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Let Them Eat Pollution!

By Kashif Mansoor

14 December, 2015

The utilitarian approach to economics has widely distorted the way a nation’s welfare is looked at , narrowing down the concept of development with merely rising GDP , per capita income, industrialization or increasing personal incomes at the cost of ripping the earth’s supposed-to-be equally treated poor people of their basic rights to live. The realization of this fact became much more firmly established in my conscience when I visited a village a few miles away from University of Hyderabad in continuation of field survey in Environmental Economics that I was supposed to conduct as part of my academics curriculum. The village is located amidst a hub of pharmaceutical and drug industries which on continuous basis keep polluting the environment- a basic precondition to lead a healthy and clean life -through their hazardous emissions and discharges of toxic elements into water streams. My other group mates started covering their mouths and all to save them from being “polluted” as they are hailing from affluent families which had never an occasion of an iota of materialistic misery!!

I was at the same struck by a new concept in economics that can be referred to as “Ecological Imperialism” which presents itself most obviously in the following ways: the pillage of resources of some countries by others and the transformation of the whole ecosystems upon which the whole nation depends, the dumping of ecological wastes, the exploitation of ecologically vulnerable societies to promote imperialist control. The US-led attacks on Iraq in the guise of “ War against Terror” in order to capture the oil reserves is a stark example of such imperialism. On interviewing people who are having to work there in the same industries out of no choices barely left as a consequence to the fact that capitalism with its system of production and distribution relations creates such a complex web of unavoidable conditions that the multitude of laborers for their bare minimum subsistence are compelled to work, on a set of certain questions which were prepared by my professor, my heart reflected upon something which I would like to posit by quoting Barry Commoner
“…. Translated into environmental terms the harm is small if the people at hazard are poor-an approach that can be used to justify locating heavily polluting operations in poor neighborhoods….”

The empirical studies also testify to this phenomenon. Most of the industrial projects are set up near tribal and scheduled communities and even the toxic wastes are dumped near the slums. In relentless greed for expansion and proliferation, the capitalist system remains geared upon only building conditions conducive to its capital accumulation, blatantly disregarding the welfare of the majority and the ecological fate of the globe. Such an obnoxiously diabolical exploitative attitude is a consequence of the differences in valuations pertaining to earth, natural resources, class structure and environment in particular. There is a well-formulated policy of shifting the polluting industries to the Third World countries on the pretext that their pollution levels are insufficiently low and overall development can be increased. To know how and to what extent the capitalist ghouls can deceive the entire world with their “intellectual” tricks to get their own things done, follow the link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summers_memo.

The severity of health risks associated with heavy metals which are found in waters in proximity to such operations can be gauged by a few citations: Lead causes convulsions, anemia, kidney damage, cancer and birth defects ( this has been recorded by me in my report in that kids are now born with some deformations and there is an increasing occasion of hair loss in youngsters), nickel causes gastrointestinal and central nervous system damage, not to mention of course how the industrial projects when imposed on tribal areas destroy the social structure. They are disposed of their land and ultimately become unemployed or the mining processes lead to decay of landscape and loss of soil’s nutrients and the like.

Environmental Injustice: What amounts to injustice, in addition to severe destitution and misery the poor unskilled people get entangled into as a consequence of rapid industrialization drive by the bourgeoisie class, is the stark reality that these people are deliberately made bereft of access to clean air and water-the natural resources free gifts of nature are increasingly becoming privately owned commodities. The economically disadvantaged and politically disorganized poor have also not enough resources at their disposal either in terms of the understanding of court proceedings if at all they move for legal assistance to file the cases of forced usurpation of their land against such “baboos” or amount of money required to fight such cases. I have reported one such case in my field survey in which an interviewee’s father was dragged into counterfeit legal charges on account of resistance against the company’s agenda to further expand its area of operations.

The utilitarian in first place deny the issue of environmental injustice on certain grounds as I shortly explain, and when agree to such instances they argue that “the benefits of avoiding such injustices are less than the costs of correcting them”.

Excuses for environmental injustice: they argue that 1) on balance the victims of environmental injustice may benefit from living near noxious facilities in that they may suffer worse from higher unemployment and housing costs if they were to migrate to urban. 2) We even compensate them. 3) The mere correlation of hazardous sites and presence of poor minorities does not mean injustice or racism.

The first two arguments can be rejected because what the poor wants is not the location of such poisonous sites which endanger their existence and also everybody has rights to decide their preferences/ rank them given a set of choices. As for compensation, in the very first place it is not given nor the poor prefer or at all given, the amount is also not that sufficient even to make up the loss they incur in the form of part of their landholdings taken to build operations and manufacturing structures which would otherwise have been used for cultivation, instances of skin diseases or rear their family in so highly inflationary era. The third argument may be true to some extent but we should not lose sight of the fact that government and corporations go hand in hand. Needless to debate much on how the government has been pro-corporate. This will push me to a new topic altogether.

Kashif Mansoor,M.Phil Economics, Centre for Development Studies(JNU), Trivandrum Kerala



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