Ecological imperialism. The endless plunder of nature and the outcasts of the southern world

Ecological imperialism. The endless plunder of nature and the outcasts of the southern world

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By Renán Vega Cantor

The Northern Hemisphere contains most of the modern technosphere and the wealth that it generates. The result of this division is a painful global irony: the poor countries of the South suffer the environmental risks generated by the creation of this wealth in the North.

In the current moments of imperialist expansion to the last corner of the planet, there is an accelerated destruction of ecosystems and a drastic reduction of biodiversity. It is a direct result of the generalization of capitalism, of the unconditional opening of countries to multinationals, of the conversion into merchandise of products of natural origin, of the unbridled competition between countries to be advantageously located in the export market, of the drop in prices of raw materials from the peripheral world, the reprimarization of economies, in short, the logic inherent in capitalism of accumulating at the cost of the destruction of human beings and nature.

Capitalism is a deeply unequal relationship and the great productive development and consumption capacity are concentrated in the central countries (the United States, the European Union and Japan), where millions of tons of waste are also produced. Cars, telephones, televisions, refrigerators, batteries ... which, quickly useless, end up in the trash ... and to the poor countries considered receptacles of the excrement that originates the unbridled consumption of the opulent of the North. According to ecologist Barry Commoner, the planet is divided in two:

The Northern Hemisphere contains most of the modern technosphere, its factories, electric power plants, motor vehicles and petrochemical plants and the wealth that it generates. The result of this division is a painful global irony: the poor countries of the South, despite being deprived of an equitable share of world wealth, suffer the environmental risks generated by the creation of this wealth in the North. [1].

This duality is not the result of a certain divine or natural disposition, but it becomes one of the objectives of the new capitalist world disorder and must be considered in the strict sense as a characteristic of ecological imperialism. Thus, (…) the massive exploitation of the environment in the Third World includes the conversion of lethal waste into merchandise, and international trade with it. It also involves the imposition by capital of swaps of debt for the environment, the construction of huge incinerators and landfills, and many other seemingly pointless projects. [2].

All these actions are mechanisms of imperialist domination, which generate resistance on the part of the exploited and oppressed of the world facing the environmental crimes that are destroying our mother earth and endangering the survival of our species. So that the matter does not remain a rhetorical enunciation, the main characteristics of ecological imperialism must be specified, in order to understand the new forms assumed by contemporary imperialism: this is what we are trying to do in this essay.

1. Accelerated destruction of ecosystems in the dominated countries

The notion of ecosystems helps to understand the magnitude of the environmental problems that we suffer today, to the extent that their destruction constitutes the main manifestation of the environmental unviability of the capitalist mode of production. Ecosystems can be understood as the groups or scenarios in which life reproduces. A given ecosystem is defined by "the physical-chemical abiotic environment and the biotic manifestations that it supports: microbes and bacteria, plants, animals" [3]. Ecosystems have been sources of wealth and well-being for societies, insofar as they are not only assemblages of species but also "combined systems of organic and inorganic matter and natural forces that interact and transform". The energy that allows the system to function comes from the sun, this energy being (…) absorbed and converted into food by plants and other organisms that carry out photosynthesis and that are found at the very base of the food chain. Water is the crucial element that flows through the system. The amount of water available, together with the extreme levels of temperature and sunlight that a certain site receives, fundamentally determine the type of plants, insects and animals that inhabit that place and the way in which the ecosystem is organized [4].

Ecosystems report direct and indirect benefits to humans. The direct ones include obtaining plants and animals as food and raw materials or as genetic resources and the indirect ones take the form of services such as erosion control, water storage by plants and microorganisms, or pollination by seed dispersal. by insects, birds and mammals.

Ecosystems as we know them today have evolved over millions of years and cannot be replaced or recovered by technological procedures. The disappearance of any ecosystem supposes eliminating the possibilities of subsistence for human beings for the simple reason that "ecosystems make the Earth habitable by purifying the air and water, maintaining biodiversity, decomposing and giving rise to the cycle of nutrients and providing us a whole range of critical functions " [5].

In immediate economic terms, the use of natural resources is a basis for subsistence and employment, especially in southern countries, since agriculture, forestry and fishing generate one out of every two jobs in the world Furthermore, activities related to wood, agricultural products and fish are more important than industrial goods throughout the world. For this reason, the decline in the productive capacity of ecosystems has devastating effects on human beings and directly on the poor who depend on them for their subsistence.

There is a historical record that certain societies have collapsed due to the destruction of natural wealth and ecosystems (such as the Mayans in Mesoamerica). However, such collapses were completely different from what is happening today in terms of scale and speed, because before the emergence of capitalism, environmental degradation affected perfectly localized societies and was a process of gradual deterioration over several centuries, while now the destruction of ecosystems is carried out at an accelerated rate and covers every corner of the planet earth.

Ecosystems are dynamic and constantly regenerate in a natural way, but to the extent that the destructive forces of capitalism become generalized, they can disappear, because each ecosystem interacts in complex ways with the environment and the biological community that inhabits it, thus which in turn makes it particularly vulnerable. The pressures generated by the intensive exploitation of resources to satisfy the voracious consumption of small groups of the population (the ruling classes of the whole world), and especially of the imperialist countries, destroy ecosystems. Each one of the existing ecosystems has suffered a notable deterioration, as can be seen with some elementary figures: 75% of the main marine fisheries are depleted by overfishing or have been exploited to their biological limit; indiscriminate felling of trees has cut the world's forest cover by half; 58% of the coral reefs are threatened by destructive fishing practices, tourism and pollution; 65% of the almost 1.5 billion hectares of farmland in the world show some level of soil degradation; and the excessive pumping of groundwater by large farmers around the world exceeds natural replacement rates by at least 160 billion cubic meters per year [6].

