In praise of Indigenous wisdom

By Emmanuelle Galeotti

"El regalo de la Pachamama",Unknown artist, from UCLA Latin America Institute collection

“El regalo de la Pachamama”,Unknown artist, from UCLA Latin America Institute collection

“But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.”
Rachel Carson

Protecting Pachamama…and us
The most progressive and meaningful action to protect our environment, the most vulnerable populations and the rights of future generations altogether went almost unreported back in April 2011, when Bolivia passed a law that gives Nature equal rights to humans in its constitution [1]. Called the “Law of the rights of Mother Earth” (Law 071), it comprises eleven specific rights summarized as follows:
(i) the right to exist and to have natural cycles operating without human modification,
(ii)the right to clean air and water,
(iii) the right to balance and to not be polluted,
(iv)the right to integrity as in not genetically modified,
(iiv)the right to not be disturbed by large development project for both nature and communities[2].

Pachamama (Mother Earth) is considered a living entity by the indigenous population of the Andes. The Bolivian population is 60% indigenous, comprising 2.5 millions Quechuas [3], it is the highest percentage of indigenous population in all Latin America.

The “Law of the rights of Mother Earth” opens the door to new avenues for conservation, social well-being and legal protection. Because this law is the product of grass roots groups, politicians and communities, I see in it the achievement of traditional ecological knowledge coming into the sphere of decision making. The first indigenous Bolivian president, Evo Morales, said in 2008 in his pamphlet “Ten commandments to save the planet, humanity and life”:

“We indigenous peoples will continue to talk until we achieve real change. Our voice comes from way back . Our voice is the voice of the snow-capped mountains which are losing their white ponchos.”

In the last decade the country went through one natural disaster after another, including severe droughts that put the already poor subsistence farmers at an even greater risk. Bolivia has also suffered from environmental issues related to the exploitation of its numerous natural resources by foreign companies. Since his election in 2006, Evo Morales is working on a comprehensive change for Bolivians, and this included refusing the drastic neoliberal Washington Consensus. He initiated the nationalization of the natural resources sector and services deemed as human rights (e.g., water supply, telecommunications). Bolivia is now free of debt and boasting a 6.5% economic growth in 2014[4].

Empowering EIA
Can the overall EIA process really achieve its goals without a legal framework that gives rights to nature and the future generations? In improving the state of the environment, NEPA and CEAA have been instrumental, but aren’t they limited to only some projects?
Any negative impact on the environment will ultimately impact human beings soon or later and near or far. We must remember this when conducting an EIA, as we are measuring and predicting impacts on the environment to inform a rational decision that should be made in the best interest of society as a whole. To me, the goal of an EIA is to prevent undue damage to the environment and to ourselves. If we do not reaffirm the human-nature connection as professionals, how can we expect those who do not have our education to take steps to reduce their own impacts?
In Bolivia Mother Earth and its ecosystems, including human communities, have constitutional rights equal to that of a person. However, in the USA (and in most developed countries) it is corporations who have that right. I believe taking inspiration from Bolivia’s approach to environmental protection would bring the fundamental change required for our societies to place sustainability at the top of our development agenda.

[1] (accessed on March 15.2014)

[2]  (accessed on March 18.2014)

[3] on April 2014)

[4] (accessed on march 16.2014)


From historic village to ghost town: A case study for uncertainty and conflict in human environment

By Emmanuelle Galeotti                       

Doel is to disappear from the map by 2020 [1]. This historic village is located north of the international seaport of Antwerp in Belgium, on the banks of the Scheldt River that gives access to the North Sea. Doel first appears in records in 1267 [2] and is the unique polder village left in Belgium. Doel has lots of historical buildings, some landscapes made famous by baroque painter Rubens, a 17th century stone wind mill, and a nuclear plant.

What happened? Rise in containers’ traffic demanded expansion of Antwerp’s harbor. Plans to expand the harbor had been in the air since 1963, but were subject to economic fluctuations and politics; subsequently construction of the new containers’ terminal in Doel only began in 2000 with additional plans for industrial development [3].


Sources/Credit: Wikipedia, Romany WG (

David versus Goliath

Located just south of Doel the first terminal called “Deurganckdock” has been operational since 2005. Since 2012 Deurganckdock has been undergoing expansion: it is to become the largest lock in the world with a length of 500m, a width of 68m and a depth of 17m [4].

Construction of the second terminal, Saeftinghe, will erase Doel and should be operational by 2016 [5].

