists made one hundred years after his death in 1883. He would have enjoyed or been challenged by: (1) The eco-socialism of André Gorz, his p. 6901972 views on décroissance, the importance of social autonomy, his praise of informatics, his premature goodbye to the proletariat in 1980; (2) Harvey's concept of “accumulation of capital by dispossession” (2003) not as something of the past but very much present; (3) James O’Connor's 1988 “second contradiction of capitalism”, which places the focus on resistance and not only on the “logic of capital” as seen from above.

In 1988, Jim O’Connor came out from California with a resounding new thesis. The issue was not only that investment in the search for profits increased productive capacity while exploitation of labour decreased the buying power of the masses. This was the first contradiction of capitalism. There was a second one. The capitalist industrial economy undermined its own conditions of production (he should have said the conditions of existence or the conditions of livelihood and social reproduction, and not only the conditions of production). There was exhaustion of natural resources, there was introduction of dangerous technology like nuclear power, there were new forms of pollution and capitalism had no means to correct such damages. A new type of social movements was arising, and the main actors were not only the working class but an assortment of social groups, often led by women, often composed of ethnic minorities complaining about the injustices in the use of the environment. The fact that the “environmental justice” movement had arisen in the US in 1982 inside the Civil Rights movement, reinforced Jim O’Connor's thesis, and his journal published several articles on this movement that fought against “environmental racism” (e.g. Novotny 1994). I became Jim's friend in 1989 and published several articles in his journal, Capitalism, Nature, Socialism and translated his articles for the journal Ecología Política.

The doctrine of the “second contradiction of capitalism” states that commodity production is certainly inconceivable without the non-wage activities of social reproduction that form and sustain human beings who perform wage labour. Nor could such production exist apart from the natural biogeochemical processes that ensure the availability of raw materials and energy sources, and the environmental services provided by nature outside the market (Barca 2020). Nor, finally, would profits or capital be possible without the legal order, the police, and the public goods that sustain private property and contractual exchange. These non-economic essential conditions are not external to capitalism, but constitute integral elements of it (Fraser 2022). The growth of the capitalist economy does not ensure these conditions. On the contrary, to some extent it undermines them.

The “second contradiction” looks optimistically towards environmental grassroots movements. Jim O’Connor appreciated the movements fighting against “environmental racism” in the USA. He would not call them “militant particularists”. Let us consider for instance the conflicts on copper mining at Ashio (Chapter 2) or in Rio Tinto (Chapter 23). Both conflicts took place over 120 years ago. The “first contradiction” of capitalism would manifest in excessive capacity for copper extraction, a market glut and an inability to realize potential profits by selling the stocks of mined copper and the new production. The “second contradiction” would manifest instead in complaints against land, air and water pollution because of mining and smelting, mass demonstrations meeting with repression. This is for instance what led to a massacre in Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu in 2018 (Chapter 9). We were blind to “the second contradiction of capitalism” until the late 1980s.

Until the 1970s, in the metropolitan centres, the challenges to “economic growth” had been marginal. Dialogue and joint action between environmentalist and labour movements were rare although there have been instances of working-class environmentalism since the nineteenth century. Later, some other countries started their own course towards the use of p. 691more fossil fuels and economic growth, very notably China. Movements over land grabbing, water use, forest access and pollution burdens, most of them manifestations of “ecologically unequal exchange”, only began to see themselves as “environmentalist” in the late 1980s and 1990s. The global character of the rupture between human society and nature was not well understood either in Social Democratic Keynesian circles or (even less) in the triumphant neoliberal wave of the 1970s and 1980s in the West. The greatest threats produced by economic growth, were not widely recognized until the mid-1980s. In fact, “accumulation of capital” means the dissipation of energy and materials as a throughput of the economy. Even the stocks accumulated by humans (buildings, means of transport, factories) require more and more inputs of energy and materials for their maintenance. Or they become abandoned as derelict symbols of past prosperity. Rarely do their owners face up to the environmental liabilities. “Accumulation of capital” is not the adequate physical description of the growth of the capitalist economy, whether we refer to “primitive or original” accumulation or later to the accumulation that comes (in the Marxist analysis) from the profits fed by the increased productivity and exploitation of proletarian labour.

As Zehra Yasin (2022) has written:

The first decades of the twenty-first century have seen the emergence and expansion of a world-historical wave of environmental or socio-ecological movements such as environmental justice, agrarian justice, food justice, water justice and climate justice movements. The global ecological crisis of the capitalist world system or “the sustainability crisis” (Scheidel et al. 2018) became noticeable at the last quarter of the twentieth century although its historical origins date back to the historical beginnings of the formation of the capitalist world system.

Indeed, the concept of “commodity extraction frontiers” comes from the analysis of the silver, sugarcane and cotton frontiers in the Americas from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries (Bunker 1985; Moore 2000; Beckert 2014), inspired by Wallerstein, and it is ever more relevant.

To conclude this section, James O’Connor's “second contradiction of capitalism” was on the right track but he emphasized how the environmental degradation caused by profit making and capital accumulation increased the costs of production to capitalists. Climate change, loss of biodiversity, water scarcity and pollution, ocean acidification or nuclear waste are issues that stretch beyond the undermining of production under capitalism. They undermine the conditions of life and human livelihoods. Economic growth (i.e. increase in “production”) is said to come from turning the profits into capital accumulation expressed in technologies that develop “the productive forces”. But we know that economic growth relies on systematic exploitation and cost shifting. As a reaction, social protests and movements arise not only from workers but also from other exploited members of society or from the communal owners of ‘the free gifts of nature’ now dispossessed at the extraction frontiers, and also from those suffering from contamination of land, water and air.


All over the world communities are fighting in an environmentalism of the people for socio-environmental justice defending their land, air, water, forests and their livelihoods from harmful projects and extractive activities. Grassroots environmental justice movements help p. 692the economy to be less unsustainable (Scheidel et al. 2018). Such movements for environmental justice have a telos, a goal of sustainability, livelihood, freedom and more social equality than at present. They easily intersect with ecofeminist movements and also with Indigenous movements.

Malcolm Ferdinand's work (2019, 2021) on the worldwide link between anti-colonialism and anti-racism, and the environmental movements, appeared as this book was written. Born and raised in Martinique (like Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon), Malcolm Ferdinand's harrowing book shows the slave trade to the United States, the Caribbean and Brazil as one of the main roots of modern social and environmental destruction through coloniality and racism. The owners of slave ships embarked as many slaves as possible to make the voyage from the Gulf of Guinea more profitable. Seeing this recent history not only from Africa and America but also from Liverpool and Nantes, he brings together the anti-colonial, anti-racist movements that are growing worldwide with the world environmental justice movements. He is inspired by the US environmental justice movement of the 1980s but his scope is larger and includes the study of the recent use of toxic chlordecone in colonial banana plantations, as an agrarian and public health conflict. The conflicts gathered, described and analyzed in the present book involve several social actors, including anti-colonial and anti-racist activists, maroons, peasants and workers, citizens and neighbours and the social issues pertaining to ecology, human health, economy and society. Therefore, any given conflict is “intersectional” (Crenshaw 1989) as regards the social actors and also the issues involved. To acknowledge the powerful presence of gender and also ethnic identity, working class, peasant or pastoralist or fisherfolk affiliation among the social actors of such conflict does not imply essentialism. This presence is an empirical reality. The same person may be a woman activist, Indigenous, and of a peasant family, as Berta Cáceres was in Honduras (Tran 2021, Chapter 21).

