4 June, 2013 — Countercurrents
Today’s state of the world environment is the tribune of the crisis of capitalist civilization that carries all the contradictions the global economy creates; and the economy is owned by a handful of owners dispossessing the humanity, billions of the poor and the starved. The state of today’s global environment reflects the contradiction between the ownership of the world resources by a miniscule group and billions of resource-producing, but resource-starved humans, the contradiction created by an ever accumulating economy, the contradiction between ever greedy capital owners and humanity in chains.
“Harmful environmental changes are taking place in an increasingly globalized, industrialized and interconnected world […]”(UNEP, GEO 5, Global Environment Outlook, Environment for the future we want, 2012) The reality is manifested in the waters, food, forests, crop fields, life of squatters, cities and rural communities, species on the verge of extinction, degenerated atmosphere, in the global production and distribution systems, wages, education, health care, investment and finance, flow of capital, “aid”, credit, consumption, luxury, wastage, opportunities for amenities and recreation, inequality, inequity, etc.
A random look
A few facts cited from randomly picked out news/study reports from different regions tell at least a portion of the state of the environment, at micro and macro, at local and global levels, in aajkee dooneeaa, today’s world:
More than one-half of counties in the US experienced drought – the Great Drought of 2012. About 62 percent of the continental US suffered in drought conditions while about 24 percent of the country faced extreme or exceptional drought. (Ron Recinto, The Lookout, Aug. 20, 2012) Consequences of the Great Drought will be severe: decreased harvest of corn, soybeans and other food staples will boost food prices, causing increased misery and hardship for farmers and low-income Americans and poor people in countries that rely on imported US grains. (Michael T. Klare, “The Hunger Wars in Our Future”, The Nation, Aug. 7, 2012)
Europe, as media reports said, experienced late summer heat wave in 2012. On August 20, in much of Europe, from Vienna to Paris, the temperature was almost intolerable. Scientists at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the UK National Weather Service conclude in a recent study: Climate change has made intense heat waves of the type Texas experienced in 2011 more likely than ever before. The incidence of Texas heat wave was 20 times more likely than it would have been in 1960 and abnormally warm temperatures like those experienced in Britain last November are 62 times more likely. (Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society; also in The Guardian, July 10, 2012) The summer 2012 in England and Wales was “the biggest washout for a century. It had been the one of the dullest on record, one of the coolest, and the soggiest since 1912.” It was going to be the fourth wettest summer since records began in 1727. (The Guardian, “Heavy rain causes chaos as summer confirmed as wettest in 100 years”, Aug. 30, 2012)
Waters of the Ganga, India’s longest river irrigating 40 percent of the country’s land and providing fresh water to 500 million people is considered as the most polluted and unfit even for bathing in cities like Kanpur due to industrial effluents and human sewage. About 2,900 million liters of sewage flow into the Ganga every day while the existing infrastructure can treat only 1,100 million liters per day. (Sujoy Dhar, “Impure Flows the Ganga”, IPS, July 19, 2012) Several species of fish unique only to the waters of Kashmir are facing extinction. Pollution is causing the decline of the species in the lakes and the river Jhelum. More than 40 million liters of untreated liquid waste and 350 metric tons of solid waste get dumped into Kashmir’s water bodies including the Jhelum and Dal Lake. (Athar Parvaiz, “Pollution Threatens Kashmir’s Fish Species”, IPS, Feb. 13, 2011) The Hudiara Drain, a natural storm water channel crossing the Pakistan-India border near Wagah, flows with water full of toxic elements into the river Ravi. Factories along the Hudiara, hundreds in number, and towns dispose of untreated waste into it, and its water is irrigated into crop fields. (Irfan Ahmed, “Cultivating Toxic Crops”, IPS, July 25, 2012) There is high prevalence of chronic kidney disease in Sri Lanka’s main agricultural north-central region with the presence of heavy metals in the water and poor water quality. About 400,000 people in the region may be suffering from kidney disease. In the past two decades, about 22,000 people may have died as a result. More than 10 percent of the island’s population lives in high-risk areas. (Amantha Perera, “Study Links Kidney Disease in Sri Lanka’s Farm Belt to Agrochemicals”, IPS, Aug. 21, 2012)
