Water and the case of neoextractivism

PINA HAAS

Friday, March 29th 2019.

The Paradox of the resource-rich countries

It is widely known that many countries especially in South and Central America are struggling to develop and find a way out of widespread poverty despite their richness in primary resources such as oil, gold, silver, minerals and fertile farmland. This seems like a paradox but has to do with the extractivist activities these countries base most of their economy on. Many of these resources are extracted and exported as primary resources without the addition of any value into the more developed countries in the northern hemisphere of the planet. That this extractivism has not really helped in elevating these countries’ populations out of poverty and allowing for social and economic development is clear. The paradox that the most resource rich countries in the world are the ones with the least economic prosperity, remains. Additionally, to the little economic benefits these practices generate, they are damaging the environment, stripping people of their lands and violating human rights. In the last years, some of the more progressive governments in South America have recognized these negative impacts and realized the contradiction they present to their political ideologies and aims. But instead of working for a deeper and more structural change in the way these countries organize their economies beyond the extraction of primary resources, they continued with the extraction but in a new disguise; neoextractivism was born (Acosta, A. 2013).

How neo is neoextractivism?

Neoextractivism can be understood as a form of extractivism in which the state aims to take more control over the management of the resources. Other than in privately conducted extraction the surplus revenues from the neo-version controlled by the state, are promised to be invested in large-scale development programs. These new governments argue that extractivism is indispensable for economic, social and political development and is therefore justifiable since the benefits are invested in development programmes.  (Acosta, A. 2013)

According to scholars such as Alberto Acosta however, neoextractivism does not improve the main problems that arise out of the practice of extracting resources on a large scale. He says, it does not change but intensify the fragmentation of territory and negative impacts on the environment and the practices that harm local communities remain problematic. (Acosta, A. 2013)

Maristella Svampa also writes about the topic. She writes about “the dispossession and accumulation of land, resources, and territories, principally by large corporations, in multiscalar alliances with different governments.” (Svampa, M. 2015, p.66) and furthermore defines neoextractivism as “the pattern of accumulation based on the overexploitation of generally nonrenewable natural resources, as well as the expansion of capital’s frontiers toward territories previously considered non-productive” (Svampa, M. 2015, p.66). For her, the overexploitation of non-renewable resources is a key aspect of neoextractivism. The resources associated with this are mainly gas and petroleum as well as minerals, metals and agricultural products such as soy and corn.

When reading about these concepts, about the types of problems that arise from them and about the different forms of civil resistance that are emerging as a response, I realized that what was described especially in Svampa’s article “Commodities Consensus: Neoextractivism and Enclosure of the Commons in Latin America” has many similarities with the case of the construction of the beer brewery by the multinational company Constellation Brands in the city of Mexicali, Mexico. In this case, the main resource that is extracted and that causes great civil disobedience is: Water.

Is water a resource affected by neoextractivism? – the case of Mexicali

In the following, I want to further explain the case of Constellation Brands. I want to argue that this case can and should be seen as a case of neoextractivism. Agreeing with this argument would call for the necessity that water should also be seen as a primary resource affected by neoextractivism and should be given greater attention.

Constellation Brands is a multinational company and one of the biggest beer producers is the world. To date, they run two beer factories in Mexico in Obregon, Sonora and in Nava, Coahuila. To date, the company is in the process of constructing a third brewery in Mexico namely in the Baja Californian City Mexicali. (“Despite ‚Challenging‘ Environment”, 2019).

The biggest criticism towards this enterprise is the environmental damage this factory will cause to the area. Overall, the estimated annual use of 20 million cubic metres of water has resulted in strong discontent among the citizen of Mexicali and its surroundings. What makes this project even more questionable is the fact that the area around this city is very dry, the city already faces severe problems when it comes to providing enough water to its citizen. The company tries to appease the citizen by promising the creation of jobs and capital for the local community. Looking at the numbers however it becomes clear, that this factory will bring more damage than benefit, the factory will only create 750 more jobs, which is a low number compared to the thousands of litres of water they will consume. (“Cervecera de EU”, 2018).

