What environmentalists are up against

On the face of it the environmentalist movement has a lot of things in its favour. It would be difficult to find fault in their concerns about how the planet is being abused. Global warming, deforestation and pollution are real areas of concern for anyone who examines how modern society is developing. Where socialists would differ from environmental activists is in two major areas. Firstly, in their analysis of what causes the problems and, secondly, what is the solution to the problems.

Quite often environmental activists make the assumption that the problems are caused by social ignorance and that the solution can come about by a series of legal enactments that would save the planet from its present dangers. Socialists would repudiate such a simplistic analysis. Let us look at one of the major concerns of environmentalists and socialists alike – the deforestation of the Amazon area.

“Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has increased almost six-fold since last year despite government promises to reduce the destruction according to data released yesterday. Satellite images obtained by the National Institute for Special Research reveal 595 sq km (230 sq miles) of deforestation in March and April of this year. Figures from the Brazilian government show a 27 per cent increase in deforestation of the world’s largest rain forest from August to April” (Times, 20 May).

This deforestation is not caused by social ignorance. All major governments are aware of the problem, but they are also aware that in order to keep capitalist profits on the rise they must have timber from the Amazon and the clearing of the forest for the growth of crops and the rearing of cattle. “In 30 or so years, we have gone from zero to 400,000 heads of cattle,” boasted Onofre, president of the local ranchers association. Nowadays everybody says we have to preserve the forest. But when we arrived nobody knew we had to protect anything we had to deforest. We chopped the trees down so we could feed our animals, our cattle.”… Back on his ranch, Onofre reflected on his hopes that Brazil’s Congress would approve a controversial bill altering the forest code and reducing the amount of rainforest Amazon landowners had to protect” (Observer, 22 May). 

The local farmers and cattle raisers can heave a sigh of relief at the latest piece of news from their government. “Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies has voted to ease restrictions on the amount of land farmers must preserve as forest. The amendment also grants amnesties for previous deforestation” (BBC News, 25 May).       

The drive for more and more profits make it essential that the Amazon landowners continue their policy of forest clearance. The importers of timber, cattle and agriculture products also cry out for more deforestation. While the profit motive remains, all attempts by the environmental movement to restrict the development of capitalism in the Amazon area is futile. Only the establishment of world socialism can stop this insidious destruction of our planet.


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