Imperialism drives environmental destruction

BY:Emile Schepers| October 15, 2019

I want to raise the issue of how the fight to stop the existential crisis of global warming and climate degeneration relates to our overarching understanding of IMPERIALISM.

I was born and spent my childhood in South Africa.  Well do I remember seeing those huge piles called “mine dumps” that were the products of the gold mining industry in the Witwatersrand region.  I have also been involved in anti-imperialist struggles for my whole adult life, and am keenly aware of the economic basis for contemporary imperialism, and how various anti-imperialist leaders and movements have tried to deal with it.

Here are some items:

*In South Africa, since the end of the 19th century, national prosperity has been based on mining and the international marketing of mining products:  first diamonds, then gold, now you name it.  The control of prices of these commodities has given the most powerful imperialist forces leverage over the South African economy.  This continues to be the case long after the end of apartheid.

*In many other poorer countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America, the situation has been, and is similar–efforts to develop the country have been based on the export of commodities such as oil, natural gas, mining and large scale farming for export markets.  When commodity prices are high, progress is made, but when prices drop precipitously,  economic disaster and political instability ensues.   Thus in virtually all of such countries, a stated aim of progressive governments is to DIVERSIFY and that includes industrialization.

*Right wing governments in these countries do not care about environmental impacts or about raising the living standards of poor people.  So Bolsonaro of Brazil cheerfully pushes the destruction of the Amazon rainforest to please his wealthy allies in the farming, ranching and mining sectors.  The corrupt right wing governments in Central America act the same, and all of this is fully backed by US imperialism.

The poorer countries are being hit very hard by the global warming crisis, with rising sea levels, more powerful hurricanes and crop destroying droughts threatening the poorest peoples’ livelihoods and even the physical existence of some small island countries. Yet such countries cannot just go back to subsistence agriculture and somehow disconnect themselves from world trade.  We in the wealthy and powerful USA can’t tell them what to do, but what are the demands we should be making against our own ruling class and government that would be most helpful to our friends in Africa, Cuba etc as they wrestle with this issue?



    Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Emile Schepers was born in South Africa and has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He has worked as a researcher and activist in urban, working-class communities in Chicago since 1966. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He now writes from Northern Virginia.


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