The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism

Living Edition
| Editors: Immanuel Ness, Zak Cope

Imperialism and Environment

  • Ryan M. Katz-RoseneEmail author
  • Matthew Paterson
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-91206-6_129-1

Synonyms

Definition/Description

What is the relationship between imperialism and the global environment? This entry examines this question through the gaze of Global Ecological Political Economy (GEPE) and argues that imperialism must be understood as an ecological phenomenon, in the sense that the expression of power, dominance, and oppression inevitably (re)produces systemic environmental consequences. Conversely, this entry adds to this formulation an important corollary: global environmental change and responses to it are in turn enmeshed with the forces of imperialism and often exacerbate unjust social relations and power imbalances across and between societies and states.

Introduction

In his masterpiece work, The Open Veins of Latin America (1973), Eduardo Galeano recounts five centuries of European imperialism in the Southern continent. His historical narrative weaves through the plunder of Latin America’s natural resources – from gold and silver, cacao and cotton, rubber and coffee, fruit, hides and wool, petroleum, iron, nickel, manganese, copper, aluminum ore, nitrates, and tin, and so on. The account draws connections between the material exploitation of these resources and the lasting legacy of social domination and impoverishment faced by the people of Latin America following centuries of what at its core amounts to “theft” of its natural capital. As many scholars have argued, a similar trend of material and subjective exploitation continues in the twenty-first century, albeit in new forms and featuring new flows, as the global structure of neoliberal globalization locks the “Global South” into patterns of “unequal exchange” (Emmanuel 1972), economic coercion, military dominance, and overbearing cultural influence (Duménil and Lévy 2004; Harvey 2003; Kiely 2006; Petras and Veltmeyer 2001).

Scholars have, however, only more recently begun to consider the ecological consequences of these imperial forces. This entry asks “what is the relationship between imperialism and the global environment?” and examines this question through the lenses of Global Ecological Political Economy (or GEPE) – a theoretical approach which “consider[s] the structural political-economic dynamics involved in human-environment interaction and advocate[s] historically contingent change to underlying productive and social relations with the normative aim of confronting socio-ecological injustices, broadly defined” (Katz-Rosene and Paterson 2018, p. 8). It argues that imperialism must be understood as an ecological phenomenon, and conversely global environmental change should be interpreted not as some socially neutral phenomenon, but rather an anthropogenically influenced force which has the effect of reproducing, echoing, and in some cases prompting new imperialist responses. That is, the expression of power, dominance, and oppression tends strongly to reproduce systemic environmental consequences, and in turn global environmental changes often exacerbate unjust social relations across and between societies and states.

Ecological Imperialism

At its most fundamental level, the European conquest of distant continents (and in particular the Americas) completely transformed the world in ecological terms – not only through the infrastructural and commercial developments which facilitated the exploitation, processing and transport of minerals and other commodities which eventually made their way from hinterland to imperial core, but also through the introduction of new species of flora, fauna, and various pathogens – many of which had an invasive impact on indigenous flora, fauna, and regional ecology both in colonized regions and in the European colonizing countries. One of the first works to popularize this notion was Alfred Crosby’s The Columbian Exchange (1972), which recounted the massive transfer of lifeforms between Europe and the Americas as successive waves of colonists brought “old world” crops, plants, animals, seeds, bacteria, and viruses (both knowingly and unwittingly) along with them on their ships, and similarly brought “new world” species back to European colonial centers. As hinted above, the impacts of this “ecological exchange” were wide-reaching and world-altering, not only in terms of their impact on various cultural practices (the widespread adoption of tomatoes in Italian cuisine, chocolate in Swiss confectionary, or chilies in Indian food, for instance, was only possible due to this exchange) – but more importantly via the “invasive” character of many of these species which had no natural competitors or prey in their new environments. The smallpox virus, for instance, was responsible (along with other communicable diseases never before found in the Americas) for the deaths of many millions of indigenous peoples (by some estimates killing upward of 90% of the original inhabitants of the continent, see Diamond 1998). In another example, common earthworm species – now ubiquitous throughout North America – did not exist prior to the European conquest of the continent (Eisenhauer et al. 2007). The wide-ranging ecological exchange which occurred as a by-product of European imperialism completely rewrote the world’s ecology and generally facilitated the imperial expansion of European kingdoms around the world (with a notable exception being Central Africa, where pathogens unfamiliar to Europeans helped delay their conquest, see Crosby 1986; Diamond 1998; Mann 2005, 2011).

