ⓘ Sacrifice zone


ⓘ Sacrifice zone

A sacrifice zone or sacrifice area is a geographic area that has been permanently impaired by environmental damage or economic disinvestment, often through locally unwanted land use. These zones are most commonly found in low-income and minority communities. Commentators including Chris Hedges, Joe Sacco, and Stephen Lerner have argued that corporate business practices contribute to producing sacrifice zones.


1. Definition

A sacrifice zone or sacrifice area also a national sacrifice zone or national sacrifice area is a geographic area that has been permanently impaired by environmental damage or economic disinvestment. They are places damaged through locally unwanted land use LULU causing "chemical pollution where residents live immediately adjacent to heavily polluted industries or military bases."

The definition of an English teacher at the International High School at Prospect Heights in Brooklyn, New York was "A sacrifice zone is when there is no choice in the sacrifice. Someone else is sacrificing people and their community or land without their permission." In collaboration with the students a more sophisticated definition was "In the name of progress certain groups of people called inferior may need to be harmed or sacrificed in order for the other groups the superior ones to benefit."


2. Origin of the term

The concept of sacrifice zones was first discussed during the Cold War, as a likely result of nuclear fallout, and the term coined in the Soviet Union.

According to Helen Huntington Smith, the term was first used in the U.S. discussing the long-term effects of strip-mining coal in the American West in the 1970s. The National Academy of Sciences/National Academy of Engineering Study Committee on the Potential for Rehabilitating Lands Surface Mined for Coal in the Western United States produced a 1973 report that introduced the term, finding:

In each zone the probability of rehabilitating an area depends upon the land use objectives, the characteristics of the site, the technology available, and the skill with which this technology is applied. At the extremes, if surface mined lands are declared national sacrifice areas, all ecological zones have a high probability of being successfully rehabilitated. If, however, complete restoration is the objective, rehabilitation in each zone has no probability of success.

Similarly in 1975, Genevieve Atwood wrote in Scientific American:

Surface mining without reclamation removes the land forever from productive use ; such land can best be classified as a national sacrifice area. With successful reclamation, however, surface mining can become just one of a series of land uses that merely interrupt a current use and then return the land to an equivalent potential productivity or an even higher one.

Huntington Smith wrote in 1975, "The Panel that issued the cautious and scholarly National Academy of Sciences report unwitting touched off a verbal bombshell" with the phrase National Sacrifice Area; "The words exploded in the Western press overnight. Seized upon by a people who felt themselves being served up as national sacrifices, they became a watchword and a rallying cry." The term sparked public debate, including among environmentalists and politicians such as future Colorado governor Richard Lamm.

The term continued to be used in the context of strip mining until at least 1999: "West Virginia has become an environmental sacrifice zone".


3. Use of term in the 2000s

The US EPA affirmed in a 2004 report in response to the Office of Inspector General, that "the solution to unequal protection lies in the realm of environmental justice for all Americans. No community, rich or poor, black or white, should be allowed to become a sacrifice zone’. ”

Commentators including Chris Hedges, Joe Sacco, Robert Bullard and Stephen Lerner have argued that corporate business practices contribute to producing sacrifice zones.

As of 2012, examples of sacrifice zones were Pine Ridge, S.D., Camden, N.J., Welch, West Virginia and Immokalee, Florida. In 2017 a West Calumet public housing project in East Chicago, Indiana built at the former site of a lead smelter needed to be demolished and soil replaced to bring the area up to residential standards, displacing 1000 residents.Naomi Klein wrote in her 2014 book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, that "running an economy on energy sources that release poisons as an unavoidable part of their extraction and refining has always required sacrifice zones."