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The Business of Environmental Devastation

Michael Borucke

The single greatest threat to the future of human existence is the way our culture views itself and its relationship to the Earth. Our culture has believed for millennia that man has domain over all living and non-living things. It’s apparent in our culture’s exorbitant consumption habits. It’s visible in our farming practices and the experiments we conduct on animals. The fundamental texts of our civilization (i.e. The Bible, The Constitution), afford rights to (civilized) man that are not bestowed on any other species.

With the problems that plague the Earth today -- the greenhouse effect, the depletion of the ozone layer, the destruction of forests, the extinction of plants and animals -- we are beginning to realize that we do not have ownership of the Earth: that the control we thought we wielded was illusory. We cannot pollute and consume as much as we want without significantly impacting our chances for survival.

But why is this only becoming apparent now if we as a culture have been thinking this way for ages? Because the largest and most destructive manifestation of the idea of ownership/control over the Earth -- the corporation -- has only come into its full glory within the past one hundred years.

Before the Industrial Revolution, the people of our culture knew how to pollute and destroy the Earth, but with the advent of the corporation, our culture became a lot more efficient at it.

Today, companies such as Coca-Cola, equipped with the finest technology, are able to produce more waste than our forefathers ever imagined by simply not using recycled material in their bottles. This unprecedented level of pollution only promises to increase, as American consumption shows no signs of slowing. Why should it? We don’t see the landfills; they have an infinite carrying capacity as far as the producers (or consumers) are concerned.

Corporations such as Menards and Home Depot have harmed the Earth through the clear-cutting of old growth forests. It took thousands of pioneers several decades to strip the United States of its once vast forest cover. It has taken a few lumber companies less than a decade to accomplish destruction that is orders of magnitude worse. Why do they do this? Because they can, and of course they can turn a profit doing it. The amazingly rapid destruction of the rain forests (for the purposes of cattle grazing) has lead to a greater rate of species extinction than during the time of the dinosaurs. Why? Well, people need to eat, they have to eat meat, the meat needs to eat, so why not chop down unnecessary plants? The animals living in those plants? Well, we don’t eat them, so we wipe them out.

Of course, our abuse of the planet is not confined merely to land. Companies have achieved record-breaking levels of water and air pollution in just a short period. Countless bodies of water have become so toxic due to chemicals and sewage being dumped into them that they are no longer safe for human use, not to mention the use of those species that used to live in the water. And those bodies of water that haven’t been polluted have been over-exploited, as fishermen off Cape Cod are becoming aware.

And then there are purely astounding feats of abuses. Companies have actually colluded to destroy the earth both on land and in the air. For example, the auto industry, in conjunction with the oil industry, has been able to not only extract billions of tons of metal and oil from the Earth, but also force carbon that would otherwise be sequestered in oil form into the atmosphere as gases. These gases have not only burned a hole in the protective ozone layer they have also contributed to the increase in temperature of the planet.

But the industry contributing the greatest amount to the destruction of the planet would have to be the oil industry. Aside from the air pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels, there is also the issue of oil extraction. As oil reserves dry up in the usual wells, companies explore for more oil in the worst possible locales. BP-Amoco, for example, is attempting to extract oil from the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, which will have devastating impacts on the environment as well as the wildlife. Similarly, Occidental Petroleum will soon begin drilling on the lands of the U’wa. This irresponsible action in the war-torn nation of Colombia will destroy the environment in addition to the U’wa culture, and most likely the U’wa themselves. All this destruction to keep gas prices down?

These examples of corporate-driven destruction of the environment are not a secret; everyone is aware of them.What I would like to propose is that these examples will not disappear if left alone. Indeed, government can’t be trusted to solve these problems (note that the current environmental conditions are a result of government regulation), and certainly the corporations can’t be trusted to lessen their horrible impact on their own; of course, they want you to think they’re trying. Yes, the more harmful a given company is to the environment, the more it will try to make itself out to be “environmentally friendly,” with websites full of environmental facts and pictures of children. (What is an oil company like BP doing with pictures of children on its website?)

If these powers will not stem the tide of environmental devastation, then to whom can we turn but ourselves?