The world’s last charismatic megafauna are being exterminated.
This slaughter is taking place with particular gory ferocity in Sub-Saharan Africa, for reasons linked to the continent’s enduring poverty and vulnerability to global regimes of resource exploitation.
An article in The Guardian describes the record-breaking tally of rhino deaths in South Africa. So far this year, 558 rhinos have been killed. The slaughter is on track to exceed last year’s horrendous tally of 1,004.
Articles such as the above one often mention that animals such as the rhino are killed for Asian markets, where the horns are (falsely) believed to augment male sexual potency. Unfortunately, these articles seldom mention the decades of structural adjustment programs – administered by Western-dominated institutions such as the World Bank – that have made sub-Saharan nations and peoples vulnerable to the globe-girdling trade in illicit megafauna flesh.
Elizabeth Kolbert’s article in The New Yorker offers a similarly decontextualized analysis of the contemporary slaughter of elephants such as Satao (pictured above). Her article puts these tragic deaths in the context of the worldwide extinction of megafauna since the Neolithic revolution. What she does not mention, however, is the culture of European colonial big-game hunting that was responsible for the vast majority of such extinctions around the globe. Nor does she talk about how Western policies of “development” are linked to enclosures of land and resources around the world, encouraging strapped locals to plunder the remaining resources for global markets.
A lot of work remains to be done to place this slaughter in adequate political-economic context. Tragically, animals like the elephant and the rhino may well be effectively extinct before the policies that are promoting their slaughter are reversed.
The recent Sino-Russian gas deal needs to be seen as part of a broader shift in global power relations. From a uni-polar world dominated after the end of the Cold War exclusively by the United States, a multi-polar global contest is emerging. The major powers challenging US world hegemony are China and Russia, and the recent gas deal helps cement their growing alliance.
As Michael Klare has documented in The Race for What’s Left, the upshot of this emerging multi-polar world is an increasing inter-imperial rivalry to gain access to as much of the world’s hydro-carbon energy resources as possible. This is, of course, terrible news for the environment, and for the sustainability of life on the planet.
Ashley Smith recently published an excellent article tracking these rising inter-imperial rivalries. It concludes with a ringing call to climate justice activists to interrupt the planet-destroying machinations of both new and old imperial powers.
The chief executive of Shell is scheduled to visit Nigeria, according to a recent article, to win support for clean-up efforts in the Niger Delta.
This after a Unep report called for $1 billion to clean up oil spills in Ogoniland, which, according to Nigerian government data, number more than 7,000 spills between 1970 and 2000 alone.
After decades of inaction, Shell is finally making some moves in the right direction. Undermining such moves, however, is the fact that Shell blames spills on attacks on its installations – rather than on decades of lax environmental standards, evident in the flaring of methane that is a part of everyday life for residents of the Delta.
This new year brings a date that’s worth remembering: the 20th anniversary of the Zapatista Uprising. This struggle to resist NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) and neo-liberalism helped to catalyze the global justice movement that went on to challenge the WTO process in Seattle in 1999. The lineage of this movement was evident in Occupy Wall Street, and in the many popular uprisings of the last year.
It’s worth remembering on this twentieth anniversary of the EZLN that the Zapatista struggle was a key expression of Global South environmentalism. As Anne Petermann reminds us in this post published on the eve of the 20th anniversary, the uprising was sparked by a struggle to preserve the Lacandon rainforest from exploitation by multinational companies. The post includes a link to a film that documents the EZLN’s struggle against illegal logging oil drilling, and hydro-electic dams in the Lacandon.
The Zapatistas are still struggling to preserve the jungles in which they live from greedy developers. Their battle reflects resource wars unfolding with greater severity around the world today.
What might revolutionary grace look like? How can we snatch radical egalitarianism from the jaws of authoritarianism? In what visions of the past can we find the resources to make a just future?
These seemingly abstract questions could not be more important for our present. We live at a moment when purblind elites are driving the world over the brink of environmental destruction. We need alternative visions of social justice.
As we struggle to come up with a revolutionary subject adequate to the challenges we confront, we are likely to find that the radical social movements of the past offer important inspiration. I was reminded of this recently when I came across Democracia’s amazing Ser Y Durar at the Hirshhorn Museum during a trip to Washington DC. Looking for more info online, I found that the exhibit had in fact been expurgated of some of its more radical political content.
The show features a team of traceurs (practitioners of the street sport parkour). This sport originated in Paris in the 1980s and quickly spread to become a global urban subculture phenomenon. The term comes from the French for “course,” and the movements derive from military drills designed to train soldiers to navigate over and around architectural barriers.
The traceurs have appropriated this military acrobatics and redeployed it in Almudena civil cemetery, built in Madrid in the 1880s for those forbidden internment in Catholic burial grounds, including prominent political progressives, intellectuals, founders of the country’s democratic society in the pre-Franco era, Socialists, Communists, atheists, Jews, and others.
The motto of traceurs, “never stop and never give up,” is echoed by the continuous camera movement, which pauses only briefly on various headstones. Inscriptions such as “Love, freedom, and Socialism;” “Freedom and reason will make you stronger;” “After death there is nothing;” and “To be and to last” connect those resting in peace to the bodies in motion.
A video version of the film that I found online makes some of the radical references more clear:
Dossier on Perpetual War, edited by Patricia Clough and Sandra Trappen, just published on the Social Text website.
The dossier reminds us that the War on Terror has normalized a state of perpetual war, in which militarism is both invisible to the vast majority of US citizens and also permeates our culture in ineluctible but often subtle ways.
New articles to be posted every couple of days.
Yesterday I reblogged a great piece on organizing against GMO agriculture in Hawaii. My friend Dean Saranillio just sent me a link to an interview with Vandana Shiva that fills out more of the context for the anti-GMO struggle in Hawaii.
In this interview, Shiva, a brilliant environmental thinker and founder of the Vavdanya seed-saving organization, makes some powerful connections between the US military’s use of the Hawaiian islands as a testing ground for toxic munitions – including depleted uranium weapons – and the presence of GMO corporations like Monsanto, Syngenta, and BASF.
Shiva argues that these companies, which emerged from the war industry by producing toxic defoliants such as Agent Orange (used widely in the US war in Vietnam), have a history of turning military chemicals into agricultural products. The fate of corporations such as Monsanto and Dow is, in other words, linked not just to the US military but also to the Green Revolution and its high-intensity forms of petro-agriculture.
Over the last few decades, these same corporations have begun peddling GMO crops which force farmers to buy seeds annually through [seed] “terminator” technology, and which has unknown toxic effects on plant, animal, and human life.
It seems that Hawaii is ground zero for experimentation with these militarized biotechnologies. Here’s a link to a good film that offers more background on GMOs in Hawaii, and on the resistance movement to the poisoning of paradise: