Sunday, March 7, 2010

Climate Change: the socio-economic basis

(First of four parts)

When I was in Grade V, I participated in a division-wide essay writing contest on how to save the earth. Wanting to impress the judges with a wide vocabulary, I littered my essay with highfalutin words, particularly chloroflourocarbon. I wrote my essay in front of our glass-paned cabinet adorned with a huge poster warning of ozone layer depletion and global warming, sourcing everything I can from that poster alone. I lost of course. My essay was nothing but a parroting of that poster and devoid of real and honest efforts to save the earth.

Nearly twenty years hence and climate change must be the word of the decade.

A lotof things have been said about climate change, its scientific basis, its environmental cost, some proposed solutions, etc, etc. I would like to share a different view on the basis of climate change – it’s social basis.

Climate Change and Imperialism

When the Industrial Revolution dawned in the late 18th century, the production of goods and accumulation of capital accelerated and became increasingly concentrated on a few individuals or corporations and companies. In time, production started to be done for the sake of profit.

In order to produce goods and rake in profit, these corporations or companies, increasingly used natural resources of their own countries. But because they can see the havoc their operations can wreak on their environgment, they move their operations abroad and plunder the natural resources of a poorer, therefore politically and militarily weaker, country. These corporations or companies do so with wanton disregard for its effects on the local population, the environmental, social and economic effects, so long as they extract the raw materials they need for their businesses.

A single item contains raw materials that have been sourced in a mineral-rich third world country, processed in another, assembled yet in another and sold in also one.This laborious process of shipping and transhipping to complete a single item can be traced to the nature of capitalism, or in today’s case imperialism. Since third-world countries have poorer and needier populations, they set up businesses there to help them, right? Wrong! Capitalists set-up businesses in third-world countries or out-source to it because it would mean more profit to them. Poorer people are more desperate, more desperate people will work for less wage, less money spent on wages mean more profit.

Most governments have little to say about this as these corporations or companies have become bigger and more powerful entities than them. In the Philippines’ case, Arnold dela Cruz, union president of Republic Asahi Glass Corporation in Manila said that the “neoliberal policies and laws like the Mining Act, NIPAS and Biofuels Act, as well free trade agreements such as the JPEPA … intensify the plunder of our land and resources resulting in the further environmental destruction."

In our case, the government of Philippines recently upheld the constitutionality of a contentious law, the Mining Act of 1995. As of 2008, 722,000 hectares of Philippine soil has been covered by mining. Covered by mining is a funny thing to say because most mining companies use open-pit mining methods to completely mine the minerals. So let me rephrase that, 722,000 hectares of Philippine soil has been uncovered by mining. Some 14 million hectares more are currently being applied for by mining companies for various operations. This is on top of the mine tailings that are not properly contained and have leaked time and again into the streams and rivers, like Agno River in the Northern Luzon.

Laws such as the National Integrated Protected Area System (NIPAS) and the Industrial Forestry Management Agreement (IFMA) are also not environmentally sound and equally anti-national minority.

Back to our single item, let’s say, a cellular phone. The extraction alone of minerals causes destruction of environment. The same can be said of the repeated transportations needs of the cellular phone, which consume lots of oil products. And because in these times everything has become “disposable” this destructive process is repeated many times over.

Anne Leonard in her The Story of Stuff provides an explanation why disposable has become the trend. She says that the US government, has pushed and taught the public to be great consumers. It was a state policy enacted after World War II that brought about this not so eco-friendly solution to stimulate post-War spending and therefore, boost the economy. The Philippine government, being such an avid fan of the American culture, followed suit. Meaning, it imbibed the “American culture” of spending and spending more.

Anne Leonard further said that imperialists actually design products to be disposable. Faster wearing out means faster capital turnovers means bigger profits. What I find interesting is her concept of perceived obsolescence. It means that while the “stuff” is not really obsolete, constant bombardment of the senses, through advertisements and such, that the stuff is obsolete, will, can and does condition the minds of the consumers that the stuff is obsolete. What do you do when a stuff is obsolete, you throw it away and buy a new one, regardless if the stuff actually still works.

With so many stuff being obliterated by actual or perceived obsolescence, proper disposal also becomes a problem. As we know, in this digital and modern era, stuff have become harder to dispose. Medical waste is separate from regular waste. So should e-waste be, like cellular phones, printers, computers and such. However, even simple things like a juice tetra pack can be hard to segregate into plastic, paper or metal/tin. It is a mesh of all these because it contain a little bit of all, so where does it go?

Moreover, since monocapitalism is a very greedy organism, it has spilled from the industrial sector and into agriculture. It may not be so obvious in our country, but in industrialized countries, food production has become an industry itself. Corporate farms, that breed chicken, pigs, and cows for national and international consumption have been put up in the rural areas in the US. Tgaking advantage of lenient agricultural laws that are still tied to the traditional way of farming, corporate farms run their farms with the efficiency of a factory but dispose of their waste like a regular farm. Food Inc. and The Nature of Things show how corporate farms owned by a only handful of big capitalists bypass laws and contaminate the air, water supply and crops of its host area. More than this, it has displaced thousands of families who have been farming for generations and cannot keep up with their large-scale production that sell at very low prices.

One example of these cheap products was given by Anne Leonard, a radio sold at a very cheap price, let’s us at P150 just like the radioes sold in Raon, Manila. The P150 price tag on an am/fm radio is cheap, almost anyone can buy it and have one. If maker of the radio will peg its price at a much higher rate, chances are fewer people can afford to buy that radio, which woul translate into less profit. How is the radio made affordable to us ordinary folks and consumers? The answer, Anne Leonard says, is that the radio has already been paid for by the countries where the minerals and other raw materials were sourced, by the people displaced from their original abode and by the laborers who get dirt-cheap wages.

In the end, the planet is wasted to benefit these very big capitalists.

To be continued….

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