The Oil Spill in Mauritius is Not Just an Environmental Problem, It is a Capitalist Problem

Mauritius, is known to some as a vibrant African island near the Indian Ocean. Many islands alike, are just seen as tourist destinations for those who can afford it. Sure Mauritius makes most of it’s money off of tourism and privileged people spending their vacations there, but like all other countries, it is more than what it’s known for. Mauritius is a diverse nation, with some of the most beautiful and rich sceneries and ecosystems one could ever encounter. An island full of nature and culture. It is not just a nice beach with exotic foods, where the extinct Dodo bird once roamed. It is an independent nation and should be treated as such.

When asked about what the less informed should know about Mauritius, a New York Literature, History and French professor that was born and raised in Mauritius had this to say:

“I think if Mauritius was unknown before, it is now on the world news because of the oil spill. I have actually been heartened to see the outpouring of support from around the world in this moment of tragedy. But I would like to say this: even if the water now looks clear, the oil spill will be affecting our lagoons for years to come. So how do you turn momentary support into a lifelong commitment? What are you willing to do, to continuously discuss this, pressure your governments at the state and federal level, pressure international institutions, advocate for change, on a permanent basis? This is what we need to change in our support and advocacy.”

On July 25th, a Japanese ship , The MV Wakashio spilled nearly 4,000 metric tons of oil into the waters off the coast of the island. You do not have to be an environmentalist to understand the amount of damage and harm that this oil spill does not only to the environment, but the people living on the island as well. The oil will damage the coral reefs, which will kill, harm and disease many marine life. This will also affect the food supply and local fishing businesses of Mauritius. Much of the water off of the coast needs to be cleaned, so ships and trade can resume. In short, Mauritius’s environment and economy will continue to take huge hits as the oil and wreckage remain in the water.

When further questioned about how this crisis and all of the other climate and environmental crises that happened in the past couple of years (Such as the Amazonian, African and Australian forest fires) are correlated with each other, especially when capitalism and colonialism come into play, the Mauritian born professor had this to say:

“The colonial and imperial project basically rearranged the world so that empires could be made rich. People and resources were uprooted on a global scale. Rainforests, natural habitats, the lungs of the world basically, were cleared to build plantations, ports, railways so empires could function maximally. America, Africa, Australia and Asia to some extent were seen as terra nullius to be conquered, to be mined for resources, or to be used to produce as much as possible. In many colonies, people were forced out of their old life and ways and made to work the land and produce the goods the empire needed.  Capitalism functions with the same logic, of course. And in all of this, then and now, it is the most vulnerable who are the first victims of climate change. And the most vulnerable of the world are usually BIPOCs (Black, Indigenous People of Color), because they usually have the least resources to deal with the massive impacts of climate change. For example my own home island of Mauritius is facing one of the worst environmental disasters currently. A Japanese ship which ran aground on its lagoon has been spilling oil into it for the past few weeks. Those who subsist on the sea – fisherfolk, boaters, etc. – are the ones who are being the most affected. Fisherfolk are already getting sick from consuming fish from the sea. Kids who go to school in the southeast of the island, near which the spill happened, are getting sick from the toxic substances – those who don’t have the means to move will continue to get sick. In this way, the most vulnerable always suffer the most. Another example is the Marshall Islands which were a testing ground for the US atomic bombs in the 1940s and 1950s. Decades later, many inhabitants who were displaced still cannot go back to their home island because it contains dangerous levels of radioactivity, and these people continue to have severe health problems. The worst and most infuriating is that, at times, environmentalist discourses are actually used to justify colonialism, racism and oppression. They are weaponized to marginalize the vulnerable even further. The island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean was never made independent from the British empire; instead its inhabitants were displaced to Mauritius so it could be leased to the US and repurposed into a military base. The home and pets of the original inhabitants were destroyed. In 2009, the UK decided to turn the area around the island into a protected marine area, one of the largest. A recent Wikileak revealed that the purpose of this was to use environmental discourse as a subterfuge to continue keeping the original inhabitants away.”

In good news, France and many organizations, equipped to clean up pollution in natural habitats are helping to clean up the mess. But even after the oil and wreckage gets cleaned, Mauritius will still suffer long term effects of this disaster. With tensions rising even further due to the U.S Presidential Elections, and the rising awareness of police brutality it is important to realize the affects that capitalism, colonialism and imperialism have on not just the people of the world but the world itself. Just as the professor said, climate change will effect the most vulnerable, BIPOCs first. Every single system of oppression needs to be dissected and ultimately abolished in order for true liberation to happen. And the people of the world cannot obtain true liberation without natural habitats, ecosystems and resources. We must aim to preserve this world as it is our only home.

If you would like to help by donating to relief funds for the oil spill in Mauritius please visit https://www.mauritian-wildlife.org/news/2020-08-07/oil-spill-from-wakashio and https://africadonate.greenpeace.org for more information.

You can also sign the petition at https://www.change.org/p/unep-please-help-to-mobilise-equipment-and-expertise-to-support-the-clean-up-of-the-spilled-oil-and-to-prevent-further-leakage?recruiter=399816772&recruited_by_id=9bc009c0-6d85-11e5-ad85-1ba87d235e8d to get a global aid to support the clean up.

Sources:

https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/23/opinions/mauritius-oil-spill-reddy-opinion/index.html

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