The different impact of the action of the opulent and the poor on resources, materials and energy is perfectly established. Globally, there is an uneven geography of consumption, since an inhabitant of a "developed" country consumes twice as much grain and fish, three times as much meat, nine times more paper and eleven times more oil than an inhabitant of a neocolonial country. It is necessary to underline that such a difference in consumption levels is possible because there is a direct appropriation of the resources available throughout the world for the enjoyment of a small minority, since they do not only spend the resources they find in their own countries (for the On the contrary, try to preserve them for a longer time, or at least that is what they say from the teeth out). In fact, in most cases, consumers in the North are ignorant of where the materials and energy they consume daily come from and the impact that their production has on their places of origin, as exemplified by the case of copper pipes that are used in large cities in the United States:

A home builder in Los Angeles installs copper pipes, but has no way of knowing that the copper came from the infamous Ok Tedi mine in Papua New Guinea. This gigantic mine, owned by an international consortium, dumps 80,000 tonnes of untreated mining waste into the Ok Tedi River every day, destroying most of its aquatic life and disrupting the livelihoods of the Wopkaimin community. Globalization means that the eventual homeowners that benefit from copper pipes are unaware of its link to the deteriorating Ok Tedi basin, nor do they bear its environmental costs. [7].

In daily life, a few consume goods that have originated from the intensive exploitation of ecosystems around the world, as exemplified by some elementary data: (…) a US citizen requires more or less five hectares of an ecosystem productive to maintain their average consumption of goods and services, compared to less than 0.5 hectares that are needed to sustain the consumption of an inhabitant of a developing country. Annual per capita CO2 emissions amount to 11,000 kilograms in industrialized countries, where there are many more cars, industries and household appliances, compared to less than 3,000 kilograms in Asia [8].

However, those who most directly depend on and live with the ecosystems, indigenous people, peasants and women, are those who least enjoy the products that are generated there, have a worse standard of living and are also immediately and directly harmed by their destruction . This is caused by the private appropriation of ecosystems by capitalism, which results in those who hold more capital and money have a higher level of consumption and are much more likely to benefit from the goods and services that the various ecosystems originate. When a river or coast is polluted, reducing fishing, those who suffer it firsthand are not the consumers of the decorated tables of the North, but the fishermen and their families who live on the coasts or in the rivers of the countries of the South .

To conclude this first paragraph, it can be said with complete certainty that the existence of human societies without ecosystems is impossible, since these are actually "the productive engines of the planet." Inescapably, (…) ecosystems are all around us: forests, grasslands, rivers, coastal waters and deep sea, islands, mountains and even cities. Each one involves the solution to a particular challenge in life, a solution that has been shaped over the millennia; each encodes teachings of survival and efficiency, as countless species compete for sunlight, water, nutrients and space. If it were deprived of its ecosystems, the Earth would resemble the desolate and lifeless images projected from Mars by NASA cameras in 1997 [9].

Pretending that human life is possible without ecosystems, as certain economists and technocrats affirm, is nothing more than a justifying fallacy of the irrational capitalist accumulation model, as if in this way the existing natural limits that question the absurd belief in unlimited economic growth. Only cynical or lying individuals, conceited by their cult of technology and conspicuous consumption, can speak outrageous things that border on insanity. For example, Adrian Berry went so far as to argue that (…) contrary to the belief of the Club of Rome, there are no "limits to growth." There is no reason why our global wealth, or at least the wealth of industrial nations, should not continue to grow indefinitely at its current annual average of 3 or 5%. Although the Earth's resources are eventually shown to be finite, those of the Solar System and the surrounding Great Galaxy are, for all practical purposes, infinite. [10].

Such a level of stupidity and arrogance with respect to nature is remarkable but not surprising, because she is part of the capitalist logic that has ruled the world. This logic is expressed better than anyone by neoliberal economists, because "whoever believes that exponential growth can last forever in a finite world, is either a madman or an economist" [11].

2. The accentuation of the looting of raw materials and natural resources

In recent years, the exploitation of raw materials has increased, including oil, forest resources, copper, coffee, bananas, minerals, precious metals, diamonds, despite the propaganda arguing that these raw materials and natural resources are no longer important. , because the post-industrial society - in which we would supposedly find ourselves - no longer needs them, since now what would count is knowledge and information [12]. These assumptions of the "information age" have nothing to do with reality, since the dominant poles in the capitalist world market must always resort to the material sources of production, because to make cars, televisions, computers, mobile phones and all kinds of objects cannot be violated physical laws or produce material things from nothing. It is necessary to extract matter and energy from the places where it is found, and even in cases where progress is made in the production of synthetic materials that replace certain products, material dependence on other types of resources cannot be avoided (if in the production of certain parts of the car, iron is dispensed with and replaced by plastics, which implies the incorporation of greater amounts of oil).

