Exploitation: an Elephant in the Room

A lot has been said about the Climate Change being “the elephant in the room.” It’s the topic that lies behind everything spoken, but is invisible; not talked about despite being so important. Well, hopefully the Paris Agreement has changed that, though I note that governments are being slow in getting down to tackling their CO2 emissions.
However, I’d like to draw attention to another elephant. This elephant has been sitting in our living rooms for much longer: 500 years in fact.
The elephant can be summed up in one word: exploitation. From the 16th Century onwards various Western European countries were not satisfied with the resources to be found within their own borders and started obtaining them from elsewhere, with massively coercive and exploitative results in terms of people and ecosystems.
The way we in the West name the countries of the world charts the history of exploitation. The nation states of the Old World (Western Europe) set up their own empires, followed by resource-rich former colonies such as the USA and Canada (The New World). The exploited countries became The Third World, or the undeveloped/developing nations (the Old and New Worlds being classed as “developed”).
They were forced into growing cash crops for export: sugar, tobacco, coffee, tea, cocoa, bananas, palm oil etc; also their minerals (including valuable sources of fuel), timber, rare metals and natural sources of fertiliser were made available. Sound familiar? Well, yes, for the exploitation has, if anything, intensified in the 21st Century.
Whilst awareness has been raised about the plight of sweatshop and plantation workers in the Third World, and the Fair Trade movement tries to compete in the market place, hardly anyone actually calls into question the economic system behind these unjust practices.
A few dare, among them British Quakers, who have come up with a set of ten principles for a new economy. We’ll explore these in a future post.
It’s worth noting that the two elephants are closely related. If you look at the carbon footprints of the world’s nations, the developed nations have massive footprints compared to the undeveloped ones, because their economies are based on high levels of consumption.
Bioregioning is about appreciating our own local resources, on managing them sustainably to create strong and vibrant local economies. We only go beyond our area for goods we cannot produce ourselves, which we trade fairly in exchange for our own surplus. Thus we bid goodbye to both those elephants.


About edwardtyler

I live in Kintyre, the long peninsula acting as a natural breakwater for the Firth of Clyde, west of Glasgow. A Permaculture and Transition practitioner, I am working with fellow community activists to co-create a resilient and vibrant local bioregion.

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