The Role of the Media in Environmental Impact Assessment: An African Perspective

Author: Brian Aboh

The process of environmental impact assessment (EIA) has been in existence for four decades and its effect is felt worldwide.  EIA results have been accompanied with a lot of shortcomings attributed to institutional, legal and technical problems. Though, much is being done to address these issues, the EIA process still needs improvement. One major way to advance the process is through increased use of the media [1].  Media coverage on the practice of EIA is limited; Journalists mainly cover meetings or publicize information provided by the authorities, civil societies, pressure groups and project proponents.  The media should actually be involved in the EIA process as a stakeholder by reporting on the project during discussion and implementation stages, which in turn will be beneficial to the media company, its staff and the public [2].

The reluctance of editors and reporters to cover articles on the environment or EIA process is a result of their limited background on environmental issues especially in Africa.  Another reason is that most media companies in Africa are hesitant to cover environmental issues for fear of losing money and/or being persecuted by governments [2]. This shortcoming has led to the training of environmental journalists with the assistance of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), but this program’s impact is still limited.  Adequate funding, reorientation and repackaging of environmentally sensitive and innovative project reporting to make it more interesting and marketable would be another way forward [2].

An Interview with Prof. Wangari Mathaai

 African governments should be actively involved in promoting the use of media in EIA initiatives. For example, in Bulgaria the Government established an excellent environmental reporting capacity with the country’s media sector through regular press conferences and massive public awareness campaigns [5]. In the 1990s, the Chinese media was very instrumental as environmental watchdogs in supervising offenders and communicating with the public which was made possible through Chinese government encouragement [6]. Lei Yang (2008) has suggested that reporters should be in communication with academia, scientists, NGOs and other stakeholders for comprehensive media reporting of environmental issues.

Another good example is the media coverage that drew the attention of the world to the injustice and oppression by the then military dictator (Gen. Sani Abacha) in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria. In 1995, eco-activist and writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists (the “Ogoni eight”) were executed due to their stand against oil extraction and it’s environmental impacts which got considerable media coverage worldwide [3]. The media can also serve as useful tool to educate illiterate groups in a community about EIA practices. These can be achieved by the simplified reporting  of projects impacts through public debates and inquiries, television and radio programmes, visual aids and billboards, and sensitizing the community via theatrical shows [4].

The future of African countries in transparent EIA practices is dependent on the communication of findings and recommendations of EIA reports through the media to combat environmental degradations, social and economic frustrations, and violent conflict. These include the media’s simplification of cumbersome technical and complex presentation of EIAs, the consideration of cultural and language barriers, and the accessibility of EIA reports through the media.

Reference

[1]Kakonge, J.O (2006).Environmental Planning in Sub-Saharan Africa: Environmental Impact Assessment at the Crossroads. Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Working Paper No. 9. http://environment.research.yale.edu/documents/downloads/v-z/wp_9_africa_eia.pdf. [Accessed 17 March 2014].

[2]Kakonge, J.O (2012).  Media and the Environmental Impact Assessment Process in Africa: A Synopsis. Global Policy Journal. http://www.globalpolicyjournal.com/blog/21/05/2012/media-and-environmental-impact-assessment-process-africa-synopsis. [Accessed 17 March 2014].

[3]Nwagbara, U. (2010). “The Nigerian Press, the Public Sphere and Sustainable Development: Engaging the Post-amnesty Deal in the Niger Delta”, Journal of Sustainable Development in Africa, vol. 12, No. 3. http://www.jsdafrica.com/Jsda/V12No3_Summer2010_A/PDF/The%20nigerian%20Press,%2.[ Accessed 17 March 2014].

[4]Rowan-Robinson, J., Ross, A., Walton, W., & Rothnie, J. (1996). Public access to environmental information: A means to what end? Journal of Environmental Law, vol.8, No 1, pp. 19-42. http://jel.oxfordjournals.org/content/8/1/19. [Accessed 17 March 2014].

[5]UNEP (2009.). Guideline 44: Public Environmental Awareness and Education, Manual on Compliance with and Enforcement of Multilateral Environmental Agreements. http://www.unep.org/dec/onlinemanual/Enforcement/InstitutionalFrameworks.. [Accessed 17 March 2014].

[6]Yang, L. (2008). The Role and Ability of the Media to Promote Environmental Awareness; Perspectives from China. Presentation at the 4th Asia-Europe Editor’s Roundtable, 22-23 October, Beijing. http://english.cri.cn/2946/2008/10/24/53s417625.htm.  [Accessed 17 March 2014].

