Extractivism: Defined by Naomi Klein, Exercised Through Privilege

I want to discuss a theory I find to be at the crux of many issues in this world, and I would like to draw on its relation to privilege.

Naomi defines extractivism as the practice of removing raw materials from the earth, usually for export to traditional colonial powers, where “value” was then added for their benefit. It is based purely on taking, with no regard for what will replace it further down the line.

Often, these resources are extracted not at home, but abroad, thus, extractivism is considered a form of hegemony. The economic benefits are quite substantial — for some — and it is likely that any condemnation of this practice you’ve stumbled upon stems only from environmental impacts: a warming earth and depletion of resources. However, it is crucial that we delve a little deeper.

Extractivism is also directly connected to the notion of sacrifice zones — places that, to their extractors, somehow don’t count & can be poisoned, drained, drowned, or otherwise destroyed for the “greater good” of economic progress. More important, it exasperates the reduction of life into objects for the use of others, giving them no value of their own. Consider every oppressed group and their oppressor. It is natural pillars (trees, boulders, mountains) that are considered burdens when we bring equipment in to frack for oil. It is the human beings forced into slave labor and social confinement, simplified into problems to be locked out at borders or locked away in prisons and reservations (think European colonization of America). These beings have become objectified and ignored.

We’ve continued to embrace this model into modern capitalism as a road to development; to ‘greatness.’

The horrifying reality is that extraction or oppression is not limited to groups and issues that we cannot see, such as carbon pollution. It is what we CHOOSE not to see, happening here and now in the form of racial, class and gender oppression. From the factory worker making your $10 shirt you bought for a single photo, to an entire population fearful for their life because of the color of their skin, to immigrants fleeing persecution at no fault of their own, that we choose to build barriers to keep out, as if they are less human than we are; somehow underserving. And the truth is: we’ve told ourselves they are all somehow less important than we are, simply with our compliance.

“The lesson we have to take from our actions is not only about dangers of emissions, but our mentality of believing that we take many actions in a single day without thinking of the damage we leave behind.”

Imagine if every single piece of waste you create went into your own personal landfill, and that landfill was your backyard. Would those exigent circumstances entice you to implement change with the goal of creating less? Imagine if lending your voice to an oppressed group helped to remove the oppressor from the equation, simply because your voice carries power and in turn draws attention to the abusive circumstances. 

Over time, we’ve created an egregious disconnect between our decisions and the impact of those decisions, but the fact is there is nowhere that doesn’t count and no person that doesn’t count. Every decision we make in a single day has an impact on an invisible-to-us person or place. As an extractor, we must acknowledge our privilege. This engrained way of being will continue if we do and say nothing.