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.

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What’s wrong with the liberal world order?

BY PINA HAAS

February 22nd, 2019

In the last blog entry I criticized the liberal ideology, values and world order. This time, I want to answer the question:

But what is actually the problem with this liberal model that is to be found all over the world?

Did it not bring widespread peace and democracy, technological progress, economic growth, individual freedoms, liberty in values, the end of institutionalized racism, homophobia and discrimination of women in many countries for example?

Maybe the liberal model did bring progress for many people in many different areas. But the fact that this model is universally applied and has outperformed all other models from dictatorships to monarchies to communism does not mean that this model is flawless and should unquestioningly be continued and imposed on everything on this planet.

Yes, the liberal world order has brought economic growth and with that better living conditions and a freer and more self-directed life for many of the earths inhabitants. But is this economic growth a highway without speed limit and can we just keep going faster and faster and let all other values and objectives in life fall by the wayside like it is practiced today? or is this model rather a dead-end street?

That there are limits to growth simply due to the finiteness of our planet and the resources it is providing us with, is obvious and not difficult to understand. Many people have thought, spoken, and written about the rapidly approaching end of the earths carrying capacity.

Eventually, also leading politicians and economists realized that this growth cannot be sustained, especially if all countries reach the same level of development and consequently consume resources at the same rate as the countries in the global north, and if this economy keeps working with the same industry.

So, what did they do when this realization hit home? 

They came up with the idea of sustainable development. A panel of experts and politicians formed the Brundtland Commission which published the famous report “Our Common Future” in 1987. (Brundtland, G. H., Khalid, M., & Agnelli, S. , 1987) This report contains a number of risks posed by the environmental degradation global leaders could no longer ignore if they wanted to keep developing like they did. With this report, the concept of sustainable development set foot on the political agenda for the first time. In the following years, the concept came to the centre of the UN agenda and was accepted as the new golden way that would allow for development while it would “ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (Brundtland, G. H., Khalid, M., & Agnelli, S., 1987)

Without having any background knowledge, the term sustainable development sounds very promising.  Sustainable is understood as the quality of something that is produced without exceeding the carrying capacity of the planet. This allows for the production to be sustained for a longer period of time since it takes the limits of the environment into account.

And development is also widely understood as something positive and necessary for every living organism. Coming from the natural sciences, the term development is a very benign concept. It is a quality of every living being and describes the process of transformation of an organism throughout its lifecycle. This change can be physical growth, maturing, and learning. (Capra, F 2004, p.2) Only with Truman’s inaugural speech in 1949, (Truman, H. S., 1949) did the term find its way into the realm of economics and politics. And this is when things usually get problematic.

The word development in the political and economic realm is very elusive and subject to highly varying interpretations. It is mostly understood as something along the lines of “improving the life of people through transformation” but what improvement means and what kind of transforming interventions are justified by this, is anything but objectively definable. Because of this lack of objective meaning, the concept of development becomes very vulnerable to instrumentalization, or as Ashlee Uren writes: “As a concept, it is empty, which makes it the perfect vehicle for political objectives” (Uren, A. 2007)

Unfortunately, these political objectives are dictated by the western liberal agenda. And on this agenda, development is inseparably linked to economic growth. Economic growth is sold as a remedy for almost all problems that arise in a country.  So, what to do if this highly praised growth is threatened by the finiteness of the planet? We invent something called sustainable development. And here we realize that unfortunately, this sustainable development was not invented and made the base-line for the action of many international stakeholders, such as the UN or the World Bank, in order to sustain the fragile ecosystems, we are destroying with our unhalted consumerism, but rather it was invented in order to sustain this seemly indispensable economic growth. It is thus a sustainable form of development and not a development towards holistic sustainability.

With this concept of sustainable development come of course different methods and interventions that are supposed to make a sustainable form of development possible.

On the scientific side, people are inventing new technologies that make the industry more efficient and less polluting.

Socially, many products are made to calm the guilty conscience of consumers by offering more sustainable alternatives to environmentally unfriendly products like meat, clothing, transportation vehicles, and technological gadgets. These products promise to keep up the same rates of consumption and comfort of living without destroying the environment all too soon, so we can keep going for a little longer without even feeling bad.

And most importantly politically and economically, many interventions are led in the name of sustainable development. Especially the “third world” is a target of these interventions. (Sachs, W. , 1997 p. 26) Less developed countries are understood to be a drag to sustainability since poverty is supposedly “the main cause and effect of environmental degradation” (Brundtland, G. H., Khalid, M., & Agnelli, S., 1987). This is used to justify top-down intervention and adjustment measures. That these measures can often be more harmful than helpful is swept under the comprehensive carped weaved of the fabric of the believe in economic growth as a remedy for all suffering. As it can be seen in the movie Dead Donkey fear no Hyenas the interests of local people are forgotten or intentionally ignored in order to allow for the venerated economic growth. Indigenous people are displaced, robbed of their land and marginalized until they flee their own country. (Joakim Demmer, 2017) Thus wee can see, “The concept of ‘development’ is a political construct that preserves a global hierarchy. In terms of alleviating human suffering, development can hinder, not help.” (Uren, A. 2007) And the worst, this hypocritical humanitarianism is promoted by the most influential global stakeholders like the World Bank.

Unfortunately, I realize that the very promising idea of sustainable development uses a very problematic concept that reduces development to only one of its dimensions – growth – and with that, it lets the other possible dimensions of maturing and learning fall into oblivion.

We cannot any longer hold on to the idea that growth is the only thing we need to move on as a species. Measures towards maturing and learning are promoted by people like Rist  in his book The History of Development. He thinks that instead of growth we should develop towards: “reducing unemployment through a reallocation of income and work­ time, of imposing a tax on capital transfers so as to redistribute some of the world’s wealth, of establishing quotas for energy consumption, of banning or severely limiting individual transport, of rediscovering a different quality of life in voluntary frugality, of putting an end to frenetic productivism. one might stop making the means more efficient until the ends have been redefined…”  (Rist, G., 2008 pp. 195 & 196)

As long as we in the global north don’t understand that this is what we need to work on in order to secure future life on this planet, we should not start telling others what to do. Or as Sachs puts it: “many rural communities in the Third World do not need to wait until specialists from hastily founded research institutes on sustainable agriculture swarm out to deliver their recipes against, say, soil erosion. Provision for the coming generations has been part of their tribal and peasant practices since time immemorial.” (Sachs, W. 1997, p. 33)

I am not against vegan products, electrical cars, research on more sustainable agriculture, alternative energy and more efficient industries but this urgently needs to be accompanied by a rethinking of the values and structures that guide our life’s. This current liberal world order promotes the most unsustainable of all things –infinitne growth. And even worse, it does so under the misleading veil of development.

I therefore promote once more:

More whole, less some!

 

Works cited:

Brundtland, G. H., Khalid, M., & Agnelli, S. (1987). Our common future. New York.

Capra, F. (2004). Development and sustainability. Centre for ecoliteracy.

Demmer J. (2017) Dead Donkeys Fear no Hyenas. Neue Visionen Filmverleih and WG Film. Germany.

Rist, G. (2008). The history of development: From western origins to global faith. 3rd edition. Zed Books Ltd.

Sachs, W. (Ed.). (1997). Development dictionary, The: A guide to knowledge as power. Orient Blackswan.

Truman, H. S. (1968). inaugural address, January 20, 1949.

Uren, A. (2007, September 18). The Dark Side of Development, and What You Can Do To Change It. Retrieved February 22, 19, from https://www.stylewise-blog.com/2017/09/the-dark-side-of-development-ashlee-uren.html

 

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.