Ecological Distribution Conflicts and the Vocabulary of Environmental Justice

  • Joan Martinez-AlierEmail author


There is a fundamental clash between economy and the environment due to the growing social metabolism of industrial economies. Energy cannot be recycled. Therefore, the energy from the fossil fuels is used only once, and new supplies of coal, oil, and gas must be obtained from the “commodity extraction frontiers.” Similarly, materials are recycled only in part, and therefore, even an economy that would not grow would need fresh supplies of iron ore, bauxite, copper, and paper pulp. The industrial economy is entropic. Meanwhile, permanent “funds” such as aquifers, forests, and fisheries are overexploited, the fertility of the soil is jeopardized, and biodiversity is depleted. Thus, the changing social metabolism of industrial economies (including waste disposal such as the excessive production of carbon dioxide) gives rise to growing numbers of ecological distribution conflicts that sometimes overlap with other social conflicts on class, ethnicity or indigenous identity, gender, caste, or territorial rights. The term ecological distribution conflicts (EDC) was coined to describe social conflicts born from the unfair access to natural resources and the unjust burdens of pollution. Such conflicts give birth to movements of resistance, to the point that we can speak already of a global movement for environmental justice.


  1. Agarwal, B. 2001. Participatory Exclusions, Community Forests and Gender: An Analysis for South Asia and a Conceptual Framework. World Development 29 (10): 1623–1648.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Agarwal, B. 1992. The gender and environment debate: lessons from India. Feminist studies, pp.119–158Google Scholar
  3. Agyeman, J., R. Bullard, and B. Evans (eds.). 2003. Just Sustainabilities: Development in an Unequal World. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  4. Anguelovski, I. 2014. Neighborhood as Refuge: Environmental Justice, Community Reconstruction, and Place-remaking in the City. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  5. Anguelovski, I., and J. Martinez-Alier. 2014. The ‘Environmentalism of the Poor’ Revisited: Territory and Place in Disconnected Global Struggles. Ecological Economics 102: 167–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Armiero, M., and G. D’Alisa. 2012. Rights of Resistance: The Garbage Struggles for Environmental Justice in Campania, Italy. Capitalism, Nature, Socialism 23 (4): 52–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bandy, J., and J. Smith. 2005. Coalitions Across Borders: Transnational Protest and the Neoliberal Order. Lanham, MD and Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield.Google Scholar
  8. Barca, S. 2012. On Working-Class Environmentalism. An Historical and Transnational Overview. Interface. A Journal for and about Social Movements 4 (2): 61–80.Google Scholar
  9. Beck, U. 1992. Risk Society. Towards a New Modernity. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  10. Bernstein, H. 2005. The Environmentalism of the Poor. A Study of Ecological Conflicts and Valuation (book review). Journal of Agrarian Change 5 (3): 429–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Boelens, R., L. Cremers, and M. Zwarteveen (eds.). 2011. Justicia Hídrica. Acumulación, conflicto y acción social. Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos.Google Scholar
  12. Bond, P. 2010. Maintaining momentum after Copenhagen’s collapse: Seal the deal or “Seattle” the deal? Capitalism Nature Socialism 21 (1): 14–27.Google Scholar
  13. Bond, P. 2011. Carbon Capital’s Trial, the Kyoto Protocol’s Demise, and Openings for Climate Justice. Capitalism Nature Socialism 22 (4): 2–17.Google Scholar
  14. Bond, P. 2013. Climate Justice. In Critical Environmental Politics, ed. C. Death, 133–145. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  15. Borrero, J.M. 1994. La Deuda Ecológica. Testimonio de una reflexión. Cali: FIPMA.Google Scholar
  16. Broad, R., and J. Cavanagh. 1999. The Corporate Accountability Movement: Lessons and Opportunities. The Fletscher Forum of World Affairs 23 (2): 151–169.Google Scholar
  17. Brown, P. 1992. Popular Epidemiology and Toxic Waste Contamination: Lay and Professional Ways of Knowing. Journal of Health and Social Behavior 33: 267–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Brown, P. 1997. Popular Epidemiology Revisited. Current Sociology 45: 137–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Bruno, K., J. Karliner, and C. Brotsky. 1999. Greenhouse Gangsters vs. Climate Justice. CorpWatch.
