Sacrifice zone

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A sacrifice zone or sacrifice area (often termed a national sacrifice zone or national sacrifice area) is a geographic area that has been permanently impaired by environmental damage or economic disinvestment. These zones are most commonly found in low-income and minority communities.[1] Commentators including Chris Hedges, Joe Sacco, and Stephen Lerner have argued that corporate business practices contribute to producing sacrifice zones.[2][3][4]

Origin of the term[edit]

The concept of sacrifice zones was first discussed during the Cold War, as a likely result of nuclear fallout.[1][dubious ] According to Helen Huntington Smith,[5] the term was first used in 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.[6]

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.[7]

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."[5] The term sparked public debate, including among environmentalists and politicians such as future Colorado governor Richard Lamm.[8][9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Think Globally, Act Locally: Steve Lerner, 'Sacrifice Zones,' at Politics and Prose". Washington Post.
  2. ^ "Sacrifice Zones: The Front Lines of Toxic Chemical Exposure in the United States". Environ Health Perspect. 119 (6): A266. doi:10.1289/ehp.119-a266. PMC 3114843.
  3. ^ "Chris Hedges: America's devastated 'sacrifice zones' are the future for all of us".
  4. ^ "Drive For Profit Wreaks 'Days Of Destruction'". 2 August 2012.
  5. ^ a b Huntington Smith, Helena (1975-02-16). "The Wringing of the West". The Washington Post. Washington, DC. pp. –1-B4. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2017-05-15.
  6. ^ National Research Council (U S. ) Study Committee on the Potential for Rehabilitating Lands Surface Mined for Coal in the Western United States (1974). Rehabilitation potential of western coal lands. Cambridge, MA: Ford Foundation Energy Policy Project / Ballinger Pub. Co. pp. 85–86. ISBN 978-0-88410-331-8.
  7. ^ Atwood, Genevieve (1975-12-01). "The Strip-Mining of Western Coal" (PDF). Scientific American. 233 (6): 23–29. doi:10.1038/scientificamerican1275-23. ISSN 0036-8733. Retrieved 2017-05-10.
  8. ^ "Lamm explained his view that Colorado must begin to control its own future, rather than succumbing to Washington's plea that the state should be “a national sacrifice area” to provide for the nation's energy needs." Griffith, Winthrop (1974-10-27). "An eco‐freak for governor?". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-05-10.
  9. ^ Sterba, James P. (1974-09-26). "Worry Rises That Rockies Face Pollution and Crowds". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-05-10.