Who will save the planet? Certainly not its killers.
It's not just the buds, birds, forests, and humans; it's not just one or two continents. It's not only the conflicts between Palestine and Israel or Russia and Ukraine. This whole planet is now on death row. All because a collective of "rich and developed" countries has been playing a cruel game called "neo-liberal development." In the name of generating electricity, they're choking the rivers with their mega dams. Forests have been ripped apart, and the earth syphoned off their life and blood—coal, oil and gas. And the farmlands, laced with synthetic fertilisers or rather chemical poison, are dying of thirst.
The luxuries of city life have spread lead in the air and arsenic in the water. This is not just happening in Bangladesh, or just the Global South, but the entire world.
But will this keep going? Will Mother Nature just die right in front of eight billion people? Are these very people not responsible for this destruction? While it's been proven that as a species, Homo sapiens have greatly wronged the planet, all of us are not actively taking part in the destruction. Only a handful of those who have amassed a mountain of wealth are dangerous for the planet; the rest want to live in peace with Mother Nature. And that's why across the world, many movements have cropped up to save the planet. Today, the environmental movement is a class struggle against the dominant narratives of power structure. Inequality, corruption, discrimination, plunder, fascism, imperialism, capitalism, and neoliberalism—these are the evils the movements plan on defeating.
In times of kings and emperors, killing tigers, deer and rhinos was considered aristocracy. Those days are long gone. The state has announced that killing wildlife is unlawful and illegal. But are the animals living in peace now? Is the state ensuring the security of the elephants or honeybees? Wildlife trading has seen a boom. Forget tigers, you can even get a pangolin in no time! All you have to do is pay the right price. In the name of green revolution, today's soil and seeds have now become poisonous. But who is having the product of this poison? They say conscious people don't want to eat unsafe food. They want natural, organic, fresh fruits from the villages, homegrown legumes, and the rivers' lively fish. Who are these conscious people, the poor farmers from the villages or the rich employees and businesspeople of the cities? Even if everyone is conscious, can the poor farmer, who even today depends on their crops, afford to eat safe, fresh food, the ones supermarkets sell as "organic" at sky-high prices?
Let's steer the question somewhere else. Who runs the chemical fertiliser-poison businesses and who uses their products? Monsanto's Roundup, the world's best-selling "weed killer," is even permitted to be used in the tea gardens of Bangladesh. It's known that the top-selling herbicides in the country today kills the soil's food, herbs and medicinal plants, as well as the snails, beetles, spiders and grasshoppers. Even humans are not spared, as these herbicides lead to complications in the digestive and respiratory systems. Is the food prepared at the homes of these company owners also laced with poison? Certainly not, because the world's best foods, the most tasty, nutritious and safe, land on their plates. And the most poisonous foods, the leftovers, end up on the plates of the world's majority, who have no choice but to use the products of these companies. The concept of "safety" is seemingly non-existent for this group; all safety is for the multinational company owners.
Even though the times of kings and emperors have ended, class conflict and discrimination has not disappeared; rather, it has taken a new form. The whole world is in the hands of these corporate criminals. Every day, we wake up with the scars of their indiscriminate whips, our weak bodies writhing with pain. Mother Nature is no one's personal commodity, and we must ensure that it doesn't become one; we can't avoid our responsibility and leave this aching world in the hands of multinationals.
Issues centring ecological protection are inherently political, but in this dying earth, these are repeatedly depoliticised. The machinations of those in power are wilfully ignored, as if protecting the environment is akin to planting a sapling, or declaring natural forests as protected, or occupying swamps in the name of building a sanctuary, or approving "integrated pesticides" and "genetically-modified eggplant" to reduce the use of chemicals in large-scale agriculture. This is like imposing one form of oppression to cover up another kind of injustice, legalising more wrongs with corporate bravery.
Environmental justice has to be seen from the historicity of the local ecosystem. The journey of conservation should start by prioritising the multi-dimensional relationship of various forms of life. This cannot be done by stopping the use of chemical fertilisers and simultaneously approving Monsanto's hybrid corn seeds, which negatively affects local seeds. Such products pose a threat to pollinating birds and insects and destroy the soil's health and structure. Besides, allowing invasive plants like acacia and eucalyptus across the country in the name of tree planting does not in any way ensure environmental protection. These plants absorb groundwater at excessive rates, create pollen allergies, and lead to dangerous food-cycle disorders for wildlife.
National and international policies, laws, agreements, declarations and various global environmental commitments often do not align with the aspirations and thoughts of the subaltern people. And so, most policies pass years of dysfunction. It's important to move away from this practice and adopt policies considering the context of people's lives with their interdependent relationships with local ecosystems. The existing policies on environment and development have woefully failed to capture the overall tone and attitude of the subaltern people. And hence, development programmes disrupt the overall order of the ecosystem. Dams, unlimited extraction of fossil fuels and natural resources, amusement parks, social forestry, multinational chemical-based agriculture, large-scale construction, urbanisation, industrial pollution—this development-frenzy is strangling not just Bangladesh, but the planet.
To save Mother Nature, the whole world needs to wake up; the working class and the environmental struggle need to join forces. From the Mawalis (honey collectors) and Bawalis (Nipa leaf collectors) of Sundarbans to the indigenous people of the Amazon Forest, it's important to hold on to and advance their local knowledge and ethno-science that protects the environment. Kilimanjaro to Kailash, Kamchatka to Keokradong, Prairies to Jamuna's vast catkin fields, Gobi Desert to the Nile—let solidarity strengthen between ecosystems and neighbouring habitats, not between states.
The rich—who are thought to be "educated," "modern," and "developed"—will have to wake up; they must be forced to develop a sense of responsibility for the environment. The next time they grab another slice of pizza or have a bite of that shrimp, they should think about what gluttony is doing to the world. How this civilisation, standing mercilessly and shamelessly on fossil fuels, has trapped our minds. The rich consumers must take accountability for the wounds inflicted on the planet through their criminal overconsumption. Otherwise, this world will not last long in any way. We cannot, under no circumstances, accept such a tragic fate for our Mother Earth.
Pavel Partha, an ecology and biodiversity conservation researcher, is director at Bangladesh Resource Centre for Indigenous Knowledge (BARCIK). He can be reached at [email protected].
Views expressed in this article are the author's own.
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