Community Campaigns for Sustainable Living: Health, Waste & Protest in Civil Society: Volume 7

Cover of Community Campaigns for Sustainable Living: Health, Waste & Protest in Civil Society

Table of contents

(21 chapters)

Dr. Liam Leonard is the series editor of the Advances in Ecopolitics Book Series with Emerald Group Publishing. Having worked for the National University of Ireland for a number of years as lecturer in Environmental Politics and Social Movements and Civil Society, he currently works as lecturer in Sociology, Criminology and Human Rights at the Institute of Technology, Sligo, Ireland. He is member of the Executive Committee of the Sociology Association of Ireland, and is the founder and chair of the Green Link West think tank, as well as founder and editor of the Journal of Social Criminology.

The anti-toxics movement's origins can be traced back to Rachel Carson's A Silent Spring in 1962. The book highlighted the impact of pesticides such as DDT on plant and wildlife in America in the years following the introduction of scientific methods of agriculture in the United States. In the aftermath of a wider public concern and scientific debate about Carson's work, President John F. Kennedy called on the Science Advisory Committee to investigate issues surrounding the use of pesticides. This inquiry confirmed Carson's position, and led to the regulation of the use of chemical pesticides in the United States. Carson has been subject to a number of subsequent criticisms from scientists working for the chemical industry.

Community campaigns for sustainable living emerged in the Republic of Ireland during the 1990s, in response to the state's introduction of regional waste management plans that incorporated infrastructure such as ‘waste to energy’ incinerators and ‘superdumps’. This book examines the manner in which such groups mobilised internally as well as exploiting the resources and political opportunities that emerged externally during the course of their regional campaigns. In particular, the book focuses on how these community campaigns mobilised resources and framed their challenges through the exploitation of the political opportunities provided by the state's policy agenda, and later through the state's response to the protests that followed. Other issues examined in this study include attempts to influence the manifestos of the political parties contesting the 2002 general election, as part of the political opportunity cycle.

This chapter will establish the two main strands of the study's theoretical framework. These strands represent the internal and external resources in the GSE case. The resource mobilisation (RM) strand refers to the internal resources of GSE, while the political opportunity structure (POS) refers to external resources. By referring to the literature on social movements particularly that which dwells on RM and the exploitation of political opportunities, the study will provide an understanding of collective action. This study investigates the campaign of an environmental movement that challenged the waste policy of the state, on the issue of incineration. As the state changed waste policy, the Galway campaign mobilised internal resources and exploited external political opportunities. The shifting nature of this opportunity structure may affect the patterns of internal mobilisation, utilisation of resources and types of networks a movement implements. Government responses to such challenges may also influence the patterns of collective action, as movements attempt to exploit the opportunities of the wider political environment.

Environmental campaigns in Ireland can be divided into pre- and post-affluence phases of multinational-led economic development in Ireland between 1958 and 2002. I construct an ‘issue history’ (Szasz, 1994) that locates the GSE case within the context of a series of community challenges to toxic industries during that period. These cases are relevant to an understanding of environmental movement activity in the decades before GSE's own campaign, before the onset of economic growth, or in the post-boom years when issues such as landfilling and incineration were the subjects of disputes across Ireland. I examine some earlier cases that have parallels with GSE's case in terms of their primary focus on toxicity and health risks, but I also look at the emergence of landfill and municipal incineration disputes since the mid-1990s that can be traced to the explosion of waste as a by-product of Irish society's fixation with consumerism.

This chapter explores the state's response to the waste crisis (see also McDonagh, Varley, & Shortall, 2009). The conceptual basis for key turning points in the state's waste management policy is located within the parameters of an EM approach. An outline of eco-modern and sustainable thinking is provided in the chapter, as the state's policy shift on waste, from a reliance on landfill to a strategy informed by the EU's waste hierarchy would provide many of the political opportunities for GSE, and their political allies, to exploit.

The first phase of Irish environmental campaigns had exploited the NIMBYist concerns of local communities in a manner that superseded the economic rewards of toxic multinationals promoted by the state. GSE's campaign extended that NIMBY frame by networking with other community groups concerned about the state's approach to waste management in the second phase of Irish environmental campaigning, which was concerned with the post-boom waste crisis and infrastructural sitings.

By extending their campaign beyond its NIMBY and health risk frames, GSE were able to open up a third frame, which was established from the political opportunity of democratic deficit surrounding the state's response to their campaign. This democratic deficit frame had its inception in the state's initial omission of the health risks of incineration in the CWP. By exploiting this opportunity, GSE were able to establish their own credentials through their provision of interest-led science about the health risks. Another area of democratic deficit exploited by GSE was seen in the state's attempt to rush the CWP through without undergoing the proper public consultation process that was written in to regional waste plans. Furthermore, the state's removal of the councillor's powers to decide the waste issue contributed significantly to a local sense of democratic deficit.

For their part, GSE went into 2002 with a vision of how they saw the year unfolding. 2002 would see the holding of a general election, and the momentum of GSE's petition gathering and public meetings could be utilised in an attempt to politicise the incineration issue as part of the overall election campaign. The shifting dynamic of the political opportunity structure surrounding the incineration issue had seen GSE and their local political allies losing momentum, due to the removal of the councillors’ powers on the waste issue. However, the response of a public now concerned at this perceived undermining of democracy allowed GSE to extend their democratic deficit frame.

I have presented an ‘issue history’ (Szasz, 1994, p. 162) case study of GSE's campaign against incineration. This approach has utilized different theories to examine GSE's campaign. It has outlined the study in the context of a NIMBYist campaign that utilized three main frames of health risks, NIMBYism and democratic deficit. The campaign was set in the second of two phases of environmental campaigning in Ireland. The first phase established community opposition to multinationals, whereas the second phase witnessed NIMBYist campaigns against infrastructural projects, such as incinerators, which the state tried to introduce to deal with the post-boom waste crisis.

Galway provided another example of ‘risk society’ with the outbreak of a parasitic-related contamination of municipal water supplied in 2007. The ‘Galway Water Crisis’ emerged in March of 2007, in the aftermath of an outbreak of the cryptosporidium parasite in the local water system.1 This crisis reflects the failure to protect large bodies of water such as Lough Corrib from the impacts of human development. As the degradation of water supplies has continued, urban centres such as Galway have had to contend with boil notices, health warnings and a political ‘blame game’ in the run-up to the 2007 election. This chapter will examine the key issues surrounding the water crisis in the west, detailing the costs of this issue to those charged with dealing with it.

The increasing trend towards sustainable development has seen a shift from ‘end of pipe solutions’ to the ongoing threat of pollution. Policy makers have come to accept the need for some form of inbuilt environmental standards to be included in any overall planning strategy. These shifts come in the wake of the Brundtland Report and the Rio World Summit. They have also shaped environmental policy. A central feature of this new thinking is the theory of ‘Ecological Modernisation’ (EM). Underpinning this debate are the theorists Janicke, Weale and Hajer, who have each contributed to the conceptualisation of EM as a feature of modern society. It can be argued that EM theory reflects a critical new positioning of the environmental debate, moving away from the periphery of social, cultural and political channels and becoming an important aspect of policy planning in these areas.

Cover of Community Campaigns for Sustainable Living: Health, Waste & Protest in Civil Society
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Advances in Ecopolitics
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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