In the wake of the protests launched by the young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, the international movement to protest for the environment, against climate change and for governments to move in a ‘green’ direction has now reached global dimensions. Many young people have become aware of how important the environment is for the life of the human species on the planet and have decided to mobilize themselves.
This is certainly a positive step. But this movement lacks the awareness that their righteous battles must be directed against the capitalist and imperialist system that has brought the planet into such a situation. It was certainly not fate or cynical and bizarre destiny. The global level of pollution has very specific culprits. Therefore, the battle to be waged is not a simple and generic battle to defend the environment. It is a fight against a specific enemy.
This is something that was clear to the African leader Thomas Sankara. These are the words he spoke in Paris on 5 February 1986, at the first international conference on trees and forests.
“This struggle to defend the trees and the forest is first and foremost a struggle against imperialism. Because imperialism is the arsonist of our forests and savannahs,” Sankara denounced.
“My homeland, my Burkina Faso, is undoubtedly one of the few countries in the world that has the right to call itself a concentration of all the natural disasters that mankind still suffers from at the end of this twentieth century.
Eight million Burkinabe have internalised this reality in 23 terrible years. They have seen mothers, fathers, sons and daughters die, decimated by hunger, famine, disease and ignorance. With their eyes full of tears, they watched ponds and rivers dry up. Since 1973 they have seen their environment deteriorate, the trees die and the desert invade them by leaps and bounds. It is estimated that every year the desert advances in the Sahel by 7 kilometers.
(…) Ladies and Gentlemen, we are here in the hope that you will engage in a struggle from which we will certainly not be absent, we who are subjected to a daily attack and believe that the miracle of greening can be born from the courage to say things as they are. I have come to join you in deploring the rigours of nature. I have also come to denounce those men who, with their selfishness, are the cause of the misfortune of others. Colonialism has plundered our forests without even remotely thinking about leaving them or restoring them for our future.
The destruction of the biosphere continues with impunity in the world with wild attacks and murders on the land and the air.
And we cannot speak enough of the extent to which all these smoke-forming vehicles spread death. Those who have the technological means to find the culprits have no interest in doing so, and those who have this interest lack the necessary technological means. They have only their own intuition and their own firm conviction. We are not against progress, but we want progress not to be conducted in an unregulated manner and in the criminal forgetfulness of the rights of others. We want to say that the fight against the advance of the desert is a fight to find a balance between human beings, nature and society. As such, it is first and foremost a political battle, the outcome of which cannot be left to fate.
The creation of a Ministry of Water in Burkina, linked to the Ministry of the Environment and Tourism, is a sign of our willingness to put the problems clearly on the table in order to find solutions to them.
(…)This is why Burkina has proposed and continues to propose that at least 1% of the colossal sums earmarked for the search for life forms on other planets be used to finance the struggle to save trees and life. We do not abandon the hope that the dialogue with the “Martians” can make us regain Eden, but we believe in the meantime, as inhabitants of the earth, we have the right to refuse an alternative limited to the mere choice between hell and purgatory.
Thus formulated, our struggle to defend trees and forests is first and foremost a popular and democratic struggle. Because the sterile and expensive fuss of a handful of engineers and forestry experts will not solve anything! Nor will the affected consciences of a number of forums and institutions, however sincere and praiseworthy they may be, green the Sahel, if we do not have funds to dig wells of drinking water a hundred meters deep, while there is all the money needed to dig wells for oil 3,000 meters deep! As Karl Marx used to say, people who live in a building do not think the same thing or the same way as people who live in a shack. This fight to defend the trees and the forest is first and foremost a fight against imperialism. Because imperialism is the arsonist of our forests and savannahs.
(…)Yes, the problem of the forest and the trees is exclusively a question of balance and harmony between individuals, society and nature. It is a potential gamble; we do not back down in the face of the enormity of the task and we do not escape from the suffering of others because desertification no longer has frontiers”.
- Read the Full Text of the Speech: Thomas Sankara: Imperialism is the Arsonist of Our Forests and Savannas