Thus from its very origins in European empires, modern imperialism has been by definition an ecological phenomenon. Another early observer of this dynamic was Karl Marx (Clark and Foster 2009). In his writings about the nineteenth-century guano trade (wherein European powers fought for control over nitrate-rich islands off the coast of South America), Marx identified what would come to be known as the “metabolic rift” – at its core an ecological imbalance between various spaces and places engendered by capitalist exploitation. For Marx, this was made visible in the transfer of soil nutrients from countryside (where it was usable and required) to urban areas (where it was not), occurring as industrialization gave rise to rapid urbanization, requiring more intensive fertilization of agricultural lands in the countryside to satiate the rising demand for food from wage laborers. This in turn created the impetus for nitrate-rich guano and the commodification (and requisite market competition, and interstate rivalries it engendered) for various fertilizers as commodities. In short, for Marx the imperial rivalries in the Pacific were clearly tied to the forces of industrialization, capital accumulation, and – more to the point – this was causing the vast ecological transformation of the European countryside (though he would not have expressed it in these terms). Building on Marx’s concept of metabolic rift, Clark and Foster identify how today a global metabolic rift is the legacy of historical and contemporary forms of imperialism which are endemic to capitalism: “The social metabolic order of capitalism is inseparable from such ecological imperialism, which is as basic to the system as the search for profits itself” (Clark and Foster 2009, p. 311).

The drive to accumulate capital – a requirement in capitalist societies – leads to a range of ecological transformations and imbalances of this sort. These include the build-up of pollution around export-processing zones in the Global South as multinational corporations seek production sites with lax environmental laws (Frey 2003); the growing specter of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans as disposable single-use plastics are prioritized for cost reasons over reusable or regenerative materials (Parker 2018); or even the accumulation of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as the world’s largest oil companies (both private and state-owned) prioritize profit over the known traumas that will ensue from global warming (Riley 2017). These are just some examples of the global-scale metabolic (ecological) rifts engendered by the neoliberal stage of imperialism.

Managing the Anthropocene

It is clear then that we live in a global capitalist system which is structured by the past and ongoing present of imperialism, and that this system has a range of ecological manifestations. At the same time, however, the modern efforts to “manage” the known environmental consequences of capitalism themselves have imperial origins. That is, the origins of dominant forms of Western environmentalist thought – with its focus on “environmental management” – can themselves be linked to early European imperialism. Two sorts of discursive transformation occurred alongside early imperialism in Western thought which contributed to this early form of environmental knowledge (Katz-Rosene and Paterson 2018). The first was a shift from seeing the world holistically toward seeing it as an inert set of specific species, organic chemicals, natural resources, and so on – a shift which occurred alongside the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century as early innovators like Galileo and Newton made their respective scientific discoveries (see, for instance, Merchant 1990; Plumwood 2002; Thomas 1996). The second involved the manifestation of powerful forms of “othering,” notably xenophobia and Orientalism, which occurred as Europeans traveled the world and encountered peoples whom they failed to interpret as human (Saïd 1978). That is, they constructed the peoples they encountered in their minds as part of nature, not part of humanity (Todorov 1984), a logic which gave rise to the exploitation and oppression of indigenous peoples alongside the exploitation of nature itself. Both of these discursive transformations, of course, contributed to an ethos of colonial management and control of both the natural world and any peoples who were not of European ancestry. Perhaps the best example of this dual transformation is the manifestation of the plantation economy in the Americas, made possible only thanks to the combined domination of land (via deforestation and monocropping of select commodity crops or mining of select precious metals) and people (in this case African slaves and indigenous peoples of the Americas) (Obeyesekere 1992; Studnicki-Gizbert and Schecter 2010).

This imperialist framing of ecology notably served to justify the expropriation of wide swaths of land and territory in the global British Empire. It was expressed most significantly by John Locke, whose Second Treatise on Government served to justify British colonialism by explicitly arguing that the indigenous peoples of North America should be understood within the category “nature” rather than “humanity,” and doing so precisely by reference to how they used the land. Since, claimed Locke, the indigenous inhabitants of North America did not appear to enclose land or issue private rights to property, they could not be said to be “improving” it in the way contemporary land title was understood in Europe, and thus – he reasoned – so gave up their rights to it (Locke 1966; Wood 2005). Of course, the rolling out of enclosure and private property rights which was facilitated by this dual philosophy has a range of legacies today: on the one hand, the social and spatial stratification along the lines of gender, race, and class stemming from the policies of forced displacement, land-grabbing, expropriation, and unjust laws which saw only white, wealthy, men own land; and on the other hand, a system wherein natural resources are predominately controlled, if not owned, by private capital (or at least strongly influenced by private capital in those cases when it is owned by the state).

