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Industrial society is eating us out of house and home

By Evaggelos Vallianatos - posted Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Starting in the mid-nineteenth century, with the Industrial Revolution, and armed with powerful technologies, Europeans and North Americas have been treating the natural world as if it was a lifeless mass of dirt. They spread to the tropics like a cataclysm, and they took the best land of Africans, Asians, and South Americans and sowed it in cash crops. They killed and decimated wildlife for sport, plundering the valleys, forests, and rivers.

In the Americas, the white masters of the continent nearly wiped out the indigenous population. David E. Stannard, professor of history at the University of Hawaii, says that the coming of Columbus to America triggered a bloodbath against Native Americans.

In time, the Europeans' aggression against the indigenous people took the form of a "ghastly event," a "mammoth cataclysm," which evolved into the largest global genocide, taking the lives of about 100 million people. Disease played a role in the destruction of Native Americans, but only because it operated in the killing policies of the Europeans. Stannard documents that "firestorms of microbial pestilence and purposeful genocide" laid waste the American natives.


One of the reasons Native Americans paid such a price at the hands of the white invaders was their worship of nature. They could no more sell land than the sky.

The Europeans and Americans, including Australians and New Zealanders as well as the rulers of Brazil, China, the Middle East, Indonesia and Africa, still don't think much of nature. The blows against the natural world keep coming at the dawn of the twenty-first century under the guise of mining, logging, factory fishing; the damming of rivers and construction of electricity factories, nuclear power plants, and nuclear weapons.

There are also factories for the production of plastics and chemicals, fertilizers and munitions; "development" projects that blow mountains apart for their coal or uranium, literally eviscerating the natural world; scrambling the genetic staff of life, including crops and food. Agribusiness pretends to be farming with its factories in the fields, spraying toxins on the face of the world.

In 1986, Hugh Iltis, botanist at the University of Wisconsin, blamed ambitious cattle ranchers, land-hungry squatters, greedy corporations, and "the world's multilateral development banks" for this new barbarism. He noted that these developers:

"[A]re recklessly destructive of nature and in an orgy of environmental brutality, clear-cut the forests, burn the trees, and plow up the land to grow more food or graze more cattle, even before any scientist has had a chance to find out what lives there. In the name of growth, progress, and development, and with a colossal self-confidence, we humans are now messing up even the last wild lands and damming the last wild rivers, oblivious of the irreplaceable biological treasures that are being destroyed."

In 1997, Iltis saw biological genocide in the destruction of the tropics. He cited the biodiversity of the land in the Peruvian tropical forest, where in 2.47 acres of land there are 41,000 species of insects, mostly beetles. Destroying such rich forest, he said, would inevitably bring the


"[E]xtermination of millions of plant and animal species, for most of which we do not have a description, a life history, an estimate of their ecological or economic importance, or even a name. As many as twenty per cent of all species on Earth may become extinct within twenty years – at least a million species. The utter devastation that human action wreaks in tropical ecosystems has to be seen to be believed."

This devastation of life is a sacrifice to the agribusiness gods of cash cropping and the model "scientific" farming of North America and Western Europe.

By this new means of colonialism, tropical fruit ends up on the table of the wealthy of the world, especially those living in North America and Western Europe -- the North.

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About the Author

Evaggelos Vallianatos is the author of several books, including Poison Spring (Bloomsbury Press, 2014).

Other articles by this Author

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