Environmental discourses have become common in the contemporary world, primarily due to the consciousness of the need to exploit resources sustainably. Taking center stage is the need to avoid over-exploitation and protect animal and plant species considered endangered. The interaction between human beings and the environment is a hot topic, mostly insisting on the frugal use of resources. However, the correlation between environmental issues and race is unique. An analysis of three texts, Varieties of Environmentalism: Essays North and South by Guha and Martinez-Alier (1997), Environmentalism and Post-Colonialism by Rob Nixon (2005), and Uncommoning Nature by Marisol de la Cadena (2023), bring into perspective the peculiar relationship between the environment and race. The tangents of interaction between environment and race demonstrate existing inequalities when tackling sustainability and the oppression of communities under the guise of protecting resources for future generations.
The Western Construct of Environmentalism
The Western assumption of environmentalism is that it needs to be protected at all costs. However, current discourses reveal that environmental issues are complex and should be cautiously approached. The environment does not exist as distinct entities but is mainly found within communities. There are times when ecological advocacy has ignored the plight of local communities. The Western construct of environmentalism has strong racial undertones because native communities are often denied the priority or the voice they deserve when developing strategies for protection. The stark realities come into perspective when considering the conflict in most third-world countries due to environmental exploitation by large companies from the West. Rob Nixon (2005), in the treatise Environmentalism and Post-Colonialism, explain that racial issues emerge when addressing ecological sustainability. Nixon gives the example of Ken Saro Wiwa, an environmental activist hanged in Nigeria for his bold and outspoken nature against government policies that caused the degradation of nature in Ogoniland. Nixon (2005) explains that the environmental debates from the West have continued to ignore the contribution of Africans such as Ken Saro Wiwa when addressing the importance of sustainability. Racial inequality continues to be a social problem in the contemporary world that significantly affects the distribution of resources. The Western construct of environmentalism observed by Nixon is that protection is only essential when it involves the developed world.
The racialization of the environment is not a surprise considering that institutions and policies in the West support hegemony. The silence of the Western media during the trial and the eventual execution of Ken Saro Wiwa demonstrates that the advocacy on environmental issues has been affected by racial issues. Guha and Martinez-Alier (1997) also explain that much of the literature about nature is biased because it has been portrayed from the Western perspective. For instance, from Huxley’s perspective, the dark continent does not deserve the level of love for nature witnessed in Western countries (Guha & Martinez-Alier, 1997). In essence, the Western construct of environmental protection demonstrates racial discrimination in the modern world. The Western idea of environmentalism has strong racial undertones that have affected its progress in the global arena. Sustainability is a worldwide concern because problems such as the greenhouse effect have devastated developing countries, although much of the pollution is from the developed world. Concepts such as carbon credit consider such realities, prompting developed countries to offer compensation to people in the developed world who plant trees. However, an analysis of the texts reveals that environmentalism has not always been equal because of the infiltration by racial sentiments.
Correlation between Post-Colonialism and Racism
Colonialism significantly advanced racial discrimination based on the assumption that some races are better than others. Developing countries colonized most countries in the developed world due to such perceptions. The exploitation of resources in developing countries has continued to employ colonial principles even in countries that have attained independence. As a result, it has been a challenge to implement policies that protect the developed world from the over-exploitation of resources. Notably, fossil fuel has been one of the resources that have resulted in the degradation of nature. The case discussed by Cadena (2023) is an example of th insensitivity of corporations from Western countries to environmental issues in developing countries. The correlation between post-colonialism and racism becomes apparent in the contemporary world’s critical consideration of environmental debates. In Western countries, people are conscious of the beauty of nature and will invest significantly. However, the same people will support environmental degradation in developing countries due to the associated economic benefits.
The primary objective behind colonialism was the exploitation of resources. The practice significantly resulted in the degradation of the environment in developing countries and the looting of resources. Nixon (2005) addresses the issue by bringing into perspective the struggles of Ken Saro Wiwa when he was advocating against the indiscriminate exploitation of oil in Ogoniland. The Sani Abacha government was quick to sacrifice Wiwa because of the benefits they were gaining from oil corporates from the developed world. One of the strategies employed by the colonialists was divide and rule. The strategy created clan conflicts among African countries that continued to exist even after the exit of the colonialists. Strategies used by the colonialists were divide and rule. In post-colonial Africa, Western countries have continued to use governments to oppress citizens, especially when valuable natural resources such as oil are involved.
Post-colonialism is also evident in Western literary texts dedicated to nature. Whereas nature in developed countries is considered from an aesthetic perspective, developing countries view it as a resource that should be exploited indiscriminately. Guha and Martinez-Alier (1997) explain that although it should be universal, environmentalism has various varieties evident in the Western texts that address the issue. The continents of Africa and South America have significantly endured the exploitation of resources at the hands of the developed world. However, such problems still need to be addressed regarding sustainability and protection. Such issues bring into perspective the realities of racial inequalities in the contemporary world. Guha and Martinez-Alier (1997), in an analysis of Western writers of nature such as Huxley and Trevelyan, explain that nature sensitivity and consciousness were limited to the upper class in developed countries. However, the upper class was the same one that supported the colonization of developing countries. To maintain the exploitation of resources, Western countries promoted neo-colonialism concepts that allowed them access.
Post-colonialism has continued to encourage structures that promote racism. The analysis of the texts reveals that environmentalism has exposed these problems even when the world is advancing towards inclusivity and social justice. Corporates from the developed world continue to bribe their way to exploit resources in developing countries by using post-colonialism strategies. Such corporates are using government machinery in these countries to crush any form of resistance. The case of activists such as Ken Saro Wiwa provides enough evidence that the environmentalism movement is not universal. Furthermore, it has been influenced by racial sentiments that do not consider the environment in the developed world as necessary.
Race and the environment have hitherto been considered diverse concepts that are mutually exclusive. However, a recent analysis of the environmentalism movement demonstrates that they interact at several crucial tangents. For instance, the Western discourse on environmental protection largely ignores the challenges experienced in developing countries. The Western construct of environmentalism reveals severe racial undertones. Texts that address ecological issues are primarily written from the Western perspective. The texts that have been analyzed in the paper demonstrate that most of the writers are from the developed world. The efforts by activists such as Ken Saro Wiwa mostly go unnoticed during severe environmental debates. The racialization of environmentalism is closely connected to the resources in developing countries. Some of the natural resources are valuable. Therefore, the developed world perceives that such resources should be exploited indiscriminately. The Western general perception is that nature in developing countries is less aesthetic and essential than in the developed world. There is also a strong correlation between post-colonialism and racism when considering emerging environmentalism approaches. Western countries continue exploiting resources such as fossil fuel and other precious metals with little concern over the repercussions. The environmental laws that are used during such ventures are different and less strict as compared to the ones used internationally. Furthermore, advocacy groups need to put more pressure on the degree of resource exploitation in regions such as African and South America. The analysis of the texts demonstrates that environmentalism suffers profound racial inequalities that need to be addressed. There is a need for a new wave of environmental protection that is sensitive and conscious of the unique challenges facing minority groups in developing countries.
Cadena, M. d. (2023). Uncommoning Nature. Retrieved from Duke University Press: https://read.dukeupress.edu/books/chapter-pdf/674392/9781478003311-003.pdf
Guha, R., & Martinez-Alier, J. (1997). Varieties of environmentalism: Essays North and South. Routledge.
Nixon, R. (2005). Environmentalism and Post-Colonialism. In A. Loomba, S. Kaul, M. Bunzl, A. Burton, & J. Esty (Eds.), Post-Colonial Studies and Beyond (pp. 196-210). Duke University Press.