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Benevolent and Benign? Using Environmental Justice to Investigate Waste-related Impacts of Ecotourism in Destination Communities

Abstract:  We contribute to the diversification of environmental justice (EJ) by using it to frame ecotourism-related solid waste management problems. Ecotourism is a service industry portrayed as benevolent (providing benefits), and benign (reducing
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  Benevolent and Benign? UsingEnvironmental Justice to InvestigateWaste-related Impacts of Ecotourismin Destination Communities Zo ¨e A. Meletis University of Northern British Columbia, 3333 University Way,Prince George, BC Canada;, Lisa M. Campbell Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke Marine Laboratory,135 Duke Marine Lab Rd,Beaufort, NC, USA; Abstract:  We contribute to the diversification of environmental justice (EJ) by using it toframe ecotourism-related solid waste management problems. Ecotourism is a service industryportrayed as benevolent (providing benefits), and benign (reducing negative impacts). Wepropose four characteristics shared by ecotourism-based communities in the Global Southand communities strugglingwith more conventional EJ conflicts. We apply these characteristicsto the solid waste crisis in Tortuguero, Costa Rica, a renowned ecotourism destination. First, weshowthat,despitetheirgeneralabsencesfromtheEJliterature,serviceindustriessuchastourismand hospitality can create environmental injustices that disproportionately impact certain typesof communities. Second, we highlight the roles of location and socio-economic marginalityin siting ecotourism development, in complicating related environmental impact management,and in limiting local abilities to respond to environmental management shortcomings. Third,we provide an example of opportunities to introduce EJ concepts and theory into the study of tourism. Keywords:  ecotourism, environmental justice, tourism impacts, Costa Rica, marginality,Tortuguero Consumption and production patterns, especially in nations withwasteful “throw-away” lifestyles like the United States, and theinterests of transnational corporations create and maintain unequaland unjust waste burdens within and between affluent and poorcommunities, states, and regions of the world (Bullard and Johnson2000:572)  Antipode  Vol. 41 No. 4 2009 ISSN 0066-4812, pp 741–780doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8330.2009.00696.x C  2009 The AuthorsJournal compilation  C  2009 Editorial Board of   Antipode .  742  Antipode Introduction Why Environmental Justice? In2002,myco-authorLisaCampbellandItraveledtoTortuguero,CostaRica, to assess its potential as a field site for my dissertation research onthe solid waste impacts of ecotourism. Lisa had worked in Tortugueroand knew that the community had solid waste management problems.While I was initially interested in documenting solid waste generationassociated with ecotourism (eg through waste-stream analysis), itquickly became apparent that the waste problems were more thantechnical. During this initial visit, the local “recycling plant” wasclosed for long periods of time and garbage was being left outsidethe plant, overflowing from local waste receptacles, and being burnedand dumped around the village and on the beach. The plant had closedafter several businesses and households had refused to pay for services,and the plant’s ATV had been stolen. Local politics pitted the women’sorganization in charge of running the recycling plant at that time againsta local entrepreneur proposing alternatives, and his supporters. In thisatmosphere, my interest in measuring waste was soon displaced by theneed to understand the politics of the waste crisis and how this relatedto ecotourism, a supposedly green form of development.In considering the nature of the waste crisis in Tortuguero, I foundmyselfdrawntotheliteratureonenvironmentaljustice(EJ).Thesitingof waste facilities has traditionally been a predominant concern in EJ, andI saw some striking similarities between the situation in Tortuguero andwaste-relatedconflictsdescribedintheEJliterature.First,the“recyclingplant” (waste treatment and storage plant) in Tortuguero is located inthe center of the village where local people live, work, and play, and farfrom the major hotels/lodges that generate much of the waste; there isa spatial aspect of inequity in waste generation, disposal, and potentialrelated impacts.Second, the majority of tourists who visit Tortuguero are NorthAmerican or European and the majority of lodge owners are NorthAmerican and European expatriates or non-resident Costa Ricans. Incontrast, the village is mostly composed of Afro-Caribbean