From the sweeping wildfires of California to heartbreaking floods in Bangladesh, climate change is a reality that has brought destruction, death, and violence. Climate change has affected many worldwide, but has recently been a significant issue to third world countries for different reasons. It’s now not only the lands and waters being impacted, but the people advocating for environment protection affected as well.
For the indigenous people of the Philippines, Brazil, and Guatemala, their unexploited lands are historical. Although one may never understand the true plight that these people have to face, putting oneself in their shoes can help an understanding of the true direness of their situation. Imagine this - walking in on the newly paved dirt path, you see the hut your grandparents hand-built and lived in for most of their lives. To the left is the wooden bench that you and your son had hand built. You still feel the calluses on your fingers toughening up from the splinters. These forests are your past and your today. And suddenly the economy-centered government seeks to banish what you call home. It is rational that the indigenous people of these third world countries would retaliate and protest illegal logging, mining, and clearing for plantations. Not only are their homes being destroyed, but so are the homes of thousands of species, and the beauty of nature itself. So they peacefully protest their environment from getting commercially exploited to unnecessary plantation extensions.
Yet it doesn't take long for these peaceful protests to turn into violent killings, threats, and name-calling. 212 environmental activists were killed in 2019, and that number goes unnoticed, and so does the harassment that climate activists face. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, an indigenous climate change and indigenous rights activist, reports in Global Witness, “In March 2018, the Philippines government declared me a terrorist. This was in retaliation for me speaking out against indigenous rights violations in my home country.” She continues later in the report stating, “And this is a phenomenon being seen around the world. Land and environmental protectors, a significant number of whom are indigenous peoples, are declared terrorists, thugs, or criminals for defending their rights, or simply for living on lands coveted by others. … What begins with smear campaigns labeling defenders ‘anti-development’ leads to legal prosecution and arrests, and then often violence.” This issue translates to the other side of the world as well. Last year, President Bolsonaro of Brazil referred to the actions of the activist group MST, which advocates for rural workers and families for land use reform, as terrorism. Bolsonaro, along with many others’ antagonism toward environmental preservation highlights how governments are creating an increasingly dangerous platform for climate activists.
And when violence isn’t the answer, harassment is an answer many resort to. When she felt that President Duterte’s policies didn’t protect the environment as it should, Renee Karununungan expressed her thoughts, as an environmental and human rights activist. She later told BBC News that she got death threats, rape threats, and violent texts stating ,“I will find your family and we will murder them.” These threats are not only extremely inhumane and degrading, but illustrate the stigma that any activist that advocates for climate is forced to face. It is clear that many are ignorant when it comes to environmental preservation, even at the national level. When critics like Global Witness accused President Duterte of the Philippines of allowing harm to the environments and those that advocate for it, without any consequences, he called them “sham assertions.” But from the environmental damage and numerous environmental activists coming forward with their own negative experiences, it is clear that many of these accusations are true. Calling these accusations “sham assertions” is, frankly, the easy way out to avoid an issue that has an enormous toll on the entire world. The environment is being destroyed, and so are the people trying to protect it.
So it raises questions. Why are governments all a cross the globe minimizing the problem of climate change? Indigenous people of Brazil have noticed the Brazillian government’s business-forward mindset, which causes the lack of concern of their own people dying. Another reason could be that the same government may be trying to conceal what is actually happening. As mentioned, the indigenous have been thoroughly antagonized by being called “terrorists” and even had threats sent. If this population is in fact dying from attempting to help the environment, and by extension all people, then how can those same people be a threat to civilization? Thus the issue then lies in the priorities of the government as a whole, which happens to be the economy.
This “business thinking mindset” is in other words, capitalism. A key factor of capitalism is the competition between private companies and owners to generate more profit than another. Thus generate the most profit, extensive measures are needed. These may include deforestation in order to physically expand the business, greenhouse gas emissions, or even accidental oil spills in the process. When assessing this issue, the private businesses that want to expand are not not considering the environmental effects. The harsh reality is that the global governments may not be able to face the fact that people in business have selfish motives to expand their business, causing them to neglect their environmental impact. And the most important thing to note is that it’s going unheard because the issue is not a topic that the government wants to be in the open. It is disheartening to see the number of times that climate change has been regarded as an inferior issue, when it is the one that is most pressing.
Every action has a consequence and once the damage has been done, it is done- that’s it. So when governments are globally dismissing the deaths and safety concerns of environmentalists, it becomes an ethical issue. Yet it continues to occur because of companies’ desire for money and ease; they want it and don’t care how they get it. If even half of that desire had gone into efforts to preserve our planet, California’s forests and Bangladesh’s coasts may have a different face today.
“Environment Activists: 'I Got Death and Rape Threats'.” BBC News, BBC, www.bbc.com/news/av/science-environment-54165868.
Nuwer, Rachel. “Environmental Activists Have Higher Death Rates Than Some Soldiers.” Scientific American, Scientific American, 5 Aug. 2019, www.scientificamerican.com/article/environmental-activists-have-higher-death-rates-than-some-soldiers/.
Schupak, Amanda. “Disturbing Report Shows How Many Environmental Activists Are Killed Each Week.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 30 July 2019, www.huffpost.com/entry/report-environment-activists-killed_n_5cb5f7dfe4b098b9a2db040f.