Environmentalism vs. the world's poor?
Is protecting the environment incompatible with social justice?By George Monbiot
When Oxfam investigates the question of whether environment conflicts with development, we should take notice
It is the stick with which the greens are beaten daily: if we spend money on protecting the environment, the poor will starve, or freeze to death, or will go without shoes and education. Most of those making this argument do so disingenuously: they support the conservative or libertarian politics that keep the poor in their place and ensure that the 1% harvest the lion's share of the world's resources.
Journalists writing for the corporate press, with views somewhere to the right of Vlad the Impaler and no prior record of concern for the poor, suddenly become their doughty champions when the interests of the proprietorial class are threatened. If tar sands cannot be extracted in Canada, they maintain, subsistence farmers in Africa will starve. If Tesco's profits are threatened, children will die of malaria. When it is done cleverly, promoting the interests of corporations and the ultra-rich under the guise of concern for the poor is an effective public relations strategy.
The politically easy way to tackle poverty is to try to raise the living standards of the poor while doing nothing to curb the consumption of the rich. This is the strategy almost all governments follow. It is a formula for environmental disaster, which, in turn, spreads poverty and deprivation. As Oxfam's paper says, social justice is impossible without "far greater global equity in the use of natural resources, with the greatest reductions coming from the world's richest consumers".