residentsand more recent Latino immigrants from Costa Rica and Nicaragua; thewaste crisis therefore includes class and race-related inequities.Third, even when the recycling plant (hereafter the plant) wasfunctioning at its best, the potential for negative environmental andhealthimpactsforthoselivinginproximitytoitwasevident.Whilemostof these impacts have not been formally measured, concern was highenough to motivate the director of the shared regional health clinic tofileanofficialcomplaint( denuncia )againsttheregionalmunicipalityof Pococ´ı for neglecting its duties in Tortuguero (personal communicationwith various respondents 2004). C  2009 The AuthorsJournal compilation  C  2009 Editorial Board of   Antipode .  Benevolent and Benign?  743 Finally, local residents used the language of justice to describethe waste crisis. They saw the lodges and other powerful tourismactors as greatly benefiting from tourism to Tortuguero, while residentswere bearing heavy costs related to its increasing waste burden.One respondent said this about the waste crisis: “The hotels createa lot of plastic, etc. The municipality doesn’t offer support to getthe garbage out to La Pavona. The whole system has to change,including the administration of the plant . . . ” (R53 2004). 1 Ray Hooker,a local respondent who demanded to be cited in association withhis statements, described the waste crisis in the following way, in2004: The biggest impact has to be garbage because here—there is nothingwe can do with it. It’s very difficult to get garbage out of here, and theamount of garbage is growing. Tourists don’t throw garbage but they[produce] it, and the hotels don’t [do their part]. The recycling doesn’tworkandthereisnotransportationtogetgarbageoutofhere.Garbageis harder to deal with here . . . So I think that maybe it’s very bad andit’s also very urgent. I hope that it gets better because if it doesn’t, wewill lose tourism and without tourism, we go back to zero. Tourism isthe only revenue source here, we can’t lie to ourselves. For the purposes of this paper, we adopt Pulido’s definition of EJ. Weconsider it to be a “broad set of concerns . . . focused on the relationshipbetween marginalized groups and environmental issues, includingthe elitism of mainstream environmentalism . . . , the biased nature of environmentalpolicy . . . ,thedisproportionateexposureofmarginalizedpeoples to polluted environments, and the limited participation of marginalizedpeoplesinenvironmentalaffairs”(Pulido1996:142,citingTaylor 1992). In this paper, we explore how Tortuguero’s isolationand marginalization influence the local solid waste crisis and wediscuss the geographic inequity (Bullard 1994) of where waste isgenerated in Tortuguero and where waste-related impacts occur. Wecombine research in Tortuguero with relevant literature to explorethe utility of EJ for examining one type of environmental impactassociated with ecotourism, and, by extension, for considering justiceissues associated with ecotourism more generally. In Tortuguero,the waste crisis is both constitutive and reflective of problems withecotourism.Although both the EJ movement and related scholarship srcinatedin the USA and these roots remain strong, EJ scholarship isincreasingly applied both in international contexts and to  global environmental issues. Authors and activists have expanded the conceptof environmental injustices beyond the traditional focus on race-relatedinjustices, to consider environmental conflicts in different types of marginalized communities around the world (see eg Adeola 2000; C  2009 The AuthorsJournal compilation  C  2009 Editorial Board of   Antipode .  744  Antipode Belkhir and Adeola 1997; Carruthers 2008; Kuletz 2002; McDonald2002; Pellow and Brulle 2005). The rationale for expanding EJscholarshipandactivismisstrong:“Ifweexamineenvironmentalissuesinternationally, the same domestic pattern of disproportionate exposuretoenvironmentalhazardsanddegradationexistsworldwideamongthosewho are nonwhite, poor, less educated, and politically less powerful”(Alston and Brown 1993:179).DespitetheexpansionofEJ,someindustriesandtheirimpactsremainlargely absent from the literature. In this paper, we contribute to thegrowing scholarship considering the diversification of EJ by framinga solid waste crisis in an unexpected EJ context: the ecotourism-based community of Tortuguero, Costa Rica. Although Tortugueroappears to have little in common with many sites of historic EJstruggles (eg is it neither urban nor industrialized; local residentsgain substantive financial benefits from the industry in question), wesuggest Tortuguero shares characteristics with communities strugglingwith more conventional EJ conflicts. We explore these characteristicsto