Environmentalism, Corona Curfews, and the Poor: It’s the Economy, Stupid!

October 21st 2020 | كتبها


Environmentalism, for all it’s worth, has always sounded stand-offish for the poor generally, and the poor in poorer countries particularly.  Where people need jobs, health, education, infrastructure, housing, and more than a subsistence wage, sounding off worries about endangered species, coral reefs, dolphins caught inadvertently in fishing nets, deforestation, encroaching on wildlife habitats, destabilizing ecosystems, a thinning ozone layer, etc… really seem more like an upper-middle class Western concern (and maybe the concern of a few wealthy international tourists).

Such worries, as important as they may be for humanity at large in the long-run, are really far removed from the worry list of those who have to fight malnourishment, deprivation, semi-illiteracy, unemployment, the threat of going homeless, and the general assortment of ills associated with socio-economic underdevelopment worldwide or those associated with being at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder in any given country.  For only when basic needs are met can one really concern oneself with the potential future impact on the planet.

This is not very dissimilar from the argument taking place today between those who want to bring the economy to a standstill and quarantine everyone in the name of Covid-19, and those who think health concerns should be balanced out with more pressing economic concerns.

This is not to say that the environment is not being destroyed, or that such destruction is not threatening the well-being of humanity on planet earth.  That is definitely a serious issue to be seriously concerned about.  Beyond such concern, the question becomes: who is the culprit here?  And depending on your answer, how is the problem of environmental degradation to be fixed?

If your answer is that humans, in general, are to blame, overpopulation becomes the primary issue, and homo-sapiens become the quintessential enemy of the environment, with environmentalists siding with the beleaguered planet earth against them.  Since the highest rates of population growth take place in the south of the planet, then the growing population of developing countries becomes the enemy.

Here environmentalism becomes anti-poor and anti-development.  Such a form of environmentalism then turns into a thin veil for racism and Malthusian solutions to the “human invasion of the planet”.  It’s really extreme neo-liberalism in the final analysis.  Its only point of friction with neo-liberals is when private companies encroach on the habitat of the spotted owl and what have you!  However, this form of environmentalism is worse than those private companies destroying the environment because the latter worship profit, whereas such environmentalists worship nature in a post-modern version of paganism.  But they both share a common disdain for human beings.

On the other hand, if and when environmentalism points out the true culprit for the destruction of the environment, i.e., the capitalist system at large and imperialism in particular, especially transnational corporations destroying the future of humanity on this planet for a higher net present value or profit, then environmentalism becomes an enlightening and a revolutionary factor which doesn’t pit itself against humans, but against greed and ignorance.

Furthermore, such a progressive version of environmentalism helps prevent capitalists from enlisting the working class against environmentalists in the name of keeping and creating jobs for workers and keeping the economy running.  As things stand now, environmentalism has become a neo-liberal upper-middle class banner that antagonizes workers worldwide.  This shouldn’t be the case since it’s imperialism that’s been destroying the planet for profit, and also destroying humanity.

Similarly in the discussion over measures to contain the Covid-19 virus which are primarily hurting the lower strata of the socio-economic pyramid… People need to make a living.  That is their primary concern.  So, the issue of defending people’s right to continue working should not be left to the right-wing.  Otherwise, progressives marginalize themselves politically in this heated debate, leaving their potential bases of support to those sections of the imperialist class which have been hurt the most by the bans and the closures.

Finally, environmentalists who make humans into the enemy are the enemies of humanity for sure.  They are far removed from anything resembling radicalism, which is really about standing up for working people.  Environmental pollution is primarily important because of its potential impact on humans, which is why we need eco-friendly development, not halting development altogether.

Ibrahim Alloush



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