Environmental Justice in Mexico
Toxic Tourism: a voice for accessible Environmental Justice
By Marie Courtais, 2018-10-02

"How does it make you feel to know that [El Salto] river in Mexico is a victim of horrifying toxic pollution? What about the people living in the neighbouring areas who are literally fighting to stay alive to make sure that the pollution invading their land does not affect their natural right to a healthy and long life, to see their children grow up to be wise and senior adults?" This is the start of the Greenpeace Mexico campaign 'Toxic Tour' launched in 2013 (entire text on the blog). The concept of the campaign is to promote tours to go and see contaminated rivers of Mexico and visit inhabitants of the polluted zones.

Greenpeace Mexico's campaign (2013):

Actually, before to be the object of a successful campaign involving high advertising costs and Mexican celebrities, the movement of Toxic tourism has been created in United States in the early 2000s. Then, the concept expanded to Mexico, Ecuador, France, the UK, China etc. A toxic tour, by definition, is a visit of the backstage of a city' or country's polluted areas with guiding information about the industries causing and the population affected by the hazard.

The movement is considerably present in the U.S. where the Environmental Justice movement was born too: the cities of Chicago, Detroit, Houston and Memphis (among others) are offering Toxic Tours since a decade. Beyond the idea of developing touristic activities, Toxic Tours are dedicated to environmental and social education. They are considered a great tool to highlight cases of environmental injustice and thus develop citizens' awareness about Environmental Justice.

In 2007, Phaedra C. Pezzullo wrote Toxic Tourism : Rhetorics of Pollution, Travel and Environmental Justice (2007). The book conceptualizes the concept of Toxic Tourism in two distinct ways: on the one side, Toxic Tourism refers to the toxicity of touristic activities for nature and/or local inhabitants. The book mainly focuses on tourism toxicity in the U.S. On the other side, Pezzullo also dedicates a part of the book to assess the relationship between tourism, environmental movement, and Environmental Justice which is the focus interesting to us. As an instance, the author refers to Cancer Valley - Louisiana and denounces direct effects of chemicals' ingestion through water and/or air on human body as environmental injustice.

Coming back to Greenpeace Mexico's campaign, despite the pleasantly amusing tone of the video, it also enlightens a tragic reality of cancer already touching several members of families in the neighbourhood, as the blog article on El Salto explains.

In this manner, Toxic Tours can be efficient educational programs to strengthen and learn from Environmental Justice social action. Hopefully, the tendency will keep on growing worldwide for a more democratic acknowledgement of Environmental Justice. However, the movement of Toxic Tourism has to be prudent and not to fall into abusive tourism as it is the case with the Chernobyl exclusion zone (Yankovska, 2013). In fact, another tendency is growing in parallel to toxic tourism, called "dark tourism". It refers to the fascination of the macabre: indeed, touristic activities with interest in death, sufferings or disasters has grown significantly. We could question the ethic of these practices while Toxic Tourism under the shed of Environmental Justice is to encourage considerably.

Example of Toxic tour (Chicago):

Image: © Greenpeace