Of birds, rivers and greedby Farooque Chowdhury
GREED leaves no place for singing birds and murmuring rivers. Maximising accumulation is the force that drives greed. Appropriating nature and labour is the cheapest way greed finds for maximisation of accumulation.
But birds sustain a living ecology. Rivers flow to the same destination: sustain life.
Birds and rivers are required also for cruel appropriators as the greedy group loves only their sustenance, and a living ecology is needed for sustenance, and birds and rivers are part of ecological system that help sustain life. But turning inconsiderate to life and ecology, to birds, rivers, air and soil is the irony of appropriation. Thus, appropriators are directly in conflict with ecology.
Facts from almost all lands, from the Northern and Southern Hemispheres reveal the trend: onslaught on ecology.
In Europe, according to a Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme survey, 36 species of farmland birds including the skylark and the meadow pipit have declined in their number: from 600 million to 300 million between 1980 and 2009. Britain is one of the worst suffering countries by losses to its farmland birds. The European Union-enforced farming policies are the catalysts for this catastrophe. Destroying hedgerows, wetlands and meadows has ‘contributed’ to this bird massacre.
What’s the ‘holy’ reason for the destruction? It’s more and more; more profit.
Ittefaq, a leading Bangla Dhaka daily, reported on May 24: Industrial wastes, including effluent and smoke from 16 re-rolling mills, 49 brick kilns and other industrial units including paper pulp, fertiliser, textile, dyeing, battery, rubber, plastic factories, more than hundred in numbers, are threatening life and occupation of around three hundred thousand dwellers in Roopganj, an almost industrial area near the Bangladesh capital city Dhaka. The residents are not feeling safe with air and water. There is noise pollution. Wastes are being drained into the Sitalakkhaa and Balu, two rivers running through the area.
These two incidents, part of a process, one from an advanced capitalist country and another from a peripheral country, are not isolated facts. Nowadays the media around the world carry thousands of similar news and facts that unravel relations between the type of economy and the defacing of the ecology and environment. Nowadays the ecological crisis threatening all forms of life in this earth needs no explanation. Even masters of this ongoing ecocide — the owners of capital — don’t dare publicly deny the crisis, their sin.
About two years ago, the World Wildlife Fund, an international organisation involved in the area of ecology, said in its Living Planet report: A second planet will be required by 2030 to meet our needs as over-use of Earth’s natural resources and carbon pollution have become critical. If all human being in this world used resources at the same per capita rate as the US or the UAE, four and a half planets would be needed. More than 70 countries were exhausting their freshwater sources at an alarming, unsustainable rate. About two-thirds of these countries experience water scarcity ranging from moderate to severe. In 2007, the world’s 6.8 billion humans were living 50% beyond the planet’s threshold of sustainability. The report highlighted the rich-poor ecological gap. In 1970-2007, an index of biodiversity showed a world decline of almost 30%. In the tropics, it was alarming: 60%.
No brain with logic will claim that the acts are isolated from the world economic system: capitalism. ‘From the outset,’ Joe Bageant, author of the book about working class in America Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War, writes, ‘capitalism was always about the theft of the people’s sustenance. It was bound to lead to the ultimate theft — the final looting of the source of their sustenance — nature.’ (‘Our Plunder of Nature will End up Killing Capitalism and Our Obscene Lifestyles’, Countercurrents, July 13, 2010)
‘The main feature of capitalism is the seductive assertion that you can get something for nothing in this world.’ (ibid) Owners of this system, the capitalists, Joe continues, ‘hate any sort of cost.’ They, he says, ‘remain unimpressed by global warming, or melting polar ice caps, or Southwestern desert armadillos showing up in Canada, or hurricanes getting bigger and more numerous every year.’
These are the elites in control of the world environment in continents and countries. ‘Just before the economy blew out,’ according to Bageant, ‘these elites held slightly less than $80 trillion. After the blowout/bailout, their combined investment wealth was estimated at a little over $83 trillion. To give some idea, this is four years of the gross output of all the human beings on earth.’
This massive money power takes hold of political power. Owning this unimaginably monstrous money-political power system they put their footprint on ecology that is changing the planet’s environment irreversibly.
This system, the masters of the system in the centre, in the periphery, in between the centre and the periphery, try their best to maximise profit by minimising cost, by appropriating labour, robbing nature, grabbing everything within their reach, putting costs on public. Pollution, destruction of ecology and ruination of nature thus creep into public domain — a human concern.
Acts of the masters are turning into crime, crime against the planet, against posterity, against humanity.
The World Future Council leaders said: ‘These are crimes against the future … These are crimes that will not only injure future generations, but destroy any future at all for millions of people.’
The council has called for appointing ‘ombudspersons for future generations’, ‘guardians appointed at global, national and local levels whose job would be to help safeguard environmental and social conditions by speaking up authoritatively for future generations in all areas of policy-making. This could take the shape of a parliamentary commissioner, a guardian, a trustee or an auditor, depending on how it best fits into a nation’s governance structure.’
But questions are there: How far the ombudspersons can act where power structure, economy and political power is of, by and for polluters, grabbers, eco-murderers? If they can act, then, why do environment law/court/ministry/inspectors, depending on arrangement in countries, can’t act? What will happen if polluters grab that proposed holy post as have happened in countries by different lobbies/interests/gangs? What’s the guarantee that the proposed holy persons’ observations/edicts/verdicts will be implemented? Are not there instances of trampling/violation of all basic, fundamental, moral, ethical, human, natural, principled rights/practices/conventions/laws/rules around the world, in countries?
Out of their sense of urgency the WFC leaders’ suggestion sounds nice, but not functional. It’s detached from reality, the socio-economic-environmental -political reality.
What’s the reality?
An answer is provided by Fred Magdoff and John Bellamy Foster in their seminal analysis What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know about Capitalism: A Citizen’s Guide to Capitalism and the Environment (2011): Capitalism is a system that must continually expand, a system that, by its very nature, will eventually come up against the reality of finite natural resources, a system geared to expansionist growth in the search for profits that will inevitably transgress planetary boundaries.
By its very nature the system stands against ecology and environment as its only concern is profit, nothing else. Standing for environment will lead to questioning the ever hungry system.
Pushing 1 billion persons down to extreme poverty, and enriching a few, whose consumption is threatening the planet is one of the major ‘contributions’ of the system. Other than the hungry and starved, there are energy poor, electricity poor, water poor, information poor, basic rights poor, safety poor, they are the poor masses deprived of honour and dignity, and there are the food rich, energy rich, electricity rich, water rich, information rich, luxury rich, power and privilege rich, resource rich, consumption rich, the rich few controlling everything.
Imbalance and inequity at this level can’t sustain environment and ecology. The first one, imbalance and inequity, is linear, ever expanding while the later one, environment and ecology, demands diversity, tolerance, consideration, accommodation. Observance related to environment turns hollow and chattering if this aspect of political economy is ignored.
Farooque Chowdhury is a Dhaka-based freelancer.
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Date:Tuesday, 5th June, 2012