Almost a month before the annual Arctic sea-ice minima usually is observed the sea-ice turned broken. (Rasmus E. Benestad “Arctic Sea-Ice Melt Record Just Not Being Broken, It’s Being Smashed”, Countercurrents, Aug. 27, 2012) About 4 billion tons of methane gas could be locked beneath the Antarctic ice sheet that may be an “important component of the global methane budget, with the potential to act as a positive feedback on climate warming during ice-sheet wastage. (J. L. Wadham and others, “Potential methane reservoirs beneath Antarctica”, Nature, Vol. 488, Aug. 30, 2012)
Eating, drinking, housing, infrastructure and mobility are responsible for about three quarters of the environmental impacts from household consumption contributing 74 percent of GHG emissions, 74 percent of acidifying emissions, 72 percent of tropospheric ozone precursor emissions and 70 percent of the direct and indirect material input caused globally by private consumption in 2007 in the EU-27. A considerable share of the environmental pressures is actually felt outside of Europe as the majority of environmental impacts from consumption are created during the production of the goods. (European Environment Agency, SOER 2010, Consumption and the environment, 2012 Update)
“People in rich countries consume up to 10 times more natural resources than those in the poorest countries. On average, an inhabitant of North America consumes around 90 kilograms of resources each day. In Europe, consumption is around 45 kg per day, while in Africa people consume only around 10 kg per day.” (Friends of the Earth Europe, Global 2000, The Sustainable Europe Research Institute, Overconsumption? Our use of the world’s natural resources) Europeans eat twice as much meat as the world average. Citing the European Environmental Bureau Claudia Ciobanu analyzed: More than 170 kilograms of food per capita are wasted annually in the EU. (“Europe Thinks Again About Food”, IPS, Aug. 19, 2012)
Nearly a billion people still suffer from hunger and malnutrition although food production has been steadily increasing on a per capita basis for decades. (Stockholm International Water Institute, Feeding a Thirsty World: Challenges and Opportunities for a Water and Food Secure Future, 2012) At least 11 percent of the world’s population, around 783 million people, is still without access to safe drinking water, and billions without sanitation facilities. (Thalif Deen, “Human Right to Water and Sanitation Remains a Political Mirage”, IPS, Aug. 1, 2012) There are millions of debt-burdened poor in today’s world. Entire villages were put up for sale in India. (Devinder Sharma, “Indian Villages for Sale”)
Now, there is new coinage: “land grabbing” or “global land rush”. (The Land Matrix Partnership, Transnational Land Deals for Agriculture in the Global South, April 2012) Investors are buying land in countries with weak laws, said the draft The Global Land Rush: Can it yield sustainable and equitable benefits?’ a World Bank report. Speculation is a key motive behind these purchases. There were large transfers including 3.9m hectares in Sudan and 1.2m in Ethiopia between 2004 and 2009. (Javier Blas “World Bank warns on ‘farmland grab’”, The Financial Times, July 27, 2010) After analyzing land deals in Ethiopia, Tanzania, South Sudan, Sierra Leone, Mali and Mozambique the Oakland Institute, a US think-tank, said: To consolidate hold over global food markets, hedge funds and foreign firms are acquiring farming land in Africa, which are displacing millions of small farmers. In 2009, these ventures grabbed about 60m hectares of land in Africa, an area the size of France. The land is used to produce export commodities including biofuels and cut flowers. “This is creating insecurity in the global food system that could be a much bigger threat than terrorism,” the report said. These are “[t]he same financial firms that drove us into a global recession by inflating the real estate bubble through risky financial maneuvers are now doing the same with the world’s food supply.” (“Hedge funds ‘grabbing land’ in Africa”, BBC, June 8, 2011)
