Archive for August, 2012

Global Environmental Injustice From Houston’s Ship Channel

August 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Barge on Buffalo Bayou, hauling scrap metal to China (probably). This facility is one of many operations in and around the community of Magnolia. No zoning, poor environmental enforcement, and increased environmental health burdens characterize the challenges Magnolia residents face daily. The picture upends common views of global environmental injustice – trading trash has local environmental consequences, not just global ones outside the US. A similar story of corporate profiteering in the global trash trade, local politics, and its political consequences is Julie Sze’s book Noxious New York: Racial Politics of Urban Health and Environmental Justice (2006, MIT Press). I also recommend Pellow’s book Resisting Toxic Trading (2007, MIT Press) as a complement to Sze’s book.



Texas Colonias: Red Tape or Politics as Barrier to Decent Housing?

August 30, 2012 Leave a comment

Last summer The Texas Tribune published a two-part series on Texas colonias. The first article addresses the efforts and problems with securing habitable dwellings for residents (Red-Tape, Catch-22 Impede Progress). The second article (Conditions, Health Risks Sicken Colonias Residents) paints a striking picture of colonias residents and their life-world. I would only have added that when you enter Mexico Chiquito, the community cited in the article, you are welcomed by a severe sulfur smell that, for the first-time visitor, may cause your eyes to water…but that is another post.

As I finished reading the two articles, I am left unsatisfied. The article relied on the narrative that poor housing and substandard infrastructure are a result of individual actors, “unscrupulous developers,” usurious lenders, and other malcontents ready to prey on poor farm workers. Tone and word choice rendered residents as naturally poor, eliding their existence to the anachronistic “Third World.” The author stopped there, failing to grasp the complex historical and geographical processes that produced colonias in south Texas. The author did not address how chronic low-wage employment, wage supresion, and limited educational opportunities cause poverty. The author did not explain that many rural and peri-urban subdivisions exist outside municipalities because cities actively avoided incorporation of colonias. The author did not recount that colonias residents lost their right to vote and, therefore lost their opportunity for water and sanitation service, when state legislators allowed local elites to gerrymander their neighborhoods out of water control and improvement districts. The articles did not describe how government officials failed to either pass or enforce land development regulations, thus contributing to the growth of under-served communities. So, attention to red-tape and bureaucracy as major barriers to decent housing strikes me as superficial and misplaced.

NYT Article – Tropical Disease and Poverty in the US

August 29, 2012 Leave a comment

A recent New York Times Op-Ed (August 18, 2012) described the rise in “tropical diseases” among the nation’s poor. Surprise! The example used to illustrate this trend was in south Texas. And while the specifics were not clear, the description and photo suggest that it was referring to one of the colonias of Cameron County.

I embrace the author’s diagnosis that links poverty and poor health, and I agree that the current problems undermine the future generations’ capacity for educational (and thus, economic and social) advancement. Finally, someone does not explain this by invoking “immigration” as cause, but poverty. Indeed, I second the outrage expressed by the author. But at the same time, the narrow and technocratic solutions do not address the root causes of this “new plague.” Rather than surveillance or vaccines, how about raising the quality of housing in the communities hardest hit, providing better sanitation infrastructure and environmental health. Interventionist and technocratic solutions simply obfuscate the social and political issues around poverty and the increasing incidences of tropical diseases. If poverty is the problem, then perhaps that is where our attention needs to be.

Returning to the EJ Texas Blog

August 29, 2012 Leave a comment

My return to blogging on environmental justice in Texas follows a month of field work in South Texas colonias. Frequent trips to the region and the communities in which I conduct my research on drinking water remind me that the most difficult struggles for equitable distribution and access to key resources for a health life lay ahead of us, not behind us. Residents have witnessed progress, no doubt, and much of that spurred by the unyielding determination of community-based organizations, residents, and like-minded academics and public officials. From the Colonias Bill (1989), which set up the framework to build water and sanitation infrastructure, to the Colonias Program and the army of promotoras serving the residents of this forgotten place, much has improved. Rather than 50% of the population lacking water service, it may be 10%. Residents may no longer be dependent upon cesspools and outhouses for sanitation, as new developments must meet minimum requirements for septic tanks or sanitation connections. However, many challenges remain. Poverty, economic, social and environmental marginalization, and fear along with resignation create “the normal.” Decades of extreme poverty and neglect have normalized the conditions under which hundreds and thousands of people, mainly Mexican Americans, live, work and play.

What does it say about a society when people are not shocked by the fact that there are families that live on less than half of the federal poverty level, or other individuals living on $2.00 a day? The other side of normalization is also resilience and survival on the part of residents. So in both representing and trying to explain and understand the current status of colonias communities as places of environmental “injustice,” I also want to retain in my approach that the residents are resilient and struggle to maintain dignity despite the tremendous challenges faced on a daily basis. So, for the next several weeks, my focus will be on environmental justice, but within the context of colonias and their residents.

A Radical Geography Community

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experiments in science

La Jicarita

An Online Magazine of Environmental Politics in New Mexico

The Trash Blog

Finding Away

Human-Environment Research Group

Geography @ Texas A&M University

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