  20. Bryant, B., and P. Mohai. 1992. Race and the Incidence of Environmental Hazards: A Time for Discourse. Boulder CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  21. Bullard, R.D. 1990. Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  22. Bunker, S. 1985. Underdeveloping the Amazon. Extraction, Unequal Exchange, and the Failure of the Modern State. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  23. Carlsson, C. 2008. Nowtopia: How Pirate Programmers, Outlaw Bicyclists and Vacant-lot Gardeners Are Inventing the Future Today. Oakland, CA: AK Press.Google Scholar
  24. Carmin, J.A., and J. Ageyman (eds.). 2010. Environmental Inequalities Beyond Borders: Local Perspectives on Global Injustices. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  25. Carrere, R., and L. Lohman. 1996. Pulping the South. Industrial Tree Plantation and the World Paper Economy. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  26. Cattaneo, C. 2011. The Money-free Life of Spanish Squatters. In Life Without Money (Chapter 10), ed. Anitra Nelson. London: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
  27. Chatterton, P., and J. Pickerell. 2010. Everyday Activism and Transitions Towards Post-capitalist Worlds. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35: 475–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Conde, M. 2014. Activism Mobilising Science. Ecological Economics 105: 67–77. Scholar
  29. Corburn, J. 2005. Street Science: Community Knowledge and Environmental Health Justice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  30. D’Alisa, G., F. Demaria, and G. Kallis (eds.). 2014. Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  31. de Schutter, O. 2012. From Food Security to Food Sovereignty. Accessed March 28, 2013.
  32. Demaria, F., F. Schneider, F. Sekulova, and J. Martinez-Alier. 2013. What is Degrowth? From an Activist Slogan to a Social Movement. Environmental Values 22 (2): 191–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Di Chiro, G. (1998). Nature as Community. The Convergence of Social and Environmental Justice. In Privatizing Nature: Political struggles for the Global Commons, ed. M. Goldman. London: Pluto.Google Scholar
  34. Escobar, A. 2008. Territories of Difference: Place, Movements, Life, Redes. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Fischer-Kowalski, F., and H. Haberl (eds.). 2007. Socioecological Transitions and Global Change: Trajectories of Social Metabolism and Land Use. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited.Google Scholar
  36. Fischer-Kowalski, F., and H. Haberl. 2015. Social Metabolism: A Metrics for Biophysical Growth and Degrowth (Chapter 5), ed. J. Martinez-Alier, and R. Muradian. Handbook of Ecological Economics. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  37. Fischer-Kowalski, M., and H. Haberl. 1997. Tons, Joules and Money: Modes of Production and their Sustainability Problems. Society and Natural Resources 10 (1): 61–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Friends of the Earth International (FOEI). 2005. Climate Debt. Making Historical Responsibility Part of the Solution.
  39. Funtowicz, S.O., and J.R. Ravetz. 1993. Science for the Post-Normal Age. Futures 25: 735–755.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Georgescu-Roegen, N. 1971. The Entropy Law and the Economic Process. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Gerber, J.F. 2016. The Legacy of K. William Kapp. Development and Change. Scholar
  42. Gottlieb, R. 2005. Forcing the Spring: The Transformation of the American Environmental Movement. Washington, DC: Island Press.Google Scholar
  43. Gottlieb, R. 2009. Where We Live, Work, Play. and Eat: Expanding the Environmental Justice Agenda. Environmental Justice 2: 7–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Gottlieb, R., and A. Joshi. 2010. Food Justice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  45. GRAIN. 2005. Food Sovereignty: Turning the Global Food System Upside Down. Seedling. Accessed March 28, 2013.
  46. Guha, R., and J. Martinez-Alier. 1997. Varieties of Environmentalism Essays North and South. London: Earthscan.Google Scholar
  47. Guha, R., and J. Martinez-Alier. 1999. Political Ecology, the Environmentalism of the Poor and the Global Movement for Environmental Justice. Kurswechsel 3: 27–40.Google Scholar
  48. Haas, W., F. Krausmann, D. Wiedenhofer, and M. Heinz. 2015. How Circular is the Global Economy?: An Assessment of Material Flows, Waste Production, and Recycling in the European Union and the World in 2005. Journal of Industrial Ecology. Scholar
  49. Healy, H., J. Martinez-Alier, L. Temper, M. Walter, and J.F. Gerber (eds.). 2012. Ecological Economics from the Ground Up. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  50. Hornborg, A. 1998. Towards an Ecological Theory of Unequal Exchange. Articulating World System Theory and Ecological Economics. Ecological Economics 25: 127–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Hornborg, A. 2005. Footprints in the Cotton Fields: The Industrial Revolution as Time–Space Appropriation and Environmental Load Displacement. Ecological Economics 59: 74–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Hornborg, A., J.R. McNeill, and J. Martinez-Alier (eds.). 2007. Rethinking Environmental History, World-System History and Global Environmental Change. Lanham MD: Atamira Press.Google Scholar
  53. Inglehart, R. 1995. Public Support for Environmental Protection: Objective Problems and Subjective Values in 43 Societies. PS. Political Science and Politics 28 (1): 57–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Kapp, K.W. 1950. Social Costs of Business Enterprise. London: Asia Publishing House.Google Scholar
