Environmental Abuse

We live today in a world that is teetering on the brink of the kind of fascism seen in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 40s. (Before the predictable outrage at the comparison, consider that I am Jewish and my great grandparents and much of my family were murdered by Nazis.)

Fascism is not an on or off thing, and it is not exclusive to abuses against Jews. It is a spectrum of state behavior ranging from a peaceful democratic state to an abusive, oppressive one that seeks to maintain a monopoly on violence, force and power and crush all dissent.

The descent into fascism is gradual and incremental. People are slowly “conditioned” to accept things that were previously unacceptable, like extreme violence. This process takes time, as explained by multiple scholars and survivors of the Holocaust.

As an example of marching “too quickly” towards fascism, President Trump recently threatened to order the US Military to suppress Black Lives Matter protestors, but was met with a backlash from his own military and some Republican politicians. Clearly, people are not fully conditioned to the state of affairs where we would accept the actual military in our streets, even though the police in many areas have become hyper-militarized and already perform the same function.

Even in Canada, we have cops (armed with handguns) harassing Indigenous children who have not properly socially distanced on public walks. We don’t have access to guns like Americans do, but our cops do.

We are not just focusing on North American issues and not just Donald Trump. We are seeing today, in many North American and European countries, and some South American and Asian countries:

  • widespread and massive abuse of minorities (this is the “canary in the coal mine” showing that we live in a fascist country)
  • ever-increasing spending on police, military and security/intelligence services with almost no oversight
  • increased extremism in the media – radicalization and pushing people to ideological extremes rather than seeking a middle ground
  • increased ever-present surveillance, sold to us in the name of “convenience” and “keeping us safe”

Other authors have written extensively about these factors, but I want to focus on “environmental fascism” or how state forces use environmental abuse to keep power and control.

What is environmental abuse?

Environmental abuse is taking away the rights of people to clean air, water, and land on which to live as an intentional strategy to “cut off the hand that feeds them”. It forces the affected population to rely on outside support from the fascist state. This cements the state power as the only thing that affected communities can turn to for support, since their land is poisoned and/or degraded and they cannot pursue subsistence based lifestyles.

A good example of environmental abuse is bottled water. Instead of making the water clean enough for everyone to drink, through appropriate regulation and enforcement of environmental laws, we allow the water to become poisoned and then sell people bottled, plastic versions of the original thing, which (in turn) contributes to more pollution, and so on. The thing is, not everyone can equally afford bottled water (unlike the free version), so this is an injustice.

Many of us think that, for example, oil and gas companies pollute as an unfortunate necessity of making energy. In other words, we think that the toxic, polluting harms of oil and gas extraction and refining (which fall disproportionately on Indigenous minorities in Canada and Black minorities in places like the US Gulf Coast) are just an unfortunate by-product of our human need for energy that happens to fall on the most vulnerable.

But there is another, darker side to this environmental injustice – that it is purposeful and intentional, although never openly acknowledged that this is the case. From slaughtering the North American buffalo to destroy Native subsistence ways of life, to now poisoning Indigenous minorities’ water with fossil fuel extraction when we have ample renewable energy options, the state actively works to restrict them from living a land-based subsistence lifestyle.

Instead of a healthy Earth to rely on, they will be offered a “way out” by accepting European aid and financial assistance, which comes with many strings attached.

Toxic waste pits in the oil sands
RCMP arresting an Indigenous chief near Fort McMurray, Alberta (capital of the tar sands)

You may think this idea is outlandish, just another rant from a left wing liberal, shame based white person. But it is the truth of how abuse by the state works.

Canada (as a political entity, representing mostly white Canada) doesn’t want a solution to oil and gas because oil and gas extraction and refining activities provides an effective way to destroy subsistence ways of life that Native people lead, and to force those same people to become dependent on the state for things like access to clean water, land to hunt, and clean air.

Canada, and especially Conservative Canada, doesn’t want to amend racist laws to allow Native people to be truly self sufficient, so that they could earn enough to stop receiving payments from the colonial government. They like the fact that they can make these payments and then complain about how well off Native people are for receiving them.

This is typical Abuse 101. Cut off a person’s leg, and hand them a crutch. And then, make them constantly, painfully aware of how great you are for providing that crutch, and how you don’t have to provide it, and how you can take it away at any moment.

How many of these “Wheel of Abuse” strategies does your government do?

Examples of environmental abuse

  • The US government under Trump has scaled back almost all environmental regulations, and has gutted the EPA, meaning that companies are now free to pollute waterways, streams and the air around disproportionately Black and Indigenous communities. Like most fascists, the people in charge do not do the dirty work of poisoning these rivers, they have others (in this case, companies) do it for them. The end goal is to suppress and oppress poor people in America even further and then simultaneously blame them for being poor.
  • Canada’s energy system, as we discuss all over this website, is riddled with state abuse of power. If the northern BC fracking wells and Alberta tar sands operations were moved to a rich, affluent Toronto neighborhood populated mostly by whites, the fossil fuel era would end tomorrow. But as we already said, the placement of these facilities, and the lack of consideration of cleaner ways to get energy is intentional, just not openly talked about. It is not an accident that extraction and refining operations happen to be in or near Native communities.

How to stop environmental abuse

You can, but don’t have to, go out and protest. Making changes in your own values is the first step however.
  • Realize the importance of having clean air, water, and land rights on which to hunt or grow food and stop taking this for granted
  • Stop pretending it isn’t affecting you because the environmental degradation is happening “elsewhere” (denialism)
  • Understand that our current economic system is just a tool that some (mostly white European) humans invented, and financial value does not represent the sum total of human and natural value
  • Appreciate that disproportionately poorer and minority communities are more affected by environmental degradation than wealthier people who can afford to buy “protections against nature” like bottled water, air conditioning, and a house in the hills above the smog
  • Be in nature more often and appreciate the sights, smells, and sounds

Conclusion

Human society and nature are linked, a fact that fascists know all too well, which is why they make targeting that human-natural connection a key goal (although it is never openly acknowledged). By isolating vulnerable land-based and Indigenous communities from their real assets of clean air, water, and land, they can more easily torture and abuse them.

Environmental degradation is not just a “cost of doing business” in the energy sector. There are cheaper and more effective ways to get our energy from renewable sources. This has been known since the earliest days of the fossil fuel age, back in the 1800s. Climate change has been known since 1977. But people in power will not change precisely because renewable energy does not have the same potential to control and suppress people that oil and gas does by degrading their land and at the same time keeping them paying high prices for a monopoly fuel that has to be dug out again, and again.

So, instead of outright bans on solar panels, for example, we see the state come in and make it difficult for you to generate your own energy. This may take the form of punitive “safety” measures that are not really about safety, or in the case of Puerto Rico they will come in and outright say that you have to pay tax on the power your own solar panels generate for your own house.

Forcing people to pay taxes on their own solar panels’ electricity may not seem deserving of the Hitler comparison at the start of this blog post. But Hitler did not start by gassing 6 million Jews, he started incrementally on the slow march of dehumanization of Indigenous and land based peoples (like the Gypsies and Jews).

And to be clear, we are not here talking about environmentalists who are predominantly wealthy and/or white and the impact of regressive energy policies on them. We are talking specifically about how abuse of the environment is weaponized to assist in the destruction of Indigenous and poorer communities.

Unless we take immediate corrective action, which requires we all work together on intersectional issues like systemic racism, environmental abuse and the right to protest, the intentional destruction of the environment to harm all humans (but disproportionately some more than others) will continue.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *