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Resource Depletion and Overuse Part III

Over the next few decades I believe land grabbing will matter more, to more of the placing people, even than climate change. The new land rush looks increasingly like a final enclosure of the planet’s wild places, a last roundup of the global commons. Is this the inevitable cost feeding the world and protecting its surviving wildlife? Must the world’s billion or so peasants and pastoralists give up their hinterlands in order to nourish the rest of us? Or is this a new colonialism that should be confronted-the moment when localism and communism fight back?

The general problem of rapid resource depletion that occurs in the poor countries of the world is frequently a result of foreign exploitation and not because of a country’s growing population.

The exploitation  of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s natural resources by shady means-“opaque deals to acquire prime mining assets”-organized through shell companies by the British and  Israeli capital is an example of what can happen. The Duke University ecologist John Terborgh described following a trip to a small African nation:
Everywhere I went, foreign commercial interests were exploiting resources after signing contracts with the autocratic government. Prodigious logs, four and five feet in diameter, were coming out of the virgin forest, oil and natural gas were being exported from the coastal region, offshore fishing rights had been sold to foreign interests, and exploration for oil and minerals was under way in the interior. The exploitation of resources in North America during the five hundred year post discovery era followed a typical sequence-fish, furs, game, timber, farming virgin soils-but because of the hugely expanded scale of today’s economy and the availability of myriad sophisticated technologies, exploitation of all the resources in poor developing countries now goes on at the same time. In a few years, the resources of this African country and others like it will be sucked dry. And what then? The people there are currently enjoying an illusion of prosperity, but it is only an illusion, for they are not preparing themselves for anything else. And neither are we.

Thus, resource problems-both renewable and nonrenewable-are real and are only going to get worse under the current political-economic system. Everywhere both renewable and nonrenewable resources are being used unsustainably by the above criteria. In some countries the high population relative to agricultural land and the lack of dependable quantities of exports to purchase food internationally creates a very precarious situation. However, the general resource depletion and ecological problems-at the global scale, as well as within most countries and regions-are primarily the result of the way capitalism functions and economic decisions are made. Central to this is the continuing exploitation of the resources of the poor countries by corporations and private capital. Maximizing short-term profits trumps all other concerns. What happens as resources are in the process of being ruined or depleted? There is a scramble, frequently violent, for control of remaining resources. But what will happen, what is the “game plan”, after even hard to reach, expensive, and ecologically damaging deposits are fully depleted. Capital has only one answer to such questions, the same as the one attributed to Louis XV of France: “Apres moi, le deluge.” What other conceivable response could it give?

The root of the problem lies in our mode of production. Capitalism is an economic system that is impelled to pursue never-ending growth, which requires the use of ever-greater quantities of resources. When growth slows or ceases, this system is in crisis, expanding the number of people who are unemployed and suffering. Through a massive sales effort that includes a multi-faceted psychological assault on the public using media techniques, a consumer culture produced in which people are convinced that they want or “need” more products and new versions of older ones-stimulating the economy, and thus increasing resource depletion and pollution. It creates a perpetual desire to have new possessions and to envy those with more stuff. This manufactured desire includes the poor, who aspire to the  so-called “middle-class” standard of living depicted on television and in the movies.

Because it has no other motivating or propelling force than the accumulation of capital without end, capitalist production has negative social and ecological side effects, usually referred to by economists as “externalities.” In reality these are in no way external to production. Rather they are “social costs” imposed on the population in general and the environment by private capital. In its normal functioning, the system creates fabulous wealth for a certain few-now referred to as “the 1% (though the 0.1% would be more accurate)-and very great wealth for the richest 10 percent, whose consumption of stuff is responsible for much of the ecological damage and resource use in the world.  At the same time capitalism generates a significant portion of the population whose basic needs are not being met.

Source: DIGEST, January 2014

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