As early as the mid-eighteenth century, some concerns about what is now termed “environmental degradation” emerged, yet they were initially noticed in colonial contexts and framed within the logics outlined above. In other words, early concerns about (local) environmental change were often stimulated by observations made by colonial managers worried about how such changes might impact imperial modes of production and accumulation. For instance, Grove (1995) shows in great detail how this occurred on many small islands in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans which served as supply posts for British (and to a lesser extent French) colonial ships: Many of these islands were rapidly deforested to make space for plantations to supply ships with food, and yet after being deforested, rainfall patterns shifted, significant amounts of soil erosion occurred, and flooding and other related problems ensued – problems which were in essence ecological but also experienced by colonists as being of a commercial nature. Unfortunately, constrained by colonial norms, such observations about ecological damage tended to (with some notable exceptions) result in conservationist efforts which in practice exacerbated the displacement of colonized people through efforts such as “forest conservation” systems (initiated in India in the mid-nineteenth century, then imported back to Britain through the Forestry Commission created in 1919), or which further marginalized impoverished communities. The latter occurred as the notion of “resource scarcity” became enmeshed with colonial-era advancements in the study of human demography and population growth. Thomas Malthus’ population thesis – which articulated a concern about whether food production would be able to keep pace with an exponentially growing human populace (Malthus 1959) – was rank with contempt for poor peoples, and failed to recognize how human development and more equitable forms of wealth distribution could potentially address population growth rates while improving quality of life. While Western environmentalism has many roots and variations, this version has become integral to hegemonic forms of environmental management today, represented for example by the “neo-Malthusian” arguments of Paul Ehrlich, Garrett Hardin, and the original Limits to Growth report (Ehrlich 1968; Hardin 1968; Meadows et al. 1972).

Neo-imperialism and the Reproduction of Global Ecology

While the empires of Europe were slowly eroded and eventually disbanded with the end of formal colonialism in the late twentieth century, the socio-environmental legacy of imperialism would continue to manifest in neo-imperial and neo-colonial forces. Despite the emergence of an embedded form of liberalism in the post-war Bretton Woods global order (Ruggie 1982), and a doubling down of laissez-faire neo-classical economics in the 1980s (Harvey 2005), the founding ethos of “freedom” underpinning modern globalization was certainly not enjoyed by all. Namely, the “rolling back” of the state and “rolling out” of business-friendly regulations which accompanied neoliberalism (Peck and Tickell 2007) have facilitated the continued domination of capital over nature (Castree 2008), and rich over poor (Piketty 2014). Drawing from Hornborg’s theories of “ecologically unequal exchange” (Hornborg 1998) and Moore’s theory of the “Capitalocene” (Moore 2017), this section demonstrates how contemporary neo-imperial relations within the global political economy – as embedded in the existing structures of global finance and investment, international trade, and official development assistance (ODA) – have an essential ecological quality.

As Bunker identified long ago (Bunker 1984, 1985), contemporary international trading relations include the same character of “embedded” energy, water, and other materials that travel alongside traded commodities. For instance, the exportation of an orange from South Africa to Europe is as much the exportation of the water contained in the fruit and the energy embodied in it – now transferred to a different continent. At the scale of a single commodity, this may seem inconsequential, but viewed at the macro-scale, it raises serious social and ecological questions about the “virtual trade” of water and energy from countries which lack access to clean water and affordable clean energy to countries where it is readily available. Hoekstra (2002) notes that 13% of all water used for agricultural production is in fact exported in this virtual format – through agricultural commodities. Picking up on this dynamic, authors like Hornborg and Rice (Hornborg 1998; Rice 2007) have drawn upon Emmanuel’s notion of “unequal exchange” (Emmanuel 1972) to emphasize the latter’s ecological character. That is, the notion of “ecologically unequal exchange” identifies the deep imbalances which exist in contemporary trade relationships, not solely in terms of economic injustices between richer and poorer nations, but also in the character of material environmental consequences stemming from this trade.

