Globalization and Global Environmental Destruction

The unrelenting abuse of nature, viewed as a resource to plunder by global neoliberal capitalism, has had disastrous consequences. Millions of poor people have been driven off their land, while whole areas of agricultural land have been damaged, and rain forests destroyed by mining, logging and oil companies. Our health is seriously at risk by the food we eat, genes are being engineered and modified, and ‘global warming’ is threatening the survival of life on the planet. Elsewhere (Cole 2008, pp. 90-96; see also Feldman and Lotz 2004) I have dealt with the effects of environmental destruction under the following headings: Unhealthy Food; Genetic Modification; the Destruction of Resources; and Climate Change. I have argued that the food that we eat in ‘developed’ countries is unhealthier than ever before, and that it is estimated that 70 per cent of the ?20 million global annual food advertising budget is used to promote (unhealthy) soft drinks, sweets and snacks (Feldman and Lotz 2004, p. 129).

I further noted that the last twenty-five years or so has seen a dramatic extension and deepening of global capitalism’s penetration of nature for profit. For example, genetic modification, having first occurred in 1973, is an unprecedented incursion. Moreover, this knowledge is being privatised through patents on genes (Feldman and Lotz 2004, p. 118). Paul Gilroy (2004, p. 84) has described these developments as the ‘corporate control of the substance of life itself’, ‘linking ‘the colonization of territory and human beings with the colonization of all life’.

Jeremy Rifkin 1999, cited in Feldman and Lotz 2004, p. 137, has summed up the dangers of genetic engineering as a whole, where:

A handful of corporations, research institutions and governments could hold patents on virtually all 100,000 genes that make up the blueprint of the human race, as well as the cells, organs, and tissues that comprise the human body. They may also own similar patents on thousands of microorganisms, plants and animals, allowing them unprecedented power to dictate the terms by which we and future generations will live our lives.

With respect to the destruction of resource, I pointed out how intensive farming in the last 60 years and the turn to industrialized agriculture under current globalization have resulted in ecological catastrophe. Of particular concern is the destruction of rainforests, home to more species of plants and animals than the rest of the world put together. The drilling and production of oil is also a great threat to large areas of rainforests. Burning oil and other fossil fuels pollutes the atmosphere, and contributes to global warming and climate change, one of the greatest threats to the survival of the all the inhabitants, and indeed all living things on our planet.

Glaciers in Greenland are slipping into the sea at a rate that doubled between 1996 and 2000, and the Antarctic ice cap, which holds 70 per cent of the world’s water, is now losing water at the same rate as Greenland

(Ward 2006, p. 12). The causal role of neoliberal global capitalism in global warming is indisputable. An annual growth rate (GNP) of 3 per cent (the accepted rate for the developed world) means that production is doubled every 24 years, and there is a close correlation between GNP and the rate of increased fossil fuel use (Kinnear and Barlow 2005). As Phil Ward (2005-6, p. 14) puts it, ‘the capitalist system ... is incapable of downsizing except by means of destructive slump or war’. As argued earlier, capitalism is out of control ‘set on a trajectory, the “trajectory of production” ... powered not simply by value but by the “constant expansion of surplus value”’ (Postone 1996, p. 308, citied in Rikowski 2001, p. 11). (Rikowski’s emphasis)

Petroleum is the main fuel used by consumers. The connection between increased fossil fuel use and imperialist adventures in oil-rich countries is an obvious one. One of the primary reasons for US imperial expansion is, of course, to control access to, and the marketing of oil (the other being US capitalist hegemony). This, in turn, creates further environmental degradation and destruction, both in the US, and worldwide. I will now consider the role of the ‘New Imperialism’ in the twenty-first century, and, in the last chapter of this volume, will argue the case for a study of imperialisms to be a central feature of the curriculum.

 
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