That material resources are and will continue to be important for capitalism and imperialism has been demonstrated in recent years with the wars and conflicts fueled or carried out by the imperialist powers. Given the depletion of non-renewable natural resources and that other renewable resources, due to their outrageous exploitation, are becoming non-renewable (plants, animals and water), the imperialist countries compete with each other to use these resources. The United States, the country that consumes and wastes the most materials and energy sources in the world, has proclaimed as a matter of national security the control of sources of oil and strategic raw materials, and the wars and genocides that it has organized in the recent years are related to the appropriation of important oil reserves [13]. It is enough to remember that the Santa Fe IV document maintains that the control of natural resources in Latin America is not only a priority for the United States, but also a matter of national security.

Of course, this world war for resources that is being waged between the powers (but not in their countries but in the territories of the South, turned into battlefields) has obvious environmental consequences by increasing the pressure on ecosystems, a trend that is a continuation of typical processes of capitalism since the Industrial Revolution, as evidenced by recalling that between 1770 and 1995 the earth lost more than a third of its existing resources, a figure unthinkable at any other time in human history and that "70% of the dry tropical forest has disappeared, along with 60% of the temperate zone forests and 45% of the humid tropical forest " [14].

The looting of material and energy resources found in the dominated countries of the South and the East has been institutionalized through the promotion of exports through Structural Adjustment Plans, which has produced a return to the primary economies traditional in many countries of the world. This explains why the cult of exports and foreign trade has acquired so much political legitimacy and theoretical justification (reviving the myth of "comparative advantages") and has become part of the political and economic imaginary of the ruling classes of peripheral countries. , eager to quickly give away all the natural resources that the territory of a country has, in order to be competitive in the world market. This export ideology -which counts as its main exponents the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization- is justifying the looting of raw materials and natural resources and consciously hides the environmental impacts that this produces or, what is still worse, pretending that it benefits ecosystems by leaving them under the regulation of private capital to capitalize on nature at will, which will ultimately benefit us all. This cynicism is behind the "green" discourse of all those interested in taking every last piece of virgin forest that may be left somewhere in the world, leaving behind misery and desolation.

3. Biopiracy and looting of the biological and cultural diversity of the dominated countries

The development of genetic engineering and biotechnology is being carried out from the natural genetic base existing in the diverse ecosystems of the world, such as tropical rainforests, páramos and mangroves, many of which had remained untouched by looting. of imperialist companies and states. With the technological advances in biological and biomedical research in the laboratories of multinationals -mainly in the United States-, these natural resources gestated for thousands or millions of years become a long-awaited commercial booty of multinationals or scientific centers of Northern research. In this sense, one can speak of a true plundering of the biogenetic resources existing in the South of the world by the North, where multinational companies begin to exploit them commercially as an expression of what has been called genetic capital. This is a capital that starts from an already existing natural base, which should belong to the inhabitants of the regions or localities where it is located, but it is fraudulently appropriated by large companies, which from that genetic base develop or reproduce medicines or products that are later patented and appropriated by multinational companies. Thus, biodiversity has become the new hunting ground for genetic imperialism, whose fundamental interest is to appropriate that wealth. The new genetic colonialism supposes, of course, a process of expropriation in which there are, in social terms, winners and losers. The winning side is made up of the large multinational biotechnology companies and their researchers, and the losing side is made up of millions of peasants and indigenous people (expropriated of their ancestral knowledge, their resources, their plants and animals) and the poor population of the countries located in the South of the world. From this angle, there is a genetically unequal exchange, characterized by the massive and deceitful transfer of the natural wealth that is housed in the tropics towards the imperialist countries, very little biodiverse and with a high genetic homogenization [15].

The attack of genetic imperialism against biodiversity accentuates the ecocide against the forests and their inhabitants and further reduces humanity's battered food source, since 90% of our daily diet is made up of some 15 agricultural species and 8 species of animals. With the Biotechnological Revolution, the genetic homogenization of the main crops is accentuated, the disappearance of the local varieties that still exist and the imposition of genetic latifundism, promoted by the large multinational food and agrochemical companies.

The expropriation of the biological riches of the jungles and tropical forests is part of a new phase of imperialist domination, as rapacious and genocidal as the previous periods of colonialist plunder of the planet. Genetic expropriation constitutes one of the supports for the much praised advance of biotechnology in the imperialist centers, where the reduction of human beings and all forms of life to simple merchandise is consummated to value large capital, regardless of the perverse effects of that criminal and predatory logic.

4. The transfer of toxic waste (nuclear and radioactive) from North to South

Capitalism generates a large amount of waste after the obsolescence of goods. If toxic or radioactive materials are used to make products, as is the case in the microelectronics industry and other branches of industrial production, it is obvious that radioactive waste originates. For the capitalist countries of the center, it is essential to get rid of these toxic wastes and turn their commercialization into a lucrative industry and it is "a central strategy of the New World Order, an intentional way of enclosing lands and resources -the very air we breathe-, previously common property, and establish trade in 'pollution rights' " [16]. Capitalism "discovered" that even toxic waste can become a commodity that can be sold to the most vulnerable and miserable countries, and has proceeded to implement this commercial strategy, which has resulted in "prosperous entrepreneurs" The imperialist countries, in alliance with their respective states, are assuming the task of poisoning the soil, the sea and the air of entire countries, with the consequent disease and death of human beings and animals.

