By ANTONIO TUJAN JR.
RESEARCH DIRECTOR, IBON FOUNDATION
CHAIRPERSON, ASIA PACIFIC RESEARCH NETWORK
Natural resources and the environment are two sides of an issue that is of critical importance to the future of humanity.
Human existence and development is dependent on the proper access to and allocation from natural resources which people and their communities exploit for various needs. However, it is also through the proper conservation of these resources that communities ensure the protection of the environment from which their very existence depends.
For the majority of the people’s organizations and social movements on the ground, the concern for the environment is naturally framed around the issue of control over natural resources – its exploitation and conservation. The reason for this is obvious-their day to day concern over the environment relates to their exploitation of natural resources for survival whether as the land tillers, pastoralists, fisherfolk, forest gatherers and so on. This exploitation is unlike large-scale corporate exploitation of natural resources which objectifies and alienates nature. Instead it is the organic relationship of human communities and nature which provides them the resources that sustain them.
The issue of natural resources is crucial to human existence as communities utilize natural resources around them, to produce their material needs. And thus as the Asia Pacific Research Network focuses its concerns on development of communities, natural resources is an important theme that addresses in myriad ways people’s concerns for development and cuts across its members’ research and practical work.
Crisis of catastrophic proportions
As human knowledge and technology advance allowing societies to expand and intensify human exploitation of natural resources, the impact of human overexploitation, degradation and abuse of the environment has reached proportions that threaten the survival of human society. Since the late 80′s, humanity has been exceeding the planet’s regenerative capacity according to the estimates of the World Wildlife Fund. Carbon emissions have exceeded by exponential rates, disrupting the earth’s cycle of climate patterns resulting in uncertain prospects of global warming.
Unsustainable exploitation of natural resources and degradation has reached absolute numbers in 1990s and has not eased. Our environmental crisis is not due simply to overpopulation, but more to overexploitation resulting from large-scale corporate extraction of natural resources way beyond sustainable levels. Greed for profit has long overtaken the pressures of burgeoning human populations on the environment, and bypassed concerns for environmental conservation and sustainability for development.
Instead this over exploitation and abuse of the environment has further escalated as a direct result of globalization and expansion of markets. Neoliberal globalization tends to lead to the overexploitation of natural resources since policies to open up investment and trade are implemented with particular stress to attract TNC investment. These are utilized precisely by transnational corporations to target natural resources extraction which are the main profitable areas for investment in many countries of the South. Combined with speculative investment in natural resources such as mining, globalization has driven large-scale exploitation to satisfy commodities markets and expansion of industrial production in some counties such as China.
Public policy promotes this over exploitation in the name of promoting growth through foreign investment and trade. In most countries systematic privatization of the commons has been implemented in the past ten years. Natural resources are systematically commercialized with the intent of large-scale extraction and sale.
In effect, neoliberal and monetarist policies have instituted further incentives and various schemes and subsidies to maximize profits and make investments in the natural resources sector even more lucrative. These ultimately reward overexploitation of the world’s scarce natural resources and environment degradation.
On the other hand, the much vaunted efficiency of the global markets has only delivered for profit-seeking ventures in speculative investment. Globalization has not resulted in efficiency in global supply chains that now dominate distribution. Dominance of the global market has resulted in increased energy costs through inefficient distribution and increased freight and transport emissions.
The promotion of the market as a dominant economic driver in society has spawned massive consumerism essential for globalization to serve its purpose of amassing profits for transnational corporations. Consumerism has not resulted in income distribution nor improved the quality of life for the common person across the board. It has only benefited the few who are specifically positioned in various societies to profit or be employed in sectors favored by globalization. On the other hand, consumerism has resulted in massive pollution from extravagant consumption.
The other side of neoliberal economic globalization is the marginalization of the majority of the people who remain poor. Communities engaged in traditional forms of livelihood depending on natural resources extraction such as forestry, indigenous communities and coastal communities face systematic marginalization as a result of privatization of the commons and large-scale development projects and become workers in large-scale extractive industries.
In most developing countries, new legislation meant to improve conservation of natural resources target indigenous communities as the culprits of overexploitation and instead favor corporate solutions. These result in systematic marginalization of communities in their access to natural resources. They are denied their historical role in natural methods of conservation of the environment.
In the end, these same communities face the severe impact of the environmental degradation as a result of overexploitation such as pollution of freshwater resources due to toxic mine tailings, or destructive flash floods due to overlogging. These impacts are made even more severe as a result of climate change where higher rainfall more easily weaken subsoils in overlogged areas resulting to mudslides.
A genuinely sustainable, comprehensive response to the current environmental crisis lies in a paradigm change on people’s sovereignty over natural resources. This requires a shift in terms of natural resources utilization away from large-scale corporate exploitation serving market speculation to an organic utilization by communities and societies of their own resources. This requires a shift away from the mass consumerism and extravagance promoted by globalization to sustainable ways and standards of living.
At the most concrete, this response requires sustainable stewardship of natural resources by responsible, organized communities. The people themselves at the grassroots should be responsible for the defense and promotion of the people’s sustainable livelihoods and lifestyles. Accordingly, governments must end the promotion of market dominant policies and corporate profits. National policies over natural resources, the environment and the economy in general should be premised on the people’s rights, welfare and interests that are already enshrined in the constitutions of most countries.
On the other hand, people’s movements should organize people power to assert the cause of people and planet over profits. The issue of climate change puts urgent focus on issue of natural resources and environment. However this is not simply giving proper attention to the issues of climate change. In the issue of climate change, the corporate agenda is diametrically opposed to the people’s agenda where the life and death of humanity is at stake. This is now an issue of corporate power versus people power. # nordis.net
[This is the Foreword of the book with the above title, a publication of the Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN) edited by the author of this article published by Ibon Books in 2008.]