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Saving ForestsClimate and Colonialism: Some Columbus Day Thoughts

Climate and Colonialism: Some Columbus Day Thoughts

Climate and Colonialism: Some Columbus Day Thoughts

Is climate change itself a type of colonialism?

“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” That’s what we learned in my grade school. Today, Columbus Day stays a day of celebration for some but has turn out to be a symbols of colonialism for others. Moderately than entering that debate, I’d prefer to reflect on how problems with colonialism might relate to climate change.

The study of colonialism and post-colonial societies is now a significant academic focus. I don’t purport to be an authority on that. It seems to me that, at its core, the thought of colonialism revolves around two key concerns. The primary is economic exploitation, meaning that one society is gaining economically on the expense of one other. That would take the shape of extracting resources (including land) for lower than full value or seizing them. It could also include imposing costs, whether financial, human, or environmental on the opposite country.  The second concern is political domination, meaning that the autonomy of either the opposite country as a complete or parts of its population is impaired. There are undoubtedly other possible concerns, corresponding to displacing local cultures, but let’s give attention to these two.

Efforts to by developed countries to incentivize preservation of tropical forests have given rise to claims of “carbon colonialism.” Those claims seem strongest to me when the preservation schemes are imposed, sometimes with government support, on local inhabitants.  Backers of the motivation systems have made efforts to satisfy those concerns by giving local inhabitants more of a rule in decision making. Some critics, nevertheless, view any economic incentives for forest preservation as being a colonialist interference in internal affairs.

One complication is that lots of the pressures on forests are external to start with. For example, destruction of rainforest in South America is partly driven by global demand for soybeans, a very good deal of which comes from China. One other complication is that logging within the handful of countries with a very powerful forests will cause climate change that’s devastating to other developing countries, not simply to the “colonialists.”

The talk over carbon colonialism has obscured two other vital types of exploitation of developing countries by powerful, more economically developed nations.  The primary is the sale and construction by more affluent, powerful countries of coal fired power plants in developed countries.  China has been one offender here, even though it recently announced a change in policy. There are several arguments which may support considering this a type of colonialism. When it comes to economic exploitation, a coal plant  may impose large health and environmental costs on the opposite country. It may become an expensive stranded asset as other sources of power turn out to be increasingly dominant globally. On the political side, such transactions may reflect and strengthen undue local political influence or may even involve corruption of local officials. The country making the sale profits from the transaction, while local advantages could also be illusory. Thus, we should always be anxious about “coal colonialism” by developed countries.

An important type of climate colonialism, nevertheless, could possibly be the continued emission of vast quantities of carbon by more affluent countries.  These continued emissions profit the more affluent countries by saving them the prices of emission reductions, while probably the most serious harms will fall on the countries and populations which have the fewest resources to guard themselves. In other words, continued emissions transfer wealth from poor countries to wealthy ones. That’s economic exploitation on a grand scale. There’s also evidence that climate change may result in political instability in vulnerable countries, so climate change may be a type of interference in local political autonomy.  Colonizing the climates of developing countries is definitely something we should always be concerned about.

Perhaps next 12 months we could add a recent line to the verse I learned in class. The lines could go something like this: “

In fourteen hundred and ninety two,

Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

In twenty 2 hundred and twenty two,

Wealthy countries wrecked the climate too.



carbon offsets, Climate Change, climate justice, colonialism, REDD, tropical forests


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