RETHINKING USED TIRES: THE UPS AND DOWNS

Posted By: Brian Aboh

Yong Jo Ji Recycled Tire Sculpture

Yong Jo Ji Recycled Tire Sculpture

Source: Yonghoji.com

Tires constitute a serious environmental concern on several fronts as a result of their chemical components. Toxins released from tire decomposition, incineration or accidental fires can pollute the water, air and soil. Forty two states in the United States has succeeded in regulating tire disposal to some extent, the remaining eight states have no restrictions on what you must do to discard tires [6]. Though laws are in place, illegal dumping persists and contributing negative environmental impacts [6]. According to the U.S. EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency), there are at least 275 million scrap tires in stockpiles in the US alone and in 2003, approximately 290 million scrap tires were generated [8]. The figures are staggering, even the state and local governments have noted the costs because of the landfill space required [8].

The problems and risk of used tires

Toxic effects

The EPA has categorized tires as municipal solid wastes rather than solid wastes which when thrown away instead of recycled can be detrimental to the environment. This occurs when the chemicals they contain are released into the environment – the breakdown of tires discharges hazardous waste [6]. Not only do tires contain oils that contaminate the soil, they also contain heavy metals, such as lead, that are persistent in the environment and accumulate over time [6].

Fire Risk

Improperly discarded tires are a major concern due to their increased fire risk. When heated, they become a fuel source. Fifty percent of recycled tires are used in fuel generation [7]. Fires fueled by tires are difficult to control and extinguish. Tire smokes which contain toxic chemicals and particulate matter can pose serious health consequences detrimental to existing respiratory conditions [7].

Pest Threat

Discarded tires also pose another environmental risk by collecting water which becomes a breeding ground for mosquitoes and pests leading to an increased risk of vector-borne diseases like encephalitis [3]. The U.S Centers for Disease and Control has suggested removing unwanted tires from your properties because of possible health impacts [3].

Creative solutions to the used tire problem

Building with Tires for Energy Efficiency

Tires are quite attractive as building materials because of their strength and durability. Not only do they require minimal processing techniques, forward-thinking designers and builders have utilized tires to accomplish a number of goals for greener more resilient buildings [4]. Used tires are cost effective and in some cases free, and are interesting option for home building initiatives. Michael Reynold’s Earthship concept is a good example of using old tires as bricks which are filled with earth that is pounded to create strength and stability for engineering projects. Though it is labor-intensive the result has much more thermal mass  than ordinary construction with a much higher insulating factor [4].

Michael Reynold’s Simple Model Earthship.

Source: Earthship.com

Tires and Disaster Resistance

Tires are also good for disaster-resistant buildings especially for earthquakes because of their flexible nature. The Indonesian aid Foundation Group has employed the use of old tires  for house foundations to provide a “buffer zone” between the shaking earth and the house. The Colorado State University also tested this design on a seismic shake plate on a building initiative which was able to resist progressively stronger quaking [2].

Tire Sculptures

Scrap tires can also serve as a wonderful material for creating wonderful artworks. Yong Ho Ji, a Korean artist has succeeded in transforming scrap tires into recycled masterpieces. Some of his works are represented in the form of animals or mythical creatures like dragons, he also produces magnificent mutants combining two different mutants and animal/human hybrids all carved with scrap tires [1]. His works are so amazing that it can be located at the international Contemporary Art Foundation in the West Collection inside the Seoul Museum of Art [1].

Jewelry, Belts, Footwear and More as By- Products of Used Tires

The uses of old tires are enormous. These include: belts made out of bicycle tires; recycled tire roofs; picture frames; playground materials; book bags; kitchen sinks and upholstery [5]. In Ethiopia, an indigenous company by the name Solerebels Footwear gathers and sorts used tires and hand-cuts them into soles for the production of long-lasting and comfortable shoes. This company not only pays fair wages to its employees but by using locally gathered materials it also promotes a better environment and helps in transforming the economy of Ethiopia [5].  Conclusively, when tires are disposed accordingly in respect to recycling mandate and landfill prohibitions, recycled tires can be advantageous for building homes, playgrounds, road surfaces, erosion control installations to mulch for our gardens [8].

References:

[1] Adrian. 2012. The Art of Yong Ho Ji – Recycled Tire Sculptures. Designmodo Accessed th, 2014> http://designmodo.com/yong-ho-ji/
[2] Cararo. A.  2007. Engineering Professor Researching Used Tires as Filler in Roadbeds, Foundations to Combat Expansive Soils. Colorado State University.Accessed <Jan. 19th, 2014> http://www.news.colostate.edu/Release/879
[3] Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 2013. West Nile Virus – Questions and Answers. Accessed <Jan. 19th, 2014> http://www.cdc.gov/westnile/faq/
[4] Earthship Biotecture. 2009. Tire building Code. Accessed <Jan. 19th, 2014> http://earthship.com/tire-building-code
[5] SoulRebels. 2013. Trading Towards Hope and Development. Accessed <Jan. 19th, 2014> http://www.solerebels.com/
[6] United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2012. Wastes – Resource Conservation – Common Wastes and Materials- Scrap Tires. Accessed <Jan. 19th, 2014> http://www.epa.gov/solidwaste/conserve/materials/tires/index.htm
[7] United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2008.  Municipal Solid Waste in the United States- 2007 Facts and Figures. Accessed <Jan. 19th, 2014> http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/msw07-rpt.pdf
[8] United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2013. Particulate Matter (PM) Research. Accessed <Jan. 19th, 2014>  http://www.epa.gov/airscience/air-particulatematter.htm

