Global Climate Change and Colonialism

The daily news reports about the Gulf oil spill bring the effects of modern industry home to people everywhere on earth. The actual fact of the oil spewing forth from a pipe more than a kilometer below the ocean’s surface combined with the all too frequent public relations lies issued by the private and public officials that claim to be resolving the situation. The effects of human hubris combined with the greed of monopoly capitalism reveal their ugly nature in an eruption of fuel whose only truly lasting effect is the fouling of nature for immeasurable time.

No one in their right mind honestly can foretell the long term effects of the Gulf oil spill on the earth. Those who claim to have such insight are lying to themselves and all those that listen to them. Indeed, it is not even possible to predict the fortunes of BP at this point. The economic effects of its demise would certainly be felt by many whose only fault is that they either worked for BP or a related industry or that their pension funds are somehow tied up in that corporate monolith. If one thinks a bit more about it, even those of us whose relationship to BP is very tangential will feel some effects not only from the natural effect of the spill but from the economic effects as well.

The same can be said about what has come to be known as global warming. Despite its naysayers, the fact of global climate change has been documented over and over. Its relationship to human undertakings remains a matter of debate, but the fact of climate change is considerably less so. In his latest book, No Rain in the Amazon, Nicholas Kozloff accepts the predominant scientific evidence pointing towards global climate change and looks at its effect in South America. To hone his perspective further, Kozloff uses a prism that dissects the role economic and political relations between the wealthier and poorer nations plays in how the effects of this climate change are felt by those who live on the continent to Washington’s south.

The effects of changes in the weather such as increased or decreased rainfall are described throughout the book. One example of such changes is the incredible rise in soybean farming in Brazil. These farms, which produce soybeans for northern markets, are on land that was previously part of the Amazon rain forest. As the market increased for soy so did the destruction of the forest as growers–legally and otherwise–destroyed the forest to make way for soy plantations. These plantations, which are now reaching into the mato grosso (dense forest) have changed the patterns of soil erosion and population density. In addition, the accompanying roads and other development have impacted the animal life that once lived in the region. To this, one must add the fact that thousands of the workers in these regions are landless peasants who have come to work in the industry now that they can no longer sustain their previous lifestyles. The owners and management have done little or nothing to provide housing for the workers. So, they have constructed shantytowns and live off of meager wages and fish from rivers polluted with pesticides from the soybean plantations.

In discussing the environmental and economic impact of the soy and other industries in South America, Kozloff acknowledges the complexities of the situation. The desire of governments to improve their people’s lot in life and the compromises one makes with the world’s neoliberal economic reality are always present in his writing, as is the role local practices like slash and burn play in the climactic and environmental changes being wrought. There are no simple solutions to the situation Kozloff describes. However, No Rain in the Amazon makes it very clear that it is northern hemisphere capital that has created the current state of affairs. Furthermore, it is the governments of the nations that serve that capital whose inaction is exacerbating them. Cap and trade is not a solution, but a capitalist method to place the blame for climate change on the very nations that are currently paying the most in human terms for its effects.

Indeed, if one takes Kozloff’s underlying theme in this book–that the neoliberal policies of leading capitalist nations are what is most responsible for the modern human causes of climate change–it can be reasonably argued that climate change is one more element in the history the underdevelopment of the southern hemisphere by the capitalist north. In other words, it is just one more element of the colonial legacy.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way The Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground and Tripping Through the American Night, and the novels Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator's Tale. His third novel All the Sinners, Saints is a companion to the previous two and was published early in 2013. Read other articles by Ron.

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  1. Mulga Mumblebrain said on June 21st, 2010 at 10:09am #