Am I using the word intersectionality in its proper meaning? Thus, there is a famous verse by Maria Mercè Marçal (born in 1952) describing intersectionality before it was theorized. She wrote in a poem in 1976 that she was marked from birth by being a woman, of an oppressed nation and of lower social class, and therefore, she added, she was a triple rebel. She died at 45 years of age. Living first in a village far from Barcelona, she later got a university degree and became a secondary school teacher and, as she said with a smile, no longer of so low a class but more of a woman and more nationally oppressed than ever. She was not Black or Brown. She was not yet a militant environmentalist. She was a Catalan poet and as militantly lesbian as she could afford to be but not single-issued, she had intersectional identities. This is how I understand the word.

The overlapping, although distinctive identities, of the environmentalists in such conflicts as we have analyzed in the present book mean that we cannot subsume the conflicts as manifestations only of the agrarian question (Chapter 21), or the working-class social question (Chapter 20), or the urban question (Castells, 1972), or Indigenous struggles for survival (Chapter 25), or ecofeminism, or popular health movements (Firpo Porto 2021), or nationalist struggles (as in the eco-nationalism of Kurdish territories or in West Papua and so many other places). The conflicts and the participants often belong to several of these “questions” at the same time. People have two or three or more identities but they cannot have all identities at the same time. The succession of “questions” and “movements” in contemporary historical importance is summarized in the following scheme suggested by Zehra T. Yasin (2023) when she introduces the “socio-ecological question”. It is the “movements” that create the “questions”.p. 693

  • Social question – Trade Unions, the working class movement.

  • Agrarian question – Peasant and landless labourers movements. ‘Land and Freedom’.

  • Urban question – Urban planning, squatting, social housing. “Right to the city”.

  • Gender question – Feminism, against Patriarchy.

  • Coloniality, racism – Anti-colonial and anti-racism movements. ‘Black lives matter’.

  • Socio-ecological question – Environmental Justice. Environmentalism of the People.


I mean here a movement in the same sense in which one could speak of the working-class movement in Europe before 1914, or the peace movements across the world at several points in time including the anti-Vietnam War student movement in the USA in the 1960s; or the agrarian or peasant movements in Latin America from the Mexican Revolution of 1910 onwards, or the triumphant anti-colonial world movement after 1945 particularly in Africa, or the Civil Rights movement in the USA; or the growing and increasingly successful feminist movement of the last hundred years; or the movement of Indigenous peoples that is growing since the 1960s.

In social movement theory, the focus is not on the content of the movements but in their political forms. Social movements are not political parties. As Diani and Della Porta have emphasized, social movements are involved in conflictual relations with clearly identified opponents; they are linked by dense informal networks favoured nowadays by the internet; they share a distinct collective identity. They have resources (money, publications, contacts) and they exercise repertoires of actions. Most of them are historically ephemeral. Such social movements are not so much organizations or groups of people as “clusters of performances” (Tilly 1993-94).

The formal organizational characteristics are important although less than the actions. Deleuze and Guattari (1986) used the word “rhizomatic” to describe organizations that spread horizontally as if they were roots and branches of grass, plants and trees. Such socio-political movements as feminism, the peace movement or Indigenous peoples’ movement have very rarely had a unique organization and leadership even at national level. They are dispersed and to some extent heterogeneous. The usual chronology is from grievances and claims to movements. For instance, peasant grievances and claims arrived earlier than the recognized historical terms for the movements (such as jacqueries) or standardized slogans such as “land to the tiller”. The slogan Land and Freedom, tierra y libertad, has its origin in Russia's Narodnik movement after 1870 and travelled to Spain and Zapata's Mexico in 1910. Peasant movements existed much before the Via Campesina was born in the late twentieth century. Grievances typical of the industrial working-class movement (the 8-hour day) or terms such as strikes or grèves, boycotts, scabs and esquirols were born before the movement as such and its organizations were recognized. Similarly, in the environmental justice movement, we can identify common slogans (in many different languages). By doing network analysis of the datasheets in EJAtlas we also could trace organizational cross-country connections (or lack of connections). For instance, we ask, (a) in which conflicts recorded in the EJAtlas do the organizations belonging to the confederation Friends of the Earth International appear (e.g. Censat in Colombia, ERA in Nigeria, Justiça Ambiental in Mozambique, WALHI in Indonesia etc.)? (b) p. 694How relevant are Greenpeace and other international organizations in actual environmental conflicts, compared to grassroots organizations at national, provincial and local levels? (c) How often and in which roles do the “cult of wilderness” organizations such as IUCN, WWF and Nature Conservancy appear in the conflicts recorded in the EJAtlas? Or how relevant is membership in UNESCO's World Heritage List or in the RAMSAR convention?

Ad-hoc environmental organizations are often among the leading participants in environmental conflicts. They tend to establish links with other EJOs at country level and sometimes at subcontinental level, through interpersonal networks involving individuals or organizations, and sometimes sympathetic journalists. Research on the environmental justice movements must not be guided by the presence of names of organizations but focus instead on local actions and common or similar slogans and banners. Groups belonging to Friends of the Earth International exist in Argentina and Spain but they are irrelevant in actual conflicts recorded in the EJAtlas compared respectively to Asambleas de Vecinos Autoconvocados (AVA) and to Ecologistas en Acción. In Colombia and in Nigeria, there were first some environmental complaints and movements, then Censat and ERA were founded in the 1980s, and they both later joined Friends of the Earth International (to some extent as a form of international protection). First, there are grievances and claims, then there are collective mobilizations and actions, and possibly a social movement with identifiable slogans, and even later perhaps an organization appears. Organizations are not a requirement for social movements to exist; they might even become noxious because of protagonist leaders alienating other members.

The great difference between an impartial treatise of Social Movement Theory and the present book is that environmentalism has the historical potential to change human society (and its relations with nature). History has a sense. Can this “environmentalism of the people” define the political horizon as other doctrines and systems have done in other periods: liberalism, Western imperialism, then the socialisms that split up in 1914, the failed Soviet system and Keynesian social-democracy, neoliberalism, anti-colonialism and anti-racism, the Chinese one-party rule and planning system, and more recently neo-fascist, oligarchic capitalist parties? Can we learn from social history how new socio-political movements such as feminism emerge and how they slowly win the struggle for ideas and for practice? Can we discern the coalitions that can be formed around environmentalism with ecofeminism, working-class movements, agrarian movements, Indigenous movements, popular health movements and post-growth movements?


Political theory did not take environmental issues as crucial concerns. It looked at economic growth and concluded, already with de Tocqueville in America in 1830 as with modernization theory after 1950, that capitalism (private property of means of production plus the generalized market system) was compatible with democracy. Perhaps with restricted democracy (such as that in an America with slavery and without white women's voting rights, and with dispossessed Indigenous populations). But a growing democracy nonetheless, resting on economic growth and opportunities. Freedom of the markets and political freedoms went together. Economic growth would stabilize democracies, as it was doing in de Tocqueville's North America, and would do again in Europe after 1945. Meanwhile, economic growth p. 695was already destroying the conditions of livelihood for many populations at the commodity extractions frontiers, and it was also destroying wild biodiversity and also started to change the climate. Economic growth curtailed further the freedoms of the dispossessed.