The United States tops the list of countries that annually send thousands of tons of toxic waste, disguised as fertilizers, which are dumped on the beaches and productive lands of Bangladesh, Haiti, Somalia, Brazil, and other countries. The administration of Bill Clinton (1993-2001), for example, accepted that large US corporations mixed incinerator ash - which has high concentrations of lead, cadmium, and mercury - with agrochemicals. This chemical poison is sold to foreign agencies and governments that either do not suspect its content or simply turn a blind eye. [17]. The transfer of toxic waste to the South of the planet is not the result of unforeseen circumstances or the necessary result of "technical progress", but is part of the logic of an explicit environmental racism whose express purpose is to contaminate human beings and countries considered as inferior. The criminal logic of environmental racism is based on the assumption that some human groups have the right to consume to their fill, without regard to those who live in subhuman living conditions, and then send them toxic waste to their territories. Such a genocidal practice is based on the conviction of the ruling classes around the world that their very existence is beneficial for the planet, and that other human beings must resign themselves to accept that inexorable destiny in which only the rich and opulent have the right to a healthy and clean life. It is the typical NIMBY illusion (Not in My Blacyard- Not in my garden) that conceives as possible to maintain at the same time an uncontrollable increase in the consumption of products and preserve the surrounding environment in suitable conditions, for which it does not matter to contaminate the garden from the neighbor in order to keep mine clean.

The transfer of polluting waste to the dominated countries has become a lucrative business for certain companies in the imperialist countries. Although most of the raw materials used in the production of goods come from the poor and dependent world - when these materials had a use value, that is, they could be used - they become useless garbage after they have been used by the users and consumers of the North and for their few emuli in the countries of the South. And it is at this moment that those poor countries are once again thought of as receptacles for the waste caused by the unbridled consumption of the affluent in the North. Highly industrialized countries are literally awash in waste and toxic products, just as in the United States. Its rivers and lakes are so polluted that large companies have opened markets for their "coveted" toxic waste, as has been done since the mid-1980s when they dumped thousands of barrels of mercury waste into South African rivers. [18].

The export of toxic waste by the United States is closely related to its political strategies towards the poor countries of the world. Ecological destruction, enforced poverty, counterinsurgency warfare, political corruption and brutality, and the dumping of toxic waste from abroad are all part of the same strategy. The toxic waste trade is a central strategy of the new world disorder in order to appropriate the lands and resources of the poorest peoples, including the very air we breathe, to establish the trade in pollution rights. But, at the same time, it is a means of proletarianizing peasants and villagers, leading them to new forms of exploitation of labor and also a way to destroy the ecosystems of the South.

While in the North environmental regulations become stronger, their companies and capitalists are in charge of promoting pollution in the South and East of the world. The United States opposes the regulation of the transportation of hazardous waste and has also blocked proposals from other countries to ban shipments of waste to poor countries. It is not surprising, then, that at the same time it has turned martyred countries like Haiti, Guatemala, Salvador and Somalia into dumping areas for their industrial waste, a premeditated form of poisoning in neo-colonized countries.

5. Ignorance of the ecological debt that imperialism owes to the dependent world

Ecological debt should be understood as the non-payment by highly industrialized countries of the damage caused over several centuries by the indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources destined for export, without accounting for the negative impacts on local ecosystems and habitats. In a more concrete way, it can be considered as (...) the debt contracted by the industrialized countries of the North with the countries of the Third World due to the looting of natural resources, environmental damage and the free use of environmental space to deposit waste, such like greenhouse gases, produced by those industrialized countries [19].

Consequently, the true debtors are the ruling classes of the whole world, first of all those of the colonialist and imperialist countries.

Contrary to the common sense of neoliberal technocrats, bankers and representatives of finance capital and transnational corporations, the notion of ecological debt highlights that the countries of the North owe the world's poor for having caused a "land deficit (…) Caused by the annihilation of the basic vital systems of the planet due to the abuse of its air, soils, waters and vegetation ". The responsibility for this deficit falls unequally to the poor and the affluent, insofar as consumption and living standards differ from one another. For this reason, ecological debt is related to ecological racism, since those who bear the most the effects of environmental devastation are the poor, the peasants, the indigenous, the humble women and the workers. In other words, to understand the ecological debt, it is necessary to introduce a class, gender and ethnic analysis, which makes it possible to determine the way in which the poorest are affected by environmental degradation.

In a historical perspective, during the last five centuries the inhabitants of the imperialist countries have contracted a debt with the poor of the world, as a result of a diversity of mutually related processes, among which stand out: the extraction of resources (minerals, marine, forest and genetic) in the countries of the South; la consolidación de un intercambio ecológicamente desigual, como resultado del cual se exportan bienes primarios sin evaluar económicamente el impacto social y ambiental generado por su extracción o producción; el saqueo, destrucción y devastación de hombres y culturas desde la era colonial; la apropiación de conocimientos tradicionales de los pueblos indígenas sobre semillas y plantas medicinales, en los que se sustentan las modernas agroindustrias y la biotecnología; la destrucción de las mejores tierras de cultivo y de los recursos marinos para la exportación, debilitando la autosuficiencia alimentaria y la soberanía cultural de las comunidades del Sur; la contaminación de la atmósfera por parte de las naciones industrializadas debido a la excesiva emisión de gases que han afectado a la capa de ozono, provocando el efecto invernadero y desestabilizando el clima; la apropiación desproporcionada de la capacidad de absorción de dióxido de carbono que tienen los océanos y bosques del planeta; la producción de armas químicas y nucleares, cuya puesta a punto se hace con frecuencia en los países del Sur; y la venta de plaguicidas que no son usados en el Norte y el almacenamiento de desechos tóxicos en los países del Sur [20].

