The unequal impact of environmental degradation on protest

About this Session


Thu. 11.04. 10:20



Authors – Rebecca Strauch, Viktoria Jansesberger, Gabriele Spilker, Sebastian Koos.

Abstract :

Many forms of environmental degradation, from air or water pollution to land degradation or the impact of climate change, affect different parts of societies in highly unequal ways. Frequently, low-income and less-educated citizens bear the brunt of these adverse consequences implying that distinct pre-existing socio-economic and political inequalities are reinforced. In many low-income countries of the Global South, this unequal impact of environmental degradation leads to severe grievances for affected citizens. If such grievances become too large, they might even trigger political protest. Yet, only a small number of scholars have linked environmental degradation to contentious mobilization. In order to respond to the long-ranging questions of origin and development of environmental mobilization, we present new data covering environmental protest in the Global South. In this new dataset, we geo-code the presence of environmental dissent on the national and local level, identify actors and political demands and collect information on violence and repression. This new data allows us to not only expand the literature by shifting the focus in the literature on environmental degradation from conflict to less conflictive forms of political action, in our case protest, but to also increase the scope of existing research that mostly focuses on protest in the Global North to encompass the Global South. Using this new data, we are able to show that both grievances, in the form of environmental degradation, as well as mobilization structures, in the form of more democratic political institutions and the presence of a strong civil society, are needed to trigger political protest. Domestic inequality affects both of these components, however, in diverging ways: While it increases grievances, it reduces mobilization potential leading to an inverted U-shape relationship.