It is becoming increasingly clear to me as I read the book, America’s Sacred Calling: Building a New Spiritual Reality (2010) by John Fitzgerald Medina., that the growing disparity in economic well-being along with all other well-being measures – especially for growing numbers of our nation’s infant-children that is happening within the boundaries of our American nation – is directly tied to the economic conditions of all members of our species the world over.
We are increasingly experiencing within America’s boundaries what appears to be a backwash of the same economic conditions that are approaching global plague proportions worldwide, and that will soon not be able to be ignored by anyone. At the same time, the consumption patterns within the Globe’s richest First World nations continues to contribute to the major global problems Medina’s book is highlighting.
Medina next presents
“In January 2000, the city of Cochabamba, the third largest city in the country of Bolivia with a population of 500,000, became the scene of a crisis that attracted worldwide attention and that, to this day, serves as a quintessential example of the destructive policies of “survival of the fittest” Darwinian capitalism. The crisis in Cochabamba was first sparked when the IMF [the International Monetary Fund ] approved a loan for Bolivia and then proceeded to pressure Bolivian government officials to privatize (to sell off) all state owned enterprises including public oil refineries and Cochabamba’s municipal water system. In September, 1999, in closed door negotiations that involved only one bidder, Bolivia signed a forty-year contract that handed over Cochabamba’s water system to Aguas del Tunari (a company managed by International Water Limited, a subsidiary of U.S.-based Bechtel corporation). Within a few months of taking over, without having made any appreciable investments in the system, Aguas del Tunari dramatically hiked up water rates. As a result of these rate hikes, the water bills of the residents doubled and tripled. This sparked almost immediate protests from the residents who united together in peaceful demonstrations and marches beginning in January of 2000. A grassroots organization of concerned Bolivians (mostly Indians), The Coalition for the Defense of Water and Life (La Coordinadora), began to coordinate some of the rallies. [see: Timeline: Cochabamba Water Revolt" by Sheraz Sadiq]
“To understand the true dimensions of this crisis it is necessary to recognize that Bolivia is the most impoverished nation in Latin America (based on per capita GNP) and the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, after Haiti. American Indians make up between sixty and seventy percent of Bolivia’s population…. For these impoverished indigenous people, access to affordable water is a top priority. Water and food are absolute necessities. Steep increases in the price of either of these represent a mortal threat. More money spent on water means that less money is available for other necessities, including food.
“Eventually, demonstrations spread from Cochabamba to La Paz and to other cities and outlying rural villages. In April 2000, the Bolivian government declared a “state of siege.” The “state of siege” (like martial law) allowed police to arrest and detain many people and to impose curfews and travel restrictions. Unfortunately, the April demonstrations became violent, leaving six people dead and many injured. On April 10, 2000, the government signed an agreement with the leader of The Coalition for the Defense of Water and Life. This agreement revoked the contract with the Bechtel corporation subsidiary and granted control of the Cochabamba municipal water system to the grassroots coalition. It also repealed water privatization legislation as well as provisions that would have charged people for drawing water from local wells.
“It is amazing to note that, after losing its contract, Bechtel Corporation sued the nation of Bolivia for $25 million in damages and an additional $25 million in lost potential profits (money the corporation argues that it could have earned if it had been able to keep the water system). It must be recognized here that, in 2000, Bechtel’s revenues were more than $14 billion while the entire national budget of Bolivia was merely $2.7 billion. Oscar Olivera, the leader of The Coalition for the Defense of Water and Life stated, “With the $25 million [in damages] they are seeking, 125,000 people could have access to water.”
“Fortunately, in January 2006, Bechtel finally decided to drop its suit after being subjected to four years of sustained international pressure. Organizations and citizens groups from throughout the world coordinated their efforts to apply pressure on Bechtel to drop its case. The company was bombarded with emails, and concerned groups used the international media to bring attention to Bechtel’s attempts to profiteer at the expense of the poor people in Bolivia. Oscar Olivera declared, “Multinational corporations want to turn everything into a market…. For indigenous people water is not a commodity, it is a common good. For Bolivia this retreat by Bechtel means that the rights of the people are undeniable.”” (pages 190-192)
“The issue of Third World toxic waste lays bare a picture of callous inhumanity and blatant cruelty that is truly shocking in its scope. It has now been widely reported that the First World is exporting its toxic waste to impoverished developing nations. Not only is such waste being shipped to the Third World, some corporations have actually found a way to profit from this deadly transaction.
