Lessons

The Dangers of Being an Environmental Activist

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A shrine to Berta Cáceres in La Esperanza. Image by Jeremy Relph for Yale E360. Honduras, 2017.

A shrine to Berta Cáceres in La Esperanza. Image by Jeremy Relph. Honduras, 2017.

Introduction

  1. Do you ever think about how infrastructure is built?
  2. If the government or a private company wanted to build a road, dam, or railroad on land you own, what would they have to do?
  3. Is it different if it is land in your neighborhood or land that is important to you and your community?
  4. Does it matter if it is the government or a private company claiming the land?

 

Reading and Discussion

  1. Read Fred Pearce's story, "In Honduras, Defending Nature Is a Deadly Business."
  2. After reading the article, as a class discuss the following questions.
    1. Who was Berta Cáceres?
      1. What influences shaped her activism?
      2. How did Berta Cáceres' Lenca, political, and environmental work and viewpoints relate to each other? How did her outreach and actions represent an overarching philosophy?
    2. What was she campaigning against when she was killed?
      1. According to the Honduran government, who killed Cáceres?
      2. According to her friends, family, and various non-profit organizations, who killed her and why?
      3. What is Berta Cáceres' legacy?
      4. Was she the only activist killed in Honduras?
    3. What factors led to Honduras being labeled the deadliest county for environmental activists?
      1. Government (including military)
      2. Economic
      3. Foreign governments and companies
      4. What role did these factors play in Cáceres' death?
    4. Is this issue unique to Honduras?
      1. What other examples are referenced in the article?
      2. Can you think of any recent examples of environmental activism? Were they similar or different from Cáceres' story?

 

Extension Activity

  1. As a class, identify current environmental issues or debates. Pick one that interests you.
  2. Research the various sides of the issue. You can use organizational websites, magazines, newsletters, listservs, letters to editors, and other publications like news articles and academic books to research your topic and groups associated with it.
    1. Why is this an issue or debate?
    2. Who is involved?
    3. What is their message and how do they share it with the public?
    4. How do these groups, companies, organizations, government agencies, or individuals interact with each other?
    5. Is there a connection with other areas of debate or conflict in the community?
  3. Create a presentation for class that covers these questions.
  4. Share it with your classmates.
  5. After everyone has presented, discuss commonalities and differences between the topics.
Educator Notes: 

Introduction
If you want to learn more about eminent domain/compulsory purchase and zoning laws, most states, provinces, cities, or counties have local zoning commissions or boards that provide details.

For additional United States related resources
Ballotpedia's eminent domain page
PBS's NOW eminent domain page
The US Department of Justice History of the Federal Use of Eminent Domain

Discussion
If you want to talk more in-depth with your students about social movement theory, explore the theory of social movement spillover. It can help students understand and discuss the intersection of environmental activism and indigenous peoples movements.

One recent example of environmental and indigenous community activism that student might bring up is the protests over the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline (also known as the Standing Rock protests.) 

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