The Grist has a nice article up responding to last month’s news that the world’s population was on the cusp of hitting the 7 billion mark. Beginning with that fact as a starting point, the authors address the question of whether a population of 7 billion has any significant impact on the environment, or if our environmental crises actually have another cause. The article points out the following:
But most of the 7 billion are not endangering the earth. The majority of the world’s people don’t destroy forests, don’t wipe out endangered species, don’t pollute rivers and oceans, and emit essentially no greenhouse gases.
Even in the rich countries of the Global North, most environmental destruction is caused not by individuals or households, but by mines, factories, and power plants run by corporations that care more about profit than about humanity’s survival.
No reduction in U.S. population would have stopped BP from poisoning the Gulf of Mexico last year.
Lower birthrates won’t shut down Canada’s tar sands, which Bill McKibben has justly called one of the most staggering crimes the world has ever seen.
Universal access to birth control should be a fundamental human right — but it would not have prevented Shell’s massive destruction of ecosystems in the Niger River delta, or the immeasurable damage that Chevron has caused to rainforests in Ecuador.
And going back to a subject that is near and dear to my heart, they address the fact that the environmental damage caused by unregulated corporate exploitation has an enormous cost, which goes unpaid by the corporate criminals. The burden, rather, falls on the shoulders of the public and on government.
In the United States, the richest 1% own a majority of all stocks and corporate equity, giving them absolute control of the corporations that are directly responsible for most environmental destruction.
A recent reportprepared by the British consulting firm Trucost for the United Nations found that just 3,000 corporations cause $2.15 trillion in environmental damage every year. Outrageous as that figure is — only six countries have a GDP greater than $2.15 trillion — it substantially understates the damage, because it excludes costs that would result from “potential high impact events such as fishery or ecosystem collapse,” and “external costs caused by product use and disposal, as well as companies’ use of other natural resources and release of further pollutants through their operations and suppliers.”
So in the case of oil companies, the figure covers “normal operations,” but not deaths and destruction caused by global warming, not damage caused by worldwide use of its products, and not the multi-billions of dollars in costs to clean up oil spills. The real damage those companies alone do is much greater than $2.15 trillion, every single year.
Every day, everywhere, the public bears the burdens of corporate costs of doing business, while the “profits” from these actions go directly to the top. There is a popular right wing myth that all that money represents the fruits of hard work and success. That is a gigantic lie. That money represents the costs that we are all paying with our health and our environment. Never forget it.