This really reminds of a quote by scholar Gudynas cited by Acosta which says that “neo-extractivism maintains ‘involvement in the international market in a subordinate position that serves the globalisation’ of transnational capitalism” (Acosta, A. p.72).

Another aspect Svampa writes about is the undermining of democracy and the ignoring of the citizens’ voices in the designing and decision making over such projects. She writes that “the large scale of such projects not only challenges the existing economic and social structures; it also curtails democracy in the sense that the population has no say in the development of projects.” (Svampa, M. 2013, p. 199). This is exactly the case in Mexicali. People feel overrun and ignored by politics and even the many protests, petitions and the calls for boycott do not seem to change the situation.

The anger of the activists who fight against the construction of the factories since more than a year is big. Protests occurred in which protestants were injured by police forces who blamed them for having committed acts of vandalism. (Perez, R. 2018).

This is again in line with what Svampa writes. She states that the current developments in South America “reflect the tendency to consolidate a model of appropriation and exploitation of the commons, which advances on populations through a top-down logic, threatening the improvements in the field of participatory democracy and inaugurating a new cycle of criminalization and violation of human rights” (Svampa, M. 2015, p. 67/68). The access to water is a human right and if the claims of the activists are true, the construction of this factory will present a violation of these rights since it will impede the access to sufficient drinking water for everyone in the area. These parallels show that the complications around the extraction of “traditional” primary resources, including the struggle for the protection of their rights by the local people affected by these practices, and the extraction of water are very similar.

Even the argument that the concept of neoextractivism is only applicable to non-renewable resources is obsolete in the case of water since the renewability of this resource highly depends on the sustainable use and management of it which is definitely not guaranteed when extractivism is overexploiting these resources.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I argue that water can and should be considered a resource affected by neoextractivism. Especially with the current environmental developments, the demand for water will increase drastically while the access to it will be ever more difficult. Water extraction by big private companies for the production of goods mainly consumed in the western world, is a global problem and demands more attention.

Bibliography:

Acosta, A. (2013). Extractivism and neoextractivism: two sides of the same curse. Beyond development: alternative visions from Latin America, 61-86.

“Cervecera de EU se chupará 20 millones de metros cúbicos de agua al año, si Mexicali se deja” SinEmbargo, 15. April, 2018. https://www.sinembargo.mx/15-04-2018/3408051-> last accessed: 03/29/2019

“Despite ‚Challenging‘ Environment, Constellation Brands Keeps Building Its Mexicali Brewery.” Mexico-Now, 25. Jan. 2019, https://mexico-now.com/index.php/article/5042-despite-challenging-environment-constellation-brands-keeps-building-its-mexicali-brewery -> last accessed: 03/29/2019

Perez, R. “’Boycott Modelo Beer!‘ Mexicali Resiste Fights for Water Rights” 13. February. 2018. Telesur HD, https://www.telesurenglish.net/analysis/Mexicali-Resiste-boycotts-Constellation-Brands-Grupo-Modelo-20180213-0009.html-> last accessed: 03/29/2019

Svampa, M. (2013). Resource extractivism and alternatives: Latin American perspectives on development. Beyond Development: Alternative Visions from Latin America, 117-143.

Svampa, M. (2015). Commodities consensus: Neoextractivism and enclosure of the commons in Latin America. South Atlantic Quarterly, 114(1), 65-82.

What else if not semi-environmentalism?

BY PINA HAAS

February 3rd, 2019

Environmental degradation, resource exploitation, pollution, mass extinction of species and most importantly, climate change are issues widely discussed in the media, among politicians, among the public and even among children. The past year, the year 2018, was of great significance for environmental activism. Many events brought the issue of climate change on the desk of the international political agenda and on the private dinner tables of many world citizen. The publication of the IPCC report, the climate protest of the young Greta Thunberg that inspired the worldwide student movement “Fridaysforfuture” and the climate marches in Brussels are just a few events that happened in 2018 and continue to grow and with that contribute to a greater awareness of the issue. Climate Change is not a novel issue, scientists have been telling us for 40 years now that we cannot continue exploiting resources and polluting the planet as we do or we will face severe problems. (Rich. N, 2018) Since then scientific evidences are amounting and effects of global warming are not in the far future anymore, but experienced all over the planet. Yet, we are lacking political and societal action and solutions for the problem. Not enough is happening, the situation is so urging that now even children feel the need to skip school to defend the interests of all future life on this planet.  

