Friday, November 03, 2006

International Newsletter on Sustainable Local Development

Newsletter #33
November 1, 2006


Message from the Editorial Team

Environmental justice, community development and solidarity economy
The example of Kettleman City, California

Upcoming Events
Quebec Social and Solidarity Economic Summit

Message from the Editorial Team

Last September, the discharge of toxic products coming from the North to Abidjan on the Ivory Coast caused contamination and deaths. Whether it has to do with nuclear power (remember Chernobyl and Three Mile Island), or through release of toxic chemicals as in Bhopal in India, the environmental movements protest and dispute rightly, these attacks on the health of present and future generations.

But at the same time, employment in these sectors of industry often represents a significant number of jobs in the affected local communities. Even if it is often to the detriment of their own health, the workers concerned and their families are often not very inclined to protest, especially if no alternative exists for other work placement.

Therefore, we are presenting the principal elements of a text by Erica Swinney of the environmental organization Greenaction of California; it is rich in reflections for a more elaborate debate on the topic. It is essential for the environmental groups to integrate the questioning of environmental problems within the more global perspective of the economic and social development. In the same way, the actors of local development and social economy must integrate environmental issues in their visions and actions.

We observe often in our respective countries, the lack of linkage between these two approaches, which does harm to both.

We can only wish for greater collaboration, in essence the joint development of strategies and actions between these various actors. Without a coherent and encompassing strategy, environmental fights are likely to continue and be reactive and defensive. This in the long term weakens their stands.

In summary, the leitmotiv to resist and build also applies to the question of the environmental fights.

We are happy to announce that we are able once again to undertake the publication of the Spanish version of this Newsletter. Paul M. Makédonski of Lima, Peru has volunteered to translate into Spanish. We are very grateful to him.

Editorial Team
Francisco Botelho
Yvon Poirier
Martine Théveniaut


Environmental justice, community development and solidarity economy
The example of Kettleman City, California

Kettleman City is a community of 1400 inhabitants in Kings County in the Central Valley of California. Its population is 90% Latino, 70% of residents are primarily Spanish speaking, 40% are monolingual Spanish speakers.

It is home to the largest toxic waste dump west of Alabama, and is run by Chemical Waste Management (Chem Waste). Kings County receives up to 1/6 of their tax revenue from this company.

In 1988, Chem Waste proposed to build a toxic waste incinerator to burn over 100,000 tons of toxic waste per year. Local residents formed a group, El Pueblo para el Aire y Agua Limpio (People for Clean Air and Water) in response to this dire threat.

After 5 years of mobilization throughout California, Chem Waste announced the withdrawal of its application to construct the toxic waste incinerator. Furthermore, El Pueblo sued Chem Waste for PCB contamination. An out-of-court settlement provided money for the construction of a community centre and the establishment of the Kettleman City Foundation.

A battle won, but is the war being lost?

Since 1993, changes have occurred. Many of El Pueblo's founding members have since moved away from the area. There has been an influx of seasonal workers who come and go. Chem Waste has gained influence in the community by stepping up charity work, sponsoring local school activities, holiday gifts. It has quietly gained support of Kettleman City Foundation Board of Directors.

Chem Waste is now proposing a major expansion of both the municipal and hazardous waste landfills (a 140% proposed increase in the hazardous waste landfill alone). Some 6 km from the municipality, 500,000 tons of toxic sewage sludge from treatment plants in Los Angeles will be mixed annually with green waste to make compost. It will be spread onto adjacent agricultural lands, which surround Kettleman City.

Confronted by this situation, El Pueblo with the support of the organization for environmental justice, Greenaction, has renewed activities in order to raise public awareness and fight these new impending threats to the health of the community.

Existing Challenges

The situation in 2006 has major challenges:
• Fewer permanent residents, more seasonal residents
• Loss of continuity from the past struggle of 1988-1993
• Chem Waste has gained support in the community by its charity works.
• Chem Waste supplies up to 1/6 of Kings County's tax revenue.
• Lead organizer, Maricela Mares Alatorre, has been virtually blacklisted from gainful employment with the county and cannot obtain work in the community. Thus, in order to live she is thinking of settling down elsewhere.
• Some of the members of El Pueblo have family members who work for Chem Waste, which significantly limits their willingness to participate in campaign work.
• It is difficult to find funding for base building activities.

Fundamental questions for our movements

In order to establish a strategy addressing these local challenges, it is necessary to understand that the total global context has evolved. Neo-liberal globalization has degraded the living conditions of the residents of these poor communities. These people are obliged to accept to move, or take on any work to earn a living, even if detrimental to their health.

Isn't it necessary that the movement for environmental justice consider a change of paradigm in its approach? Indeed, it is not enough to make a population aware of the health dangers of projects such as this one, so it may mobilize appropriately.

Overall the Environmental Justice Movement risks losing if the campaigns are:
• Limited to single-issues
• Reactive rather than proactive
• Not addressing economic root causes of environmental injustices
• Not putting into question the direction of economic actors
• Not accompanied by work on the ground with communities, forced to choose low road jobs over their own health

New strategies?

The current context encourages us to redefine another strategy for the environmental movement: an Organisational Strategy articulated around a New Economic Development, which articulates social justice, economic justice and environmental justice.

The vision must change to propose practical and positive alternatives for a given community, region, state. In summary, it is important to make the shift from reactive to proactive, instead of anti.

Thus, we must demystify the economy and the business world, learn how to develop our own businesses, share experiences, build relationships and alliances with networks of social and solidarity economy, from the local level to the international level. We must actively seek the support of unions, specific local businesses and locally elected officials, so that the culture of the area and the safeguarding of the future of the inhabitants and resources of the territory are taken into account. It would be important to seek inspiration from the examples of economic models developed in Argentina, Mondragon in Spain, the network of co-operatives in Émilie-Romagna (Italy), as well as many others.

The Impact for Kettleman City

Such an approach would enable us to include into our strategy of alternative approaches situations like that of Kettleman City. How is waste management itself approached in other countries? How can this industry better serve the community in employment and revenues, while decreasing the negative impacts for pubic health and ecology?

Article by Erica Swinney, Community Organizer for Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, San Francisco. Original article in English available upon request.

Edited by Yvon Poirier

Upcoming Events


EXPOBRAZIL V will be held in Salvador de Bahia from December 5th – 8th, 2006. An outline of topics on the agenda:

Strategic axes
• Participative democracy and political culture: the challenge of consolidation of the new institutions of local development
• Articulation of the activities of production on the territories (including the approaches/topics like: productive territories, solidarity economy, local productive arrangements, systems of credit, fair trade)

Specific themes
• Family agriculture and local development
• Arts and culture as factors of local development
• Agro energy, bio-combustibles and local development
• Recycling and local development
• Local development in the metropolitan context

Web site :

Summit on the Social and Solidarity Economy of Quebec

Over 600 people from all sectors of the Quebec Social and Solidarity Economy will meet in Montreal, next November 16th and 17th in order to hold a Summit at the time of the 10th anniversary of the public recognition of social economy by all the social actors of Quebec society. This recognition was officially acknowledged by the government through policies and programs in support of the development of the social economy sector.

There will be an important international presence, because the actors of the social and solidarity economy of Quebec recognize the importance of representation of their efforts in the globalization of solidarity.

For further information (French and some sections in English)

Our Newsletters are available on the WEB:

Special thanks to:
Évéline Poirier from Canada for the English translation
Paul Maquet. Makédonski from Peru for the Spanish translation

To contact us (for information, feedback, to subscribe or unsubscribe):
Yvon Poirier

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