    We face a constellation of synergistic perils, principally anthropogenic climate change,resource depletion,economic implosion due to unrepayable debt and geopolitical intrigue as the West frantically attempts to undermine China and continue its500 year reign of terror and pillage across the planet. And we must never forget the other pathologies, such as species loss, derangement of the nitrogen cycle, deforestation, growing hunger and malnutrition as the result of growing inequality, pollution by heavy metals, novel chemicals and genetically engineered organisms, that also threaten us.
    The chief responsibility for this threatening situation,one that seems, to me, utterly intractable, is the global rule of an insatiably greedy,parasitic and essentially psychopathic economic elite, based in the West, primarily the US. This tiny group, which,numbering in a few tens of thousands, controls more of the planet’s wealth that the other several billion, dominates politics through open bribery (‘donations’), media brainwashing and ideological control. And they display all the attributes of the psychopath, absence of empathy, indifference to the fate of others, ready recourse to lying, violence and intimidation, grotesque egotism and over-estimation of their own worth, vanity and narcissistic self-regard. Moreover their basic modus operandi is the exploitation of others and the natural world, without mercy, without conscience. Where opposition to elite rule has not been eviscerated by propaganda, coercive legal structures, bigoted judges drawn from the ruling classes, consumerist stupefaction and relentless media indoctrination, the business psychopaths are quite ruthless. In Colombia or the Philippines hundreds of unionists and environmentalists are murdered every year, but these facts are hidden by the Western media, which prefers vilifying Venezuela where not one political murder has occurred under Chavez.
    The most stark illustration of elite evil must surely be the creation of the anthropogenic climate change denial industry.Just as they did with tobacco harm denialism, where the business psychopaths, who value profit over all else, lied through their teeth for years, confusing the public, delaying action and killing millions, (and t hey still do it in the poor world) the climate change deniers have no morality but avarice. Conscienceless killers, their greatest triumph will be to hinder action on anthropogenic climate change, already clearly beyond the point of no return, and thus cause the death of billions. That humanity has ended up ruled by such evil and insane swine does not speak well of us as a species.

  2. bozh said on June 21st, 2010 at 10:29am #

    Yet churches urged people to have many children. So, that, too, is one root cause, for warfare and devaluation of people and nature.

    It is, to me, one root of much evil that befalls us, because clergy had not taught people not to look dwn on other people or on OUR greatest wealth: healthy nature.
    Nor have churches castigated sybaritic class of life. If that was not bad enough, early christians- mostly hebrews- approbated poverty; which is also a cause for wars, hatred, feelings of not being wanted, or lack of selfrespect and respect for nature and alien people.

    It shld be noted that thruout recorded history, clergy ruled or miguided people even more than `nobles`.
    And they rule even now at least 5 bn people. It is no wonder we are not getting anywhere when so many people have espoused asocialism: wars, exploitation, child beatings, mutilation, deceiving, lying, legal theft, murder, etc. tnx

  3. lichen said on June 21st, 2010 at 2:47pm #

    Yes, and thankfully the global poor recognizes the impact of human-caused global warming on their lives and is at the forefront of social movements to stop the devastation–stop the mining, deforestation, and other crimes against earth that threaten to destroy us all. Of course the eletist, urbanized climate change deniers in the west (including the right wing american poor) wish to keep those people down in order to continue exploiting the earth, but they will not win. Good book.

  4. Charlie said on June 21st, 2010 at 4:41pm #

    I was in a furniture store recently, where a salesperson steered me toward a mahogany table. He remarked, “Oh, you don’t have to worry about tropical hardwoods anymore. Our supplier plants 2 mahogany trees for every 1 that’s cut.”

    I said, “My, that sounds good, but in reality your supplier is destroying the planet. The 1 mahogany tree is probably taken from the rainforest during clearcutting. In its place, corrupt businesses–ably assisted by governments–establish plantation-style monocultures of trees. A complex, beautiful ecosystem is utterly destroyed and lost forever, replaced by row after row of selectively bred and genetically identical trees. It’s like cutting off someone’s head and replacing it with 2 toes. Does that sound like a good idea to you?”

    The “green” craze is part of the propaganda. Corporate America has sniffed out a way to increase profits by repackaging their greed as heartfelt environmental consciousness. It’s sickening.

    I have no idea how to stop the psychopathic elites. They are now simply feigning environmental concern when it suits their profit-driven agenda. In less developed nations, they don’t even bother to hide their true motives because they exploit an underclass that is often desperate to sustain a meager existence and lacks the political will and power to effect change. As a result, Kozloff and Jacobs are sadly correct in noting that those who are most responsible for environmental destruction have not yet been made to answer for it or suffer from it.

  5. Don Hawkins said on June 23rd, 2010 at 7:20am #

    It is only a slight exaggeration to say that mankind constitutes even now a planetary community of production and consumption. I have now reached the point where I may indicate briefly what to me constitutes the essence of the crisis in our time. It concerns the relationship of the individual to society. The individual has become more conscious than ever of his dependence upon society. But he does not experience this dependence as a positive asset, as an organic tie, as a protective force, but rather as a threat to his natural rights, or even to his economic existence. Moreover, his position in society is such that the egotistical drives of his make-up are constantly being accentuated, while his social drives, which are by nature weaker, progressively deteriorate. All human beings, whatever their position in society, are suffering from this process of deterioration. Unknowingly prisoners of their own egotism, they feel insecure, lonely, and deprived of the naive, simple and unsophisticated enjoyment of life. Man can find meaning in life, short and perilous as it is, only through devoting himself to society.
    The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of evil. (Albert Einstein, 1949)