PARIS — From renewable energy solutions to recycling innovations, everyone is busy touting their so-called "green" credentials. But as we've seen with the term "greenwashing," the vocabulary of the environmental movement can be turned around quite sharply on any would-be hypocrites. Among those accused lately of exploiting the banner of ecology (while actually causing it harm) comes another term: "green colonialism."
Around the world, echoing political and territorial colonialism of the past, there is a growing number of examples of countries and companies crossing borders to make the same mistakes that got us into this perilous situation in the first place: mismanagement of land, destruction of ecosystems in the name of "progress," and a general disrespect for the quality of life for indigenous communities.
AGRA In Africa: In Africa, the "green revolution" that was supposed to help alleviate hunger and lift small-scale farmers out of poverty turned out to be doing the exact opposite, eradicating natural crops and undermining biodiversity while lining the pockets of multinational corporations.
• According to a report in The Ecologist, drawn from findings published by Tufts University, nonprofit groups like the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) are falling short on their initiatives to yield higher food production and income for farmers, and reduce by half food insecurity in 20 African countries.
• Over the past 14 years, AGRA has been promoting commercial seeds, chemical fertilizers and pesticides in 13 African countries.
• Research also concluded that the number of hungry people actually increased by 30% over a 12-year period.
Commodity crops: As a result, other more climate-resistant and nutritious crops which follow sustainable and local agricultural cropping patterns have been displaced in favor of commodity crops with high calories.
Two men of an indigenous family wear face masks to prevent the spread of COVID in Manaus, Brazil — Photo: Lucas Silver/DPA/ZUMA
Indigenous advantage: A recent report by the Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA) warns that safeguarding indigenous people is key to protecting 50% of the world's territory by 2030.
• The report estimates indigenous populations currently protect roughly 3,000 million hectares of land — an area greater than the African continent — from the loss of biodiversity and deforestation.
• Bogota-based El Tiempo notes that indigenous peoples and their lands are constantly being put under pressure and taken advantage of by international corporations.
Weight of extraction: Nearly 200 years after signing their Declaration of Independence, Uruguay is once again denouncing the neocolonial models that have promoted the extraction of natural resources under the influence of multinationals.
• EL Salto reports that since the end of August, there has been a coordinated effort by the indigenous peoples of Uruguay to fight the construction of a massive paper pulp mill on the country's largest inland riverbed, the Río Negro, by Finnish company UPM-Kymmene.
• The project will also directly affect the biodiversity and natural resources of the country by prioritizing the expansion of tree monocultures needed for pulp and paper, leading to the destruction of native grasslands and wildlife.
• A new high-speed railway stretching over 200 km will connect the pulp mill to the port of Montevideo, which will be transporting dangerous materials and highly polluting toxic chemicals.
Takeaway: "The powers and foreign multinationals are deciding for our country and our lives, so this year we once again interrupt the official act to say that, in reality, we are still not independent," says Sofía Taranto, a member of the National Coordination Against UPM.
No more wind farms in Norway: Examples of green colonialism in Sweden and Norway reveal the dichotomy between how Europe's "green" energy transition is marketed and how reckless practices are affecting indigenous communities and disrupting ecosystems.
• The Indigenous Saami people and their ancestral lands, which extend through parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, are being threatened by a wind farm project that claims to be "promoting growth, green industry and green employment through long-term investment in renewable energy."
• The company is not only encroaching on the ancestral lands of the Saami tribe, they will be directly affecting the sustainable livelihoods of these nomadic people and their semi-domesticated reindeer, according to Al Jazeera. If the Saami reindeer hear or even see a wind turbine they will not be able to migrate or feed in their natural habitat.
• The convergence and mutual dependence of humans, animals, land and water is an integral part of Saami ancestral beliefs and traditions. For the Saami people, reindeer herding is a way of life and it's even protected by law in Norway, the blockage of reindeer migration routes is prohibited.
People and land: "Humans are born, and they die, but the mountains live forever," says a 53-year-old reindeer herder, Heihka Kappfjell. "What frightens me the most about the wind industry is that without the mountains there is nothing left for us Saami. Nothing that protects us, takes care of us and gives us comfort."
Work being done at the site of the Øyfjellet wind farm in Norway — Photo: oyfjelletvind.no
Europe's toxic exports: There are multiple examples of what Le Monde calls Europe's "eco-hypocrisy," particularly when it comes to exporting more than 80,000 tons of pesticides that are not allowed to be distributed within the EU's borders.
• In 2018, 41 toxic pesticides, some of which have been banned in the Union for more than 10 years, were sold abroad. One such pesticide, widely used on crops such as corn, soybeans and cotton monocultures, has been banned in the EU for its potential to fatally poison farmers.
• The UK, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Belgium are responsible for exporting more than 90% from the EU to 85 different countries.
• Top importers of these pesticides include the United States, Brazil, Ukraine, Morocco, Mexico and South Africa.
French trash In Asia: Although there is plenty being said and done about plastic's destructive effects on the environment, the reality of recycling is not always the dream that we imagine it to be in the West. A report that tracked down used plastics originating from France found that 385,000 tons of plastics used were sent abroad in 2019, according to the United Nations trade database. 60,000 tonnes of the debris went to Asia.
Eco-organization Citeo has been tracking France's progress when it comes to recycling plastics for several years and found that of the 70% of household packaging recycled last year in France, 27% was sent elsewhere in Europe and 2% abroad, Le Monde reports.
A large portion of waste leaving France is often declared as "recyclable plastic," when in reality, it isn't. Some waste will travel over 10,000 kilometers to the major ports in Malaysia, China, Hong Kong or Singapore, to be redistributed across the rest of Asia.
- Landfills are then burned to make room for more plastic. Coupled with the runoff of chemicals and waste into groundwater and rivers, local residents face a myriad of problems from itching eyes and skin, to asthma attacks.
What to do: Countries and localities must organize against harmful outside interests, and see through their propaganda. After the 2016 release of the movie Plastic China, in which an 11-year-old girl is seen working in one of these landfills, several Asian nations pushed for reductions in the importation of foreign plastics. Ultimately, an end to green colonialism, like colonialism itself, will require concerted local will and a rising global consciousness.
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