In the EJAtlas we delve beneath the surface manifestations of socio-ecological conflicts to uncover their root causes in the growth and changes in the social metabolism. The industrial economy goes to the extraction frontiers to get greater quantities of energy and materials, and it deposits the waste anywhere it can (the atmosphere, the oceans, the rivers and soils and so on). Hence as a response the growing strength of the environmental justice movement. This is represented in Figure 30.1, which must be read from the top, clock-wise.

The four parts scheme illustrates the circle formed by social-metabolic configurations, EDCs, EJ movements and sustainability transitions.
Figure 30.1

From changes in social metabolism to conflicts and movements, and hopefully to sustainability transitions: a structural explanation

Source:  Scheidel et al. 2018


Like any other world social movement, the environmental justice movement develops its iconography, songs and documentary films apart from written materials such as the present book. “Artivism” should be an integral part of the study of global political ecology (Merlinsky and Serafini 2021). These emotional cultural expressions are shared among movements and become levers of environmental defence. Consider for instance the current conflict against the Pan American Silver mine in Chubut, Argentina. The “Navidad” mining project is one of p. 696the largest silver deposits in the world. While local inhabitants reject the project, the national government and mining companies are pressing for changes to the law that prevents its exploitation. The banner states that the place where the mine is located should not be a “sacrifice zone”, a term that is used by the US environmental justice movement and also in Chile (see Table 30.1) (Lerner, 2010). The source for Figure 30.2 is No a la mina, initially a local movement and now a well-known webpage in South America born in the Esquel conflict in 2000, where a new institution was born in Argentina, the public anti-mining consultation (imitating Tambo Grande in Peru) (Walter and Urkidi 2017). Notice also the small banners announcing the two Lof taking part in the complaint. Lof is the basic social organization of the Mapuche peoples (in Chile and Argentina), a familial clan or lineage recognizing the authority of a Lonko. This is both an Indigenous and an environmental protest.

Table 30.1

Vocabulary of the global environmental justice movement

Concept EJOs and other organizations promoting it Short description
Environmental justice (EJ) USA Civil Rights Movement, North Carolina against waste dumping and environmental injustices, 1982. Activist authors such as Robert Bullard but also civil rights activists without academic affiliation and members of Christian churches, became EJ militants (Bullard 1999; Bryant and Mohai 1992; Agyeman et al. 2003; Pellow 2005, 2007). “People of colour” and low-income populations suffer disproportionate harm from waste sites, refineries and incinerators, and transport infrastructures.
Environmental racism Rev. Benjamin Chavis, 1982. To treat badly other people in conflicts related to pollution or resource extraction because of membership of particular ethnic groups, social class or caste. The fight for EJ, against pollution in Black, Hispanic and Indigenous areas, was seen as a fight against environmental racism.
Ecological debt Instituto Ecología Política, Chile, 1992; Acción Ecológica, 1997: mainly due to Latin American EJOs, also international Friends of the Earth (FoE) and Jubilee South. Academics joined in later doing some calculations (Paredis et al. 2008; Srinivasan et al. 2010; Roberts and Parks 2009; Warlenius et al. 2015). Rich countries’ liability for resource plunder and disproportionate use of space for waste dumping (e.g. GHG, to deposit an excessive amount of carbon dioxide in the oceans and the atmosphere, which belong to all humans equally). Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si of June 2015 devotes paragraphs 51 and 52 to the ecological debt from North to South and to the environmental liabilities of transnational companies.
Popular epidemiology Ph. Brown. 1992, 1997. “Lay” local knowledge of illnesses from pollution may be more valid than official knowledge. Refers to when the lay public does work that is traditionally done by corporations, experts and officials. The disproportionate incidence of morbidity or mortality that cannot be proved from official statistics because of the lack of doctors or hospitals.
Environmentalism of the poor Anil Agarwal, the founder of the CSE in Delhi and editor of the First Citizens’ Report on the State of India's Environment. His successor, Sunita Narain, often uses this term to refer to the struggles in India against dams, deforestation, mining projects and nuclear power (Narain, 2008 5 ). Shrivastava and Kothari (2012) compiled struggles in India putting forward their proposal for a Radical Ecological Democracy. Hugo Blanco used the term in Peru in 1991. 6 Struggles by poor/Indigenous peoples against deforestation, dams and mining; proactive collective projects for water harvesting and forest conservation.
Food sovereignty Via Campesina, c. 1993, GRAIN 2005. 7 People's right to healthy, culturally appropriate, sustainably produced food. Right to define their own food and agriculture systems against corporate agriculture, particularly agrofuel monocultures and tree plantations (Schutter 2012).
Biopiracy Coined by Pat Mooney, of the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), 1993. Popularized by Vandana Shiva. State authorities in Brazil and India have started to use this term. Academics also use it (Robinson 2010). Appropriation of genetic resources (medicinal or agricultural) without recognizing knowledge/property rights of Indigenous peoples. Example of Dragon Blood trees in Ecuador. 8
Climate justice Durban Alliance, CorpWatch 1999‒2002. CSE booklet of 1991, Global Warming in an unequal world: A Case of Environmental Colonialism, by Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain. In the 1990s, supported by the World Council of Churches, the Third World Network, Action Aid, and Christian Aid. Idea of “subsistence emissions vs. luxury emissions”.

Radically reduce excessive per capita CO2 emissions and other GHG in rich countries. In the Jubilee campaign against Northern financial bullying of the South, comparing the large ecological debt from North to South to the financial debt from South to North (Simms et al. 1999; Simms 2005).

Water justice, hydric justice Rutgerd Boelens and EJOs in Latin America (e.g. CENSAT). (Boelens et al. 2011, 2022) Boelens practising action- research, sees water justice or hydric justice as concepts from civil society. They include the Brazilian MAB (Movement of People Affected by Dams) and the MAPDER network in Mexico and Rios Vivos in Colombia. Water should not run towards money, or towards power. It should go to those needing it for livelihood. Anti-dam movements denounce water enclosures, diversion of rivers, and dispossession and displacement of rural and Indigenous communities.

The World Commission on Dams (WCD) reported its conclusions in 2000. It arose because of movements against dams, such as the Narmada Bachao Andolan in India where Medha Patkar's campaigns had been most influential (McCully 1996). The WCD's conclusions went against the unidimensional cost–benefit analysis procedures for deciding on dam building. The recommendations were not implemented.

