New Book Supports the Struggle for Environmental Rights and Justice

By Rainforest Action Network

I just got this article from my friend, and amazing author and activist Jeff Conant. Got environmental health issues? Think some corporations and climate chaos might just give you some? Want to learn about how communities are fighting back? Check it out…

Hesperian’s New Book Supports the Struggle for Environmental Rights and Justice

By Jeff Conant

Aside from the damage to ecosystems, drilling, spilling, and burning oil cause an array of health problems, such as asthma, cancers, skin disease, and nerve damage. This is one of the reasons why the environmental justice movement tries to clean up and shut down refineries, why we campaign to protect the Amazon and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and why OilWatch and others call for a moratorium on oil drilling and a transition to just, clean energy alternatives.

Few resources exist to help community-based activists focus on oil’s immediate health impacts. Hesperian’s Community Guide to Environmental Health changes that. A popular education manual in the style of their widely used book, Where There Is No Doctor, the new Community Guide… provides an approach to health from the perspective of underlying social and ecological injustice.

Early in the book’s development, Ecuador’s Acción Ecológica shared with Hesperian a study of the health impacts of oil in the Amazon conducted ten years previously by lay health workers using the kind of popular methodologies that Hesperian promotes. Acción Ecológica, wanted to conduct a follow-up study to show the changes in health in the affected region in the intervening decade.

Hesperian accompanied a team of local researchers on a two-week trek through the misery of the oil-drilling zones from Lago Agrio south to Sucumbios and across the Cononaco River. What we witnessed was horrifying: one in three people with some form of cancer, household wells clogged with crude oil, livestock dead and swollen from toxics, and thousands of hectares of watershed and rainforest hopelessly destroyed. The native people of the area and the colonists who had migrated to the region were suffering from malnutrition, heavy metal poisoning, nervous exhaustion, reproductive health problems ranging from infertility to stillbirths to birth defects, and a deepening, inescapable poverty.

That experience became the chapter Oil, Illness and Human Rights. It discusses specific health impacts of oil development, the threats posed to people by oil from exploration through combustion, and the methodology used to conduct a health study (essential to the lawsuit against Chevron-Texaco, for which Luis Yanza and Pablo Fajardo recently won the Goldman Environmental Prize.

Early drafts of the chapter were sent for review to groundWork in South Africa and Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria. Their input further improved the material. Nnimmo Bassey, director of Environmental Rights Action, says about the Community Guide…:

“The community guide is more than just a book, it is a tool for change . . . and I say this from my experience testing the chapter on oil in local communities. By the time we concluded going through all the issues and exercises, the community people suddenly realized that the things they took for granted, things they thought were safe, were no longer safe. What they understood is that their entire body was filled with crude oil. They were so scared and so alarmed and they realized that, ‘look, we cannot just allow the companies to continue on as usual. They have to be responsible, they have to attend to the environmental safety, they have to do things in a way that is acceptable, that is transparent, they have to do things to the very best and highest standards.’ I think the book is a great inspiration for mobilizing communities to defend their environment.”

Activists need tools and information to combat damage caused by oil development, deforestation, resource abuse, and degradation of human rights and the environment. As you work to bring about change, be inspired by Acción Ecológica, Environmental Rights Action, and a host of other groups on the front lines whose stories and advice you’ll find in A Community Guide to Environmental Health.