COP21: Contaminants Seep in a World Unfree

There is a concept of a ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ which says that the poor south who are not the reason for climate change but suffer from it, is not really respected by the northern or rich governments in the north.
— 'Heading for Higher Ground: Climate Crisis, Migration, and the Need for Justice and System Change'

It feels like Groundhog’s Day. Same system, same selfishness, same skintones. After temporarily breaking free from my group, I had the fortune to meet several members of the Global South who, unfortunately, have also been impacted by the insatiable, environmentally devastating routine of Global North’s capitalistic dominion. 

Ranatha and myself, after an engaging conversation on capitalism and displacement.

Here is Ranatha. She represents the Samaaka Maroons, a population of West African descendants who were shipped as slaves to Suriname (under Dutch occupation) during the 16 and 1700s. Only 250 years ago, they fought for and eventually received freedom, only to be released into the unfamiliar bush of Suriname wilderness, where they were received by indigenous tribes to live off the land. For centuries, the Samaaka Maroons have been ‘keepers of the forest,’ Ranatha explains. But in this day, these very lands in which they were freed, have been sanctioned for corporate abuse by the government to contaminate water and soil, and irreversibly wipe out forests at an increasing rate. 


At COP21, Ranatha is speaking to me, frustrated. She’s frustrated that a conference about climate change still does not value indigenous people’s presence. ‘Who else is more impacted than us?’ she argues. The Samaaka Maroons currently have no voice aside from her cubicled presence at Le Bourget. In 2007, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights passed a bill stating the government of Suriname must recognize the land rights of the Samaaka Maroons...but to this day, nothing has happened. 

Suriname, like many areas of the Global South, is abundant with natural resources, including gold, exotic wood, aluminum ore, and oil. To remove gold, high pressure hoses saturate the ground beneath the surface. Soon after, lethal mercury of both liquid and gas form is administered to separate gold from the other minerals. Rivers where the Samaaka Maroons used to bathe are now tainted yellow with mercury runoff. 

As more natives are poisoned out of the lands, they are simultaneously funneled into the proximate path out of poverty: this extractive mining economy. When earth-dependent communities face the environmental contamination of capitalistic creep, they often have no choice but to cave. Or perish. I try to connect the dots. I’ve seen a similar procession before. In South Louisiana, land loss from sea level rise, oil drilling and spillage displaces Houma and frontline natives. In the Bahamas, Biminites watch chain cruise line developers pillage their mangrove wetlands. In Mali, subsistence farmers migrate to cities as multinational agribusinesses force them off their ancestrally-inherited land. Earth bleeds. The virus is everywhere. I wonder if we have it in us to connect the dots. I wonder if we understand that when we destroy the last keepers of the forests, we will have destroyed our species' salvation.