According to Merriam-Webster, activism is “a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.”
Sure, activism is always evolving and today includes less direct vigorous action. There’s ‘slacktivism‘ and ‘clicktivism,’ and Google Earth is also making environmental activism a little easier with a new forest-mapping tool to track deforestation.
Yet environmental activism still requires on-the-ground direct (vigorous) action. If you are a peasant farmer watching your land being sold or an indigenous community losing your ancestral land to illegal logging, activism isn’t a luxury or a choice; it’s a way of life.
A new report from Global Witness shows how direct action — killing — is being taken on environmental activists. You can bet that these are definitely not corporate activists. As reported in The Guardian, the Deadly Environment report found that from 2002 to 2013, “at least 908 activists were killed in 35 countries – with only 10 convictions.”
While there were only 51 environmental activist deaths in 2002, there were 147 deaths in 2012. And these numbers are conservative because these are only documented cases.
Who is Dying?
While there have been a few high-profile assassinations of activists, the easiest and most frequent targets are ordinary (usually poor) people with a passion for the environment.
– They were against land grabs.
– They opposed industries, e.g. mining and timber trade.
– They fought for cleaner air and less pollution.
– They took up wildlife causes.
The Deadliest Countries in the World
Unfortunately, killing environmental activists isn’t concentrated in one place. The numbers of environmental activist deaths have increased all over.
Brazil leads the way as the deadliest country. With its wealth of natural resources, especially the Amazon, it makes sense. As reported in The Guardian, there were 448 deaths in Brazil alone from 2002 to 2013. The Amazon is a major hotspot of violence with the waves of illegal logging, cattle ranching and soy bean farming contributing to the alarming deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.
While Brazil accounts for most of the deaths, being an environmental activist anywhere in Latin America is a dangerous thing. Honduras followed Brazil with 109 deaths from 2002 to 2013, while all of Latin America accounted for 80 percent of the reported deaths.
Is there any correlation between the deaths and the rising trend of Central America’s narco-deforestation? 93 of the 109 deaths were peasant farmers concentrated in one region: Bajo Aguan.
Peru, which shares a border and a bounty of natural resources with Brazil, e.g. the Amazon, rounded up the top 3 with 58 deaths within the same time frame.
After Latin America, Asia has the second most concentration of environmental activist deaths. From 2002 to 2013, there were 67 deaths in the Philippines. Thailand followed the Philippines with 16 deaths within the same period.
Who’s Killing the Activists?
It depends on the region and the reason of the dispute. As covered in The Guardian, Global Witness’ “investigation unearthed information on perpetrators in just 294 of the 448 deaths, of which 54 were identified as police or military units.”
In Brazil, the main driving forces behind the conflict revolved around the land and illegal logging. Therefore, the main perpetrators of violence are landowners and loggers. And the main victims are indigenous peoples, namely the Guarani and Kalowa groups.
In the Philippines, most of the conflicts revolve around mining practices. The Global Witness investigative report found that many of the deaths could be contributed to security forces and state agents. Per their findings, 14 deaths were tied to the armed forces, 3 were linked to the local government and 3 had ties to the police. There were also close political underpinnings.
Our finite resources are becoming more limited every second, yet the demand seems never-ending. That’s when clashes among activists, corporations and governments boil over.
But killing environmental activists doesn’t solve the earth’s problems. Silencing activists worsens climate change, deforestation, pollution, etc. We need the voices of environmental activists to try and keep the balance between ‘development’ and conservation. If we don’t try and keep this balance, then Mother Nature will forcibly reinstate balance for us (and it probably won’t end well for us).
Remember: even if all of the environmental activists were silenced, Mother Nature can never be silenced.
Photo Credit: Digo_Souza