Interviewer: Mohammed M. Aljamal
Asad Rehman, a global social and environmental activist
For too long, environmental protection took the form of protecting endangered species and its habitats, without giving much attention to the people and communities that suffer from transgressions against the environment. Furthermore, and while the traditional form of environmental protection takes care only of the communities of the Northern hemisphere, the South seems to be outside their agendas, despite the fact that we all live in a closed ecosystem. Therefore, what comes around goes around.
In previous articles, we saw that the dangerous and prohibited pesticides sold by the US to poor countries came back, with its traces stuck to the surface of produce imported by the US. We also saw that countries that take care of its environment, often discard the impact it poses on poor countries, like how the West sends its ships to Bangladesh to be disassembled while getting rivers polluted and nature contaminated.
Furthermore, and while compromising the environmental wellbeing to those countries, poor areas and indigenous communities are subjected to pollution, persecution and evection for the sake of building dams, excavating for crude oil and natural gas, and eradicating large areas of vegetation and replacing it with concrete jungles.
For that purpose, environmental activists, like Asad Rehman, took on themselves the duty of letting people see the whole picture and help them reach the conclusion that we are in this together.
Asad Rehman is a British activist of Pakistani origins and has been active in the field of environmental protection for over 25 years. Throughout his career, Rehman championed for the poor and needy and saw that the fight for social justice and environmental protection have huge similarities that cannot be denied, especially that the transgressions against the environment often happen to poor countries, or even poor communities inside some of the countries labeled “Developed”.
Throughout our interview with Asad Rehman, numerous insights have been learned, which are a result to his amazing experience as a justice defender. For starters, Rehman has attributed all the misery that affects our environment to imperialism and unfettered capitalism, which has costed our planet its peace and led to an average increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius around the globe. The Northern hemisphere, with all its factories and power plants may try to mitigate pollution, yet they don’t seem to respect the rights of the south, thinking that the aftermath will not reach them soon. Still, what they are oblivious for is the fact that in this closed ecosystem, what happens in the south doesn’t stay in the south, and perhaps the leaks about the exploitations perpetrated by mega corporations and the atrocities against people and nature come to the surface. Moreover, and while those corporations and multinational companies affect the environment and exploit its people and natural resources, the pollution that occurs there surely comes back to bite them in the back.
On an additional topic, Rehman was asked on his stance on Neo-liberalism, a movement that calls for an economy free from governmental regulation, saying that markets should be free and give chances to all to invest, produce and compete. Yet, and according to Rehman, neo-liberalism hinders the efforts towards the protection of the environment; free economy means that companies are allowed to do all they want without giving attention to the environment nor those who benefit from it, including indigenous people and rural communities. Therefore, any attempt to pass legislations to curb affecting the environment are often met with objections from liberals.
On the other hand, Rehman stated that fossil fuel is not the worst thing there is; the consumerism and the unfair distribution of energy between the south and the north surely keeps the south poor and needy and exacerbate the impact of pollution and climate change, without giving the south the fair chance to protect itself and ultimately protect the whole planet. This unfair use of energy often led to uprisings and objections from the countries of the south, and perhaps we remember the leaders who died for the sake of their countries’ prosperity, such as Mohammed Mosaddegh, Patrice Lumumba and Salvador Allende. The North must be held liable to their transgressions and help those countries rather than throwing them into further calamities.
In the end, Rehman stated that environmental activism is gaining momentum, and that the eyes shifter from protecting tuna and panda bears to protecting all those affected, especially the people, and ended the interview with his calls for championing for justice and keeping in mind that the fight for environmental protection is also a fight for justice and equality.