I realized that in my view, semi-environmentalism is not an option. I think we need to completely reassess the way we are living and structuring our lives- a deeper change needs to happen.

What does deep change mean?

In order to answer this question, we need to look at the nature of the very problem we deal with. I think climate change is a symptom of an underlying problem, a problem with the way we see the role of the human being on this planet. Western values like individualism, rationality and social Darwinism have made us believe that we humans are at the top of the hierarchy of life and have the right and the power to dominate all other life on this planet and beyond. This idea is promoted by scientists, politicians and philosophers since the enlightenment and shapes our ideology and lifestyle significantly. We are raised to believe that we are invincible if we only rely on our rationalism and intellect which will give us the power to invent the right technology to reverse climate change. This worldview proposes: science has all the answers to our problems and is often called the mechanistic paradigm. (Capra, 2014) It is dominated by the assumption that everything equals the sum of its parts and in order to make the world ours, we only need to understand all the parts.  The problem with this paradigm however is that it continues to alienate us human from nature. It reduces the world to material and mechanisms and denies the interdependencies of all the parts that constitute this planet, including us humans. Live is a system, every organism has a role and function but we have proven ourselves to be unable to recognize, worship and protect this fragile and interdependent ecosystem. I agree with thinkers like Capra and Enrique Leff;  If we continue to see ourselves as the dominator of this planet, we won’t advert climate change and secure a peaceful life on this planet, we need to change our paradigm. (Leff 2011, Capra 2014) As Einstein once said:We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” (BrainyQuote.com, 2019)

We need a deeper shift in the way we are living our life’s and inhabiting this planet.

The current world order is based on infinite material growth. In order to secure economic growth, we need growing consumption. In order to secure growing consumption, we raise the citizen of the world to believe that consumption will make them happy and will fulfil all their needs. The production of all these commodities is destroying the very basis for our life here on planet earth. That this mass consumption is not only bad for the planet but also for the well-being of the human being is often forgotten. Taylor et al. for example write in their article the Collapse and Transformation of our World that “the consumer worldview represents the commodification of both humans and the natural world, it promotes the illusion of a separate self that exists independently of both the larger human and biophysical communities” (p. 39). They explain in their article that the current world order is not sustainable. But not only is it not sustainable in the ecological sense but also in the emotional sense.

If you think about what really makes you happy, it will most probably go beyond material needs for shelter and food. We need the feeling of belonging, we need social interactions and meaning. These needs are neglected by the current world order and we are led to think that material consumption can satisfy these. We are trapped in the cycle of running after instant gratification, instead of creating wholesome well-being.

But what to do?

We need to reassess our values and ideologies, we need to realize that infinite growth is not a paradigm we can sustain, neither ecologically nor sociallyo r emotionally. We are only one part of a bigger system in which every part plays a crucial role.

This needs to be reflected in the political systems too. We need to move towards more participatory democracies. We need to decentralize politics and give people more power but also responsibilities to manage their own lives. Being a human should give us rights yes, but it should also imply duties. The duty to respect others and the planet. By giving communities the chance to manage their own lives, to take decisions over resource distribution for example, we would move towards more horizontal structures among citizen. I am convinced that these new structures would transcend human relations and lead to a more holistic approach in how we treat our surroundings.

If we want to keep on living on this planet, we have to start respecting it as the complex web of linkage and interdependencies it is. We need to start respecting all live on this planet as equally important and worthy as humans. But we cannot respect other organisms if we cannot respect our own complex needs. I therefore promote:

More Whole, Less Some!

Works cited:

Capra, F., & Luisi, P. L. (2014). The systems view of life: A unifying vision. Cambridge University Press.

Taylor, D. M., & Taylor, G. M. (2007). The collapse and transformation of our world. Journal of Futures Studies, 11(3), 29-46.