Con respecto a las relaciones entre deuda externa y deuda ecológica cabe destacar dos aspectos: 1º) los precios de las exportaciones no incluyen los diversos costos sociales y ambientales, que no se contabilizan (es decir, son gratuitos) y los saberes (por ejemplo el conocimiento exportado desde América Latina sobre el manejo de determinados productos, como la papa o el maíz) tampoco se pagan. Pero al mismo tiempo las emisiones de gas carbónico que se producen a gran escala en el Norte son absorbidas gratis por la vegetación o los océanos de todo el mundo, incluyendo al Sur del planeta. Es como si los ricos del mundo se hubieran "arrogado derechos de propiedad sobre todos los sumideros de CO2, los océanos, la nueva vegetación y la atmósfera" [21]; 2º) la cancelación de la deuda externa degrada la naturaleza, puesto que para pagarla debe aumentarse la producción lo cual por lo común se hace a costa del empobrecimiento de la gente y de una mayor extorsión de la naturaleza. En la medida en que se dedican más recursos para exportación con la finalidad de pagar la deuda externa, ésta aumenta y al mismo tiempo los países pierden sus riquezas naturales. Esta es una muestra palpable de injusticia económica y ambiental, propia del sistema capitalista e imperialista. Como parte de esa injusticia, la deuda externa se sigue cobrando -y pagando, que es lo peor- cumplidamente, pero la deuda ecológica contraída por los países imperialistas nunca se menciona, como si no existiera.

Existe una estrecha relación entre la deuda externa (financiera) que desangra a los países dependientes y la deuda ecológica (nunca reconocida por los países dominantes en el sistema mundial), debido a que las divisas destinadas al pago de los intereses y amortizaciones de la deuda externa aumentan la extracción de recursos naturales, para convertirlos en exportaciones al mercado externo con el fin de obtener dinero para seguir pagando las deudas. El costo ambiental de ese proceso se materializa en hechos como los siguientes:

– Acelerada deforestación que destruye la biodiversidad y convierte en desiertos vastas superficies de tierras anteriormente fértiles. "Desde 1970 las áreas arboladas han disminuido de 11,4 kilómetros cuadrados por cada mil habitantes a sólo 7,3 kilómetros cuadrados".

– La utilización de las mejores tierras de cultivo para la exportación ha forzado a los campesinos a cultivar tierras marginales. Por ejemplo, la utilización para el cultivo de laderas escarpadas, vulnerables a la erosión, ha favorecido los fatales deslizamientos de lodo que recientemente han afectado a Honduras, Nicaragua y Venezuela.

– Incremento del uso de plaguicidas y fertilizantes químicos. Por ejemplo, la industria bananera de diversos países utiliza el plaguicida DBCP, que provoca esterilidad masculina.
– Destrucción de los manglares para la cría del camarón, favoreciendo así las inundaciones en las zonas costeras. En Ecuador, el 70% de los manglares ha sido destruido para instalar criaderos de camarón para la exportación, afectando con ello la supervivencia de los pescadores tradicionales y aumentando las posibilidades de inundaciones provocadas por el fenómeno de El Niño.

– Consumo excesivo de combustible, disminución del valor nutricional e incremento del uso de conservantes, provocados por el transporte de alimentos a grandes distancias.

– Sustitución de la diversidad biológica por monocultivos y bosques artificiales. La explotación comercial de las plantaciones forestales extrae la madera y destruye el resto por considerarlo "desechos".

– Pesca excesiva: "Las existencias mundiales de pesca están en declive, con una cuarta parte ya agotada o en vías de serlo y otro 44% explotado al límite de su continuidad biológica".
– Destrucción de hábitats naturales y humanos como resultado de los riesgos de la extracción de petróleo. Por ejemplo, los daños provocados por la Shell en el delta del río Níger, hogar del pueblo Ogoni [22].

Un procedimiento adecuado para sopesar la deuda ecológica contraída por los voraces consumidores de los países imperialistas y los subconsumidores del Sur consiste en comparar sus respectivas huellas ecológicas. Por huella ecológica se entiende la cantidad de "tierra cultivable, zonas de pastoreo, bosques, producción oceánica y capacidad de absorción de dióxido de carbono que es consumida por una persona promedio en un área geográfica determinada" [23]. Esa noción apunta a medir el impacto de los modelos de consumo con relación a la capacidad de carga del planeta, por lo cual se entiende el máximo de población de una determinada especie que puede sobrevivir en cierto hábitat sin provocarle daños irreversibles. En el caso de un país determinado, la huella ecológica mide la superficie biológicamente productiva que es necesaria para mantener el nivel de recursos de ese país y para absorber sus desechos:

Cuando la huella ecológica de un país es mayor que su capacidad ecológica de carga, ese país tiene que "importar" capacidad de carga de algún otro sitio y/o consumir su capital natural a un ritmo mayor que el de la regeneración de la naturaleza. Esto se logra importando alimentos, combustible o productos forestales o agotando su provisión de recursos renovables y no renovables (por ejemplo, combustibles fósiles). También puede "exportar" desechos, como el exceso de emisiones de dióxido de carbono que su masa forestal o los océanos circundantes no pueden absorber [24].

