Environmental catastrophes

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By CARLA BUENO & TALLES REIS*

The environmental crisis in capitalism under the hegemony of financial capital

Capitalism, in order to continue growing, needs to produce profits more and more. Profit is the appearance in society of something that is at the essence of the system: the production of surplus value. The origin of surplus value is in human labor, it is a fraction of all the work that transforms raw materials but which is not paid to the male and female worker. That's right: workers do not receive the “full value” of their salary, which is why we say that capitalism is founded on the exploitation of one by the other.

This extra value, which can only be produced by human work, in capitalism remains with the boss, with the owner of the factory and the machines, which are the means of production. The means of production are private, as they are the result of a long process that began at the beginning with the creation of private ownership of land, through the expulsion of many peasants who lived in the countryside at a time when the land had no owner. This expulsion of the peasants, also called 'enclosures', as the fields were now fenced, fulfilled several functions: it provided workforce for the nascent industries, since the peasants now had nowhere else to draw their livelihood; the former peasants became consumers, they had to buy what they previously produced on their land; and, finally, freed up vast rural areas to be incorporated into the productive system of capital.

This incorporation of thousands and thousands of hectares of land, which until then were collective, together with the exploration of the riches of the colonies all over the world (including the gold of Brazil) by the central countries, produced an enormous volume of wealth, a quantity of resources which was fundamental for capitalism to take a leap in its development. We call this process primitive or originary accumulation. Primitive and original because it is at the “origin” of the system we have until today.

Primitive accumulation provided the necessary resources for the development of machines, equipment, tools. But even in the first steps of capitalism, for example, with it it was possible to create the steam-powered engine (the steam machine) that enabled even greater exploitation of coal mines and transportation by locomotives. The electric telegraph revolutionized communication, as it allowed communication over long distances using morse code, in 1830. Incandescent light bulbs, which we have in our homes, also appeared at that time and further increased the exploitation of workers as they allowed night work in the factories.

Way of life in the countryside and in the city, production and access to food

The current hegemonic food production model in society today is quite recent. It dates from the 60s, when the logic of industrialization arrived in the Brazilian countryside and the standardization of production around a few food species began. But it is worth noting that nature has always produced food, even without or with low human intervention, even before humanity was inhabiting the Earth. Among dinosaurs, eating habits were already established among carnivores, herbivores and omnivores.

Even the Catholic Church has already reduced the anthropocentric supremacy of man's role in the development of society. Man and nature, from the elaboration of Ladauto Si are considered one, that is, a totality that needs to be in balance. In the academy this conception has been fighting for space for decades too, Antonio Carlos Diegues in his work “The Modern Myth of Untouched Nature” portrays well the capacity of man to live in harmony with the natural system. And so it has been since the beginning of humanity, the production model involved men in a symbiotic relationship with nature.

From the 60s onwards, the logic of transforming everything into merchandise to sustain capital threatens this harmony in an overwhelming way. Agribusiness imposes itself as a model of production through monoculture (a catastrophe for complex models and for the original peoples, guardians of the forest), large estates (legitimating the concentration of land and wealth), reducing human labor and alienating the relationship of man with nature, also generating alienation in the consumer society, especially in urban spaces.
Therefore, it is only about 60 years old, the consolidation of this agribusiness model in the countryside. The consequences are visible in the violence in the countryside that this generated, expelling families from the countryside, concentrating land, greater accumulation of misery in the urban space with the formation of slums and the very serious consequences for human health and the environment.

Even so, about 70% of food production is associated with family farming that resists in this context. However, access to these foods is full of mediators such as the industry that often transforms natural food into super-processed junk full of salt or sugar, taming tastes, or even creating niche markets to raise prices and profit at the expense of of farmers and hard-working consumers who remain demonetized, while agribusiness deforests more to recover profit rates in times of crisis.

Permanent threats to human health and the environment

The product of agribusiness generates several contradictions in human health and the environment. In the first place, we can highlight the deforestation of forests with the justification of agriculture and the need to feed the nation, since we already know that the arable areas that we have already opened in Brazil are more than enough to feed everyone and even to export. .