Water as human right Pablo Solon (Bolivian envoy to UN), Maud Barlow (Council of Canadians), 2001. Human Right to Water recognized at UN level in 2011, as an independent human right.
“Green deserts” Brazil, network against eucalyptus plantations, Rede Alerta contra o Deserto Verde, 1999. Brazilian local term for eucalyptus plantations, used by networked CSO and communities, also by researchers and activists.
Tree plantations are not forests Pulping the South, 1996 by R. Carrere, L. Lohmann, World Rainforest Movement. The WRM collects and spreads information on tree plantation conflicts. It proposes a change in the FAO definition of forest, to exclude tree monocultures.
Land grabbing GRAIN (small pro-peasant EJO), 2008. The wave of land acquisitions in Southern countries for plantations for exports, leading to the first statistics on land-grabbing.
Resource caps Resource Cap Coalition, RCC Europe, c. 2010. Discussed since the 1990s (Spangenberg, 1995) in terms of calculations of “fair shares” in the use of limited resources and limited environmental space. Advocating reduction in global resource use and in poverty. It calls for a European energy quota scheme and the ratification of the Rimini protocol (2003).
To Ogonize/Yasunize, LFFU movements ERA Nigeria, Acción Ecológica, Oilwatch, 1997‒2007. Leave oil in the soil to prevent damage to human rights and biodiversity, and against climate change. Adopted by anti-fracking, tar sands and open cast coal mining, LFFU movements.
Rights of nature Constitution of Ecuador 2008, art. 71, pushed by Acción Ecológica and Alberto Acosta. Actionable in court. “Nature, or PachaMama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes”.
Corporate accountability Friends of the Earth International, 1992‒2002. At the UN Johannesburg summit, FoE proposed a Corporate Accountability Convention, against lukewarm CSR principles.
SLAPP Strategic lawsuit against public participation. Private corporations sometimes sue environmental defenders to force them to spend money defending themselves.
“Critical mass”, cyclists’ rights San Francisco 1992 (Chris Carlsson) International movement reclaiming the streets, cyclists marching to impose cyclists’ rights.
Urban waste recyclers’ movements c. 2005, GAIA against incineration and “energy valorization” of urban waste. Unions or cooperatives of urban waste gatherers, with positive impact on environment, climate change (movements in Delhi, Pune, Bogota etc.).
Urban “guerrilla food gardening” c. 2000, started by “food justice” networks. Vacant lot food growing, permaculture, community gardening movements in cities around the world.
Toxic colonialism, toxic imperialism BAN, Basel Action Network, c. 2000. Fighting the export of waste from rich to poor countries, forbidden by the Basel Treaty, e.g. ship-breaking in South Asia, chemical residues, nuclear waste, e-waste.
Post-extractivism Latin America, 2007, E. Gudynas (CLAES), A. Acosta, M. Svampa, Horacio Machado. Against the reprimarization of Latin American economies. Transition to a sustainable economy based on solar energy and renewable materials. Impose quotas and taxes on raw materials exports.
Buen Vivir, Sumak Kawsay Ecuador and Bolivia 2008 Adopted in Constitutions of both countries, inspired by Indigenous traditions and by the “post-development” approach.
Indigenous territorial rights, and prior consultations Convention 169 of ILO, 1989; Adivasi forest rights in India etc. In conflicts, communities ask for applying legislation defending Indigenous rights.
“Sand mafias” Name given c. 2005 by environmental journalists after Indian people got killed because of a conflict around extraction of sand and gravel. The illegal “mining” of sand and gravel in India in many rivers and beaches, driven by the growing building and public works industry. Sand is mined as a building material around the world but also, in smaller amounts, as beach sand which is an ore for titanium or other metals (Chapter 15).
“Cancer villages” In China, popular name, then adopted by academics and officials (Lora-Wainright 2013). Rural villages where industry has caused pollution (e.g. heavy metals), where lay knowledge of illness is relevant, and subdued protests take place.
Cancer alley The name given to an 85-mile stretch between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, previously known as the “petrochemical corridor”. The documentary film “Fuel” by Josh Tickell. In the 1980s, residents in Louisiana, African-American and low income, noticed abundant cancer cases in their communities. e.g. Mossville, Louisiana. 9
Sacrifice zones Steve Lerner wrote the book Sacrifice Zones: The Front Lines of Toxic Chemical Exposure in the United States in 2010. Became a keyword in G. Boric's election campaign in Chile, 2021. The term is often used outside the US. It has been made popular in Chile by local struggles against industrial pollution. 10
Blockadia Oilwatch (1997) and other activists in the US and Canada. Naomi Klein's book on climate change (2014). Resistance movements against fossil fuels for “glocal” reasons, north and south.
CO2lonialism A concept co-produced by activists and scholars. In 2000, Norwatch (a Norwegian environmental organization) published a first report. Promote a progressive decolonising climate agenda.
Ende Gelände. (Enough!) Alliance from the anti-nuclear and anti-coal movements, the Rhineland and Lausitz climate camps and the Hambacher Forest anti-coal campaign from 2015. Movement against lignite mining in Germany, motivated mainly by climate change. Civil disobedience, direct action against open cast mines.
Grands Projets Inutiles Imposés (GPII) Name given to a network in Europe since 2012, with meetings in Nantes, Stuttgart, Rosia Montana (Romania). Network against large “superfluous” public works (e.g. speed train between Turin and Lyon) or open cast mining projects.
Proyectos de muerte

(Projects of Death)

Mexico, used against open cast mining, hydropower for the mining industry, and fracking projects. Particularly in the Sierra Norte of Puebla.
Chipko Andolan (Chipko movement) Himalayas, India 1970s. Movement of saving trees by sticking to them (Chipko), applied in 2018 in Odisha to protect an old sal forest. Also in Appiko movement (Karnataka). 11
Koyla satyagraha Satyagraha is a term invented by Mahatma Gandhi in 1906 translated as “force of truth” (from satya, ‘truth’, and agraha, ‘insistence’). Struggle and civil disobedience carried out in a systematic way, with ethical-political objectives and with a spiritual dimension. In 2016's Gandhi Jayanti, 1400 people from 25 villages in Raigarh district of Chhattisgarh took part in the 5th Koyla Satyagraha, claiming rights over land, forests and resources, extracting coal by hand, submitting the money earned to the national treasury, claiming, “If the government wants the coal beneath our land, we will give it to them, but we won’t part with our fertile land”.
Jal satyagraha Medha Patkar, 36 others started Jal Satyagraha in Narmada against dams. As the Narmada River continued to rise, the Narmada Bachao Andolan pressed for rehabilitation of villagers whose homes and land are submerged. 12
Jaan Denge par Jameen Nai’ (We will give our lives but not our lands)/‘Na Jaan Denge, Na Jameen’ (We will neither give our life, nor our land) As reported by Brototi Roy in Ecología Política, 2019. In recent years, the slogans have changed their tune, with the new ones being more empowering. Slogans that highlight the strong attachment that people have to their territory, which is often an extension of their cultural and ancestral heritage. One reason for using such slogans is also that the threats of violence and death are very real.
Poromboke song (Tamil Nadu, India) T.M. Krishna's popular Carnatic song in 2017, complaining about the destruction of Ennore Creek north of Chennai by coal-fired power plants and other polluting industries. Mangroves and beaches are “commons” and are being destroyed: Poromboke ennaku illai, poromboke unnaku illai (Poromboke is not for me, it is not for you). Poromboke ooruike, poromboke bhoomikku (Poromboke is for the city, it is for the Earth). 13
WOMIN A network of women activists with a secretariat in Johannesburg. Growing quickly experienced and effective despite the terrible realities, self-deprecating and good-humoured, resorting also to art activism (Figure 30.11). “African women weaving a just world for people and nature”.

“We strive for an Africa in which all women have secure access to resources for life and livelihood and can exercise full control over their bodies and development choices”. 14

Toyi-Toyi South African term, deployed in EJ and in other demonstrations. Toyi-toyi was used against South African apartheid police and security forces in demonstrations. Toyi-toyi, the stomping of feet, dancing and chanting during protests that include improvised or previously created political slogans or songs.
Ocean Grabbing The international movement in defence of fisherfolk, the Transnational Institute. 15 Ocean grabbing describes fisheries control by powerful economic actors. (Ertör 2021). In parallel to “land grabbing”, processes of enclosures affecting communities whose cultural identity and livelihoods depend on small-scale fishing.
Fisheries Justice

Blue Justice

National and transversal organizations: KIARA (People's Coalition for Fisheries Justice), Indonesia, established by WALHI, Bina Desa, JALA (Fishermen's Advocacy Network for North Sumatra) in 2003. Federation of Fishermen Archipelago (FSNN). KSMTF (the Kerala Independent Fishworkers Federation in South India), Coastal Links South Africa. Coastal links (CL) was established in 2003, with structures in the Western and Northern Cape in South Africa as a vehicle for small-scale fishers to secure their livelihoods and overall human rights. It applies to both ocean and inland fisheries. In South Africa, fishers’ organizations (e.g. Masifundise and Coastal Links) have connected fishing communities across the country. As key members of the Coordinating Committee for the World Forum of Fisher Peoples (WFFP), they are instrumental in increasing international recognition for, and mobilization within the WFFP. (Mills 2018; Ertör 2021).
Zadistes Activists against the airport in Nantes 16 and against other GPIIs. Comes from Zone à défendre (ZAD) (Zone to Defend), a joke on the state-sponsored acronym ZAD meaning “zone to be developed”.

