The link between the climate crisis and colonialism
Our world is facing so many pressing issues that threaten our very existence it is hard to find what we should focus on solving first. From environmental collapse, social injustice, uncalled for discrimination to deadly diseases and world hunger – our society is in great imbalance with some problems lingering for generations and new ones taking their toll on our development.
We often think about those specific global issues as standalone, unrelated phenomena. Therefore, we approach them as challenges tackled independently and we divide our focus fighting a war on many drastically different fronts. Reality is often not what we initially assume and it is worth taking a deeper look at those issues – in fact, they are deeply connected and born from one historic event that set them all in motion a long time ago.
The Climate Crisis began long time ago
The climate crisis is not just about the environment. It is a crisis of human rights, of justice, and of political will. Colonial, racist, and patriarchal systems of oppression have created and fueled it.
The environmental crisis is not just caused by reckless human behaviour. Climate change did not happen for a day and looking back at our history we can notice that the roots of the problem are tightly connected to the colonialism age.
The link might not be clearly visible at first but taking colonialism apart reveals a lot. The definitive elements of this era – expanding influence and wealth, increasing work power, economic and cultural dominance all laid down the foundations of many modern world issues. This also includes the climate crisis.
The role of colonialism for the future of the environment
Colonialism is a complex process that can be seen in many ways. What is an indisputable fact is that it was a way to seek access to new lands, resources, and workers. Many were unwillingly dragged into imperial strategies for development with the cost of their own progress and culture being condemned.
Parts of Africa and Asia were subjected to forced cultivation of crops that colonists dictated. They replaced the original agriculture habits and traditional approaches establishing “a new norm”. Those new methods brought an imbalance in nature that triggered a long-lasting process getting stronger and stronger with time.
The approach of establishing large-scale plantations and allowing them to develop has resulted in accumulating wealth on the back of human slavery. This exploitation of people, land, and nature has build-up to establish the roots of many human rights issues, global inequalities and the climate crisis we know today.
Plantations and monocultures have destroyed biodiversity and created soil impoverishment through massive deforestation and altering of planting and harvesting habits. Colonists brought together flora and fauna that had been separated a long time ago resulting in reshaping natural ecosystems. A process that continued and developed in the long term.
The destructive manner of inhabiting the planet is the main reason for a geological era defined by industrial activity sacrificing the environment. The foundations were set a long time ago but what led to the devastating development is that we never shacked those bad habits away – instead, we kept industrializing and sacrificing natural resources for quick and massive produce. This brings economic growth and low-quality products at the cost of destroying the environment – priorities we should set straight and do it quick.
Agriculture keeps affecting the climate
The effects of climate change on agriculture are clear but the process is going both ways. Intensive agriculture activities characterized by monoculture and high demand for quick production of crops are one of the main contributors to massive emissions of CO2.
Agriculture needs more and more space and demands high amounts of chemical fertilizers to meet market needs. This leads to deforestation (subsequently to more CO2 emissions), destruction of natural habitats for many animal species, and occupation of the land for crops that might not be the best choice for the soil and environment. Not to mention the quality of the produce affected by all the chemicals is not what we should be striving to achieve. We have turned agriculture into a vicious cycle that makes it both a victim and a cause for the climate crisis.
Malaysia, Indonesia, and now Gabon keep suffering the devastating consequences – since 1973 16,000 square miles of rain forest in Borneo alone have been logged, burned, or bulldozed to make way for new palm tree plantations. This includes natural habitats of many wild animals and fertile land that could be used for producing other crops with a better harvest. The demand and high-income generation from palm trees put pressure on farmers and the national economy. Sacrifices keep being made despite the long-term disastrous effects.
Permaculture and agroecology offer a solution…
Permaculture gardening and agroecology promote biodiversity and seek to maximize the natural environment conditions. This might be the solution we need in modern-day farming.
Agroecology is the approach to farming that centres on food production that best makes use of the natural setting in the land without damaging or altering it. It thrives by utilizing local ecosystems preserving and improving soil and plant quality with the available biomass and biodiversity instead of battling nature with chemical components.
Permaculture offers a similar solution – build on a sustainable principle copying natural ecosystems. Growing plants and vegetables that complement each other instead of relying on one type of crops (like monoculture does) allows maximizing results and increasing the quality of the produce while preserving biodiversity. An illustrative example is planting zucchini and garlic together – this helps pest control and boosts the quality of both cultures while also enriching the soil instead of damaging it like chemical fertilizers do.
But monoculture is still the norm
Unfortunately, modern farming still strays away from those approaches. Nowadays, the corporate food system has more of a negative impact on people’s health, the environmental balance, and the prosperity of farmers.
The high demand in certain produce and the possibility to generate profit by focusing on cultivating one type of crops on large areas of land dictates the rise of monoculture farming. Farmers need to only provide for the needs of one culture to grow a successful harvest in large quantity. Automated harvesting and chemically enhanced fertilizers play a crucial role in the attempts to increase the profit and speed-up the process.
But all of this harms the land and reduces the quality of production. Chemicals and machines destroy the fertility of the land and limit the potential of reusing it year after year. Crops grow fast and in increased quantities but the quality of the taste is greatly reduced and infused with harmful elements leading to health issues when overconsumed. The impact is strong for ecosystems and human health alike – extensive water usage, soil degradation, changing organism resistance are just a few side-effects that bring a negative effect lasting for generations.
There is a path to a solution, we just need to follow it
If we want to solve the problem we first need to be aware of the root causes. Dissecting the history of colonialism and the full impact it had on different areas of modern life is a start. This can help us understand why we have reached the situation we are in and recklessly keep supporting despite being aware there is a better alternative that can bring a brighter future. It can allow us to understand alternatives better and evaluate possibilities instead of accepting what we have been doing for years as the only option.
Only by fully understanding the phenomenon of colonization, the reasons it happened, and the damage it caused can we get closer to the era of decolonization. Something that can help us solve not only the pressing environmental issues but also human-rights related problems that should be long gone. After-effects keep lingering in modern days despite the age of colonialism being a thing of the distant past. We cannot allow this to keep being the norm if we want to achieve positive development for our society.
We are on the way
Agroecology presents a solution for many of the negative effects ages of monoculture have caused. More and more people and small-scale farming entities are adopting the principle offering healthier food produced while preserving environmental balance.
The youth of the new generation is actively recognizing the dangers of the climate crisis, organizations seeing the potential of sustainable farming are creating activities supporting the phenomenon, and the public is turning its interest towards ecological produce instead of chemically enhanced one.
Farmers’ Clubs in Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique, for example, are encouraging farmers to support each other in cases of natural disasters while also showing how farming can be done in a sustainable income-generating manner.
Small steps are leading towards a brighter future, we just need to keep our focus right. Decolonizing our mindset and knowledge is key in making this happen.
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