It was in this context that the exploration of Brazilian biomes took place without a sustainable basis and strained the eyes of the whole world towards the preservation of the Amazon, which, according to INPE (National Institute for Space Research), had a 278% increase in deforestation from 2018 to 2019. The situation of the other biomes is also of concern, the Cerrado has 7,7% of original coverage, the Atlantic Forest with 12,5%, the Semi-arid with 40% and the pampas, which have also lost more than half of their vegetation cover.

The indiscriminate use of pesticides is also another indicator of the seriousness of the problem we are experiencing. Foods with pesticide residues, even industrialized ones, are consumed on a large scale and consolidate the dispute of projects on the food plate of all human beings. Today, the information that we may be eating something that can give us cancer or psychosomatic illnesses such as depression, raises fears in the urban population that mobilizes for healthy eating, opening space for Agroecology to consolidate itself as a hegemonic model.

Even some sectors of agribusiness are already assuming a new guise, which we know does not solve the problem at its root, since even though they do not consider the issue of Agrarian Reform as a way out for fair development, they already perceive the need to produce in a more complex so as not to generate such devastating imbalance and environmental liability.

Environmental catastrophes and the decimation of human beings

The consequences of the model are very visible and easy to identify. The temperature has been increasing year after year and, in Brazil, the rains are irregular, increasingly frequent storms paralyze the country's big cities. Forests are being destroyed, along with many plant and animal species becoming extinct. Big cities are also suffering from the environmental crisis and their problems are mixed with many others: lack of access to drinking water and sanitation; the floods; slope landslides; real estate concentration on the one hand and slum development on the other; the expulsion of male and female workers from the city center and the vicinity of their workplace; urban violence, among many others.

In Brazil, we had several recent examples of the consequence of this development model. Vale's crimes in Mariana and Brumadinho killed more than 300 people. The oil spill that hit the Brazilian beaches, the fire destroying the Amazon rainforest for the expansion of agribusiness and now this viral disease, the coronavirus that paralyzed the world for months, isolating human beings from community relations.

Production model change required

With the various catastrophes that we are witnessing in Brazil, it is already possible to state that this rupture with this development model constructed until today is fundamental. Not just in agriculture, but in the extraction of wealth from nature as a whole, in mining, in energy production, in the consumption of fossil fuels, as all the environmental and human consequences that have been warned about for a long time have been consecrated.

David Harvey researched contemporary capitalism and described “accumulation by dispossession”, a form of primitive accumulation, even more violent and aggressive. In this accumulation, developed, mature capital, already close to its end, desperately attacks the last reserves of wealth (forests, energy from the seas, the genetic code of living beings, among others) to try to continue existing. For by appropriating resources that already exist in nature, it increases its rate of extraordinary profit, the result of land speculation, subordinating other sectors of capital to this dynamic.

Clues on how to make these changes are constructed on a daily basis, by the peasantry, the university and even by environmental organizations, some very serious ones that are dedicated to thinking about transformations. It is necessary to combine technology and science with the ancestral way of life in the countryside, as the transformations will not only take place at the base of the hoe, since the time of destruction of capital demands more agility.

However, for this change to be structural, it is only possible with a strong State that looks at the needs of a nation project. Our current impasse is political and not technical, because at the same time that the environmental crisis has become visible to the naked eye, fascism and the change of political regime are also threatening us as a society. It is necessary to involve the whole of society in understanding this crisis, in the need for another model for food production, taking political power must be our horizon and building a new development project based on the dignity of the working class that produces everything. As Pope Francis summed up well, guaranteeing Land, Work and Bread above everything and everyone. Therefore, blessed by God, we continue with our Plan to Plant Trees and Produce Healthy Food as a humble seed of profound transformation of this model.

* Carla Bueno is an agronomist engineer trained at ESALQ-USP and MST militants.

*Tales Reis holds a master's degree in Geography from the Postgraduate Program in Territorial Development in Latin America and the Caribbean (IPPRI/UNESP) and is a member of the MST.

 

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