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Digital Environmental Justice

Storytelling project

The Digital Environmental Justice Storytelling Project is a public engaged collaboration between undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania and community organizations and civil society initiatives in Colombia. The project is part of a keystone course for the new environmental humanities undergraduate minor at UPenn that was offered in Fall 2020 in conjunction with the Latin American and Latinx Studies Program. We thank the Center for Experimental Ethnography at UPenn for the financial support for this project.

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DEFENSE OF THE ATRATO RIVER

RIGHTS OF NATURE IN CHOCÓ

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PROTECTION OF PÁRAMOS

DELIMITATION AND ITS CONTROVERSIES

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AIR CONTAMINATION & CITIZEN MONITORING

AIR QUALITY IN BOGOTÁ

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DEFORESTATION & CONSERVATION

SOCIO-ENVIRONMENTAL CONFLICTS IN THE AMAZON

This platform explores four environmental justice struggles from the voices of environmental regulators, legal fields, scientific practitioners, artists, grassroots movements, and interethnic urban and rural communities.

It is an invitation to learn how different communities in Colombia engage with the arts, sciences, and law in their activism and daily life to navigate environmental health uncertainties and conflicts over the use and care of forests, páramos, urban air, and bodies of water.

Our collaborative project explores the structural roots of these environmental justice struggles and places emphasis on community proposals and the efforts of citizens to transform socio-enviromental conflicts in the defense of healthy territories and urban landscapes.

ARMED CONFLICT AND ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES IN COLOMBIA 

Armed conflict and the environment are deeply intertwined in Colombia, as violence has determined how land has been defined, distributed, occupied, and utilized.  Our platform begins from the premise that it is impossible to understand contemporary environmental issues without also analyzing the country’s agrarian history and the long-standing role of extractivism.

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Approximately 45% of Colombia's national territory remains covered in forest, and pressures on forested areas are exerted by the expansion of cattle ranching, industrial agriculture, illicit crops, and

mining-energy projects.

These phenomena are deeply entangled with a history of narco-trafficking, and the impacts of U.S. militarism and geopolitical interventions of the war on drugs.

 

At times, ideological and militaristic strategies implemented during the country's over fifty-year social and armed conflict led to environmental conservation. In other moments, armed conflict and its nexus with illegal economic activities and land grabbing degraded local ecosystems and ecologies.

CONTEMPORARY  ENVIRONMENTAL

AGENDA

Environmental justice struggles remain integral to the country’s post-peace accord and transitional justice process. Integral agrarian reform, land restitution to victims, and democratization of antidrug policy, including a permanent end to chemical warfare tactics, are all deeply relevant to the environmental agenda.

The country’s contemporary environmental scenario is marked by debates on the right of communities to be consulted about decisions that affect their territories and ecosystems. This is evident through the organization of popular consultations and mobilizations that are questioning industrial mining, fracking projects, and the continuation of extractivism more broadly. Although constitutionally recognized, the ability of departments and municipalities to govern themselves autonomously in various areas, including the protection of their social and ecological patrimony, is under permanent debate.

The autonomy and decision-making ability of indigenous, Afro-descendent, and campesino communities in relation to environmental issues, such as community participation in the demarcation of the country’s páramos, the granting of oil concessions that overlap with indigenous territories, and the state’s unwillingness to recognize more collective territories (ZRC) for campesino communities, are another set of interrelated controversies.

The negotiation of the regional Escazú agreement on access to information, justice, and public participation in environmental issues in Latin America and the Caribbean, remains ongoing. Since the 2016 landmark Atrato River case, there have been a proliferation of legal sentences recognizing rights of nature, including the rights of rivers, páramos, the country’s Amazon, and several national parks.  Legal fields are searching for new tools to evidence the complex and diverse relations that ethnic, rural, and urban communities have with their territories, as well as how to deal with government negligence in stopping environmental degradation and protecting public health.

Our Digital Environmental Justice Storytelling Project focuses on just four of these socio-environmental conflicts with the aim of supporting the visibility of community-based efforts to lead and enact change in the defense of territories, peoples, and life.

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DEFENSE OF THE ATRATO RIVER

RIGHTS OF NATURE IN CHOCÓ

The mighty Atrato River is the third most navigable river in Colombia. It emerges in the Cerro Plateau in the western mountain range of the Andes, flowing north to the Gulf of Urabá. The river extends 750 kilometers, most of which flows through the region of Chocó in the Pacific Coast of the country. Chocó is a department rich ...

PROTECTION OF PÁRAMOS

DELIMITATION AND ITS CONTROVERSIES

Concern about the impacts of industrial mining created controversy among citizens, who organized to prohibit it in the páramos. Environmental authorities responded to these demands and attempted to prohibit economic activities in these ecosystems via a delimitation process in 2011.  Delimitation involved ...

AIR CONTAMINATION & CITIZEN MONITORING 

AIR QUALITY IN BOGOTÁ

In 2015 alone, an estimated 10,527 people died in Colombia as a result of exposure to airborne pollution. The cost of air pollution-related illnesses amounts to over 12.3 billion COP (3.18 billion USD) annually for the Colombian healthcare system. Residents of Bogotá are exposed to some of the most dangerous levels of air pollut ...

DEFORESTATION & CONSERVATION 

SOCIO-ENVIRONMENTAL CONFLICTS IN THE AMAZON

Deforestation in the Colombian Amazon is advancing at an alarming rate, principally due to legal and illegal extractive-based economic activities with complex histories. Expanding and long-standing extractive practices, such as extensive cattle ranching, logging, illicit coca growing, oil drilling, and illegal gold ...

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Digital

Environmental

Justice

Storytelling project