Can the poor resist capital? conflicts over ‘accumulation by contamination’ at the ship breaking Yard of Alang (India)

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    © Indian Society for Ecological Economics 2016. Capital looks at waste management as a new emergent global market, where a rentier position can be acquired and profits realized. Indeed, capitalists consider waste management as one among several economic spaces to be occupied for the expansion of the scale and scope of capital accumulation (Harvey, 2003). However, the commodification, the marketization and the privatization of wastes increase ecological distribution conflicts, i.e. the struggles around the redistribution of benefits and costs generated by an increase of the societal metabolism (the energy and material flows) of industrialized societies (Martinez-Alier, 2002). Shipbreaking in the developing world is not just an externality but a successful case of cost shifting, or else, capital accumulation by contamination. This is the process by which the capital system endangers, through cost-shifting, the means of existence (and subsistence) of human beings to in order to find new possibilities for capital valorization (e.g. alteration of biogeochemical cycles). An appropriation of de-facto property rights takes place resulting in the shifting of costs and risks, i.e. exploiting the sinks over their sustainable assimilative capacity (e.g. climate change). The consequences most likely fall upon the most vulnerable social groups (e.g. small scale farmers or fishers in the South), but the society as a whole can be affected. The shipping industry constitutes a key element in the infrastructure of the world ’ s social metabolism. Ocean-going ships are owned and used for their trade by developed countries but are often demolished, together with their toxic materials, in developing countries. Ship breaking is the process of dismantling an obsolete vessel’s structure for scrapping or disposal. The Alang–Sosiya yard (India), one of the world largest shipbreaking yards, is studied here with particular attention to toxic waste management. Ship owners and ship breakers obtain large profits dumping the environmental costs on workers, local farmers and fishers. This unequal distribution of benefits and burdens, due to an international and national uneven distribution of power, has led to an ecological distribution conflict. The controversy at the Indian Supreme Court in 2006 over the dismantling of the ocean liner ‘Blue Lady,’ shows how the different languages of valuation expressed by different social groups clashed and how a language that expresses sustainability as monetary benefit at the national scale, dominated.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationNature, Economy and Society: Understanding the Linkages
    Number of pages31
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


    • Accumulation by contamination
    • Cost shifting
    • Dumping
    • Environmentalism of the poor
    • Material flows
    • Toxic waste
    • Toxic waste management

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