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Title: Eco-imperialism  
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Subject: Neocolonialism, Paul Driessen (lobbyist), Environmental justice, Index of environmental articles
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For the ecological effects of European expansion see Ecological imperialism.

Eco-imperialism is a term coined by Paul Driessen to refer to the forceful imposition of Western environmentalist views on developing countries. The degree to which this occurs is a topic of debate, as is whether such imposition would be ethically justifiable.

In his book Eco-Imperialism: Green Power, Black Death,[1] Paul Driessen argues that like the European imperialists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, today's eco-imperialists keep developing countries destitute for the benefit of the developed world.

By advocating for the precautionary principle, corporate social responsibility and sustainable development, Driessen claims, environmental groups legitimize their demands on government but often engender poverty and death in the process. Driessen also asserts that environmentalists' demands can sometimes cause environmental degradation.

Driessen's arguments are similar to those of environmental critic Bjørn Lomborg.

Some commentators maintain that eco-imperialism has a racial dimension, and occurs when environmentalists place the well-being of the environment over the well-being of humans, particularly non-whites, living in developing countries. Roy Innis, chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality has argued that European Union restrictions on the use of the pesticide DDT to combat malaria are killing 'black babies’. Environmental historian Ramachandra Guha has accused 'authoritarian' biologists of valuing the protection of endangered species over the well-being of local people in India and other developing countries.

Possible examples

While the ethical validity of such an idea is still under debate, advocates for economic justice have highlighted a number of scenarios in which eco-imperialism is feasibly at work.

  • In the Malaysian timber industry, workers face considerable strain due to boycotts by industrial nations on their timber. Under the auspices of environmental responsibility, these nations seek to promote environmental sustainability by disapproving of Malaysia’s laws regarding the timber industry. As a lucrative natural resource, timber generates much government revenue, some of which is aimed at helping the poor. An eco-imperialism argument has been formed surrounding this issue, contending that Western nations are neglecting the importance of economic viability for a developing country. Assuming that Malaysia can afford the same sustainable practices used in “the North” potentially neglects the importance of economic growth for a developing country, and for many commentators, weighs environmental considerations heavier than those for human life.[2]
  • A "carbon tariff" on countries that do not produce goods according to certain sustainability requirements has been adopted by several nations. The U.S. and France, notably, are advocates for such legislative measures. Countries affected by these tariffs are almost all considered[by whom?] developing nations which rely on Western countries buying their goods. A proponent of eco-imperialism would see the “carbon tariff” as a detrimental environmental consideration, as developing countries can suffer while there is little effect on the industrialized country levying the tariff. Germany and Sweden are two nations that have been vocally against carbon tariffs.[3]
  • Resistance to the World Bank’s £2.4 billion loan to South Africa in 2010 to build a coal plant was seen by critics as an example of eco-imperialism. If the coal plant was not built, there would have been significant limitations placed on industrial development in the country. South Africa was facing widespread power outages, and officials in the country saw the plant as vital to their continued economic growth. However, environmentalists have expressed discontent as the plant will emit 25 million tons of carbon per annum. Some believe the benefits achieved in terms of electricity and power by the plant outweigh the environmental considerations merited by a building of this type.[4] This issue has raised concerns about the interaction of the World Bank’s two major international goals, alleviating poverty and preventing global warming.
  • Some see eco-imperialism as a way to explain the politicization of environmental issues. In 2011, the United Nations underwent a vote to determine if climate change were “an issue of peace and security".[5] Though it was defeated, the passage of this directive, in the minds of those who fear eco-imperialism, would give Western nations the vehicle through which they could project their environmental agendas on the developing world.
  • Environmentalists worldwide fight vigorously against navigational improvements to rivers and hydro-electrical power. In preserving a few exotic fish species, they argue that areas such as the whole of South East Asia should be deprived of an improved Mekong river system, which would aid dramatically the economic development of this important part of the world. Their logic is highly controversial, as inland river transportation systems are far "greener" than the alternative, which are ever more carbon-emitting heavy trucks and ever more highways. Hydro-electric power is also a far "greener" solution than fossil fuel powered electric plants.
  • An argument exists that the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio was a forum that greatly promoted eco-imperialism [2]


Because the idea of eco-imperialism denies the ethical validity of hundreds of international environmental groups, the term has come under significant criticism from activists around the world. Many of these groups concede that developing nations often oppose entangling environmental concerns with free trade. However, the foundations that support eco-imperialism are sometimes considered to be based on myths that have been propagated by Western media.[6]

One of the proposed myths of eco-imperialism is that poor nations cannot afford the luxury of environmental protection. This notion is founded on the idea that the consequences of globalization for the environment are being disproportionately suffered by developing nations compared to industrialized nations. For instance, the export of waste to what is sometimes called the global South by the global North is a practice that has been occurring for years, and can partially explain the environmental degradation of many developing countries.[7]

Deforestation is another concern for critics of the term eco-imperialism. While some consider a country’s timber resources to be theirs to extract, environmentalist groups see growing deforestation in the world to be a case of economic and environmental injustice. An increasing presence of timber companies from Western nations has been felt in the developing world, suggesting that wealth extracted from tropical timber is not going into the source country, but instead flowing into the industrialized world.[8]

Another consideration against the idea of eco-imperialism is that environmental progress may be concurrent with social and economic progress. An eco-imperialist argument holds that environmental considerations fundamentally restrict economic growth. An argument exists that economic wellbeing is actually decreased with further environmental degradation, especially in situations in which the environment generates income such as canals and dams. In terms of social progress, some see environmental protection as a basic human right, and therefore abuses to the environment also count as human rights abuses. Embedded in this argument is the idea that indigenous people have sovereignty over their natural resources. This is seen by the international human rights community as an “emerging right”. Currently, some developing countries may not enjoy this right, with foreign companies extracting the natural resources.[9]

Many critics argue that the problem is not the West’s imposition of its environmental agenda on the developing world, but instead the overconsumption by industrialized countries of the natural resources of the “South”. Export-based structural adjustment programs imposed by the World Bank and the IMF promote current consumption patterns, which some believe favor industrialized countries. While this assertion is under debate, there nonetheless exists the argument that environmental practices would be enhanced if the consumption needs of the North were curbed.

Most critics of the eco-imperialism argument will assert that environmental, social, and economic progress is intertwined. They concede that a one-size-fits-all environmental agenda is as ineffective as a one-size-fits-all economic agenda. However, there is malaise in the international community about the best way to approach these issues, with environmentalists weighing greatest importance on sustainability and those who fear eco-imperialism seeing economic growth as the greatest way to improve social, economic, and environmental well-being.

Environmentalists have also argued that many of the problems facing developed countries, such as climate change, also pose significant or even greater threats to developing countries and thus warrant a global response. They also point out that the some solutions to problems of global hunger, such as the growing of genetically modified crops, fail to address (and in some cases actually exacerbate) the more fundamental problems of poverty and environmental degradation that created hunger in the first place.

See also


External links

  • Chris Mooney, ExxonMobil, and "eco-imperialism"
  • Paul Dreissens sitede:Ökologischer Imperialismus
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