The Saetinghedok would drawn more than Doel

The Saetinghedok would drown more than Doel

Ever expanding Port of Antwerp

Ever expanding Port of Antwerp

Sources:, and

The port of Antwerp is the largest port and petrochemical cluster in the world; it now spans the equivalent of 20,000 football stadiums [6].

Needless to say other communities and polders disappeared in silence to make place for the ever-growing international seaport. Officially the Port of Antwerp will develop the Saeftinghe terminal to guarantee the sustainable growth of the port, the European Investment Bank foots half of the bill [7].

But for those who want to keep calling Doel  ‘home’ the fight is not yet over; they formed  an activist group in 2007 called Doel 2020 to defend their community rights. As the population dwindles some artists and squatters have taken residence in Doel and they keep it alive. Now street art and ghost-town chills attract tourists and photographers, despite the disappearance of Doel’s cafes and hotels.

Demolition started in August 2008, 100 riot-squad officers were sent to oppose locals’ resistance.

demolition doelcaterpillar

Credits: Paul Maes

Social Impact Assessment (SIA), uncertainty and conflict

The Flemish government approved the construction of the new dock in Doel in 1998. The village was to be demolished. Those willing to leave were offered a sum by the government depending on the size of their dwelling and the number of years of residence in Doel. Owners also received compensation for the loss of their property while assistance to find a new home was proposed to the tenants [3]. The official  population declined from approximately 1300 in 1972 [2] to 188 in 2013 [10].

An SIA was conducted in 1999 (after the green party was locally elected) to evaluate the impacts of the port extension on Doel’s sociological profile. The population survey uncovered the fact that people wanted to stay only for their emotional bond to their village; never did they mention any positive outcomes – like jobs from the new development [3]. As for environmental justice, people living now in Doel are the most vulnerable: elders, jobless, single member dwellings, all tenants and deprived of services [3]. The SIA conclusions acknowledged the possible remediation of impacts on the environment, but stressed that social impacts were to “be very significant” on the village’s social fabric.  According to Marx (2002), the culprit is the uncertainty the community was left in for over 40 years, which had a deleterious effect upon household’s decision-making.

The Aarhus Convention was enforced late in 2001; therefore public consultation was not yet main stream in Europe at the time of the SIA.

Unfortunately, the SIA came too late and the opportunity to prevent or diminish conflict between authorities and community was lost. Acting pro-actively through an SIA to identify potential causes and consequences in conflict-sensitive situations is often emphasized in the literature[8,9], because impacts on human environment start at the announcement of a change not when impacts materialize as is the case with physical and biological impacts. “Conflict-aware SIA” would have been a worthy approach since further delay or change in the expansion plans would be enormously costly to Antwerp Port Authority.

Essential elements for  a successful SIA include [9]:

–          Proper communication at all stages of the process

–          Stake-holders identification and network analysis

–          Considering each conflict as context-dependent and having a case-by-case approach

In SIA “subjective feelings and perceptions are valid impacts and indicators of impacts (…) they lead to negative experiences and may trigger conflicts.” ([8] p33)

According to these authors caution is necessary when identifying potential reasons for conflict as it is difficult to understand how all the variables interact in a conflict setting. Therefore, monitoring is critical to keep communication flowing and to avoid potential conflicts.

In October 2013, the group Doel2020  achieved the challenge to “put Antwerp’s plans for extension in the balance” after reaching to the Auditor of the Council of State[10]. As of 2014, Doel is still on the map and the Saeftinghe tidal container dock is still in the plans. The uncertain future of Doel continues.


[1] Telefunker , accessed 01/18/2014

[2] Wikipedia, accessed on 01/21/2014

[3] Axel Marx, Uncertainty and social impacts: A case study of a Belgian village, Environmental Impact Assessment Review, Volume 22, Issue 1, January 2002, Pages 79-96, ISSN 0195-9255,

[4], accessed 01/19/2014

[5], accessed 01/18/2014

[6],  accessed 01/19/2014


[8] P. V. Prenzel & F. Vanclay. (2014) How social impact assessment can contribute to conflict management. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 45: 1, 30-37.

[9] C.J. Barrow.(2010 )How is environmental conflict addressed by SIA?. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 30: 5, 293-301.