Se ha establecido que la huella ecológica promedio de un habitante humano en el planeta es de 7,7 hectáreas, pero que los países altamente industrializados superan con creces esa media en tanto que los países dependientes están sensiblemente por debajo de la misma. De esta forma, por ejemplo, Canadá tiene una capacidad ecológica de carga de 9,6 hectáreas per capita, mientras que en el otro extremo Bangla Desh, con una huella ecológica de sólo 0,5 hectárea per cápita dispone de una capacidad de carga de tan solo 0,3 hectárea por persona. Considerando los resultados de la huella ecológica por países se encuentra que a escala mundial el 77% de la población humana tiene una huella ecológica menor que la media, de sólo 1,02 hectárea, pero el otro 23% -los verdaderos deudores ecológicos- ocupa el 67% de la huella de toda la humanidad. Esto quiere decir que sólo un quinto de la población utiliza dos tercios de la capacidad de carga. Es esa quinta parte de deudores ricos la responsable de que la humanidad esté consumiendo un 40% más de recursos de los que pueden regenerarse sosteniblemente. Por cada persona que utiliza el triple de lo que en justicia le corresponde de la capacidad de carga del planeta, hay tres que sobreviven con sólo un tercio de lo que realmente les correspondería [25].

6. Intercambio ecológico desigual

Cuando se analiza la dominación imperialista suele hablarse del intercambio económico desigual expresado en la célebre formulación teórica del deterioro de los términos de intercambio, con lo que se quiere expresar que en el mercado mundial tienden a depreciarse los productos primarios y a encarecerse los bienes manufacturados. Mirada en el largo plazo esta tendencia perjudica a los países productores de materias primas. Pero sin desconocer la importancia de este intercambio desigual en términos económicos, es necesario considerar el intercambio ecológico desigual, algo poco estudiado. Por tal puede entenderse el resultado ambiental -negativo para los países dependientes- de la importación por parte de los países altamente industrializados de productos del Sur a bajos precios, que no toman en consideración el agotamiento y perennidad de tales recursos [26]. Esto sucede hoy con recursos naturales, como la madera (de la cual el Japón es uno de los primeros compradores del mundo), minerales, petróleo y especies exóticas. También debe considerarse como parte de ese intercambio ecológico desigual el envenenamiento de aguas, aire, tierras y seres humanos que se produce como resultado de la aplicación de plaguicidas en las plantaciones agrícolas de empresas imperialistas en países dependientes (como hicieron en Nicaragua las compañías bananeras). Mientras que las compañías transnacionales se llevan el producto para ser vendido y consumido en su país de origen, en las zonas productoras queda la desolación, la muerte y el veneno por todos lados.

En pocas palabras, intercambio ecológicamente desigual "significa el hecho de exportar productos de países y regiones pobres, sin tomar en cuenta las externalidades locales provocadas por estos productos o el agotamiento de los recursos naturales, a cambio de bienes y servicios de regiones más ricas" [27]. Y lo más importante radica en que esa noción tiene implicaciones políticas, al destacar que la pobreza y la carencia de soberanía y autonomía por parte de las regiones exportadoras, debido a su condición dependiente y subordinada en el plano mundial, están en la base de ese intercambio desigual que finalmente perjudica a los pobres de dichas regiones, en virtud de la irremediable destrucción de sus ecosistemas sin que la misma sea asumida por los países imperialistas y sus empresas, que lucran con los productos que allí se generan.

7. Violación de las aguas territoriales de los países dependientes por parte de las flotas pesqueras de las grandes potencias

El ritmo infernal de pesca que se ha practicado durante las últimas décadas, a medida que aumenta el consumo de pescado o productos derivados en los países del Norte, ha agotado los principales bancos de peces en todo el mundo, comenzando por los mares y ríos de esos mismos países. Un buen ejemplo al respecto es el del bacalao, un producto esencial para la subsistencia de miles de pescadores artesanales en las costas canadienses de Terranova, que, por la acción de los grandes pesqueros comerciales, ha sido diezmado, terminando no sólo con el recurso sino también con los propios pescadores [28]. Como resultado del agotamiento de los bancos de peces en las aguas del Atlántico norte, grandes buques pesqueros de los países europeos, de los Estados Unidos y de Japón, incursionan en las aguas de todo el mundo para depredar literalmente todo lo que encuentran a su paso. Ahora, la pesca en alta mar está dominada por grandes barcos que operan a gran velocidad y "llevan detrás inmensos sistemas de redes que barren todo a su paso, sin tener en cuentas los cupos de peces y con una total indiferencia hacia el medio ambiente" [29]. Esto ha ocasionado la extinción de cientos de especies marinas y una drástica reducción del volumen de pesca a nivel mundial. También ha significado el empobrecimiento o la ruina de los pequeños pescadores artesanales en diversos lugares del mundo, una consecuencia dramática porque en los países de la periferia existen millones de personas cuya vida se ha desenvuelto durante cientos o decenas de años en torno a la pesca [30].

