Moving Beyond the “Great Dilemma”: Ecological Violence & the Responsible Corporate Citizen

With the Durban conference on climate change rapidly approaching and recent reports from the international energy agency that “Energy-related carbon-dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2010 were the highest in history”, the effects of ecological violence are more important than ever. This is of supreme importance for the most powerful states, like the US, who have made this crisis irreparably worse through its consumption of fossil fuels. If the voluminous scientific record is any indication of the severity of the current crisis then it immediately follows that the US and its business “leaders” are unambiguously the main barrier to any substantial change on the environmental front.

 This obstructionism of the US revealed itself most clearly during the 2010 climate talks where the US voted against the overwhelming consensus of 192 member states, rejecting the guidelines of the Kyoto Protocols. The prevalence of self-destructive behavior among the powerful is understandable especially when the privileges that this power confers can be enjoyed with absolute impunity.

 Take for example the recent report released by Friends of the Earth in which they list the top 20 “climate killer banks.” In this report it is revealed how major financial corporations from Wells Fargo to Goldman Sachs launched public relations campaigns to illustrate their commitment, if only in words, to “green energy.” While the majority of these statements come off as pure propaganda, one is of particular interest for the valuable insight it provides about the ethos of industrial state capitalism. In an effort to make known their dedication to renewable energy the Bank of China issued the following statement: As a responsible corporate citizen with a global presence, we are committed to responding to the challenge of climate change.” This statement from  citizens of a nation that is propagandistically derided as a “communist” society captures the worldview of the corporate executive more powerfully than anything I’ve read in the American press. The decimation of marine biology, the elimination of biodiversity in favor of monocultures, and the constant threat of famine are all accepted as negotiable prices in fulfillment of this “responsibility.”


It should be added that there does exist a counter narrative, one that gives voice to the predicament of a overwhelming percentage of the world’s population. A useful example can be found in Bolivia, whose population entered into a “people’s agreement” on April 22nd proclaiming that they have been forced to “confront the terminal crisis of a civilizing model that is patriarchal and based on the submission and destruction of human beings and nature that accelerated since the industrial revolution.” The document, titled the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, goes on to state, in unequivocal terms, that “Humanity confronts a great dilemma: to continue on the path of capitalism, depredation, and death, or to choose the path of harmony with nature and respect for life.” This “great dilemma” may soon become an imminent disaster if the US and its corporate clients continue unimpeded in their gang raping of the planet. Take for instance an article published in the New York Times that detailed US plans, with the financing of the World Bank, to install a 600-megawatt lignite-fired power station in Obilić, Kosovo. Lignite coal, which the Times describes as “dirtiest of all fossil fuels” will certainly worsen the chronic respiratory diseases that affect 30% of the population in Obilić. This use of coal in Kosovo is matched by a report released by a coalition of environmental organizations condemning the US for “pushing dirty coal plants in South Africa and India.” The report states that “Despite U.S. government pledges to finance clean energy, one of the country’s principal trade promotion agencies, the U.S. Export-Import Bank, recently financed two of the largest coal-fired power plants in the world: The 4,000 MW Sasan coal plant in India and the 4,800 MW Kusile power plant in South Africa.” Naturally, the White House and the mainstream media did not feel compelled to make any public statements about this deal. Much like the Bank of China, the US government also had to fulfill its duty as corporate citizens of an imperial state.
A Filipina activist during a climte change rally near the US embassy in Manila
Fortunately for us, there exists populations of people who have no respect for these responsibilities of corporate citizens. These irresponsible defenders of the ecosystem defiantly challenge the imperatives of power and privilege. These people are “farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolk, workers, dalits or indigenous peoples…who stand up for their rights” only to be mercilessly “beaten, jailed and killed.” Insanely, these people seek to move beyond the “great dilemma” that the Bolivians lamented. Once torn between the silent agony of indecision and the tragic inevitability ecological destruction, they have embarked upon the path of revolutionary action. Many of these thriving environmental movements can be found throughout Africa, a continent where the temperatures are projected to rise 8 degrees which is twice the global average.

 We in the US should follow the lead of these irresponsible people and adopt a new, humane system of energy and food production. This new system should measure efficiency based on the effects on the environment and human health instead of profit margins. This new system should function with the understanding that the natural resources of the “Third world” belong to the people of the “Third world.” As long as the economic “prosperity” of the US is intimately bound with the dispossession and oppression of people in other countries that “prosperity” is a crime. If the power centers of the US truly desire economic prosperity, in any meaningful sense, perhaps they should support manufacturing something other than propaganda and bombs. If these power centers, for some reason, resist our “civilizing model” I’m sure we can organize, storm the streets, and figure out a way to encourage our governmental heads and business “leaders” to be less destructive, less exploitative, less “responsible.”





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