Lesson Plans

The Dangers of Being an Environmental Activist

berta.jpg

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.

screen_shot_2016-10-09_at_17.55.34.png

A woman in one of the two last remaining homes in a village emptied out before the dam was raised. Their old brick house was narrowly, spared. And so, while most of the villagers were sent away to relocation sites, they were told to simply stay in what they now describe as a “ghost village.” Today they have less farmland, as their fields were partially submerged – and less company. “Everyone else is gone, and we are so lonely here.”  Image by Sharron Lovell. China, 2016.

A woman in one of the two last remaining homes in a village emptied out before the dam was raised. Their old brick house was narrowly spared. And so, while most of the villagers were sent away to relocation sites, they were told to simply stay in what they now describe as a “ghost village.” Today they have less farmland, as their fields were partially submerged—and less company. “Everyone else is gone, and we are so lonely here.” Image by Sharron Lovell. China, 2016.

science.png

Epa is a liaison between Peru's isolated Indigenous tribes and the modern world. He lives with three wives, a mother-in-law, and many dogs in a hand-built shelter along the Curanja River in the Purús Communial Reserve. Image by Jason Houston. Peru, 2015.

635848252220448261-peru-pumpeddry02.jpg

Joselyn Guzmán, 21, has been trying to block a farming company from starting to use three wells that it bought among the fields of local farmers in the town of Ocucaje, Peru. In August, some townspeople set fire to the company's water pipes, and Joselyn was later punched and threatened. Image by Steve Elfers. Peru, 2015.

635848252195331778-pumpeddry-peru-ij-12.jpg

A sign on the Pan-American Highway south of Pisco reads: “The Drilling of New Wells is Prohibited." The signs were put up by the National Water Authority to underline a ban on new irrigation wells that has been in effect for years in this part of Peru. Many wells have been drilled despite the ban. The sign also encourages people to "Take care of the environment" and "Report clandestine drilling."” Image by Ian James. Peru, 2015.

635848252233864519-peru-pumpeddry04.jpg

Mamerto Cuya Villagaray rushes to direct water down his rows of cotton near Ica, Peru. His association of small farmers sold two of its wells a decade ago to an asparagus export company. He said the company has been pumping heavily and the water table has been declining. If that continues, he said he worries "it’s going to make us disappear." Image by Steve Elfers. Peru, 2015.

635848252015616322-peru-pumpeddry18.jpg

Juan Pablo Bentin holds up an irrigation tube, part of an ultra-efficient system that he and his brother have installed on their farm among the sand dunes near Pisco, Peru. They use water from wells to irrigate pomegranate trees, blueberries and asparagus. They say that while groundwater levels have been falling elsewhere, the levels of their wells have held steady. Image by Steve Elfers. Peru, 2015

Introduction:

1. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines "infrastructure" as "the system of public works of a country, state, or region; also : the resources (such as personnel, buildings, or equipment) required for an activity." Take one minute to make a list of the infrastructure, or resources (people/buildings/equipment), that you use to go to school every day. Try to list as many items as you can. Be prepared to share your responses as a class. 

3. Of the resources you listed, which were constructed and/or funded by the government? 

4. If the government or a private company wanted to build a road, dam, or railroad  for the community on land you own, what do you think that they would have to do?

5. Is the process different if the land is being claimed by the government or a private company?

6. What is an area of your community that is important to you, but that you don't own. How would you respond if the government, or a private company, wanted access to that land to build a public resource (a bridge, a school, etc.)?

Reading and Discussion:

Read journalist Fred Pearce's story, "In Honduras, Defending Nature Is a Deadly Business." As you read, document your responses to the following questions. Be prepared to discuss the questions with your class.

1. Who was Berta Cáceres?

  • What influences shaped her activism?
  • 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?

  • According to the Honduran government, who killed Cáceres?
  • According to her friends, family, and various non-profit organizations, who killed her and why?
  • What is Berta Cáceres' legacy?
  • Was she the only activist killed in Honduras?

3. What factors led to Honduras being labeled the deadliest county for environmental activists?

  • Government (including military)
  • Economic
  • Foreign governments and companies

4. What role did these factors play in Cáceres' death?

5. Is this issue unique to Honduras? 

  • What other examples are referenced in the article?
  • 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 that are coming up in your community. Pick one that interests you. For inspiration, check out the following short films about issues that environmental activists for combatting throughout the world:

* "Drinking the Northwest Wind" by Sharron Lovell

* "From Deep Inside Peru's Rainforest, Isolated Tribes Emerge" by Andrew Lawler 

* "The Costs of Peru's Farming Boom" by Steve Elfers and Ian James

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.

  • Why is this an issue or debate?
  • Who is involved?
  • What is their message and how do they share it with the public?
  • How do these groups, companies, organizations, government agencies, or individuals interact with each other?
  • 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. 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 U.S. 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). 

Lesson Builder Survey