Environmental justice: Is the spatial distribution of mobile phone masts in Kildare environmentally just?

[Note: This is the fifth of nine guest posts written by our 3rd yr Single Hons / Major students. Please feel free to add constructive comments!]

I will be looking at the spatial distribution of mobile phone masts in Kildare and asking if this pattern is environmentally just. Basically I will be checking if Kildare County council enforce their own mobile phone mast siting regulations, as these regulations may be the thin red line between these masts being environmentally “just” or not.

Human geographers argue that the right to a healthy living environment is a fundamental human right. If the benefits and burdens of the production and consumption of goods and services (in this case mobile phones services) are inequitably distributed than this would be contrary to the philosophy of environmental justice. The key terms in environmental justice are benefit and burden. Environmental justice is a framework with which to assess the benefit and burden of the provision of a service or good to determine if a certain segment of society is shouldering an unfair burden. The concept of burden in this case can also be described as negative externalities, which are spill-over effects that arise from production and consumption of goods and services for which no appropriate compensation is paid. Based on the above, I conceptualize the following benefits and burdens:

Benefits

Wireless communication, voice and data services.

Burdens –  living in very close proximity to a mobile phone mast.

1. Deflationary effect of property values.

2. Possible negative health effects.

3. Worry and stress caused by 1 & 2 above.

Critically, the burden in this scenario is a function of distance. Due to local concerns, Kildare county council have made a provision for this, and stipulate that mobile phone masts cannot be erected within 500 meters of a house, school or hospital. In order to examine the spatial distribution of the masts I will need to map them. I will produce a series of maps using GIS softare, e.g. ArcGIS. I will create a GIS dataset by downloading the coordinates of the mobile phone masts, which are available from this website. In addition, I will produce a map showing the mast exclusion zones, as per county councils 500 meter rule. I will use the geodirectory dataset which has the coordinates of every house in Kildare in it in order to plot out a 500m boundary around each house. I will superimpose these two maps in order to highlight if mobile phone masts fall within these zones or are outside of them (see figure 1).

Figure 1: Maps

The findings from Map 3 will clearly show if the spatial distribution of mobile phone masts is breaching the council’s own regulations, thus indicating if spatial distribution is equitable, and adhering to principles of environmental justice. I will examine the outcome using David Harvey’s assertion (2001: 31) that the survival of the corporate state is the primary purpose of western society. I will critically assess this statement using the concept of an “economic space” (space containing a mobile phone mast) in competition with an environmentally just space (a space free of a disproportionate environmental “burden”) See Figure 2. If it turns out that mobile phone masts are showing up consistently in spaces where they should not be, using Harvey’s assertion as a lens with which to view this phenomenon may yield some answers.

Figure 2: Competing spaces: Geo-economic versus geo-political

Mobile communications provide a huge benefit to society; however, no segment of the population should be forced to shoulder a disproportionate burden of potential negative health effects. This project will examine whether or not this is the case in Kildare.

Dave McChesney

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