The Poetry of Science – Episode 10: Environmental Death

This poem is inspired by recent research, which has found that the number of people being killed for protecting our environment is increasing across the globe at an alarming rate.

Environmental defenders are defined as people who take peaceful action, either voluntarily or professionally, to protect the environment or land rights. Many of these environmental defenders are indigenous people who are trying to protect their ancestral lands from mining, logging, and the agribusiness sector. However, they also include local activists, journalists, lawyers, and members of social movements, and between 2002 and 2017, 1,558 were killed because of their peaceful protests to protect the environment.

The World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index measures countries’ rule of law performance across eight factors, including corruption, civil justice, and fundamental rights. By exploring the spatial relationships between governance, natural resource sectors and deaths, this new study found that a country’s rule of law was the key variable associated with environmental deaths. Thus, countries with a lower score (i.e. those less likely to be peaceful, safe and equitable) were found to have a higher number of environmental defender deaths, particularly in tropical and subtropical regions. In order to reduce these deaths in countries with a low rule of law, greater international legislation, plus transparency and accountability from multinational companies is required. Furthermore, consumers in wealthy countries should share responsibility for what’s happening, putting pressure on organisations and governments to protect those who are defending our planet.

In this episode Dr Samuel Illingworth explores some of the research which aims to understand where this is happening and how it can be stopped.

Listen to the audio version of this episode’s science poem

Read this episode’s science poem

Illegal logging in community forests,
Oil drilling in indigenous territories,
Mining concessions in native soils,
These have become our warzones.

Activists hailed as terrorists,
While global agribusiness is
Paraded as unchallenged
And unchosen liberator.

Forever on the right side of progress;
Writing its history
With cheques,
And laws,
And body bags.

Outsourced resource consumption
Underpinned by
As countries too poor to ask
(Or too rich to care)
Turn ancestral lands
Into contemporary killing fields.

Defenders fall in muted protest;
Their deaths the tip
Of melting icebergs,
As slow violence bleeds
Through grubby hands
And filthy greenbacks.

Trading alms for avarice, we
Wash our hands in waters
That we first turned black,
And which now run red.

By Dr Sam Illingworth

External Resources

Read the scientific study that inspired it here.

The original episode appeared here.

The Poetry of Science blog.

Go back to The Poetry of Science

Featured image credit: CC-BY-SA-4.0 by

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