National Forum Series: Virtual Seminars
Forging a Future with Nature
Session 1 > Sept 14 | Session 2 > Oct 24 | Session 3 > Nov TBA
Marcos Orellana, PhD
United Nations Special Rapporteur on Toxics and Human Rights
American University Washington
College of Law
Marcos Orellana, PhD— the United Nations Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights—is an expert in international law and the law on human rights and the environment. His recent reports in South Africa and Australia capture the significance of his work for environmental justice. Dr. Orellana teaches at the American University Washington College of Law.
His engagement around the world captures critical truths that are challenges across the globe, such as his statement after a visit to South Africa in September. Dr. Orellana said, “The term 'environmental racism' describes institutionalized discrimination based on race or colour. In pre-1994 South Africa, the distribution of environmental risks and harms disproportionately and often deliberately targeted low-income groups and along racial lines. Today, despite the efforts by Government in setting up institutions and laws to address this legacy of environmental racism, pervasive air, water, and chemical pollution still imposes a heavy toll, especially on disadvantaged communities. Overcoming it will require significant additional efforts, including structural, legislative, economic, and environmental changes."
His practice as a legal advisor has included work with United Nations agencies, governments, and non-governmental organizations, including on waste and chemicals issues at the Basel and Minamata conventions, the UN Environment Assembly, and the Human Rights Council. He has intervened in cases before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, and the World Trade Organization's Appellate Body. His practice in the climate space includes representing the eight-nations Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change negotiations. He has also served as senior legal advisor to the Presidency of the 25th Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Professor Orellana has extensive experience working with civil society worldwide on global environmental justice issues. He was the inaugural director of the Environment and Human Rights Division at Human Rights Watch. Previously he directed the trade and the human rights programs at the Center for International Environmental Law, and he co-chaired the UN Environment Program's civil society forum.
Professor Orellana teaches at the American University Washington College of Law. He has also lectured at prominent universities around the world, including Melbourne, Pretoria, Geneva, and Guadalajara. He was a fellow at the University of Cambridge, a visiting scholar with the Environmental Law Institute in Washington DC, and an instructor professor of international law at the Universidad de Talca, Chile.
jayson porter, PhD
Voss Postdoctoral Fellow
The Institute at Brown for
Environment and Society
University of Maryland, College Park
jayson porter, PhD, is an environmental historian of Mexico and the Americas and teaches science and technology studies, material culture, and black geographies in Latin America. Dr. Porter focuses on oilseeds, agrochemicals, environmental justice, and ecological violence. He is an editorial board member of the North American Congress on Latin America and a Voss Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society (2022), and he recently began teaching in the Department of History at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Dr. Porter’s research has traced the history of arsenic mining and use as an insecticide that has left a legacy of poisoning, pesticide dependency, and contamination. As he has written, “Arsenic has remained number 1 on the list of priority hazardous substances in the United States for decades. Nearly a third of the country’s 1,200 superfund sites have arsenic-contaminated water and soil. Most contaminated land resulted from U.S. businesses mining, manufacturing, and using arsenic, which they already shared and practiced across the Americas. Millions of people today in Argentina, Mexico, Peru, Honduras, and El Salvador are exposed to pesticide-related concentrations of arsenic.”
In “Cotton, Whiteness, and Poisons” (Environmental Humanities, Nov. 2022), by Brian Williams, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences at Mississippi State University, coauthor Dr. Porter writes about a U.S. history of “labor exploitation conditioned by racist ideologies” underpinning plantation agriculture. The recognition that dependency on pesticides and fertilizers undermines the economic stability of small farmers, the authors write, “At the Tuskegee Institute’s agricultural experiment station, George Washington Carver recognized that commercial fertilizers were a key source of debt for Black farmers and tenants. He encouraged composting and the use of organic fertilizers found on the farm, writing that “many thousands of dollars are being spent every year here in the South for fertilizers that profit the user very little, while Nature’s choicest fertilizer is going to waste.”
The authors conclude, “[R]acism saturated the environmental and technological conceptions that shaped the development of plantation agriculture and systemically oriented agrarian development toward extraction, environmental dispossession, and toxicity. Environmental racism, that is to say, is not ancillary to capitalism but a central feature—animating ideas of value, waste, and technological progress. Racism simultaneously values and devalues people, land, and ecologies, while generating and channeling toxicity.”
In 2022, Dr. Porter stated in Agrochemicals, Environmental Racism, and Environmental Justice in U.S. History (Organic Center, 2022), that “Robert Bullard defines environmental racism as any policy or practice that unequally affects or disadvantages individuals, groups or communities based on their race. Vann Newkirk II adds that environmental racism is the opposite of environmental justice and often ignores or belittles input from the affected communities of color.”
David Goulson, PhD
Professor of Biology
University of Sussex, Great Britain
David Goulson, PhD is an internationally renowned researcher, professor, and author who, in plain language draws together scientific research on the elements of nature that we must cherish, support, and enhance, if we are to have a future. The data, as Dr. Goulson documents, describes the importance of nature in contributing to the web of life that sustains the rich diversity needed for a healthy planet. Dr. Goulson is a professor of biology at the University of Sussex in Great Britain, the founder of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, a fellow of the Royal Entomological Society, a trustee of Pesticide Action Network UK, an ambassador for the UK Wildlife Trusts, and author of more than 300 scientific articles on ecology and conservation of insects. He is the author of the Sunday Times bestseller The Garden Jungle: or Gardening to Save the Planet (2019), A Sting in the Tale (2013), and Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypse (2021). The data, as Dr. Goulson documents, describes the importance of nature in contributing to the web of life that sustains the rich diversity needed for a healthy planet.
André Leu, DSc
As a leader in advancing organic agriculture, André Leu, DSc is the international director of Regeneration International, with more than 370 partners in 70 countries, working with numerous agricultural systems—agroecology, organic permaculture, ecological agriculture, holistic grazing, biological agriculture, and organic agroforestry. The organization, founded in 2015, is cultivating an international movement united around a common goal: to reverse global warming and end world hunger by facilitating and accelerating the global transition to regenerative agriculture and land management. Its mission is to promote, facilitate, and accelerate the global transition to regenerative food, farming, and land management for the purpose of restoring climate stability, ending world hunger, and rebuilding deteriorated social, ecological, and economic systems. Dr. Leu served as president of IFOAM—Organics International, the international umbrella organization for the organic sector. He is the author of Growing Life: Regenerative Farming and Ranching, Poisoning our Children (2018), and The Myths of Safe Pesticides (2014).