The young botanist Rémi Fraisse was a zadiste. He was killed by a grenade thrown by a gendarme when demonstrating against the Sivens dam near Toulouse on 25 October 2014. Many years later the family got an indemnity of €45,400.

Another case in 2018 in the north of Paris in Gonesse, environmentalists and farmers against a mega-urban development supported by Auchan and the Chinese investor Wanda. 17

Justiça nos trilhos, “justice in the railways” Marcelo Firpo Porto et al. 2013. Against accidents caused by massive iron ore transport by railway to the export harbours in Brazil.
"No Nukes" No Nukes but Children (要孩子不要核子yào háizi bùyào hézǐ).

In China, this slogan is related to two nuclear conflicts in Guangdong and Jiangsu.

Anti-nuclear movement of the 1960s and 1970s, strong in the US, France, Germany, Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan and elsewhere. In Japan, famous musician Ruichy Sakamoto, member of the anti-nuclear organization Stop Rokkash, composed songs against nuclear projects and organized the No Nukes 2012 concert (Yellow Magic Orchestra, Kraftwerk etc.).
Paren de fumigar Madres de Ituizango in Cordoba, Argentina, growing movement against glyphosate, under the name paremos de fumigar (“stop fumigating”). Laudato si (para. 135) mentions fumigated fields. 18 Movement against agricultural GMO, referring to Monsanto Roundup herbicide in soybean production.
Energy sovereignty Catalan Network for Energy Sovereignty, inspired by the definition of “food sovereignty” of La Vía Campesina. Xarxa per la Sobiranía Energètica, 2014. First time used in 2009. 19 Conscious individuals, communities and peoples have the right to make their own decisions on energy generation, distribution and consumption in a way appropriate within their ecological, social, economic, cultural circumstances, provided that the decisions do not affect others negatively.
Biocide Rachel Carson (1963) in Silent Spring. Apart from DDT, new chemicals like neonicotinoids and other “systemic” insecticides/biocides cause ecological havoc. “These non-selective chemicals have the power to kill every insect, the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’, to still the songs of the birds and the leaping fish… they should not be called insecticides but biocides”.
Ecocide Zierler, 2011. As the public increasingly questioned the war in Vietnam, a group of American scientists concerned about the use of Agent Orange started a movement against what they called “ecocide”.
Hidrocracia Colombia's anti-dams movement. Movimiento Colombiano en Defensa de los Territorios y Afectados por las Represas: Ríos Vivos (2011). CENSAT-Amigos de la Tierra Colombia. MAPDER (Mexico) MAB (Brazil). Term used to characterize the politics in the hydroelectric business in Colombia (and beyond), opposed by Live Rivers, Rios Vivos. 20
Buat ton mai Ordination of trees in Thailand in 1980s (Carrere and Lohmann, 1996). Practised against tree plantations (such as eucalyptus) by Buddhist priests and ecology movement.
Environmental disruption International Symposium on Environmental Disruption in the modern world, under auspices of the International Social Science Council (Paris) in Tokyo, March 8‒14, 1970. Used in the 1970s by economist K.W. Kapp. A term used interchangeably with the Japanese term Kogai.
Kogai After many instances of industrial pollution in Japan (Ashio copper mine around 1900), in 1955 the word kogai meaning pollution was introduced (S. Tsuru 1999; Unesco 1971). The word came to gain wide currency, covering not only environmental pollution of all kinds, but also various undesirable side effects of economic activities.
Toxic activists Ph. Brown, 1993 in the context of popular epidemiology. Refers to lay people who organize themselves to build knowledge to establish causal relations between a disease and toxic pollutant.
Nemagon nos mata (Nemagon kills us) (DBCP) Central American movement, particularly strong in Nicaragua. Asking for reparations for damage to health in banana plantations caused by DBCP (Navas 2022).
“Stay grounded” network Global network to counter aviation launched in 2018, over 50 EJOs by 2020. Local airport opposition groups, climate justice activists, NGOs, trade unionists, academics, groups supporting night trains, communities against offset projects, or biofuel plantations. (Sara Mingorria, ICTA UAB).
“Damn the dams”.

“Dam Watch International”

Documentary by Jack Palermo, 2018 (Connecticut, USA) on dam removal, and other songs, documentaries. Used also in the struggle in Pulangi River, Mindanao, Philippines, in Alberta, Canada, etc. 21 Documentary (2012) titled Iste Böyle. Damn the Dams, by Oslem Sariyildiz (Turkey). Documentary, Greenpeace, 2016, Damn the dam, Keep the Tapajós river alive (Brazil). Song on the Manapouri dam in New Zealand (hydropower for bauxite smelting).

Also, Dam Watch International: a Canadian initiative aspiring to be a transnational advocacy network (2021).

“Nos semences, nos savoirs, Monsanto ne passera pas par nous” Slogan against GMOs (Monsanto Bt cotton) in Burkina Faso. “Our seeds, our knowledge, Monsanto will not pass over us”. 22
Faucheurs volontaires (Volunteer mowers) A French movement against GMOs. Similar actions took place in 2007 in Germany, Portugal, UK. The French movement claimed 6,700 militants. On 5 June 1999 led by José Bové, militants went into the Centre for International Cooperation in Agronomic Research for Development in Valletta, near Montpellier, destroying a green- house where a European research project was conducted.
Sin maíz, no hay país In Mexico, 300 EJOs, peasant movements, workers’ unions, human rights, women's and food organizations. National Campaign “Without Maize, there is No Country”. They joined on 25 June 2007 to launch the National Campaign defending food sovereignty, the reactivation of the countryside, and the critical analysis of the use of GMOs. 23
Tolak reklamasi movement, Indonesia #ForBALI (Forum Rakyat Bali Tolak Reklamasi). Many organizations and individuals, NGOs, artists and Balinese people concerned with the preservation of their island stage demonstrations by Banjars (local communities). Multiple banners and billboards show their artistic talent and determination to be heard. 24
P-ainful X-ylene, p-Xylene (para-xylene) China, anti PX protests, many of them recorded in the EJAtlas. The first protest in Xiamen 2007. Over ten anti-PX protests in the country: Dalian, Maoming, Ningbo, Jiujiang, Zhangzhou, Chengdu, Kunming, Shanghai, Jinshan.
Clear water and blue mountains are mountains of gold and silver/Lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets “绿水青山就是金山银山”(lǜ shuǐ qīngshān jiùshì jīnshān yín shān) China, common slogan. In many environmental protests, people will hold banners with this sentence to legitimize their demonstrations or street marches in front of the local government.
“Collective stroll” or “go for a walk”/“take a walk” (散步,sànbù or集体散步,jítǐ sànbù) A euphemism for “demonstration” or “protest”. There are similar forms of protests in other countries. “We Walk” activists carry anti-junta protest from Bangkok to Khon Kaen. Like “sipping tea” usually a meme in social media or chat room context of quietly taking part in verbal disclosure of some valuable, interesting or useful information. The listeners quietly sip tea as they drink in the information also.
La meseta no es zona de sacrificio, Chubut, Argentina (Lucrecia Wagner, No a la Mina).
Figure 30.2

La meseta no es zona de sacrificio, Chubut, Argentina

Source:  Lucrecia Wagner, No a la Mina

Conflicts also arise on biomass extraction, in the form of deforestation and timber grabbing, or in the form of plantations of eucalyptus or rubber, which are not true forests. See for instance the banners and graffiti in Indonesia such as the hastily drawn protest against the PT Gelora Mandiri Membangun (GMM), a subsidiary of Korindo Group operating in North Maluku in the Gane region since 2013 (Figure 30.3). The company has been accused of human rights violations, operating without permits, and illegally burning the area.

