extractive capitalism



The material production of capital leads to environmental degradation and forms of appropriation of territories in peripheral economies

The pressure exerted by the dominant forces in the Brazilian Congress with a view to emptying the fields of action of the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples and the Ministry of the Environment, for the approval of the timeframe and other measures favorable to the appropriation of land in the country by large corporations leads us to a more detailed discussion about the political implications of the extractive capitalism implanted in Brazil.

The strategy of subordinated international insertion of national economies on the periphery of global capitalism has been based on productive specialization in goods that are intensive in natural resources, on the appropriation of extraordinary income by large extractive and financial corporations, but also on the ecological submission of peripheral societies to global capitalism. . Such a model of capitalist development has been different from the traditional model of the primary-export economy because it implies subordination not only politically and economically, but also financially and ecologically to the decision-making centers of global capitalism. What kind of implications would this type of capitalism have for the forms of appropriation of territories in peripheral economies?

The entry of rentier capital into commodity speculation certainly expands the interest groups involved, at least indirectly, in the occupation of territorial spaces by the activities of production of exportable primary goods. In addition to the demand coming from the importing sectors, the gain from the production of commodities also started to motivate holders of new and larger amounts of money. We can assume that these masses do not cause a proportional increase in demand for commodities, but rather that they subject these markets to the indirect effects of speculative action via prices – which are detached from the simple supply and demand relationship – and the transfer of part of the decision-making processes on extraction activities for the commodities and futures exchanges.[I]

This new format for the international insertion of the Latin American economy is accompanied, on the other hand, by transfers of productive activities with high socio-environmental impacts to peripheral economies. The ecological criterion, which began to be accepted in the mid-1980s – see the Brundtland Report – as part of the conditions of legitimation in intercapitalist competition, came, by transverse paths, to update the strategic value of Latin America for world capitalism[ii]. The insertion in the world economy presented, from then on, “the novelty of an ecological submission that implies the offer of sacrifice zones, as well as support capacity and environmental services”[iii] from the territories of the South to the interests of transnational corporations, configuring what would be an “ecodependency”[iv]. The operationalization of extractive activities and the ranking of areas to be exploited, therefore, are no longer defined only by the location of raw material sources and the availability of infrastructure, but also began to consider the political possibilities of imposing social and environmental impacts on more dispossessed social groups in peripheral countries, by obtaining low regulatory costs, possibilities of regulatory capture and minimization of the costs of land, territorial and environmental conflicts. Environmental inequality was thus internationalized: the intensive use of a wide variety of pesticides, for example, was progressively transferred to countries in the South, which does not prevent, on the other hand, that the forested areas of these same countries are “environmentalized”. ” as a means of offsetting greenhouse gas emissions and continuing fossil capitalism.

It was in parallel with the neoliberal reforms that the export of environmentally predatory processes from North to South countries became part of the accumulation strategies of globalized corporations in response to pressures for an ecological transition in central economies. From then on, the peripheries became not only providers of raw materials and bases for continued primitive accumulation, as in the role they played in the colonial and proto-industrial period, but also became providers of spaces for the relocation of environmentally predatory activities and areas intended for compensatory carbon absorption.

What came into force, from then on, was an international ecological division of labor in which, for capital calculation centers, only the transformation of matter and energy into exportable merchandise is important, as in the case of traditional primary-industry economies. exporters in the countries of the South, but also the transformation, in these same countries, of the non-mercantile spaces of water, atmosphere and living systems into a destination for unsaleable waste from the intensive extraction of matter and energy. According to this same logic of ecological submission, the reprimarization of these economies began to serve the purposes of their specialization in supplying, to commodity importing countries, free material components – common goods such as water and biodiversity – not computed in the monetary costs of exported materials .

This new role of the territories of the South in the world-economy was configured through progressive government measures of social and environmental deregulation as, with the neoliberal reforms, localities began to compete with each other offering land, fiscal and regulatory advantages, making laws more flexible. and urban and environmental norms. With the configuration of an interlocal competition for investments, a deregulation race was triggered within the peripheral economies, leading to a process of displacement and relocation of the “ecological footprint” of environmentally harmful businesses towards the countries of the South. This competition began to include, consequently, among its attributes, the offer of spaces to be polluted, of new frontier areas occupied by traditional peoples and indigenous and peasant communities subjected to violent and expropriatory practices, as well as urban areas subject to gentrification by the removal of low-income residents and appreciation of urban land. The resulting environmental inequality thus became a constitutive part of the spatiality of liberalized capitalism.

