Scale and political ecology: A conceptual analysis of the Brazilian samarco disaster

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Research in Political Sociology



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Brazil, Globalization, Political ecology, Politics of scale, Sustainability


© 2018 by Emerald Publishing Limited All rights of reproduction in any form reserved. On November 4, 2015, the Funda o Dam in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais suffered a catastrophic failure and released 60 million cubic meters of toxic, iron-laden mud into the Rio Doce a major river system that serves 3.6 million people in the Southeast. Owned by Samarco, a joint venture between Brazil’s Companhia do Vale do Rio Doce (CRVD) and Australia’s BHP Billiton Industries, the Funda o Dam was one of the largest mining-oriented water reservoirs in the country. This disaster was identified by IBAMA, the country’s environmental protection agency, as the worst environmental event in Brazil’s industrial history. The disaster’s ramifications continue to unfold, affecting people, wildlife, and ecosystems along the river’s 530-kilometer route through Minas Gerais and Espırito Santo to the Atlantic Ocean. This paper contextualizes the Samarco disaster and its socioecological consequences in a political ecology framework. Specifically, this theoretical research is poised within a politics of scale paradigm. Theory is used to explain the long-standing contradictions between capital and nature through an examination of the Samarco disaster. Specifically, scalar theory explains how capital nature contradictions facilitated the disaster and Brazil’s on-going struggle to respond to environmental justice at local scales.

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