frame the solid waste crisis in Tortuguero and illustrate thesimilarities between communities experiencing more conventionalEJ issues and isolated ecotourism-based communities in the GlobalSouth. In doing so, we demonstrate three things. First, despitelargely being absent from the EJ scholarship, we suggest that serviceindustries like tourism/ecotourism can create environmental injusticesthat disproportionately impact communities that are marginalized incertain ways. Second, we highlight the roles that geographical locationand socio-economic, cultural, technical, and political marginalityoften play in both siting ecotourism development and complicatingenvironmental impact management. Third, building on the work of others(egFloydandJohnson2002;Pe˜na2005;PorterandTarrant2001;Zebich-Knos 2008), we illustrate the utility of introducing EJ conceptsand theory into the study of tourism. Finally, we consider the ways inwhich the Tortuguero case is different than those conventionally treatedin EJ, and consider what this means both for Tortuguero and for EJtheory.IndescribingthecaseofTortuguero,CostaRica,wedrawprimarilyonresearch conducted by Meletis (2002–2004). During much of this timeperiod,inadequatesolidwastemanagementcreatedundesirableimpactsvisible on the landscape, and was considered a “crisis” by many localresidentsandorganizations,andthedirectoroftheregionalhealthclinic(Meletis 2007). Meletis conducted over 70 interviews with residents 2 of Tortuguero and 1001 surveys of tourists visiting the area, and witnessedawasteauditattherecyclingplant(Camacho2003).Whilefullanalysesof the field data are presented elsewhere (Meletis 2007), we drawupon results of this work, additional fieldwork observations, and otherresearch in Tortuguero. C  2009 The AuthorsJournal compilation  C  2009 Editorial Board of   Antipode .  Benevolent and Benign?  745 Environmental Justice Waste-related Conflicts and Environmental Justice The siting of waste facilities is one of the earliest issues addressedin the EJ movement and literature. Key examples include: the caseof   Bean vs SouthWestern Waste Management   (1979 )  that broughtthe first charge of discrimination in waste facility siting under civilrights law (Bullard 2001); analysis of the spatial distribution of solidwaste disposal sites in the USA in the 1970s that revealed race asthe determinant in siting (Bullard 1993); the mobilization of largenumbers of African–Americans against the planned siting of a PCBcontaminated landfill site in Warren County, North Carolina, in 1982(Floyd and Johnson 2002); a study prompted by the Warren Countyprotests, which revealed that three-quarters of commercial hazardouswaste landfills in eight southern states were in predominantly African–Americanneighborhoods(USGeneralAccountingOffice1983;Bullard2001); and Robert Bullard’s seminal work   Dumping in Dixie. Race,Class and Environmental Quality  (1990). These cases influenced policywith the introduction of federally mandated procedures for addressingEJ (Simpson 2002) and a federal EJ office (Bullard and Johnson 2000).In spite of these accomplishments, waste-related injustices and theirrelationships with marginalized communities remain an EJ topic of concern.EJ is now being used to frame waste-related injustices in aninternational context. In 1991, the Global North’s practice of usingthe Global South as a “dumping ground” for unwanted wastes gainedattentionafteramemofromthenchiefWorldBankeconomistLawrenceSummers “encouraging” more waste trade to the Global South waspublicly leaked in order to draw attention to the issue (Greenpeace1992, cited in Bullard and Johnson 2000). EJ analyses of internationaland global waste injustices include: Wu and Wang’s (2002) analysisof foreign hazardous wastes imports into China from a human rightsperspective; Njeru’s (2006) combination of political ecology andenvironmental justice to explain plastic-bag related waste in Nairobi;and Moore’s (2008) work on  colonia -generated waste crises in Mexicoas evidence of environmental injustices and related activism in LatinAmerica.As the geographic scope of EJ scholarship and activism hasbroadened, so has the range of issues considered. In the literature, EJis now used to address mining (Halder 2003), nuclear contamination(Kuletz 2002), oil production (Comfort 2002), pesticide exposure(Peisch no date), access to environmental goods (Walker and Bulkeley2006), income inequalities, housing inequalities, homelessness, accesstoservices,transportationissues,theredevelopmentofbrownfields(Lee1996, cited in Schlosberg 1999), inequities in access to urban green C  2009 The AuthorsJournal compilation  C  2009 Editorial Board of   Antipode .
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