EIA and Sustainable Development: Recommendations from the Entropy Law, and Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA)

Defining Sustainability…

The management of the Earth’s resources in a way that does not threaten the ability of future generations to use the same resources

-The Brundtland Commission Report

The problem of achieving sustainability lies in the challenge of today’s societies figuring out how to “provide for the well-being of future generations given [Earth’s] ecological constraints” [2].

Earth as a Closed System

Consumers may not think of the creation, use, and destruction of a product as a cyclical process when they pick it off a Wal-Mart shelf.

The fact is they should! And so should EIA practitioners with a project.

When one “throws something out”, where do they think they are throwing it out to? The Earth is a closed system, and the reality is that they are throwing it out into the environment. It may be temporarily contained by an impermeable landfill, or incinerated into gases which are released and diluted into the atmosphere… but is this truly eliminating the product? No.

Over long periods of time the landfills may leach, and the atmosphere will become even more saturated with incinerated chemicals. The solution to “disposal” of products or projects is to not think of is as “disposal” at all. It must be considered as a cyclical process with the natural environment as both source and sink.

We are responsible for keeping our sink clean.

Earth

Figure 1: Hierarchy of physical and economic systems, adapted from [2]

Thermodynamics: The Entropy Law

Our production levels far exceed the levels of the Earth to assimilate our used outputs [2], and this is a problem for sustainability.

The second law of thermodynamics, the Entropy Law, takes into account the irreversibility of using inputs from the natural environment [2].

All physical process convert low-entropy energy and materials into high-entropy wastes.

– McMahon and Mrozek, 1997, 504

The directionality of the entropy law states that over time, the world becomes more disordered, and entropy increases. McMahon and Mrozek (1997) argue that the entropy law will be the eventual constraint to economic growth, and thus to sustainability, under our current neoclassical economic theory.*

Limited resources

Once a product is disposed of and forgotten, consumers often concede that it is no longer their problem. This mentality has pocketed the Earth with massive waste piles. Societies are digging massive holes to pump unused, high-entropy refuse into. We are hoping to never have our waste cross our minds again.

That is, until we collectively realized that mineral resources are becoming scarcer. After all, “resources may appear abundant until shortly before they are exhausted” [2].

The big question: Which processes and tools could help achieve sustainability?

EIA

EIA practitioners are instructed to use EIA as a tool for improved planning and decision-making for activities which involve the natural and human environments. CEAA ensures Canadians that EIA regulatory mechanisms are in the business of sustainable development because they are used to assess impacts and to mitigate accordingly, always with the future in mind [1].

Life-Cycle Analysis

Just as its very name implies, Life-Cycle Analysis (LCA) “is a tool designed to evaluate the impacts of the production, use and waste management of goods”, or in other words, to evaluate goods from “cradle-to-grave” [5].

Thus, it is suggested that the EIA process should not only be about project development but also about acknowledging Life-Cycle Assessment of inputs and outputs required to operationalize and decommission these development projects.

LCA is flexible in that choices on how to proceed in LCA (i.e. specific methodologies) can be determined based on “the goal of an LCA study” as well as “on the scientific perspectives of the researcher or practitioners” [3].

So why could it not be used to assess large-scale projects and not just the “cradle-to-grave” of one product?

Bringing EIA, Entropy and LCA Together…

What EIA practitioners must do is ensure that the development of projects does not continue to proceed in a linear fashion. LCA can offer the tools to ensure this. By examining life-cycles of large scale projects and minimizing inputs and outputs, a minimum of entropy is created where the planet is no longer a wasteworld of our damaging practices.

As societies become more aware of the importance of EIA and its role in sustainable development, EA practitioners could help consumers become aware of the importance of LCA.

LCA is a strategy to further reduce environmental impacts, increase societal awareness of resource use (and disuse). It also adds to proponent accountability for environmentally sound project development.


*Under neoclassical economic theory, sustainability lies in technological capabilities and societal innovations; but over time, substitutability will be less possible as entropy increases and low-entropy inputs become scarcer [2].