As a result of a number of forces relating to neoliberal globalization, much of the production of goods consumed in the Global North has increasingly been displaced to areas in the Global South. These forces include the rise of the multinational corporation as a powerful entity vis-à-vis the state (Schmidt 1995); the “flexibilization” of labor and weakening of collective bargaining laws (Stone 2005); and the “financialization” and corresponding rise of service-based economies in industrialized nations (Epstein 2005). That shift is thus simultaneously a shift in the distribution of environmental risks – workers now engaged in many of the world’s dirtiest industries are located in the Global South. Shipbreaking and electronics manufacturing and recycling are perhaps the iconic industries representing this shift (Demaria 2010). This transnationalization of production is usually understood as arising out of two specific dynamics – “industrial flight” and “pollution havens.” In the former, MNCs react to stricter environmental regulations and seek when possible to move production to jurisdictions with weaker standards; in the latter, the impetus comes from developing nations compelled (often via conditional loan stipulations mandated by the World Bank or International Monetary Fund) to lower the regulatory burden for multinational producers in a bid to bring in foreign investment (Levinson and Taylor 2002).

This dynamic is mirrored also within the Global North: That ecologically damaging production which has remained within the Global North (or North-North exchanges of hazardous waste for that matter) produces a similar pattern of spatial injustice – wherein ecologically damaging production processes, as well as the dumping of hazardous industrial wastes, tend to be predominantly located in poor communities, and the social costs are unfairly borne by lower income or marginalized communities (Chavis 1993; Cole and Foster 2001; O’Neill 2000).

The Injustice of (and Resistance to) Imperial Ecology

As global responses to environmental problems have progressed since their colonial articulation in the mid-eighteenth century (and modern iterations in the early 1970s), they have been shaped by imperial dynamics in important ways. At the initial UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972, Indira Gandhi famously contested the imperial neo-Malthusian framing of the global environmental crisis as one pertaining largely to the growing masses of (undifferentiated) humans threatening a finite set of increasingly scarce resources. Gandhi took issue with the articulation at the time that all must make sacrifices to save the planet; this was, after all, only very shortly after a range of newly independent countries had shaken off colonial shackles and were beginning to pursue accelerated economic and social development – the rhetoric of crisis struck her as a strategy by the rich of “pulling up the ladder behind them,” so to speak. In fact, there is some fairly direct evidence that this was a strategic proposal by some in the Global North; notably, Hardin’s infamous “lifeboat ethics” article (1974) explicitly argued that within the context of a global environmental crisis, rich countries ought to abandon the developing world to save themselves.

Over time, this imperial dynamic in “global ecology” (Sachs 1993) shifted to being less about controlling and limiting development in the Global South, and more about instrumentally seeking accumulation opportunities in responses to environmental change. By the time of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio in 1992, hegemonic environmental discourse had become framed in the context of the shift to neoliberal globalization (Bernstein 2001; Paterson 1996) and thus responses to the issues of the day – biodiversity, climate change, and deforestation, in particular, and “sustainable development” more broadly – were understood through the promotion of novel markets, the protection of intellectual property rights, and the expansion of the global reach of transnational corporations (TNCs). In Hildyard’s (1993) terms, it entailed putting “foxes in charge of the chickens.”

The global biodiversity crisis was thus framed as one of protecting genetic diversity (Shiva 1993). Countries from the Global North, pursuing the interests of their burgeoning biotech sectors, argued successfully that the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, one of UNCED’s two treaties, should make no distinction between “in situ” and “ex situ” conservation of biodiversity (Kothari 1992). Biodiversity was to be protected not only by conserving and enhancing forests and wetlands, but further by enabling TNCs to identify and extract the specific genetic properties of organisms. A gene bank where the genetic diversity of a huge range of species is “conserved” would have the same status in the treaty as a highly diverse standing forest or wetland. Of course, Big Biotech was advocating this discursive shift because its largest firms in the medical/pharmaceutical and agricultural sector were immersed in a rapid race for novel genetic modifications of organisms for commercial purposes (McAfee 1999).

