Berta Cáceres’ Blood Stains Canada’s Corporate Approach to Climate Change

This week will go down in history as the week in which our Canadian government discovered the solution to climate change: an increase in CO2 emissions will save the planet! The brilliant idea  is that the growth of the oil and gas sector will pay for our Green Transition. 

Climate Change shenanigans were all a problem of perspective. For so many years we were just looking at it the wrong way. It’s now obvious that the biggest polluters in the world were just asking for a concrete way to contribute and a listening ear.

Thankfully our new prime minister was capable of enlightening us all, and bridging public and private interests together. After all, it’s a known fact that problems are always best resolved by the initiative and the savvy of the private sector.

Case in point, one of the biggest problems multinational Canadian mining and energy corporations were confronted with was named Berta Cáceres, a renowned political leader and Honduran environmental activist. Her struggle to uphold indigenous rights, to put a hold on the destruction and pillage of Honduras, was put to a brutal end this week.

In this case the ingenuity, the constant push for innovation, private initiative and all those buzzwords at the heart of what makes the private sector the most competent problem solver, were missing. Apparently within the entrepreneurial world , simplicity is virtue: hire a bunch of thugs to ransack the person’s house, use the centuries old technique of cold steal and assassinate a dissenting voice in cold blood. Problem solved.

Although the death of Berta Cáceres, her activism and the struggle she ultimately gave her life for, unfolded thousands of kilometers from Canada, her death couldn’t be closer to home. The implications of her life struggle and its brutal end weigh heavily on the Canadian government and Canadian foreign policy.

Her blood indelibly stains Canada’s conscience, like the deaths of so many other activists killed in the name of private interests. First of all, it was Canadian corporate interests that she was at odds with and campaigned against.

The role of the previous Harper administration in the Honduran coup which ousted Manuel Zelaya, who was in favor of redrawing jurisdiction around foreign mining interests in the country, is unclear. One thing is certain, though: Canadian multinational companies have benefited the most from the trade deal that was signed between the military junta and the Canadian government in 2014.

Careces’s death and struggle sheds light on the unbearable lightness and lethal naïvité manifest in the idea that Climate Change is merely a “scientific” problem. This enables the idea that with the right equations, calculations, mechanisms put forward by the private sector the question of Climate Change will be resolved.

The abstraction of the talk about climate change revolving around targets and fancy conferences, with standing ovations, blueprints filled with buzzwords like “incentives” and “corporate solutions” and “private sector initiatives” omits the most important factor of climate change: its inherent violence. Climate change when disembedded from the social and geopolitical factors is seen at a fraction of its face value, as a scientific phenomenon, at best an environmental process, but not as a whole, as an environmental process that enables and fosters a social and geopolitical process.

The violent death of Berta Careces and the 100 plus deaths of environmental activists in Latin America, Africa and Asia are the figurative manifestations of the violence inherent to Climate Change. We know that indigenous communities and populations within the “global south” will be tenfold affected by the disasters brought about by environmental deregulation. It is also embodied by large scale violence employed in the commodification of resources and diverse natural environments.

Yet the discourse of Trudeau & co, of the COP 21 and similar conferences, sanitizes the horrific violence that is at the heart of Climate Change. It creates an unintelligible discourse that silences and ostracizes the voices of those most affected by it.

This “scientific” discourse that sees Climate Change merely as a warming of few degrees here and there, a rise in sea levels, a destruction of ecosystems, doesn’t take notice of the underlying social-historical structures, systemic racism and neocolonialism that make the bed for Climate Change as an environmental phenomenon to exist.

Without tackling the power structures that feed-off Climate Change: neocolonialism, racism, imperialism, there will be no solution.

The vision Trudeau champions, that the private sector offers the best solution to climate change, is the direct cause of Berta Cáceres’ death and the death of several hundred environmental activists and entire communities throughout the globe.

Justice for Berta Cáceres! protest in Washington, DC (image by Slowking4 via WikiMedia Commons)
Justice for Berta Cáceres! protest in Washington, DC (image by Slowking4 via WikiMedia Commons)

The private sector solution to Climate Change is that of giving a price to nature. The idea is as simple as it is flawed: a price tag to everything in nature, to the natural beauty of beach, the existence of species, the natural habitat of an indigenous community, will somehow help to preserve it.

This opens the door to the commodification of nature which allows for speculation, the creation of derivatives and other innovative financial products. Ultimately the usefulness, the value, of a given ecosystem or a species or the livelihood of a community, of a culture will be determined by how it fairs on the stock exchange.

This idea of “price tagging” nature coexists alongside two other private sector innovations: cap and trade, which relies on the dispossession on a massive scale of communities within the global south to function and the continued pillage of resources to satisfy the cult of perpetual and masturbatory growth.

As long as the cult of growth is upheld, so will the constant commodification of all living things, the massive disenfranchisement and continued violence, the continued mobilization of neocolonial, racist and imperialist attitudes and ideologies be upheld as well. A poignant example is the racist rhetoric used by the “decayists” of pseudo-intellectual European right, towards Syrian refugees.

In Disaster Apartheid: A World of Green Zones and Red Zones, the last chapter of The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein refers to the idea that the neoliberal shock doctrine is reshaping the world in its image, dicing up the world into Green Zones (reference to the Green Zone in Baghdad) and Red Zones. There’s a relationship of domination between these zones; for Green Zones to exist there must be Red Zones.

For Canada and the rest of the “global north” to theorize a way to salvage the capitalist system and the cult of growth, many more Berta Cáceres’ must die. For the corporate Green Transition to work, the disenfranchisement of First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities within Canada must continue, the denial of their rights to auto-determination must be upheld.

Cáceres’ blood wasn’t shed in vain. Like the hundreds of environmental activists that have died before her, Cáceres knew that within the struggle against Climate Change exists the extraordinary potential to dissolve the toxic power structures, the structures of domination, of oppression, that are the biggest polluters in the history of humanity.

* Featured image: GoldmanPrize.org

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