Sources

[1] Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. (2013a). Overview: Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012. Retrieved November 17, 2013 from Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency: http://www.ceaa-acee.gc.ca/

(Note: At the time of retrieval the word “sustainability” was used on this webpage. It has since been modified (January 21, 2014) and the word omitted. This gives clear indication that EIA practitioners should be armed with knowledge and tools such as LCA to address sustainable development in EIA in the future.)

[2] McMahon, G. F., & Mrozek, J. R. (1997). Economics, entropy and sustainability. Hydrological Sciences Journal, 42(4), 501-512. doi: 10.1080/02626669709492050

[3] Rebitzer, G., et al. (2004). Life cycle assessment: Part 1: Framework, goal and scope definition, inventory analysis, and applications. Environment International, 30(5), 701-720.

[4] The World Commission on Environment and Development. 1987. Our common future. New York: Oxford University Press.

[5] Tukker, A. (2000). Life cycle assessment as a tool in environmental impact assessment. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 20(4), 435-456.

Can stakeholder engagement bring sustainability at the core of EIA process?

By David Vilder.

Exactly fifteen years ago, the Voisey’s Bay Mine and Mill Environmental Assessment Panel Report set a new precedent in incorporating sustainability in environmental impact assessment (EIA) practice in Canada. For the first time, the proponent was not only asked to mitigate adverse environmental effects, but also “propose activities that would contribute positively to sustainability, locally and regionally” [1]. The general trend in EIA in the past 40 years has been to gradually move from reactive pollution control toward integrated planning and sustainability [1].

Voisey's Bay port facility by which Quest's rare earths will be shipped to Bécancour

Voisey’s Bay type of port facility by which Quest’s rare earths will be shipped to Bécancour (source: Vale)

Since that groundbreaking step, however, little progress has been made in the direction to sustainability assessment [2]. Some would actually argue that since the current government’s introduction of omnibus bill C-38 there has actually been a regression. Other aspects of EIAs, such as public participation and stakeholder engagement, on the other hand, have made greats steps in the last 20 years.

In the mining sector, in particular, a shift seems to be slowly occurring in risk communications. Mining companies have traditionally engaged their communication in a business-to-business mentality, but this is deemed to evolve [3]. The market shift that has been occurring since 2011 is making the mining sector more and more vulnerable [4]. As a result, mining corporations are slowly embracing modern concepts in risk assessment and communication, which keywords include ‘stakeholder engagement’, transparency and integration [3].

Communication in Mining Industry (source: author)

Communication in Mining Industry (source: author)

A recent example of this changing communications landscape can be seen in Quest Rare Earth’s Lake Strange Project in Quebec. Part of this project implies a processing plant in Bécancour, an already heavily industrialized town. In parallel to the announcement of the future plant, Quest also announced the creation of a follow-up committee that includes city councillors, members of the agricultural sector and aboriginal communities [5]. This is on top of the regular BAPE hearings. It closely follows the main lines of what scholars recommend make best practice in public participation, which is rather encouraging [6]. If legislation toward incorporation of sustainability into EIA practices is stalling, could it be that effective public participation becomes the effective vehicle to put a greater weight on sustainability in EIAs?

Experts in the field suggest that an improved public participation process will benefit society by allowing “better attention to multiple sustainability purposes, better selection among possible options and better design and implementation of the projects that are selected” [2]. This is exactly what new trends in communications in the mining industry aim at: communication is no longer unidirectional but becomes a an exchange between partners [4]. This approach allows a company to better understand its own sustainability agenda by constantly adapting it with stakeholders’ expectations and thereby being able to solve environmental risk challenges faster. In other words, best practice in risk communications is public participation in the EIA process but at the corporate level.

REFERENCES:

[1] Gibson, R. B. (2000). Favouring the Higher Test: Contribution to sustainability as the central criterion for reviews and decisions under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Journal of Environmental Law and Practice, 10(1), 39-54.

[2] Doellea, M., & Sinclair, J. A. (2006). Time for a new approach to public participation in EA: Promoting cooperation and consensus for sustainability. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 26(02), 185–205.

[3] IFC. (2013). CHANGING THE GAME: Communications & sustainability in the mining industry. International Finance Corporation.

[4] Deloitte. (2014). Tracking the trends. Toronto: Deloitte.

[5] La Presse canadienne . (2013, 11 06). Des terres rares transformées à Bécancour. Retrieved 01 21, 2014, from Le Devoir: http://www.ledevoir.com/economie/actualites-economiques/391845/projet-d-extraction-traitement-de-terres-rares-de-1-3-milliard-pour-becancour

[6] O’Faircheallaigh, C. (2010). Public Participation and Environmental Impact Assessment: Purposes, implications, and lessons for public policy making. Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 30, 19-27.