In some parts of the world, fighting to protect the environment can cost you your life.
A report released Tuesday by the London-based Global Witness said more than 700 people – more than one a week – died in the decade ending 2011 “defending their human rights or the rights of others related to the environment, specifically land and forests.” They were killed, the environmental investigation group says, during protests or investigations into mining, logging, intensive agriculture, hydropower dams, urban development and wildlife poaching.
The death toll reached 96 in 2010 and 106 last year, said the report, which was released as world leaders gathered in Rio de Janeiro for a conference on sustainable development. The report’s annual totals for the six prior years range from 37 in 2004 to 64 in 2008.
More than three-quarters of the killings Global Witness tallied were in three South American countries: Brazil, Colombia and Peru. Another 50 deaths occurred in the Philippines. All have bloody land-rights struggles between indigenous groups and powerful industries.
The dead last year included Rev. Fausto Tentorio, an Italian Catholic priest who fought against mining companies to protect the ancestral lands of the Manobo tribe in the southern Philippines. Affectionately known as “Father Pops,” he was buried in a coffin made from a favorite mahogany tree he had planted.
In Thailand, where at least 20 environmental activists have been killed over the past decade, seven hired gunmen were paid $10,000 to kill Thongnak Sawekchinda, a veteran campaigner against polluting, coal-fired factories in his province near Bangkok. Powerful figures believed to have ordered the slaying are yet to be apprehended.
I suppose we in the United States are, by comparison, fortunate. Instead of murder, powerful industries here rely on lobbying, campaign contributions and propaganda that portrays virtually ever effort to protect the environment as a threat to jobs– while the US lags behind other countries in creating clean-energy industries and the jobs that come with them.