The GMM palm oil company is blamed for damages, Indonesia (RAN & WALHI).
Figure 30.3

The GMM palm oil company is blamed for damages, Indonesia

Source:  RAN & WALHI

Consider now, in Figure 30.4, the iconic figure of Gloria Capitan in the Philippines. As seen in Chapter 4 and Chapter 16, she was shot in July 2016 because she opposed the construction of coal stockpile facilities, as the leader of a local anti-coal movement and member of the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice. She was a 57-year-old grandmother, not well known around the world. Her visual images are worth many written words.

Gloria Capitan marching (Derek Cabe, Coal-free Bataan Movement).
Figure 30.4

Gloria Capitan marching

Source:  Derek Cabe, Coal-free Bataan Movement

In India, banners are omnipresent in the diverse regional languages in street marches. Another distinctive emotional cultural expression is the funeral monuments built by communities such as the one erected in Kalinganagar (iron mining and steel making) in memory of the victims (Figure 30.5) on 1 January 2006. We visited the place the following year.

A woman is kneeling on the floor in the middle of two funeral stones decorated with flowers.
Figure 30.5

First anniversary of displacement and killings on behalf of TATA industries on 2 January 2007, Kalinganagar, Odisha, India

Source:  Leah Temper

In a demonstration under the banners of Oilwatch-ERA-FoE (Nigeria), people chant the slogan “leave the oil in the soil, keep coal in the hole” (Figure 30.6). The cultural expressions are different in other countries though the contents are similar. Thus, in Oakland, California, a movement opposing a new terminal for coal exports to Asia showed posters (Figure 30.7) stating that “the kids can’t breathe” (Sanz and Rodriguez-Labajos 2021). Protests against fossil fuels arise across continents (Chapter 16). There are also anti-nuclear energy movements around the world sometimes sharing symbols, as in China (Figure 30.8 and Chapters 6 and 10).

In a demonstration, black women in the front hold banners saying “leave the oil in the soil… the coal in the hole…. Tar sands in the land”.
Figure 30.6

Oilwatch demonstration

Source:  Martinez-Alier et al. (2014). J. of Pol. Ecology, 21(1): 19‒60
No Coal in Oakland, USA. (Jon-Paul Bail, in Sanz and Rodriguez-Labajos, 2021). Explained in text.
Figure 30.7

No Coal in Oakland, USA

Source:  Jon-Paul Bail, in Sanz and Rz-Labajos 2021
People protesting with banners in Chinese.
Figure 30.8

Slogans on banners: “Fight against nuclear till death” and “We want life, not GDP”

Source:  China National Nuclear Corporation Longwan Industrial Park, Jiangmen, Guangdong, China, Weibo, EJAtlas

To this brief iconographic section (Figures 30.2 to 30.8) featuring complaints on mining, palm oil, iron ores, oil and coal and nuclear power, I add an illustration on hydropower. There are over 400 cases of protests against hydropower in the EJAtlas. Many of them show naked violence (Del Bene et al. 2018). Here, in Figure 30.9, the transnational Ilisu Dam gave rise to complaints. It was built by the Turkish state in a geopolitical hotspot despite opposition from archaeologists, peasants, neighbours and citizens, and Kurdish and Iraqi objections. The Ilisu Dam Project with 1,200 MW of capacity will submerge approximately 300 km2 in the Tigris Valley. Activists fought the dam for decades. Their concerns included the archaeological and environmental losses, and the people's well-being. The majority of residents are Kurdish, and the waters cover several sites significant to Kurdish culture and history. Who has the right or rather the naked power to impose only one particular valuation language when several incommensurate values are in dispute, like the archaeological, ethnic and livelihood values against the kwh of the Ilisu Dam?p. 697 p. 698 p. 699 p. 700 p. 701 p. 702 p. 703 p. 704 p. 705 p. 706 p. 707

The "Big Jump" at the Tigris River (Mehmet Masum Suer / Alamy Stock Photo).
Figure 30.9

The “Big Jump” at the Tigris River

Source:  Mehmet Masum Suer/Alamy Stock Photo

The “Initiative to Keep Hasankeyf Alive” (ITKHA) was started in 2006. Hasankeyf is a 12,000-year-old town condemned to disappear in the waters. In early 2015, the PKK guerrilla (the workers’ party of Kurdistan) destroyed machines and a pipe from the construction site. The governmental response was an increase in the militarization of the site, forcing the companies to employ non-local workers. In October 2015, a Global Hasankeyf Action Day aimed to declare Hasankeyf a UNESCO world heritage site, together with the Iraqi marshes.

Similarly, other valuation contests appear in the iconography through a slogan heard and seen in many gold mining conflicts in Latin America: el agua vale más que el oro (water is more valuable than gold). Nobody knows where this was first expressed in banners (and t-shirts) (Figure 30.10), in the early boom of open cast mining in the 1980s and 1990s. This performative bottom-up slogan implies that, although one kilogram of water is far less valuable than one kilogram of gold on a monetary scale, this is not the case on other scales of value. As water becomes contaminated and scarce, its local market value would rise. But the slogan does not refer to increasing marginal utility as supply decreases. It refers to a non-monetary value for livelihood. It expresses the feelings of participants in anti-mining movements in Latin America and it is sung in many different styles.p. 708 p. 709

Pope Francis is holding a t-shirt with the slogan “el agua vale mas que el oro”.
Figure 30.10

Pope Francis and Senator (and film-maker) Pino Solanas, 2013

Source:  EJOLT


The thousands of banners, murals, slogans, songs and documentaries in environmental protests documented in the EJAtlas, the transnational companies and commodities involved, suffice to make the point that many environmental complaints are “glocal” (Swyngedouw 1997), with local roots and with global parallels and implications. There are multiple links between the conflicts. In 2014, we published the article “Between activism and science. Grassroots concepts for sustainability coined by Environmental Justice Organizations” (Martinez-Alier et al. 2014) showing that “EJOs and their networks have introduced several concepts to political ecology that have also been taken up by academics and policy makers” looking to novel concepts since the 1980s such as environmental justice, ecological and climate debt, food sovereignty and anti-extractivism. The collaborative work with the EJAtlas has since expanded the Vocabulary of Environmental Justice as shown in Table 30.1.

Other grassroots words could include greenwashing, coined in 1986 by Jay Westerveld, reportedly on a trip to Samoa seeing that rich hotels asked jet-travelled guests to reuse their towels for the sake of the environment. Mexican activists have added in 2021 the slogan no hay sequía, hay saqueo (there is no drought, there is water plunder) as recorded by Raul Romero (La Jornada, 14 December 2022) and mentioned in several entries in the EJAtlas.