The human “body has become a political, economic, and cultural battleground. Big pharma, agribusiness, the health care industry, and the political right try to shape the choices we have about our health and our bodies.” (Yes, Fall issue, 2012) By 2027, the TRIPS-Plus provisions would raise the price of all medicines by 67 percent, national pharmaceutical expenditures would increase by more than US$23 billion, and pharmaceutical industry could lose US$9 billion in Thailand. By 2025, at current consumption levels, there would be increase of prices by 26 percent and increase of US$459 million in total pharmaceutical expenditure in Peru. (Nusaraporn Kessomboon and others, “Free-trade provisions will damage access to medicines”, SciDevNet, June 3, 2011) In Jordan, medicine price was 800 percent higher compared to price in Egypt since implementation of an FTA in 2001. More than 25 percent of the country’s health ministry budget was spent on medicines and the introduction of cheaper generics for 79 percent of medicines was delayed. (Oxfam, All Cost No Benefit: How TRIPS-plus intellectual property rules in the US-Jordan FTA affect access to medicines, briefing paper, March 2007)
Against the backdrop of recession in Europe and slower growth in several major developing countries the World Bank in a report issued in mid-January 2012 apprehended a slow growth – 2.5 percent in 2012 and 3.1 percent in 2013. Prediction made by the WB in June, 2011 was 3.6 percent growth for both the years. “The world economy has entered a very difficult phase characterized by significant downside risks and fragility”, said the report. Reduced capital flows have made the developing countries more vulnerable than they were in 2008. Since last August risk aversion to Europe has “changed the game” for developing countries experiencing sharply escalated borrowing costs. “No country and no region will escape the consequences of a serious downturn”, said the bank. (Global Economic Prospects 2012)
Another random pick or purposive selection of media reports emanating from or study findings on different parts and different strata of societies around the globe will find similar incidents/process of degradation/loss/threat: another river instead of the Ganga, another lake instead of Dal, another canal instead of Hudiara, another locality, and the cases are not a single one, two or three. Latest findings on the oceans, glaciers, rain forests, food, energy, mining, chemical insecticides, urban life, living condition of working people – the most significant part of the humanity, reveal a singular fact: all forms of life on our planet is facing extinction.
With the expansion of watch/observation period the number/magnitude increases. A gloom overpowers the perception of reality, a reality of an environmental catastrophe. The same pattern of consumption – a wasteful lot by a few and near-to-nothing by the overwhelming majority, the same super-run, essentially competition, for profit by interests, the same plunder, the same type of institutions and arrangements facilitating the ravenous run for plunder, and the same policies and power protecting the interests engaged with the plunder dominate the globe.
Are these incidents disjunct and disconnected? Or, is there any connection between regions, practices, arrangements, institutions, policies, thrusts, interests, etc., parts of the capitalist civilization, that antagonistically dominate today’s world environment?
Compartmentalization of the world environment isn’t possible. Water, soil, forest, air, biodiversity sustain life while, on the opposite, ever accumulation, driving force of the capitalist world economy, turns inconsiderate to the environment. Interests interact with all the aspects of environment.
Dr. Naoko Ishii, chairperson of the Global Environment Facility, in an interview with Busani Bafana said: “We no longer view the global environment as a series of environmental ‘silos’ – divided up between the issues of climate change, desertification, biodiversity, chemical pollution, international waters and so forth. Increasingly we understand that these categories are integrally connected […] The final communiqué of the [Rio+20] summit reaffirms the linkage between environmental and economic well-being. We view these two aspirations as inseparable.” (“Q&A: Transforming the Way the Global Environment is Managed”, IPS, July 18, 2012)
A careful observation will find a single connection that embarks its journey from economy (Ec), and ends up in today’s defaced-barren world environment (En) after crossing through society (S) and politics (P); in short, it’s EcEn, which is an Ec-S-P-En grid. Interests, connected through global class networks, generate the power that pushes the environment-defacing-journey – a process.
Farooque Chowdhury is Dhaka-based freelancer.
This is the 1st part of two part article