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For the ecological effects of European expansion, see Ecological imperialism.

Eco-imperialism is a term recently popularised, among others, by Paul Driessen. The term refers to the forceful imposition of Western environmentalist views on developing countries. The degree to which this occurs is a topic of debate, as is whether such imposition would be ethically justifiable. Some commentators[who?] maintain that eco-imperialism has a racial dimension, and occurs when environmentalists place the well-being of the environment over the well-being of humans, particularly people of color, living in developing countries. Roy Innis, chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality has argued that European Union restrictions on the use of the pesticide DDT to combat malaria are killing 'black babies’. Environmental historian Ramachandra Guha has accused 'authoritarian' biologists of valuing the protection of endangered species over the well-being of local people in India and other developing countries.[citation needed]

Driessen's text[edit]

In his book Eco-Imperialism: Green Power, Black Death (2003),[1] Paul Driessen argues that like the European imperialists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, today's eco-imperialists keep developing countries destitute for the benefit of the developed world.

By advocating for the precautionary principle, corporate social responsibility and sustainable development, Driessen claims, environmental groups legitimize their demands on government but often engender poverty and death in the process. Driessen also asserts that environmentalists' demands can sometimes cause environmental degradation.

Driessen's arguments are similar to those of environmental critic Bjørn Lomborg.

Possible examples[edit]

  • In the Malaysian timber industry, workers face considerable strain due to boycotts by industrial nations on their timber. Under the auspices of environmental responsibility, these nations seek to promote environmental sustainability by disapproving of Malaysia’s laws regarding the timber industry. As a lucrative natural resource, timber generates much government revenue, some of which is aimed at helping the poor.[citation needed] An eco-imperialism argument has been formed surrounding this issue, contending that Western nations are neglecting the importance of economic viability for a developing country. Assuming that Malaysia can afford the same sustainable practices used in “the North” potentially neglects the importance of economic growth for a developing country, and for many commentators, weighs environmental considerations heavier than those for human life.[2]
  • A "carbon tariff" on countries that do not produce goods according to certain sustainability requirements has been adopted by several nations. The U.S. and France, notably, are advocates for such legislative measures. Countries affected by these tariffs are almost all considered[by whom?] developing nations which rely on Western countries buying their goods. A proponent of eco-imperialism would see the “carbon tariff” as a detrimental environmental consideration, as developing countries can suffer while there is little effect on the industrialized country levying the tariff. Germany and Sweden are two nations that have been vocally against carbon tariffs.[3]
  • Resistance to the World Bank’s £2.4 billion loan to South Africa in 2010 to build a coal plant was seen by critics as an example of eco-imperialism. If the coal plant was not built, there would have been significant limitations placed on industrial development in the country. South Africa was facing widespread power outages, and officials in the country saw the plant as vital to their continued economic growth. However, environmentalists have expressed discontent as the plant will emit 25 million tons of carbon per annum. Some believe the benefits achieved in terms of electricity and power by the plant outweigh the environmental considerations merited by a building of this type.[4]
  • An argument exists that the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio was a forum that greatly promoted eco-imperialism [2]


Because the idea of eco-imperialism denies the ethical validity of hundreds of international environmental groups, the term has come under significant criticism from activists around the world. Many of these groups concede that developing nations often oppose entangling environmental concerns with free trade. However, the foundations that support eco-imperialism are sometimes considered to be based on myths that have been propagated by Western media.[5]

One of the proposed myths of eco-imperialism is that poor nations cannot afford the luxury of environmental protection. This notion is founded on the idea that the consequences of globalization for the environment are being disproportionately suffered by developing nations compared to industrialized nations. For instance, the export of waste to what is sometimes called the global South by the global North is a practice that has been occurring for years, and can partially explain the environmental degradation of many developing countries.[6]

Deforestation is another concern for critics of the term eco-imperialism. While some consider a country’s timber resources to be theirs to extract, environmentalist groups see growing deforestation in the world to be a case of economic and environmental injustice. An increasing presence of timber companies from Western nations has been felt in the developing world, suggesting that wealth extracted from tropical timber is not going into the source country, but instead flowing into the industrialized world.[7]

Another consideration against the idea of eco-imperialism is that environmental progress may be concurrent with social and economic progress. An eco-imperialist argument holds that environmental considerations fundamentally restrict economic growth. An argument exists that economic well-being is actually decreased with further environmental degradation, especially in situations in which the environment generates income such as canals and dams. In terms of social progress, some see environmental protection as a basic human right, and therefore abuses to the environment also count as human rights abuses. Embedded in this argument is the idea that indigenous people have sovereignty over their natural resources. This is seen by the international human rights community as an “emerging right”. Currently, some developing countries may not enjoy this right, with foreign companies extracting the natural resources.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Driessen, Paul. (2003). Eco-Imperialism: Green Power Black Death. Bellevue, WA: Free Enterprise Press. ISBN 9780939571239
  2. ^ a b Mahathir bin Mohamed, Datuk Seri (1999). "The Green Flag of Eco-Imperialism". New Perspectives Quarterly 16 (2): 8–9. doi:10.1111/0893-7850.00214. 
  3. ^ Shanley, Mia, and Ilona Wissenbach (July 24, 2009). "Germany calls carbon tariffs 'eco-imperialism'". Reuters. 
  4. ^ Chambers, Andrew. (2010, April 11.) "The fight against eco-imperialism," The Guardian.
  5. ^ Drozdiak, William. (1994, April 14). "Poor Nations Resist Tougher Trade Rules, The Washington Post, p.A20
  6. ^ Economist, The. (1992, February 8). "Let Them Eat Pollution," p.66
  7. ^ a b Gonzalez, Carmen G. (2001). "Beyond Eco-Imperialism: An Environmental Justice Critique of Free Trade". Denver University Law Review 78 (4): 981–1016. SSRN 987941. 

External links[edit]