Last month, writing for El Punt Avui, Carme Vinyoles addressed the “sacrificial zones” that developed countries have created in Third World nations. She pointed out how, “High-income countries send pesticides, plastic and electronic waste, used oil, scrapped vehicles to where legislation is softer and waste processing is done without protective measures.”
Yes, it is a NIMBY world. We need our putrid polluting plants – and it would negatively impact profits to make them clean. They are essential; just put them and their detritus elsewhere: Not in My Backyard!
We have seen this in the routing of new highways through poorer neighborhoods and the strange zigzags of proposed pipeline projects to keep them out of affluent enclaves. Everyone wants to breathe clean air and drink safe water. But not everyone has the political clout necessary to achieve these goals.
Vinyoles also addresses the extraction and exploitation of raw materials in Third World, where multi-national corporations and local developers take advantage of those “less restrictive” environmental standards that American corporations always lobby for.
Among her many examples are hydrocarbon and gas combustion in the Niger Delta in Nigeria that leads to liver, kidney, respiratory and brain diseases; a copper foundry in Serbia that contributes arsenic to locals’ hair and urine; acid rain in Taimur, Norilsk, Russia that results in infertility, immune deficiencies and cancer; and even the petrochemical accumulations in poor Louisianans living near refineries.
The problem is more prevalent than many realize.
I once lived in a proposed sacrificial zone. A power company wanted to build a lignite-generated power plant just north of Huntsville, TX. The developers swept into town, joined up with the locals who stood to profit and promised prosperity.
Among the pollutants the company itself also estimated to deliver daily were five tons of radioactive particles. And it used weather data from Shreveport, LA, a mere 194 miles away, to prove just how safe the plant would be.
Locals, organizing as the East Texas Quality of Life Coalition, managed to generate enough public opposition to the generating plant that it abandoned its plans. The local oligarchs vilified us, but Huntsvillians had clean air – as opposed to the Trinity River effluent the same local schemers had piped into town. Only in hindsight did I realize how rare our victory was.
Last year, Indian Energy Minister Raj Kumar Singh chastised the developed countries for their climate destroying arrogance. As reported by the Huffington Post, he demanded “rich nations like the United States not only stop pumping planet-heating emissions into the atmosphere but start removing the cumulative pollution already fueling hotter temperatures, deadlier storms and flooding.”
He also pointed out that by “using up to 80% of the world’s carbon budget,” they thwart efforts “for billions across Africa, Asia and Latin America to follow the same path to prosperity.” Yes, that largest of sacrifice zones.
In January, the National Catholic Reporter carried an interview with retired Bishop Erwin Krautler of Xingú, Brazil, in the Amazon region – a sacrifice zone if there ever was one – that Brazilian leaders have always over-exploited to the detriment of the local population. The gist of his observations was that Earth “is in intensive care.”
But under the current corporate socialistic model that dominates our times, the growing climate catastrophe is creating new sacrificial zones right here at home.
In February, NBC News reported: “The race is on to save the Great Salt Lake. Will it be enough? The shrinking of the lake poses serious economic and health risks. A dry lakebed could send arsenic-laced dust into the air that millions breathe.”
The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study March 7 that concluded that half of the U.S. population was “exposed to adverse lead levels in early childhood.”
In January, Tom Yun of CTV News reported that a study published in Environmental Science & Technology “warns that the amount of chemical pollution on the planet has now exceeded a safe limit, threatening the ‘viability’ of human civilization.”
The World Health Organization estimated last year that“air pollutants are responsible for more than four million premature deaths a year worldwide,” according to Elliott Ramos of NBC News.
But as long as the switch turns the lights on and water runs from the taps, Americans are content to think that planetary degradation is somebody else’s problem.
The crisis is here; the chaos is building. Ignoring the warning signs and maintaining a non-sustainable status quo will only lead to increasing woe.
There is no longer any place to hide. We all live in sacrifice zones.