Leff, E. (2011) TEDxAmazônia – Enrique Leff quer que nos cuidemos. TEDxAmazônia. min. 0-13:18. Retreived from:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxCGZhGUEbk – last accessed February 3rd 2018.

Rich, N. (August 1st,  2018) Loosing earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change. New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/08/01/magazine/climate-change-losing-earth.html#main – last accessed February 3rd 2018.

Albert Einstein Quotes. (n.d.). BrainyQuote.com. Retrieved February 3, 2019, from BrainyQuote.com Web site: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/albert_einstein_121993

How can one be a true semi-environmentalist?

How can one be a true semi-environmentalist?

By PINA HAAS

December 7th, 2018

I am confused. In the last years, a fascinating discourse has been taking place in the media. What I am talking about is the discussion about environmental-hypocrisy. On the one hand, frustrated climate activists are accusing others of wrongly praising themselves as environmentalists while they still use a car or buy unsustainable clothes every once in a while. Hypocrisy seems to be the new buzzword environmental activists use to vent their anger about the stagnating or only very slowly advancing agenda of climate protection. These accusations led to a range of responses of people who try to justify their semi-environmental behaviour as an inevitable consequence of having to live in a system build on hard chore consumerism. Accordingly, hypocrisy is better than nothing and blaming people for not doing enough is counterproductive in the quest of trying to get people aboard on the mission to fight climate change.

I agree, it does not help to simply attack people for not doing enough, blind allegations do not lead us anywhere. On the other hand, I can very well understand the anger on the other side of the front line. Being a fully devoted environmentalist requires a lot of sacrifice. It’s not a hobby, it’s a life-time commitment. Seeing others fly around the globe, eat a lot of meat, order new clothes everyday but simultaneously post articles about anti-capitalism on Facebook and attend lectures on sustainability, does have the potential to trigger outrage. 

But rather than accusing these people of not doing enough, I envy them for their skill of self-conceit. It is simply unconceivable for me how people can be semi-environmentalists? How can one be concerned with the environment without becoming a radical activist when faced with gloomy predictions about a possibly very apocalyptic future of our planet?  I am confused.

I am rather a latecomer in terms of climate change awareness, this possibly makes the impact of my confusion even bigger. Why was there no trigger warning? How could it happen, that I was so deeply shocked when I started to learn more about climate change this summer. It really doesn’t take much more than typing the two c-words into google: climate change, and you will find all you need to catapult yourself into a state of depression and anxiety about our future. The recent IPCC report for example paints a very dark picture itself.

The IPCC gives us 12 years to fight global warming to advert dramatic catastrophes. Knowing that the IPCC has showed the chronical tendency to underestimate the effect of global warming in the past however, I decided to dig deeper.

What I found is staggering. People, and not just apocalyptic visionaries but highly qualified scientists, politicians and climate activists, truly believe that the survival of the human species is at stake. The possibility of human extinction is not out of the question anymore, it is central to many people’s visions of the future. Jem Bendell’s paper “deep adaptation” is an example of this. Another prominent actor in this field is the British activist group Extinction Rebellion.  We are in the midst of destroying our very home, we urgently need to question everything possible and deeply change our ways of living to secure the future existence of the human species on this planetary titanic.


This realization threw me off the track for two solid weeks. I was sad, I was angry, I was depressed. But it eventually led me to a crucial point in my life. For me there are only two options now: either I dedicate my life to become a fully committed environmental activist. This means facing the science and the very disturbing idea of possible human extinction.

Or I chose denial. Honestly, I do not blame anyone for choosing denial at this point. It is a decision to turn away from the idea that we as individuals can do anything about our future. It is very tempting and understandable to surrender our responsibility to the idea of determinism.

But what I really do not understand is semi-environmentalism. Believing that buying second-hand clothes every now and then, eating meat only once a week and posting articles about climate change is sufficient to call yourself an environmentalist, requires the for me impossible act of concealing a gap of deep moral dissonance. Hypocrisy in my understanding is thus not a buzzword to throw at people performing a morally wrongful act, but it rather constitutes an art I, in a very screwed up way, admire.