The extractivism of resources needed to maintain economic “growth” and affluent lifestyles for a minority wreaks havoc on communities and ecosystems where it takes place. Replacing fossil fuels with renewables without changing those lifestyles and restructuring the economy will continue to mean that in expropriated territories and neighbourhoods – particularly of the global South – it is black, brown and indigenous bodies who bear the brunt of those impacts. They are also the places and peoples who bear the least responsibility for the climate crisis, and who are least equipped to deal with the effects of extreme weather events.Read more
The nature of extractivism
The impacts of an economic model that views nature as simply a vehicle for profit are highly destructive and getting worse. Deadly flooding, prolonged drought, extreme heat, wildfires and deadly storms are the most powerful signals of a climate in chaos. But it is crucial to connect these impacts with the other forms of environmental damage which surround us: deforestation and the loss of green space, toxic air pollution, water stress and contamination, species loss and many other issues that are pushing life to the brink. Be it at local or global level it is the same industrial activities, and the corporate-driven model of hyper-consumerism which those activities feed, which are driving these interrelated ecological crises.
A primary engine for this conversion is extractivism, which continues to violently expand and which, left unchecked, could bring us to a point of ecological collapse. Gas, oil and coal continue to be prospected, extracted and burned in great quantity despite all the climate science that demonstrates the insanity of doing so. Massive hydropower projects, falsely marketed as a “green” energy solution, cause major methane emissions through deforestation and swamping; the energy they produce is also often used to feed further fossil fuel extraction. Large-scale mining of metals and rare earths – also now rebranding itself as essential to a renewable future – destroys biodiversity and makes huge demands on and regularly contaminates fragile water sources, putting surrounding ecosystems at risk. The shipping associated with the industry is also a major source of emissions. Big agro-industrial mono-crop plantations entail similar impacts. In Latin America these activities come accompanied by militarisation and backed up with judicial threats and violence. Who profits directly from extractive activity, who sells and who enjoys the consumer goods and lifestyles it enables – and who is left displaced or living in a destroyed environment – tells us a great deal about the unjust nature of our global economy.
No environmentalism without justice
Those most affected by the impacts of climate change and the extractive operations which are so fundamental in causing it – marginalized, dispossessed indigenous communities and communities of color in both the global South and the global North, with women in both contexts being disproportionately affected – are precisely those who have contributed least to causing the crisis.
In Latin America we are building long-term relationships with communities and organisations on the frontline of the extractivism which underlies our climate crisis. Along with other networks and groups we look to bring their experiences and perspectives into the centre of the international debates and response to climate breakdown. We campaign with others in the global North to challenge the corporations who threaten them.
Pushing for a truly Just Transition means challenging those driving the extractivism at the heart of our economy, and working with the frontline communities who are standing up to it and asserting their rights over their resources and territories.
Reads and resources
- Communities and international organisations denounce mining giant Anglo American for its impacts in Latin America and its response to Covid19
- Video Rights for People, Rules for Corporations
- Video Perspectives from La Guajira - resisting the Cerrejón mine
- Podcast Solidarity: a conversation between Joshua Virasami, TJ Demos and Mads Ryle (Part 1)