There are some concepts of academic origin (such as “ecological footprint”) that are also used by the global EJ movement. Here in Table 30.1, we focus on concepts of non-academic origin. The following paragraphs clarify some of these terms. For instance, so-called “popular p. 710epidemiology” is a concept of relevance in many struggles inside and outside the US ‒ think of the attempts by the plaintiffs in the Texaco-Chevron case in Ecuador (Chapter 27) to gather information in the 2000s related to the 1970s and 1980s of the incidence of cancer in the Sucumbios region of the Amazon by resorting to the memories of the local populations, proving that such memories concentrated around areas with wells and pools for the disposal of extraction water (Martin Beristain et al. 2009). Think of the long battle to have valid figures on the victims of the Bhopal accident. Popular epidemiology fits into the “post-normal science” theory (Funtowicz and Ravetz 1993), “street science” (Corburn 2005) and the notion of “activists mobilizing science” (Chapter 28).

The Right to Say NO: African Women defend Africa's Wealth (WoMin African Alliance).
Figure 30.11

The Right to Say NO: African Women Defend Africa's Wealth

Source:  WoMin African Alliance

One of the primary environmental challenges faced by populations of the global South stems from an economic system that produces ecologically unequal trade, an academic concept that goes together with the international division of nature and labour (Chapter 26). One form of such unequal trade was called biopiracy by Pat Mooney of RAFI in 1993 and Shiva (1997). The complaints against tree plantations grown for wood or paper pulp, depriving local people of land and water, led to the slogan and movement “Plantations are not forests”. In Brazil, “green deserts” was the spontaneous, bottom-up name for eucalyptus plantations in some regions, which were opposed by local peasants and Indigenous peoples. This was certainly a form of enclosure of commons. The driving force was the export of paper pulp and cellulose. Today, their role as carbon sinks is added. The related concept “food sovereignty” was introduced in the early 1990s by Via Campesina, an international movement of farmers, peasants, and landless workers. A small organization called p. 711GRAIN introduced in 2008 the term “land-grabbing” to showcase the new wave of land acquisitions − often by force − in Southern countries, for new plantations for exports. The term was then taken up by the Journal of Peasant Studies, including a Forum on Global Land Grabbing (2011).

A term originating from the EJOs that has been successful in the fights against ecologically unequal trade and for identifying those responsible for climate change is that of the “ecological debt” (Robleto and Marcelo 1992; Borrero 1994). There was an alternative treaty in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 (outside the official Earth Summit) on the ecological debt from North to South. Acción Ecológica of Ecuador took the term and the struggle up in 1997, with several publications which included a definition. Some governments from countries of the South have deployed the concept of “ecological debt” (or one part of it, the “climate debt”) in international negotiations on climate change (Bond 2010). In the 2009 Copenhagen COP, perhaps over 30 heads of government or ministers talked about the ecological debt, awakening the p. 712fury of the US Ambassador, Todd Stern (Reuters 2009). Pope Francis took it up in 2015 in Laudato si.

The position of the rich countries, in contrast, denies liability for climate change. Todd Stern, the US climate envoy, repeated in Paris in 2015 what he had said in Copenhagen in 2009: the US had long acknowledged there was a need to support countries acutely vulnerable to climate change impacts, but there was “one thing that we do not accept and will not accept in this agreement and that is the notion that there should be liability and compensation for loss and damage. That is a line that we can’t cross”. He was supported by the EU climate commissioner, who said that loss and damage provisions would be included in the Paris Agreement, as long as they did not expose wealthy countries to new claims for compensation. Therefore, the Paris agreement refused recognition of an ecological debt (Baghwati, Financial Times, 6 December 2015).

Unsurprisingly, it was also EJOs that had introduced and developed the related concept of “climate justice”. A 2000 event in The Hague sponsored by the New York group CorpWatch was the first known conference based on this term (Bond 2011, 2013). CorpWatch in a document in November 1999 stated that Climate Justice means, first of all, removing the causes of global warming and allowing the Earth to continue to nourish our lives and those of all living beings. This entailed reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases p. 713 p. 714(Bruno et al. 1999). Four years later, the Durban Group for Climate Justice was launched. It made itself well-known by its campaigns against fake Clean Development Mechanism projects. All such slogans are disseminated through today's network society (Castells 1996, 1997).

The movement for “water justice” is related in Table 30.1 to “water as a human right”, to the fight against hidrocracia, “Damn the dams” actions and, in India, to Jal satyagraha. “The commons movement” is also active in EJ struggles. The commons is seen as a crucial sector of the economy which must be defended to preserve decommodified access to food, water, forests, and clean air (Di Chiro 1998). Influenced by Karl Polanyi, the movement fights against old and new enclosures. Since the late 1980s, as a reaction against Garrett Hardin's misnamed “tragedy of the commons”, authors like John Kurien defended in India and elsewhere small-scale fisheries against large-scale industry, using the term “modern enclosures” or “the tragedy of enclosures” (Martinez-Alier 1991). In municipal water management, paradigmatic movements against privatization of urban water services as in Cochabamba, Bolivia, have been sources of inspiration for the defence of the commons in general (including access to information) and also for the defence of the human right to water.p. 715


Several activist or academic groups have been producing inventories of ecological distribution conflicts (by country, continent or theme). Our own contribution is the EJAtlas at ICTA-UAB (Temper et al. 2015, 2018; Martinez-Alier et al. 2016, 2021) with many outside collaborators.

Social mobilizations over resource extraction, environmental degradation, or waste disposal are not only about the distribution of environmental benefits and costs; they are also about participation in decision making and recognition of group identities. A less unequal ecological distribution often requires previous recognition and respect. Nancy Fraser (2010) referred critically to a transition in moral philosophy from “redistribution” to “recognition” (Honneth 2001). In practice recognition and participation are instrumental for redistribution. Such issues appear very regularly in the cases collected in the EJAtlas (Schlosberg 2007; Walker 2012; Newell and Sikor 2014). EJ research encompasses issues of exclusion (Agarwal 2001) but also recognizes potential new leadership of environmental movements by different social actors, e.g. the contribution of women such as those in WOMIN or Acción Ecológica in Ecuador is crucial to resistance in both rural and urban communities (Agarwal 1992; Tran 2020, 2021, 2022, 2023).

The protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle in 1999 and at the World Social Forums of the 2000s certainly pushed forward the globalization of EJ. There were earlier underpinnings in the alternative “treaties” signed at Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and in the 1991 People of Color Environmental Justice Leadership Summit with its 17 Principles of Environmental Justice. EJ spread through organizations like Friends of the Earth, which, while born in California as a “white” conservationist movement, brought in EJOs which existed since the 1980s like CENSAT in Colombia and WALHI in Indonesia, or founded later like GoundWork in South Africa. Other environmental organizations such as the CSE in Delhi, ERA in Nigeria (and Oilwatch) linked the idea of environmentalism of the poor with wider notions of EJ and climate justice since the early 1990s (Figure 30.12). With these activist and social movement roots, the concepts of EJ in their variations were then taken up in academic research in political ecology studying Southern countries. There is a book on environmental conflicts in Peru authored by Raquel Neyra based on EJAtlas and other books are in preparation. Researchers now generate statistics on ecological distribution conflicts (Özkaynak and Rodriguez-Labajos 2012; Latorre et al. 2015; Martinez-Alier et al. 2016; Pérez-Rincón et al. 2018, Scheidel et al. 2020, 2023; Temper et al. 2020; Navas et al. 2022) made possible by the EJAtlas. Other books are Demaria 2023; Rodriguez, Walter, Temper 2023.

