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date: 10 July 2020

Summary and Keywords

If environmental activism revolves around problems and challenges related to the socioecological context of a collectivity (that is, the material framework in which it exists, from the point of view of access to resources and infrastructure, conditions of public health ,and embeddedness in ecosystems and naturogenic processes and dynamics), urban environmental activism can be characterized as activism in which the agendas, actors, and conflicts involved are specifically related to the urban space and its peculiarities, considered from a broad socioecological perspective.

Considering the immense body of literature that has accumulated over the last 30 years on the environmental problems of Latin America, it is disappointing to see that only a comparatively small part of it refers specifically to urban environmental conflicts and activism. This is disturbing, because already in 2007, 78% of Latin America’s population lived in cities or other geographical entities classified as urban. Moreover, although in some core capitalist countries, too, there are many kinds of urban environmental problems, caused by omission, irresponsibility, or structural causes linked to class differences and asymmetries of power, Latin American problems and conflicts—above all those related to environmental injustice—are far more dramatic. Symptomatically, environmental struggles have been massive and have typically involved basic rights and the non-satisfaction of basic needs in the cities of the region.

At the end of the day, it is clear that there have always been two basic types of urban environmental activism in Latin America: on the one side, a kind of environmental activism (and ecological discourse) that masks contradictions and class struggle, as it adopts a strict “preservationist” perspective that reveals itself to be insensitive to human needs and rights; on the other side, however, there are radical social struggles that are at the same time environmental struggles, particularly those explicitly or implicitly related to environmental justice. This diversity demonstrates both the richness and the contradictions of a contested sociopolitical landscape, where terms like sustainability and environmental protection have been instrumentalized for different, sometimes mutually incompatible, purposes.

Keywords: environmental conflicts, ecological movements, urban environmental activism, cities, Latin America, Latin American politics, Rio de Janeiro

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