Ecological Collapse

In the climate change negotiations, the rich North has displaced responsibility and blame on the poor South. That said, the purpose of all ‘major’ parties, North and South, is to defend their respective interests in the global accumulation of capital. In their vision, this is what is meant by ‘development’. The conflict between them conceals a deeper collusion in ensuring a climate regime that is subject to capital and hence ineffective.

Blaming the poor is the common resort of elites to environmental issues and tends to work because the poor live in the most degraded environments. This is because impoverishment and environmental degradation are simultaneously produced by the processes of accumulation. Climate change is just the head-line issue for the ecological collapse at all scales which is now in process and accelerating. It won’t end life on earth but, without radical action, it may well end human habitation in this century or the next.

In the meantime, life will get harsher particularly for poor people. Following the electricity price hikes – imposed to fund new coal fired plants – many people are cutting their use of it in favour of candles, paraffin or coal. This raises the levels of indoor air pollution and consequent respiratory disease and increases the risk of fire. Meanwhile, the costs of coal fired power are escalating. Communities neighbouring the power stations suffer intense air pollution while mining is poisoning the ground water. The Olifants River and its catchment in the Mpumalanga coal fields is dying and, without action, the region will become a wasteland. The number and severity of extreme weather events is also increasing and directly affects food production, housing and shelter. Thus the ecological aspect can increasingly be seen to be something like an active player in shaping life and struggle.

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