Article by Jake Mogan, The 11th Hour Project for Community Science Forum: Changing Environmental Governance Landscape
The 11th Hour Project prides itself in being a bold, leading-edge funder on energy, food, and human rights issues. We recognize and seek to disrupt the increasingly concentrated corporate interests that are accelerating the exploitation of natural resources at the expense of human health and ecological viability. To achieve our vision of more just and sustainable food and energy systems -- underpinned by a strong commitment to human rights -- we rely on partners in the field willing to directly challenge corporate interests and the elected officials who give them cover. This work takes many forms -- from investigative journalism and scientific research to direct actions and strategic litigation.
Hard-hitting work challenging dominant paradigms has always come with a degree of risk. Corporations have long sought to make examples of activists in the courtroom and discredit them in opinion sections, and there have been many instances in which law enforcement and policymakers have aided and encouraged the silencing of dissent. This is especially true for activists of color and those organizing in developing countries. While these attacks are not new, they appear to be trending more frequent and more aggressive in recent years. In response to protests around the country, legislators in nearly 20 states proposed bills in 2017 that would restrict people's rights to protest, including a handful which would protect drivers who struck protesters with their car. Globally, a report from Global Witness found that in 2016, at least 200 land and environmental defenders were murdered -- the deadliest year on record.
The 2016 presidential election has only exacerbated these trends. The Trump Administration's stated goal of "deconstruction of the administrative state" is most clearly taking shape through EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt's comprehensive roll back of air, water, and climate protections. These attacks create an even greater role for environmental advocates to take action, but the White House appears determined to weaken activism of all kinds. This was announced forcefully on Trump's first day in office: In response to Inauguration Day protests, a statement on the White House website proclaimed: "Our job is not to make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter, or the violent disrupter." Over 200 activists currently face felony rioting charges for their nonviolent actions that day.
More recently, 84 House members sent a letter to the Department of Justice urging it to extend domestic terrorism charges against activists protesting against oil and gas pipelines. While attacks against direct actions have made headlines, there are other, quieter attacks against community science and data collection. In recent years, more than half of all state legislatures across the country have introduced so-called "ag-gag" bills, which are designed to silence whistleblowers revealing animal abuses on industrial farms. These laws criminalize acts related to investigating the day-to-day activities of industrial farms, including the recording, possession or distribution of photos, video, and audio at a farm. States like Wyoming have gone even further, with legislation that restricts individuals from collecting data on private lands that could be used to hold violators accountable. Laws like this are intended to disempower professional researchers and community scientists alike.
Fenceline communities and their allies and have long assumed a disproportionate responsibility for protecting their health and environment in lieu of enforcement by state and federal regulators. Restricting this work is anti-democratic and means environmental injustices will grow more severe. At 11th Hour, we're committed to raising awareness about these attacks, and supporting our partners in the field to be even bolder in their pursuit of environmental justice. We believe it's critical that solidarity and resilience is developed across issues and regions in order to share resources, strategies, and lessons learned.
Photo: Groundwork New Orleans Green Team members explore low cost ways to monitor stormwater using rain gauges.