The banner from Acción Ecológica, Ecuador, claiming an Ecological Debt - who owes to whom? It travelled around the world after 1999 (Acción Ecológica).
Figure 30.12

The banner from Acción Ecológica, Ecuador, claiming an Ecological Debt ‒ who owes to whom? It travelled around the world after 1999

Source:  Acción Ecológica

Ecological distribution conflicts have an important role in sustainability because they relentlessly bring to light conflicting values over the unsustainable resource uses and the burdens of pollution affecting people and the planet. Environmental justice movements, born out of such conflicts, become key social and political actors against such contaminations and resource uses, they have built up a vocabulary for new movements and they sometimes also take successful radical actions for environmental justice. By drawing on creative forms of mobilization, new cultural expressions and diverse forms of action, movements for EJ can turn into effective instruments to diminish or at least slow down the environmental unsustainability and social inequities of the growing capitalist industrial economy (Scheidel et al. 2018). We see this in the burgeoning LFFU movements related to climate justice (Chapter 16).p. 716

This book is written as a survey of immediate contemporary social environmental history and also as a bridge to a threatening but hopeful future. It is not merely an inventory of environmental conflicts and a tool for activists. It is a major contribution to ecological economics, industrial ecology and political ecology, and is also useful for anthropology, political geography, environmental sociology, international relations, industrial ecology, business economics and contemporary history. The social environmental sciences have an academic origin, with international societies, academic journals and handbooks, and professorships that go under such names. Many concepts and theories have been produced in these booming fields of science in the last years. There are also grassroots concepts for sustainability introduced by EJOs which are also objects of academic research. Such concepts support the global EJ movement, at the same time supporting rural and urban movements protecting territory and defending place-based interests and values (Escobar 2008; Anguelovski and Martinez-Alier 2014).

Although this book is long enough, other similar books could be written just with the “leftovers”. There are more country/regional chapters and more thematic chapters that I would like myself to write if I still have the anti-entropic élan vital to do so. The Americas have been covered in this volume already, including the northern reaches of Canada and Alaska but India and China need much better coverage. I would start again from the East (as seen from Europe) with three chapters on Australia and New Zealand (and some Pacific islands), Korea, Indonesia, and Southeast Asia reaching west to Myanmar and Bangladesh, a large p. 717region with a large population which here has been well covered for Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines, and some states in India. Then I would write about Pakistan, Iran and Turkey, and also about Central Asia including Mongolia, and the whole Russian Federation. Then I would write a chapter about Arabic countries (and Israel's environmental injustices against Palestine) including of course North Africa, and another one about Central Africa with the R.D. Congo, and also South Africa. Then, about the main countries in continental Europe (France, Germany, Poland, Italy), and England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

The thematic chapters, also with co-authors, could be on oil palm plantations and the local and international fights against this industry; conflicts on fisheries around the world; urban waste recyclers and their social movements; water management and hydropower conflicts, the large oil and gas spills from tankers and platforms; sand and gravel extraction for the cement industry which is very energy intensive, and the movement against waste incineration in cement kilns. I would also expand the chapter or write a whole book on business economics and Corporate Social Irresponsibility with studies of several private or public companies. I would write a chapter against the military (their “ecological bootprint” and their impact on the environment), as explained in the section on Vieques (Puerto Rico) and on nuclear bomb testing in the present book. All this would again be samples within a sample.

If I knew how, I would also write several emotional film scripts for a series on social metabolism, ecological distribution conflicts, valuation contests and the world movements for environmental justice. The series could be called “networked activism against transnational extractivism”. It would be about the next 20 years and it could be announced with these words:

In the visions for the future there is a divide between the optimists and the realists, between those who confidently believe in management of risks together with ecological modernization and those who believe in the unviability of an economy based on increased social metabolism, causing an enormous “entropy hole” and growing uncertain risks. The realists believe that what is required is an economy based on degrowth of the flows of energy and materials, degrowth of population, decreasing risks of climate change, of atomic wars, of loss of biodiversity. The social movements in the global South that stop the extraction, transport and consumption of fossil fuels and other materials contribute to the “realist vision” of degrowth in practice.



Binctin, B. (2022) Philippe Descola: Une petite partie de l’humanité, par sa gloutonnerie, remet en cause la possibilité d’habiter sur Terre, Basta Media, 17 November.


Two and half unpublished pages, in Karl Marx, RGASPI Moscow, f. 1, op. 1, d. 2940. They have not been transcribed and published yet. I have read a photocopy of this excerpt (cf. Fomičez 2014). I wait for its publication from the editors of Marx's manuscripts. Marx did not discuss the details of Podolinsky's calculations of energy flows.


See a short biography in English in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine: Podolynsky, Serhii, and a longer one in Martinez-Alier with Schlüpmann (1987).


P. Burkett and J.B. Foster published in 2006 a passionate eulogy of Engels’ misguided attack on Podolinsky. They failed to mention Vernadsky's praise in 1924 for Podolinsky's pioneering agricultural energetics.


Narain, S. (2008). Learn to walk lightly, Business Standard, 1 August.


Blanco, H. (1991). El ecologismo de los pobres, La República, 6 April.


GRAIN (2005). Food sovereignty: Turning the global food system upside down, Seedling.


Dragons Blood tree: biopiracy & Shaman pharmaceuticals in the Amazon, Ecuador (Sara Latorre), EJAtlas.p. 718


Mossville, Louisiana: environmental racism in “cancer alley”, United States, EJAtlas.


Sandoval, G. and Astudillo, D. (2018). Quintero y Puchuncaví: la zona de sacrificio, La Tercera, 24 August.


Brewery project destroying Jhinkargadi forest in Balarampur village, Odisha, India (Brototi Roy), EJAtlas.


Dams construction on the Narmada River, India (Lucie Greyl), EJAtlas.


Ennore coal power plant and Fisherfolk protest, north Chennai, India (Federico Demaria), EJAtlas.


Official website of WOMIN, Our vision [online].


Website of the TNI, Ocean Grabbing definition by the Transnational Institute [online].


ZAD at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, Aeroport du Grand Ouest, France (Alfred Burballa Noria), EJAtlas.


Europa city, triangle of Gonesse, France, EJAtlas.


Monsanto and soy monocultures, Argentina (Lucie Grey), EJAtlas.


Asamblea de Pueblos Indígenas del Istmo Oaxaqueño en Defensa de la Tierre y el Territorio-APIIDTT (2009). Invitación al Foro “Comunidades Indígenas, Autodeterminación y Soberanía Energética”, Juchitán, Istmo de Tehuantepec, 21‒23 August 2009 [online].


CENSAT Agua Viva (2011). Movimiento Colombiano en Defensa de los Territorios y Afectados por las Represas “Ríos Vivos”, Declaración de la Playa, Betulia, Santander, 4 April 2011 [online].


Purohit, M. (2016). Damn the dams, say the displaced, India Waterportal, 30 August [online].


The retreat from Monsanto Bt cotton in Burkina Faso, EJAtlas.


Concha M. Diez años de sin maíz no hay país, 17 July 2017, La Jornada [online].


Tolak Reklamasi movement against artificial islands (reclamation) project, Bali, Indonesia, EJAtlas.

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