“The “ship breaking business” is a case in point of corporate behavior that can be characterized as nothing short of criminal. Ten shipping corporations dominate the global merchant cargo trade. When these corporations want to dispose of an old vessel, they send it to a ship breaking yard where it is dismantled from scrap metal. Probably the largest ship breaking yard in the world is in Bangladesh (a hunger-ravaged nation) where massive tanker ships, some as long as three football fields and as tall as twenty stories high, have been run agound in the Bay of Bengal. Workers (cutters) use blow torches to cut ships to pieces. From high above, gigantic plates of metal, some weighing several tons, are cut from ships and then fall dangerously to the ground. Crews of workers then carry the plates on their shoulders as they step in unison to the rhythm of a leader’s chant. The National Labor Committee (NLC), a U.S.-based worker rights organization, investigated the industrial atrocities at the Bengal shipyard. An NLC article titled “Where Ships and Workers Go to Die ,” states,
“The kids usually help the cutters or remove asbestos [a known carcinogen]. They smash the asbestos with a hammer, shovel it into a plastic bag and remove it from the ship…. Dismantled ships are toxic to workers and the environment. Each ship contains an average of 15,000 pounds of asbestos and ten to 100 tons of lead paint. Besides asbestos and lead [which can cause kidney damage and brain impairment in children], workers are exposed to mercury, arsenic, dioxins, solvents, toxic oil residues and carcinogenic fumes from melting metal and paint. Environmental damage to beaches, ocean and fishing villages is extensive.”
“Charles Kernaghan, director of the National Labor Committee, calls the Bengal ship breaking yard “hell on earth.” Thirty thousand workers, some as young as ten years old, dismantle ships at a nonstop pace for twelve hours a day, seven days a week, for the equivalent of twenty-two to thirty-six cents an hour with no sick days or holidays. Workers live in utter squalor in stifling hot rooms without windows and without refrigerators. Each tiny room is packed with four people who sleep on the floor with only old sheets and rags for bedding. While doing their incredibly dangerous tasks, the workers are not given any safety gear by the ship-owners. Baseball caps serve as hard hats, and in the absence of steel-toed shoes, young workers are seen handling heavy sheets of metal wearing only flip-flops. Filthy bandanas serve as respiratory masks, and when using dangerous blow torches, sunglasses are used in place of safety visors. Kernaghan states, “Last year, a 13-year old child his very first day on the job was hit in the head with a heavy piece of metal and he just died immediately.” Kernaghan eerily adds, “the ship-owners don’t document anything, they don’t investigate the killings and the injuries, they just throw the people back into their villages and in some cases, we’ve heard that they throw the dead bodies into the water.”
“The heinous disregard for human life and the environment that is described above is the end result of an insidiously reckless capitalist order that has thrown away all moral restraint. In a Law Review article titled, “Beyond Eco-Imperialism: An Environmental Justice Critique of Free Trade,” Carmen Gonzalez, a law professor, provides a highly detailed and well-researched view of the environmental justice issues that have emerged as a result of globalization. Her article states,
“[I]nternational trade promotes environmental degradation in developing countries and threatens the physical health, cultural integrity and economic well being of the Southern [Third World] poor…. [T]he North [First World] reaps the benefits of liberalized trade while exporting the environmental costs to the South…. [This] article…identifies the North’s resource-intensive, consumption-oriented lifestyle as the primary cause of global environmental degradation…. This lifestyle can only be maintained through the ongoing appropriation of the natural resources of the South.”
