Communism and the Environment

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Juxtaposing Communism and the Environmental movement is a debate tactic commonly employed by rightwing Talking Heads in an attempt to smear by association and, sadly, too often this supposed relationship is blindly accepted and parroted by their audience. For example conservative columnist George Will wrote in the Washington Post May 31, 1992, that environmentalism is "a green tree with red roots... a socialist dream... dressed up as compassion for the planet", and this from the ever acid Rush Limbaugh in The Way Things Ought To Be "With the collapse of Marxism, environmentalism has become the new refuge of socialist thinking". But is there any merit to the accusation? Conversely is it true that it is "possible to give capitalism the credit for environmental cleanliness" as Michael Fumento says?

A review of the actual facts shows that this attempted linkage is wrong. There was no official environmental consciousness within the Soviet Union before its fall.

"The environmental crisis in the former Soviet republics of eastern Europe is a direct result of the policies pursued under the communist regime, which gave top priority to industrialisation. It was predicted back in the 1930s by a few scientists who vainly attempted to alert the political leadership. It was aggravated by stubborn centralisation that ignored local conditions and by the construction of huge industrial complexes. Air pollution controls, treatment of waste water and modernisation of the production apparatus were all neglected. Large tracts of lands were severely damaged by collectivist agriculture, and massive irrigation resulted in widespread soil erosion and salinisation.

Both politicians and scientists adhered to the principle of the "self-purifying" biosphere, according to which the environment can adjust to various types of pollution without suffering major damage, provided they remain below maximum acceptable concentrations (MAC). In practice, the MAC were always largely exceeded." Environmental Disaster in Eastern Europe

"When communist governments took control of Eastern European nations in 1949, they embraced the Marxist ideology on natural resources - that natural resources have no intrinsic value; their sole purpose is to serve humans. At the same time, the governments promoted heavy industry to feed their military apparatus. The combination was devastating to the environment. The situation is worst in Poland, where a third of the population lives in areas under ecological threat. But it also was in Poland where environmental awareness first emerged and public protest began. Citizen reaction also was registered in Hungary and Czechoslovakia; in East Germany, opposition was not permitted; in Bulgaria, actions were few; and in romania, even the hint of protest was met by repression. Air pollution probably is the biggest problem, particularly in Poland and Czechoslovakia, although water pollution also is severe throughout most of Eastern Europe" DOE page.

"Environmental Education and Public Awareness in Georgia are tightly linked with the last developments taking place within the territory of the Former Soviet Union. There was no Environmental Education and Public Awareness here, including Georgia, before the Perestroika. Some elements of Environmental Education and Public Awareness could be found in school curricula or newspaper publications, however, all these were under very strong press of Soviet ideology and, therefore, carried wrong information and wrong bearings. On the other hand, starting from the times of Perestroika, when liberalisation has really begun and Georgia gained its independence, the Green Movement was established and grew rapidly." Environmental Education and Public Awareness in Georgia

Problems apparently continue there for environmentalists.

"However, at the same time some environmental organizations and individual activists are increasingly becoming targets of the secret service (cases of A. Nikitin, G. Pasko, N. Schur, V. Soifer, 'Kasimovskoye resistance,' etc.). Leaders of the secret service openly declare that environmental organizations are drawing their special attention. This explains why environmentalists are looking for contacts with the human rights movement. The very first attempt to create such an alliance encountered strong opposition of authorities." Ecology and Human Rights in Russia

But what about the contradictory contention of others on the right that environmentalists have capitalism to thank for the improved ecology in the United States? To an extent this is true. True that is in the strictly Maslowian sense. If a populace is existing in rank poverty its citizens probably have other things to worry about then clean air or endangered species. However the idea that market capitalism itself, which is concerned primarily with private interests making private profits, (as opposed to say, socialism) is directly responsible is simply false. It's a better standard of living, no matter how that comes about, combined with democracy, which gives concerned individuals the freedom to be able to do something about poor environmental conditions. Fumento accurately states this when he says, "Some economists, however, suggest that free governments may be even more important than free markets". One can have capitalism without democracy. Some say China is striving for just such a state. [1]. In these situations the environment takes a back seat.

Europe, on the other hand, which has by and large embraced a social democracy, has a strong environmental ethic at both the governmental and community levels [2] [3]. In contrast the United States, the domain of capitalism has been a hotbed of environmental battles. This is because unless there is an economic incentive to protect the environment environmentalism by definition is often seen as an impediment to the corporation's fundamental objective of ever increasing profits.

But more than mere finances or even democracy, there is yet another ingredient that contributes to an improved environment in the developed world - and that is the care and sacrifice of individual members in the community. These are people who come together or give in order to make a difference. Indeed to the extent that Will and Limbaugh and other hardnosed anti-environmentalists have safer water to drink, healthier food to eat and cleaner air to breathe (not to mention National Parks and Wilderness areas to visit when they need to get away from it all - assuming they do) they have the hard work of environmentalists to thank for that. [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10]

What commentators like Will and Limbaugh won't acknowledge is that environmental laws in the United States exist because the people have demanded it [11] [12] through the ballot box either directly with initiatives or indirectly by selecting those whom they believe will uphold environmental laws (whether that later turned out to be true or not (see Greenwashing)).

Thus, rather than communism or capitalism or even socialism environmentalism is the domain of a free society.

External Links

Additional links from Planet Ark:

See also Environmental Problems in Eastern Europe : New Updated Edition (The Natural Environment : Problems and Management Series) by D. Turnock