8. Exportaciones forzadas de especies animales y vegetales

Este comercio desigual que se hace siempre en la dirección Sur-Norte es realizado por mafias organizadas y tiene como objetivo transportar mascotas de compañía o producir mercancías exóticas a partir de partes animales (piel, marfil, dientes) para adornar a la burguesía de los países industrializados. Este comercio ilegal es tan significativo que se considera como la segunda actividad comercial subterránea, solamente superada por el comercio de estupefacientes. Anualmente circulan en forma ilegal 50 mil primates, 4 millones de aves, 350 millones de peces tropicales, de todos los cuales mueren en el viaje entre el 60 y el 80%. [31]. Para que este negocio funcione existen complejas redes de traficantes de animales, emparentadas con otras actividades como el narcotráfico, en las que participan funcionarios estatales y empresarios privados tanto de los países pobres como de los países ricos. Solo de esa forma pueden ser extraídos de la Amazonía brasileña, para señalar el caso más aberrante de expoliación imperialista, 12 millones de animales, de los cuales muy pocos llegan vivos a su destino final, puesto que sólo uno de cada diez resiste las travesías, el cambio de hábitat, la suciedad o el maltrato [32]. No es coincidencia, entonces, que en el Brasil 208 especies están seriamente amenazadas [33].

El mercado de los animales y de las plantas exóticas está claramente definido en términos económicos y geográficos: la oferta la suministran los países tropicales y la demanda se concentra en los países industrializados. En estos últimos se presenta un consumo insostenible de fauna exótica, abastecido por países en los cuales los campesinos y los trabajadores soportan peores condiciones de existencia. En ese mercado internacional existen consumidores conspicuos que buscan ejemplares raros, pero también debe incluirse a la industria farmacéutica, que compra por ejemplo especies venenosas como arañas y serpientes para experimentar y producir nuevos medicamentos y productos.

La Unión Europea es el principal consumidor de animales exóticos, siendo el primer importador mundial de pieles de reptil, de loros, de boas y de pitones y el segundo importador, después de los Estados Unidos, de primates y felinos. En ese mercado internacional de seres vivos España desempeña un papel significativo, por su posición geográfica que sirve de puente entre África Ecuatorial, América Latina y el sudeste asiático, con los Estados Unidos y otros lugares de Europa.

9. A manera de conclusión: el capitalismo y la ecología son mutuamente excluyentes

La crisis ambiental de nuestro tiempo ha sido producida por el modo de producción capitalista, debido a su carácter mercantil orientado a producir no para satisfacer necesidades sino para incrementar la ganancia individual. Este hecho aparentemente elemental que rige el funcionamiento del capitalismo constituye la base del agotamiento de los recursos naturales, expoliados a un ritmo nunca antes visto en la historia de la humanidad, al mismo tiempo que produce desechos y contaminación de manera incontrolable. Desde este punto de vista el capitalismo tiene dos características claramente antiecológicas: la pretensión de producir de manera ilimitada en un mundo donde los recursos y la energía son limitados; y originar desechos materiales que no pueden ser eliminados -cosa imposible en concordancia con las leyes físicas- y que deben ir a alguna parte, lo cual supone exportarlos a los países más pobres de la tierra. Como bien lo dice James O’Connor (…) la naturaleza es un punto de partida para el capital, pero no suele ser un punto de regreso. La naturaleza es un grifo económico y también un sumidero, pero un grifo que puede secarse y un sumidero que puede taparse. La naturaleza, como grifo, ha sido más o menos capitalizada; la naturaleza como sumidero está más o menos no capitalizada. El grifo es casi siempre propiedad privada; el sumidero suele ser propiedad común [34].

Está absolutamente demostrado por todos los indicadores de deterioro ambiental que la ecología y el capitalismo son polos opuestos de una contradicción insalvable, puesto que el capitalismo se basa en la lógica del lucro y de la acumulación sin importar los medios que se empleen para lograrlo, ni la destrucción de recursos naturales y ecosistemas que eso conlleve. Se podría argüir en contra de esta afirmación que hoy el capitalismo tiene un discurso ecológico y preocupaciones "verdes". Desde luego que sí, pero detrás de ese discurso se esconden los grandes grupos corporativos interesados en expoliar hasta el fin al medio ambiente y de convertirlo en una mercancía muy rentable que genere pingües beneficios. En otros términos, hasta la ecología y el medio ambiente se han convertido en una mercancía más, lo cual tiene implicaciones negativas sobre las mismas posibilidades de existencia y reproducción de la vida en sus más diversas manifestaciones, y esa mercancía ecológica (expresada en la retórica insulsa del pretendido "desarrollo sustentable" y el "capital verde") también se ha mundializado como resultado de la expansión imperialista de las últimas décadas.

En esa perspectiva, pueden señalarse los tres nudos problemáticos que, en términos ambientales, ha generado el capitalismo, tal y como lo ha analizado en varias investigaciones el teólogo brasileño Leonardo Boff: el nudo de la extinción de los recursos naturales; el nudo de la sostenibilidad de la tierra; y el nudo de la injusticia social mundial. En cuanto a la extinción de los recursos naturales estamos asistiendo al más acelerado exterminio de especies de seres vivos, la peor de los últimos 65 millones de años, ya que diariamente desaparecen para siempre unas 10 especies y anualmente unas 20.000. Esta cifra adquiere relevancia si se considera que en la última gran extinción de especies desaparecían dos o tres por año. Otro de los recursos que se agota rápidamente es la tierra fértil, convertida en desierto rural o urbano, deforestada y seca. Al mismo tiempo, la sostenibilidad de la tierra está seriamente en duda ante los procesos en curso, entre los que sobresale el calentamiento global, con sus consecuencias nefastas de alteración climática en todo el orbe, aumento en el nivel de los mares, inundaciones, sequías, huracanes, etcétera, fenómenos todos que pueden llegar a alterar el equilibrio químico-físico y biológico de la tierra. En lo que respecta a la injusticia social mundial, que se manifiesta en la concentración del ingreso y la prosperidad en reducidos sectores de las elites dominantes en todo el mundo al lado de la miseria y la pobreza de millones de seres humanos, tiene una relación directa con la apropiación de recursos y energía por esa minoría opulenta [35].

