1st Edition

Sustainable Development as Environmental Harm Rights, Regulation, and Injustice in the Canadian Oil Sands

By James Heydon Copyright 2019
    224 Pages
    by Routledge

    224 Pages
    by Routledge

    In this in-depth analysis of First Nations opposition to the oil sands industry, James Heydon offers detailed empirical insight into Canadian oil sands regulation. The environmental consequences of the oil sands industry have been thoroughly explored by scholars from a variety of disciplines. However, less well understood is how and why the provincial energy regulator has repeatedly sanctioned such a harmful pattern of production for almost two decades. This research monograph addresses that shortcoming.

    Drawing from interviews with government, industry, and First Nation personnel, along with an analysis of almost 20 years of policy, strategy, and regulatory approval documents, Sustainable Development as Environmental Harm offers detailed empirical insight into Canadian oil sands regulation. Providing a thorough account of the ways in which the regulatory process has prioritised economic interests over the land-based cultural interests of First Nations, it addresses a gap in the literature by explaining how environmental harm has been systematically produced over time by a regulatory process tasked with the pursuit of ‘sustainable development’.

    With an approach emphasizing the importance of understanding how and why the regulatory process has been able to circumvent various protections for the entire duration in which the contemporary oil sands industry has existed, this work complements existing literature and provides a platform from which future investigations into environmental harm may be conducted. It is essential reading for those with an interest in green criminology, environmental harm, indigenous rights, and regulatory controls relating to fossil fuel production.

    Section 1: Background and Analytical Lens 

    1. The Oil Sands and Their Discontents

    2. Regulating ‘Sustainable Development’ of the Oil Sands Resource 

    Section 2: The Regulatory Process 

    3. The Directing Features of Policy and Strategy

    4. Issues with the ‘Planning’ Stage of the Regulatory Process

    5. Issues with the ‘Approval’ Stage of the Regulatory Process

    Section 3: The Catalyst for Harm and Inefficacy of Control 

    6. The Catalyst for Harm: ‘Weak’ Ecological Modernisation in Policy and Practice

    7. The Inefficacy of Control: Systematic Infringement of Treaty Rights and the Justificatory Function of Compound Denial

    8. ‘Sustainable Development’ as Environmental Harm: The Lessons of the Canadian Oil Sands



    James Heydon is a lecturer in Criminology at the University of Lincoln. He is also Chair of the British Society of Criminology’s Green Criminology Research Network.

    In this impressive book, James Heydon brings together an original, in-depth case-study of oil-sands extraction in northern Canada with a timely analysis of the deficiencies of a regulatory system that privileges economic interests over the interests of the environment and First Nation peoples. This book is a serious contribution to green criminology and the sociology of rights, illuminating the harms that may be done in the name of ‘sustainable development’.

    Nigel South, Professor of Sociology, University of Essex

    In Sustainable Development as Environmental Harm, Heydon offers a remarkably compelling account of the ways in which development—even ‘green’ and sustainable development—routinely intensifies experiences of environmental harm. Locating these harms primarily in First Nations and Native American communities and territories affected by oil sands extraction, Heydon is consistently attentive to the cultural, legal, and ecological dynamics and outcomes of so-called ‘sustainable development’. As much an exploration of the ecophilosophy of neoliberal development as it is an account of the particular conditions of communities and ecologies in the oil sands region, this book offers an informed critical perspective on the environmental harms faced by indigenous people, the regulatory failures that facilitate those harms, and the ways that sustainable development is, all too often, implicated in ecological and cultural loss.

    Bill McClanahan, Assistant Professor, Eastern Kentucky University

    Sustainable Development as Environmental Harm achieves something unique: it discovers and carefully analyses the specific regulatory manoeuvres governments and corporations apply to successfully deactivate the legal instruments created to protect the rights of indigenous peoples and nature. Heydon’s book is an essential tool in understanding the specific regulatory dynamics that lead to environmental harm and indigenous victimisation, not only in Canada but globally. As most indigenous communities around the world –including the First Nations– see their relationship with nature as an ‘embodied inscription,’ and given that corporations and governments apply similar tactics worldwide to ensure their economic growth, Heydon’s insights are internationally relevant. Consequently, the knowledge offered is fundamental in the creation of a global repertoire of criminological knowledge regarding indigenous, green and southern issues– it is a key study in the development of a Green Southern Criminology. Furthermore, as Heydon demonstrates that the label ‘sustainable development’ is instrumental in permitting the most unsustainable practices, this compelling book is a mandatory read for all the scholars, practitioners and students that are either interested or forced to think in terms of ‘Sustainable Development Goals.

    David R. Goyes, Assistant Professor, Universidad Antonio Nariño

    This book serves as a reaffirmation for those who have been skeptical of "sustainable development"; for those who have believed in the possibilities and promise of "sustainable development," James Heydon’s searing indictment of the contradictions of economic growth and environmental protection will be revelatory. Researched thoroughly and presented beautifully, Sustainable Development as Environmental Harm explores and exposes how and why First Nations’ "cultural loss" has been produced and reproduced over time by the regulatory mechanisms and processes responsible for approving "sustainable" industrial expansion in Alberta, Canada. The end result is not just an in-depth examination of (the causes of) the environmental impact of oil sands development, but a nuanced understanding of some of the enduring features of Indigenous disempowerment inherent to (or endemic in) settler-colonial societies, as well as a cogent critique of the ineffectiveness of Treaty rights afforded to First Nations. Sustainable Development as Environmental Harm is a must-read for anyone interested in how and why the marginalization of First Nations’ voices contributes to ecocide and cultural genocide. 

    Avi Brisman, Associate Professor, School of Justice Studies, Eastern Kentucky University