This strategy was closely mirrored in the strategy within the trade regime. The same companies (with allies in this case in the entertainment sector, see Tyfield 2008) were lobbying aggressively for the inclusion of patent protection in the negotiations for what became the World Trade Organization in 1994. This resulted in the Agreement on Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) as a key part of the WTO treaty. To maximize accumulation from investment in biotechnology, companies needed to globalize Western patent protection rules, which TRIPS sought to enforce (Purdue 1996). This is where its imperial dimensions become particularly clear. The “development” of new genetic strains by Western biotechnologies mostly arose out of the identification of particular genes in plants and animals (including humans, with genetic material taken at times without consent from indigenous peoples in various parts of the Global South), on which patents were then claimed. In many cases, the specific properties of the varieties of plants or animals were already known among its communities of users, so the companies were in effect engaging in a form of “primitive accumulation” – appropriating things or knowledge previously held in common and then seeking to enforce their private property rights to those things or knowledge. Vandana Shiva (Shiva 1999) termed this “biopiracy.” There were various egregious examples of this, such as a California company taking out a patent on basmati rice, grown for centuries in South Asia (Woods 2002).

Neo-imperialism and Climate Governance

In the case of climate change, the regime under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) became similarly organized around transnational corporate interests. In this case, intellectual property rights were less central, but instead the global climate governance regime became organized around the creation of novel markets – markets in rights to emit greenhouse gases (GHGs) or in promises not to emit them (Betsill and Hoffmann 2011). The Kyoto Protocol (KP) to the UNFCCC, signed in 1997, created three such “carbon markets” (Newell and Paterson 2010). Kyoto’s successor, the Paris Agreement of 2015, created the possibility of others, albeit in a different institutional context (Carbon Brief 2018). Carbon markets have thus become central to climate policy and governance in many countries, such as the EU, China, South Korea, and in subnational jurisdictions in the USA and Canada (see the World Bank’s “Carbon Pricing Dashboard” for a survey of such policies; The World Bank 2018).

Carbon markets have an explicitly neoliberal ideological agenda. Their intellectual origins trace back to Ronald Coase, a Chicago economist and friend of Milton Friedman. He argued that environmental problems were problems of inadequately specified property rights (Coase 1960). Rather than state-led interventions such as regulation or taxation, Coase advocated decentralized solutions via litigation or establishing clearer property rights (Lane 2012; Solomon and Gorman 2002). This eventually became the logic for establishing new property rights in GHG (or “carbon”) emissions, which could then be traded as commodities.

As a neoliberal solution, carbon trading was then pushed heavily not only by governments ideologically attached to such “market-based mechanisms,” but also by many companies that saw distinct economic opportunities in these markets. Coalitions of TNCs started to push for such markets from the mid-1990s onward (Meckling 2011; Newell and Paterson 2010; Paterson 2012). Some of these were financial companies who would engage in the actual trading, but most were companies that would be regulated by carbon markets. They saw that if regulation of GHGs was coming, then carbon trading was considerably preferable to carbon taxes but especially to direct regulation (governments forcing the adoption of particular technologies, for example). It gave them flexibility in how they met their obligations – whether to invest in emissions reductions or seek to purchase additional allowances within the market, in particular. But it also gave them an asset at the same time as an obligation: emissions allowances have a market value and thus can be turned into financial strategies by companies as part of their overall commercial strategy.

But in the context of global negotiations, this solution was neo-imperialist in at least two ways (see especially Bachram 2004; Lohmann 2005, 2006). First, while it had already been the case (following precedent in almost all other environmental agreements) that countries’ obligations to reduce emission were expressed in the UNFCCC in terms of departure from their current emissions levels (as opposed to for example on some abstract principle like equal per capita emissions across countries), the emergence of carbon markets turned this into a property right. For example, if (say) Canada had agreed to reduce its emissions by 6% under Kyoto, then this became a right to emit 94% of its 1990 emissions in the 2008–2012 in the so-called Kyoto commitment period, and thus each tonne of the 433 Mt of carbon emissions that make this amount up was turned into a tradable allowance – an “Assigned Amount Unit.” Yet at the same time the world knew that there was a finite “carbon budget” that all countries could collectively emit over time without incurring dangerous or even catastrophic climate change (although disagreement existed and persists about how big that budget is). In other words, high emitting countries (like Canada) were appropriating the “atmospheric space” and in effect depriving low emitting countries access to that space.