ISSN 0195-9255,


[10], accessed 01/19/2014

Mediation/Facilitation skills for EIA practitioners

Projects subject to EIA are often a source of conflict as different groups, proponents and stakeholders’ interests and values differ. Depending on the country or the province, some mechanisms for conflict resolution do exist in an EIA as the Bureau d’Audiences Publiques en Environnement  (BAPE) in the province of Quebec or the alternative mediation step  in the Canadian  EA process where the mediator is in charge of producing the EIA report (2003,Wood, p72). In the USA, mediation in EIA is limited to administrative hearings in the review step and it is more of a law process than a real mediation. However, mechanisms exist for land and natural resources management disputes. Mediation can also be triggered in response to a lawsuit (including cases outside of the EIA context as in community disputes), or requested at the discretion of a responsible authority (RA). As mediation pertains directly to public participation, places lacking public participation in their EIA may as well lack mechanisms for dispute resolution.

According to Fred. A. Curtis (1983, p 18), the objectives of mediation in EIA are the following:

–          Ensuring that all parties’ interests are represented

–          Achieving an agreement that satisfies all the parties concerned

–          Providing open communication between parties for future needs

–          Reaching a consensus in a timely manner and at a low cost

–          Guarantying that the community at large views the settlement as just and fair

Achieving these objectives in a conflictual context is for sure quite a challenge for which one must be prepared. Although there is a lot of literature on how to measure success in environmental mediation, and despite the fact that the field of mediation has been developing since the 1980’s , the specific skills and practical training needed to become an environmental mediator could use more visibility. Generally, the task of mediating is given to a specialized consultant or to a lawyer to guarantee neutrality, but still as mediation should start as early as possible, the skills required in mediation and facilitation are an asset for EIA practitioners involved with public participation: from participating in an information meeting to assessing socio-economic impacts to proposing mitigation measures and even monitoring.

Moreover, a mediator is also an educator and in the context of climate change for instance, the mediator-facilitator has a mission toward science as Gail Bingham, senior environmental mediator and researcher, says:

How to acquire the necessary skills and practice other than by our own experience? Learning from others’ experience is a start. In Common Ground on Hostile Turf, Stories from an Environmental Mediator (2013) Lucy Moore provides us with her own inspiring experiences in policy, land use and natural resources management mediation. She brings to light three core values – that we often take for granted – but that are essential to the construction of sustainable agreements between opposing parties: listening, respect and openness. These basic skills allow for efficiency, because one may know about environmental science, environmental law, human rights and environmental justice, but knowing how to convey this information to help a group of individuals with different backgrounds reach a consensus can rely on the results of a good mediation process. In her conclusion, the author delivers some guidelines that can be summarized as follow: connecting at a personal level and trust, looking under the map in a holistic approach, and balancing power.    The details of a mediated negotiation are confidential, particularly when commercial information is involved, and as a consequence it is difficult to know what exactly prompted or broke an agreement between opposed parties. But Moore’s book gives us a key insight: what happens at the human level in such work sessions matters most and conditions the meaningful participation of all stakeholders. Would the EIA for Voisey’s Bay Mine and Mine project (Labrador) have succeeded in creating an unprecedented accord without trust and understanding between the proponent, the Innu Nation, the Inuit Association, and the federal and provincial jurisdictions?

In addition, the contexts in Moore’s stories illustrate very well the essential elements of meaningful public participation described in Stewart & Sinclair’s article (2007, p166) such as integrity and accountability, inclusiveness and adequate representation,  fair and open dialogue, adequate and accessible information, multiple and appropriate methods, fair notice and time.

Mediation and facilitation skills are of upmost importance to encourage more meaningful public participation, promote sustainability, communicate effectively significance of impacts to the public and authorities, and foster corporate social responsibility. Developing and using those skills in EA’s everyday praxis can help “smoothing” the process of EA and make it more efficient.

NB: I comingled the terms mediation and facilitation as both are equally important, and because mediation includes some facilitation. To be clear on what each term actually entails, please consult Lucy Moore’s webpage on the topic, cited in references below.


Fred, A. C. (1983). Integrating environmental mediation in EIA. Impact Assessment, 2(3), 17-25. doi: 10.1080/07349165.1983.9725975

Lucy Moore Associates, (2008) Mediation/ Facilitation-what’s the difference? Retrieved 10/15, 2013, from

Moore, L. (2013). Common ground on hostile turf: Stories from an environmental mediator. Washington, Covelo, London: Island Press.

Stewart.Jennifer M.P., Sinclair. John A. (2007). Meaningful public participation in assessment: Perspectives from Canadian participants, proponents, and government. Journal of Environmental Assessment Policy and Management, 9(2), 161-183.

Wood, C. (2003). CH5 The Canadian EIA system. Environmental impact assessment: A comparative review (Prentice Hall ed., pp. 68-75) Pearson Education.