En este artículo se han descrito y analizado en forma apretada algunas de las características del imperialismo ecológico, sin que hayamos considerado todos los aspectos que pueden ser estudiados a partir del uso de dicha categoría. Simplemente, se ha pretendido demostrar la utilidad de esta noción para entender y enfrentar algunos de los problemas ambientales más álgidos de nuestro tiempo, los cuales no son resultado, ni mucho menos, de catástrofes naturales o fuerzas incontrolables, como se ha dicho tan reiteradamente durante todo el año 2005, después del tsunami en el Océano Indico en diciembre de 2004 o del huracán que asoló a Nueva Orleáns. Teniendo en cuenta los elementos expuestos, es evidente que el imperialismo ecológico tiene múltiples dimensiones, que ameritan ser consideradas, tanto para entender la voracidad del imperialismo contemporáneo como para organizar luchas de resistencia y defensa de los ecosistemas por parte de todos aquellos que sentimos que la naturaleza se ha convertido en el último coto de caza de la mercantilización ecocida del capitalismo mundial.

* Renán Vega Cantor es profesor de la Universidad Pedagógica Nacional, Bogotá-Colombia, y colaborador de la revista Herramienta. Este artículo fue publicado en Revista Herramienta Nº31-Buenos Aires, marzo 2006 -Boletín informativo – Red solidaria de la izquierda radical –y


[1] Barry Componer (1992), En paz con el planeta, Barcelona, Editorial Crítica, pág. 137.
[2] Mitchel Cohen "Residuos tóxicos y el Nuevo Orden Mundial", en
[3] Ramón Tamanes (1983), Ecología y desarrollo. La polémica sobre los límites al crecimiento, Madrid, Alianza Editorial, pág. 147.
[4] "El vínculo entra la gente y los ecosistemas", en
[5] Ibíd.
[6] Ibíd.
[7] Ibíd.
[8] Ibíd.
[9] Ibíd.
10] Adrian Berry (1997), Los próximos diez mil años, Madrid, Alianza Editorial, pág. 65.
11] Citado en J. Riechmann (2004), Gente que no quiere viajar a Marte. Ensayos sobre ecología, ética y autolimitación, Madrid, Libros de la Catarata, pág.133.
12] Entre los autores que enfatizan este tipo de concepciones podemos mencionar a Jeremy Rifkin (2000), en La era del acceso. La revolución de la nueva economía, Barcelona, Editorial Paidos, págs. 49 y ss.
13] Michael T. Klare (2003), Guerras por los recursos. El futuro escenario del conflicto global, Barcelona, Ediciones Urano, pág. 23.
14] Ibíd., págs. 37, 39.
[15] Vandana Shiva (2001), Biopiratería. El saqueo de la naturaleza y el conocimiento, Barcelona, Editorial Icaria, pág. 90; Isabel Bermejo, "El debate acerca de las patentes biotecnológicas", en Alicia Durán y Jorge Riechmann (1997), Genes en el laboratorio y en la fábrica, Madrid, Editorial Trotta, págs. 53-70.
[16] M. Cohen, op. cit.
[17] Ibíd.
[18] Ibíd.
[19] John Dillon, "Deuda ecológica. El Sur dice al Norte: ‘es hora de pagar’", en
[20] Ibíd.
[21] Joan Martínez Allier y Arcadi Olivares (2003), ¿Quién debe a quién? Deuda externa y deuda ecológica, Barcelona, Editorial Icaria, pág. 43.
[22] J. Dillon, op. cit.
[23] Ibíd.
[24] Ibíd.
[25] Ibíd.
[26] Juan Martinez-Alier (1996), "De l’economie politique à l’ecologie politique", Un siècle de marxisme. Bilan et prospective critique, París, pág. 177.
[27] Joan Martínez Allier (2005), El ecologismo de los pobres. Conflictos ambientales y lenguajes de valoración, Barcelona, Editorial Icaria, pág. 275.
[28] James Petras y Henry Veltmeyer(2003), Un sistema en crisis. La dinámica del capitalismo de libre mercado, México, Editorial Lumen, págs. 171 y ss.
[29] Ibíd, pág.183.
[30] Joni Seager (1995), Atlas de la terre. Le coût écologique de nos modes de vie, la politique des Etats: une vision d’ensemble, París, Autrement, págs. 68-69 y 120-121.
[31] Ibíd, págs. 80-81 y 124-125
[32] Mario Osava, "Tráfico de animales, un negocio millonario", en; "Comercio internacional de animales y plantas", en www.!españ ; "El tráfico ilegal de especies", en www.!españ ; "Animales y plantas en peligro de extinción", en
[33] M. Osava, op. cit.
[34] James O’Connor (2001), Causas naturales. Ensayos de marxismo ecológico, México, Siglo XXI Editores, pág. 221.
[35]Leonardo Boff, "La contradicción capitalismo/ecología", en

Video: Imperialism. Review (June 2022).


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