Second, carbon markets are imperialist in that alongside “cap and trade” markets (where allowances are allocated to countries or companies which can then trade them) there are additionally “carbon offset” markets (where a company or country can invest elsewhere to reduce emissions, thus “offsetting” their own emissions). In this process, a company seeks to develop a project, say a windfarm, in the Global South. It applies to have it registered with the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), or one of the NGO certification organizations that have emerged in the last two decades, and has to go through a process by which it seeks to demonstrate that the project reduces GHG emissions compared to what would have been the case without the project. If it succeeds, then emissions credits are issued for the projects which are then sold to actors in the Global North seeking to offset their own emissions. These markets thus not only enable actors in the North to continue high levels of emissions (a particular twist on the logic of ecologically unequal exchange), but they also can generate more actively imperial dynamics (for instance, cases of displacement of people and other human rights abuses have been exposed in numerous carbon offset projects (see Corbera and Brown 2010; Wittman and Caron 2009). With forestry projects in particular, the problem of imperial control arises heavily since it requires the project developers to ensure that the forest is not cut down or otherwise damaged by local communities, so that credits can keep flowing for the lifetime of the project.

Correspondingly, a good deal of social movement resistance in relation to global environmental governance can be understood as anti-imperialist mobilizing. In the climate regime, an early reaction to hegemonic framings of climate change, by Indian environmentalists Anil Agarwal and Sunita Narain (Agarwal and Narain 1991), explicitly argued that such framings were a case of “environmental colonialism.” They showed that the World Resources Institute’s 1990 report (1991), the first to include GHG emissions, produced a ranking of countries by GHG emissions based on the simple measure of absolute emissions. China and India both appeared in the top five emitters on that measure. This reflected the underlying imperialist framing of environmental degradation as produced by an undifferentiated humanity, as we saw in the 1970s and late eighteenth century. Ignored entirely, Agarwal and Narain showed, were questions of either per capita emissions (i.e., how much the typical Indian emitted compared to the typical American), or of the social purpose of those emissions, which they argued should be separated into “luxury” and “survival” or “subsistence” emissions. For instance, why should the emissions of those flying round the world for leisure or business be counted the same as those of a subsistence rice farmer?

This argument has formed the basis of recurrent opposition to global environmental governance. Since the mid-2000s, it has mostly been articulated through “climate justice” movements, focused mostly on opposition to carbon markets (on the basis of the above critical arguments), but also on the inadequate pace of measures in the Global North to transform economies away from fossil fuels, with the consequent production of disasters and insecurity for many in the Global South. These movements have often invoked a notion of “ecological debt” (Roberts and Parks 2009), deployed to show that, given the finite character of the global “carbon budget” over time, and given how the Global North has already used more than its fair share of that budget, by any defensible measure of distributive justice, the North in practice owes debts to the South to redress the imperial dynamics in climate change itself (for a quantitative assessment of the historical value of climate debts among nations, see Matthews 2016). These notions of climate justice and ecological debt have become the basis of a widespread upsurge in environmental protest around climate change focused variously on UNFCCC conferences (Hadden 2015), other UN events (Giacomini and Turner 2015), oil pipelines (Barry 2013; Gunster and Neubauer 2018), and divestment from fossil fuels (Mangat et al. 2017), among other mobilizations and campaigns for social and ecological justice.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this entry has examined the relationship between imperialism and environment through the lenses of GEPE. It has shown how the forces of imperialism and environmental change have a long-standing dialectical relationship which continues at present in a variety of ways. Whether it is the various “metabolic rifts” created through the neoliberal governance of global trade, finance, and development regimes; the “neo-Malthusian logics” inherent in rich countries’ efforts to “manage” global environmental challenges; the various dimensions of injustice witnessed in the lived-experience of environmental damage; or efforts to commodify and profit from the practice of climate change mitigation (or even critical social responses to such commodification), the legacy of imperialism and new iterations of neo-imperialism are clearly intertwined with the manifestation of ecological change, and vice versa. This is to say that the imperial expression of power, domination, and oppression often generates ecological impacts, and conversely, environmental changes have had the effect of prompting or exacerbating neo-imperialist responses. As the world approaches various climatic and biodiversity thresholds and “tipping points” in the twenty-first century (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2018; United Nations Environment Programme 2012), the imperialism-environment dialectic is one to which those concerned about global inequities and social justice ought to pay close attention.

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Political StudiesUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada
  2. 2.Politics, School of Social SciencesUniversity of ManchesterManchesterUK