Conserving Racism: The Greening of Hate at Home and AbroadThis is part of what is at play whenever people in the rich countries bemoan the high birth rates of many poor countries. Once again, those with the least power (poor women of colour from the global south, in particular) make a convenient scapegoat for all manner of problems that we do not want to take responsibility for. There's also a certain paternalistic bourgeois white supremacy when we see Them as the problem and Us as the solution to all the world's problems. We just have to figure out what to do about Them before They wreck our Nature.
By Betsy Hartmann
The greening of hate - blaming environmental degradation on poor populations of color - is once again on the rise, both in the U.S. and overseas. In the U.S., its illogic runs like this: immigrants are the main cause of overpopulation, and overpopulation in turn causes urban sprawl, the destruction of wilderness, pollution, and so forth.
Internationally, it draws on narratives that blame expanding populations of peasants and herders for encroaching on pristine nature.
For example, the rush to blame China and India for the high cost of gas, food prices, and global warming. See, China is closing in on the USA as the biggest fossil fuel consumer and greenhouse gas producer. Still, the average Chinese person has around 19% of the impact of the average American. Not to mention the emissions in China have little to do with people's individual lifestyles and much to do with industrial manufacturing... mostly of crap to be consumed by Americans, Canadians and members of other wealthy nations. Not that China is a saint, but I find it interesting how we love to blame them.
The article documents the involvement of some environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Conservation International (CI) with some pretty right wing campaigns. For example:
With USAID assistance, CI and the World Wildlife Fund are promoting a conservation campaign in the region focused on identifying illegal settlements -- often Zapatista communities -- which are then forcibly removed by the Mexican army. These efforts are complemented by the government's aggressive female sterilization campaign in the region. CI's close ties to bio-prospecting corporations raise questions of just who the forest is being preserved for.She puts this in perspective:
Coercive conservation measures, of course, are nothing new. From colonial times onwards, wildlife conservation efforts have often involved the violent exclusion of local people from their land by game rangers drawn from the ranks of the police, military and prison guards. To legitimize this exclusion, government officials, conservation agencies and aid donors have frequently invoked narratives of expanding human populations destroying pristine landscapes, obscuring the role of resource extraction by state and corporate interests.This is so true. For example, I was recently studying how in South Africa (but not only there!) the creation of national parks caused significant dispossession of indigenous peoples' land. The racialist ideas around pollution were often driving conservation movements.
Hartmann continues by outlining several myths that help to drive this coercive conservation: man versus nature, the wilderness ethic, the degradation narrative, and scarcity. For example, the myth of the romantic and nostalgic wilderness ethic:
The ways in which wilderness is constructed have a number of problematic outcomes. The ahistorical myth of wilderness as "virgin" land obscures the systematic forced migration and genocide of its original Native American inhabitants.Also popular is the degradation narrative in which
By locating nature in the far-off wild, it allows people to evade responsibility for environmental protection closer to their homes. And it is geographically parochial, blinding many Americans to the complex ways in which people relate to the land in other countries and cultures. Critiquing the wilderness ethic does not mean one is opposed to national parks and nature protection - rather, it calls for equitable and democratic processes to ensure local communities are not pushed off their lands and robbed of their livelihoods.
...population pressure-induced poverty makes Third World peasants degrade their environments by over-farming marginal lands. The ensuing soil depletion and desertification then lead them to migrate elsewhere as "environmental refugees," either to ecologically vulnerable rural areas where the vicious cycle is once again set in motion or to cities where they become a primary source of political instability.You should probably just go read the whole thing. H/T Lisa, commenting on Feministe
It blames poverty on population pressure, and not, for example, on lack of land reform or off-farm employment opportunities; it blames peasants for land degradation, obscuring the role of commercial agriculture and extractive industries; and it targets migration both as an environmental and security threat. It is a way of homogenizing all rural people in the Global South into one big destructive force, reinforcing simplistic Us vs. Them, West vs. the Rest dichotomies.