“Earlier in this chapter a section titled “Widespread Rising Poverty Amidst Incredible Concentrations of Wealth,” provided statistics that show that the people living in the wealthy developed nations (only about twenty percent of the world’s population) consume a disproportionate share of the globe’s food, resources, and goods. Indeed, the United States has the highest consumption levels per capita in the globe with Japan and Western Europe not being far behind. Gonzalez uses similar statistics in her article to support her thesis (as expressed in the quote above). A group of researchers in the Center for Sustainability Studies in Xalapa, Mexico, created a concept known as the “ecological footprint” in order to study the amount of resources, “natural capital,” that a country must have (or must appropriate from others) in order to maintain its level of consumption. The researchers discovered that “the Netherlands, United States, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Japan, and Israel were among the highest per capita importers of natural capital.” This means that these countries, in particular, are using many more resources than they actually possess, and that the First World “is living far beyond its ecological means,” and the developing nations cannot catch up “without exceeding the limits of the global ecosystem.” Indeed, if everyone in the world adopted and tried to maintain a Western level of consumption, then, instead of just one world, it would actually be necessary to have ten worlds to satisfy everyone’s needs. Gonzalez contends that there is a great need for legal scholarship in the area of researching and creating international laws that address the problem of over-consumption. [see: Beyond Eco-Imperialism: An Environmental Justice Critique of Free Trade,” Carmen Gonzalez]
“Gonzalez further asserts that, for many years, the U.S. environmental movement has been perceived to be a middle class, White, suburban phenomenon that has been primarily interested in the protection of endangered species, wilderness areas, and parks, but it has not shown sufficient interesting environmental justice issues related to racism, poverty, and societal antidemocratic processes and policies. She cites a variety of studies that show that “poor people and racial and ethnic minorities suffer disproportionately high levels of exposure to toxic substances while whites residing in more pristine suburban neighborhoods reap the benefits of environmental protection.” This unjust dynamic within the United States shows up in the choice of location for hazardous waste facilities and also in the selective enforcement of laws and standards pertaining to water and air pollution, as well as waste disposal.
“Similar to the dynamic described above, Gonzalez maintains that, when it comes to the international arena, environmentalists from the Northern wealthy nations have been mainly concerned with protecting global natural areas. As such, they have been slow to recognize that socioeconomic justice issues are a direct cause of global pollution and resource depletion. In contrast, environmentalists from the poor Southern nations are increasingly asserting that international environmental degradation is directly linked to justice issues related to international inequality and to the struggle for democracy, self-determination, economic sufficiency, and cultural rights. Along these lines, the Southern environmentalists contend that the primary causes of international pollution and resource depletion are the excessive consumption patterns of wealthy nations as well as “the world economic order” that “has institutionalized Southern poverty, which places additional stress on the environment. [see source link above, page 988]” Along these lines, Gonzalez states,
“Indeed, one prominent Southern environmentalist has argued that the South is bearing a disproportionate share of the environmental consequences of globalization, and has described this phenomenon as environmental apartheid…. The allegations of Southern environmentalists have been supported by studies commissioned by the United Nations Development Program, [specifically related to] the export of hazardous wastes and deforestation. [see source link above, page 989]”
“Gonzalez points out that there is a need for the development of international human rights laws that “link the environmental struggle with the struggle for social justice.”
“Unfortunately, the hazardous waste trade is flourishing. Illegal shipments destined from the United States to other nations (Mexico, Ecuador, Haiti, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and others) have continued to be intercepted. Even recycling efforts that seem innocent on the surface can actually be deadly in Third World environments where there are not appropriate safeguards. A prime example of this is the shipment of used car batteries to poor countries in order to recover and recycle the lead. Lead is extremely hazardous and typically causes all forms of problems for the poor. Along similar lines, the Bangladesh ship breaking yard described above is extremely toxic to the people and to the environment, and yet the ship-owners would likely try to defend it as a good venture that recovers and recycles scrap metal. Gonzalez sates, “Environmentalists have rightfully denounced: such practices “as ‘toxic colonialism’. [see source link above, page 993]” (Medina’s book pages 192-196)
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