  55. Keck, M., and K. Sikkin. 1998. Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  56. Krausmann, F., S. Gingrich, N. Eisenmenger, K.H. Erb, H. Haberl, and M. Fischer-Kowalski. 2009. Growth in Global Materials Use, GDP and Population During the 20th Century. Ecological Economics 68 (10): 2696–2705.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Latorre, S., K. Farrell, and J. Martinez-Alier. 2015. The Commodification of Nature and Socio-Environmental Resistance in Ecuador: An Inventory of Accumulation by Dispossession cases, 1980-2013. Ecological Economics 116: 58–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Lerner, S. 2010. Sacrifice Zones. The Front Lines of Toxic Chemical Exposure in the United States (Preface by Phil Brown). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  59. Lora-Wainright, Anna. 2013. Fighting for Breath: Living Morally and Dying of Cancer in a Chinese Village. Honolulu: University of Hawai Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Lora-Wainright, Anna. 2017. Resigned Activism. Living with Pollution in Rural China. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  61. Martin Beristain, C., D. Paez, and I. Fernandez. 2009. Las palabras de la selva: Estudio psicosocial del impacto de las explotaciones petroleras de Texaco en las comunidades amazónicas de Ecuador. Bilbao: Hegoa.Google Scholar
  62. Martinez-Alier, J. 1991. Ecology and the Poor: A Neglected Dimension of Latin American History. Journal of Latin American Studies 23 (3): 621–639.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Martinez-Alier, J. 1995a. Distributional Issues in Ecological Economics. Review of Social Economy 53: 511–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Martinez-Alier, J. 1995b. The Environment as a Luxury Good or “Too Poor to Be Green”. Ecological Economics 13: 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Martinez-Alier, J. 1997. Environmental Justice (Local and Global) Capitalism. Nature, Socialism 8 (1): 91–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Martinez-Alier, J. 2002. The Environmentalism of the Poor: A Study of Ecological Conflicts and Valuation. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Martinez-Alier, J. 2012. Environmental Justice and Economic Degrowth: An Alliance Between Two Movements. Capitalism, Nature, Socialism 23 (1): 51–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Martinez-Alier, J., and M. O’Connor. 1996. Economic and Ecological Distribution Conflicts. In Getting Down to Earth. Practical applications of ecological economics, ed. R. Costanza, O. Segura, and J. Martinez-Alier. Washington DC: Island Press.Google Scholar
  69. Martinez-Alier, J., G. Munda, and J. O’Neill. 1998. Weak Comparability of Values as a Foundation for Ecological Economics. Ecological Economics 26 (3): 277–286.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Martinez-Alier, J., U. Pascual, F. Vivien, and E. Zaccai. 2010. Sustainable De-growth: Mapping the Context, Criticisms and Future Prospects of an Emergent Paradigm. Ecological Economics 69 (9): 1741–1747.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Martinez-Alier, J., L. Temper, and F. Demaria. 2014a. Social Metabolism and Environmental Conflicts in India. Indialogs 1: 51–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Martinez-Alier, J., I. Anguelovski, P. Bond, D. Del Bene, F. Demaria, J.-F. Gerber, L. Greyl, W. Haas, H. Healy, V. Marín-Burgos, G. Ojo, M. Firpo Porto, L. Rijnhout, B. Rodríguez-Labajos, J. Spangenberg, L. Temper, R. Warlenius, and I. Yánez. 2014b. Between Activism and Science: Grassroots Concepts for Sustainability Coined by Environmental Justice Organizations. Journal of Political Ecology 21: 19–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Martinez-Alier, J., L. Temper, D. Del Bene, and A. Scheidel. 2016. Is There a Global Movement for Environmental Justice? Journal of Peasant Studies 43 (3): 731–755.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. McCully, P. 1996. Silenced Rivers: The Ecology and Politics of Large Dams. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  75. Moore, J.W. 2000. Sugar and the Expansion of the Early Modern World-Economy: Commodity Frontiers, Ecological Transformation, and Industrialization. Review: A Journal of the Fernand Braudel Center 23 (3): 409–433.Google Scholar
  76. Narain, S. 2008. Learn to Walk Lightly. Business Standard (August 1, 2008).Google Scholar
  77. Ostrom, E. 1990. Governing the Commons. The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Cambridge U.P., Cambridge.Google Scholar
  78. Özkaynak, B., Rodriguez-Labajos, B., et al. 2012. Mining Conflicts Around the World: Common Grounds from an Environmental Justice Perspective. EJOLT Report n. 7.Google Scholar
  79. Paredis, E., Goeminne, G., Vanhove, W., Maes, F., and J. Lambrecht. 2008. The Concept of Ecological Debt: its Meaning and Applicability in International Policy. Gent: Academia Press.Google Scholar
  80. Peet, R., and M. Watts (eds.). 1996. Liberation Ecologies: Environment, Development and Social Movements. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  81. Pellow, D.N. 2007. Resisting Global Toxics: Transnational Movements for Environmental Justice. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  82. Pellow, D.N., and R.J. Brulle. 2005. Power, Justice, and the Environment: A Critical Appraisal of the Environmental Justice Movement. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  83. Porto de Souza, M.F., T. Pacheco, and J.P. Leroy (eds.). 2013. Injustiça ambiental e saúde no Brasil. O mapa de conflitos. Rio de Janeiro: Fiocruz.Google Scholar