As a consequence, the operation of regulatory dumping established, for the most dispossessed, a permanent state of exception, since the advance of the different fronts of dispossession caused an overlap between the social and spatial division of environmental risks, which has the consequence the concentration of conditions of vulnerability on social groups located on the inner peripheries of peripheral economies. From the neoliberal reforms, therefore, it began to operate not only an international competition based on low wages, but also one driven by the low costs resulting from flexible and restricted environmental regulations within the national spaces of peripheral countries.

The international ecological division of labor, typical of the neoliberal era, combines, at the same time, ecological complementarity – due to the specialization of peripheral economies in polluting and degrading activities – and normative competitiveness – due to the role of socioecological dumping that accompanies the tendency to differentiate institutional architectures wage regulation and environmental norms between central and peripheral economies. This trend divergence between normative frameworks thus reflects the existence of an informal international coordination between nationally differentiated institutional commitments that culminates in deepening environmental inequality at the international level.

An impact study commissioned by the European Commission cites the European Union's responsibility for deforestation in the world, showing that European countries are responsible for more than a third of the deforestation linked to the international trade of agricultural products in the world.[v]. And the main responsible for this is soy, an oilseed that represents 60% of European imports at risk of deforestation, followed by palm oil (12%) and cocoa (8%).

By naming the articulation between the reprimarization of the economy and rentism, Leda Paulani refers to a double subordination – economic and financial – to globalized capitalism[vi]. If we also take into account the ecological submission, we could say, be this triple. For, if, as Marx wrote, material production is “a necessary evil” to the process of money production[vii], environmental degradation is, in turn, “a necessary evil” for the material production of capital. And if, as Engels maintained, “the bourgeoisie has only one solution to pollution – to move it elsewhere”, the peripheries of the world-economy were designated to, with the support of the political forces of the large rural and mining property, occupy this place.

* Henri Acselrad is a retired full professor at the Institute of Research and Urban and Regional Planning at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (IPPUR/UFRJ).


[I] Yamila Goldfarb Soy expansion and financialization of agriculture as recent expressions of the corporate food regime in Brazil and Argentina: the example of Cargill, Revista NERA, vol. 18. n. 28 p. 32-67, 2015; Bruno Milanez; Eliana C. Guerra. Rentism-neoextractivism: Brazil's dependent insertion in the paths of globalized capitalism (1990-2017), in Rigotto, Aguiar and Ribeiro (eds.) Plots for environmental justice: dialogue of knowledge and emancipatory praxis, ed. UFC, Fortaleza, 2018, p. 44.

[ii] Gerhard Drekonja, More beyond peripheral autonomy, Nueva Sociedad n. 137, May-June 1995, p. 83

[iii] Jorge Ignacio Frechero, Neoextractivism and International Insertion, in Ana Maria Fernández Equiza (comp.), Territorios, Internacinal Economy and Socio-Environmental Conflicts, Center for Geographical Information, Tandil: Universidad Nacional del Centro de la Provincia de Buenos Aires, 2013, p. 117.

[iv] JRBarton Eco-dependency in Latin America Journal Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography v.27, n. 2, May 2006.

[v] European Commission, Comprehensive analysis of the impact of EU consumption on deforestation, Technical Report -063, Brussels, 2013; Floriane Louison, Déforestation importée: un grand pas pour l'UE, un petit pour la forêt, mediapart, 21 avril 2023,https://www.mediapart.fr/journal/ecologie/210423/deforestation-importee-un-grand-pas- pour-l-ue-un-petit-pour-la-foret

[vi] Leda Paulani, Redoubled Dependence, Le Monde Diplomatique, 61 Edition, 3 of August of 2012.

[vii] Karl Marx, Capital, Book II, São Paulo, Abril Cultural, 1984, p. 44

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