Parallels Between Environment Degradation and Human Domination Dynamics

Column by Talera Jensen
Talera Jensen - Sofi Mendez

Oppression is a multifaceted concept, of which nobody understands the full scope, regardless of their educational background. However, it is a common understanding that all systems of oppression involve the artificially instituted domination of one party over another. In America’s case, this dynamic is white over nonwhite, man over woman and bourgeoisie over proletariat.
What I intend to introduce here is another system of oppression that involves facets of all three above: environmental degradation and exploitation.
Earth’s natural environment has been and is still sacred to many people throughout history. It is common amongst these people to adopt a lifestyle of environmental wisdom which advises that the Earth is not here for us alone, and we should care for it and its inhabitants before ourselves.
Another viewpoint is that of sustainability—we can use the Earth’s resources as long as we do so in an efficient and wise manner. This is the perspective shared by many modern Americans.
The third and most objectively destructive belief is that humans are supreme beings on this planet, therefore, we are entitled to use its resources to our sole personal benefit. Written in such blunt terms, this option may seem incredibly harsh, yet this is a more common practice than one might realize.
In order to succeed in a capitalistic economy, business owners must make many decisions that will increase their profits. The large businesses, aka corporations, make decisions on a large scale. These corporate decisions have a greater impact, yet it is still for the sake of increasing profit yield. The recent Nestlé water bottling controversy in the midst of the California drought is a relevant example of this concept at work. Of course, that is a micro instance—the entire fossil fuel industry also practices the reckless exploitation of natural resources and destruction of ecosystems.
Most of the profits of exploitation are channeled to the corporate sector, particularly corporate management. The working-class (proletariat) people hired by these corporations often receive the bare minimum of what their work is worth, so the corporations can reap the highest possible profits from their total revenue.
The large corporations exploit natural resources much in the way they exploit the working class and impoverished people. Resource overuse ruins the Earth’s ecosystems, disabling their ability to recover. Corporations refuse to include externalized costs (the total cost including environmental destruction and hard labor) into the final price of their products for the sake of supply and demand. Exploitation of the proletariat leaves working-class families trapped in a cycle of borderline poverty and the corporate system nurtures this cycle.
Similar to the class analysis, the male-female dynamic is also reflected in how modern civilization treats nature. In much academic and theological literature written by men throughout history, nature is anthropomorphized as a loving mother that provides for her benefactors—humans. The parallel dynamic here is females/males and nature/humans. In parallel, actual women have also (until very recently) been elevated solely as figures of moral purity and motherhood. This one-sidedness that males exhibit regarding the topics of nature and society is harmful to both the Mother Earth and female humans. Women are, much like nature, expected to give and give to their oppressors with nothing in return. In other words, females are treated as a resource that males are entitled to exploit. Of course, we call ourselves mankind, because man represents the full potential of humanity, a potential entirely exclusionary of women. Women and nature are the passive recipients of man’s burdens.
The Western race dynamic is heavily involved with environmental destruction. Imperialist white men consciously decided to commit genocide against the indigenous American peoples, people who were resourceful and respectful of the land on which they lived. White men began killing the buffalo for sport, bringing a species crucial to indigenous cultures nearly to extinction. Later, these imperialists carved the faces of their white leaders into the Black Hills—a sacred area for many indigenous American traditions.
White imperialists also destroyed the African landscape—much in the same fashion they enslaved the African people. European colonialists divided Africa amongst themselves and created an apartheid society, all while profiteering off the natural resources of Africa and the labor of its people. In America, white people forced African slaves to participate in the capitalist white supremacist society through brutal agricultural labor. The white owners of the plantations that black slaves had to work in profited mostly off upper class goods such as cotton and tobacco. Thus, a synergized race-class-environmental oppression system was established in America, and it is still upheld to this day.
Although oppression is a highly varied concept, there are telling similarities between certain oppressive institutions. Though we may be different from one another, we are all connected by the planet on which we live and die. The recognition of these social parallels with the destruction of the Earth could further galvanize the movements that seek to abolish such oppressions.