  84. Reuters. 2009. U.S. Will Pay into Climate Fund, but Not Reparations: Todd Stern. -sternidUSTRE5B82R220091209¡.
  85. Roberts, J.T., and B.C. Parks. 2009. Ecologically Unequal Exchange, Ecological Debt, and Climate Justice. The History and Implications of Three Related Ideas for a New Social Movement. International Journal of Comparative Sociology 50: 385–409.Google Scholar
  86. Robinson, D. F. 2010. Confronting Biopiracy. Challenges, Cases and International Debates, 191. London: Earthscan.Google Scholar
  87. Robleto, M.L., and W. Marcelo. 1992. Deuda ecológica. Santiago de Chile: Instituto de Ecologia Politica.Google Scholar
  88. Rodríguez-Labajos, B., and J. Martinez-Alier. 2015. Political ecology of water conflicts. Water: Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews.Google Scholar
  89. Sachs, W. (ed.). 1992. The Development Dictionary: A Guide to Knowledge as Power. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  90. Schlosberg, D. 2007. Defining Environmental Justice. Theories, Movements and Nature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Shiva, V. 1997. Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge. Boston: South End.Google Scholar
  92. Shrivastava, A., and A. Kothari. 2012. Churning the Earth. The Making of Modern India. New Delhi: Penguin Viking.Google Scholar
  93. Shue, H. 1994. Subsistence Emissions, Luxury Emissions. Law & Policy 15: 39–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Shue, H. 1999. Global Environment and International Inequality. International Affairs 75: 531–545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Sikor, T., and P. Newell. 2014. Globalizing Environmental Justice? Geoforum 54: 151–157.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Simms, A., A. Meyer, and N. Robins. 1999. Who Owes Who? Climate Change, Debt, Equity and Survival. London: Christian Aid.
  97. Simms, A. 2005. Ecological Debt. The Health of the Planet and the Wealth of Nations. London: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
  98. Srinivasan, U.T., S.P. Carey, E. Hallstein, P.A.T. Higgins, A.C. Kerr, L.E. Koteen, A.B. Smith, R. Watson, J. Harte, and R.B. Norgaard. 2008. The Debt of Nations and the Distribution of Ecological Impacts from Human Activities. PNAS 5: 1768–1773.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Steinberger, J.K., F. Krausmann, and N. Eisenmenger. 2010. Global Patterns of Materials Use: A Socioeconomic and Geophysical Analysis. Ecological Economics 69: 1148–1158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  100. Temper, L., I. Yánez, K. Sharife, G. Ojo, J. Martinez-Alier, CANA, M. Combes, K. Cornelissen, H. Lerkelund, M. Louw, E. Martínez, J. Minnaar, P. Molina, D. Murcia, T. Oriola, A. Osuoka, M.M. Pérez, T. Roa Avendaño, L. Urkidi, M. Valdés, N. Wadzah, and S. Wykes. 2013. Towards a Post-Oil Civilization: Yasunization and Other Initiatives to Leave Fossil Fuels in the Soil (EJOLT Report No. 6).Google Scholar
  101. Temper, L., D. Del Bene, and J. Martinez-Alier. 2015. Mapping the Frontiers and Front Lines of Global Environmental Justice: The EJAtlas. Journal of Political Ecology 22: 255–278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  102. Tilly, L., and C. Tilly (eds.). 1981. Class Conflict and Collective Action. Beverly Hills: Sage.Google Scholar
  103. Walker, G. 2012. Environmental Justice: Concepts, Evidence and Politics. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  104. Warlenius, R., G. Pierce, and V. Ramasar. 2015. Reversing the Arrow of Arrears: The Concept of “Ecological Debt” and Its Value for Environmental Justice. Global Environmental Change 30: 21–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  105. WCD (World Commission on Dams). 2000. Dams and Development: A New Framework for Decision-making: the Report of the World Commission on Dams. Earthscan.Google Scholar
  106. Zierler, D. 2011. The Invention of Ecocide: Agent Orange, Vietnam, and the Scientists Who Changed the Way We Think About the Environment. Athens: University of Georgia Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Universitat Autonoma de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain

Personalised recommendations