Capitalism’s legacy

A Perfectly Normal Disaster

epa05014906 Firefighters try to save a horse that is stuck in the mud after a barrier at an industrial waste site collapsed, in Bento Rodrigues in Mariana, Brazil, 06 November 2015. At least several people died, 43 were injured and an unknown number are still missing after a barrier at a waste deposit site in a mining complex near Mariana in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais ruptured, local media and emergency organizations reported. EPA/Antonio Lacerda [ Rechtehinweis: (c) dpa ]
How natural are natural disasters really?
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Around the world citizens are increasingly voicing discontent with free markets. Author Stephan Lessenich argues that we should look in the mirror and consider footprint of our own consumerist lifestyles.

  • Facts


    • Man-made disasters, like leaks of toxic chemicals into rivers and estuaries, have become the norm rather than the exception.
    • The success of modern industrial societies is based on exploiting resources and shifting the real costs of consumption to others – a process called “externalization.”
    • We cling to the illusion that we can have our cake and eat it but cut-price exploitation of natural resources often comes at the cost of the environment.
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The chances are you don’t remember what happened in Mariana, the Brazilian mining city last year. Here’s a quick reminder: Last November dams broke at an iron ore mine, spilling 60 million cubic meters of mud containing heavy metals into nearby community of Bento Rodrigues and the Rio Doce River. Along three-quarters of its 850-kilometer (528-mile) course, the formerly “Sweet River” became a toxic flow of residues of iron, lead, mercury, zinc, arsenic and nickel.

The accident cut off a quarter of a million people from clean drinking water. Then, after 14 days the red waters reached the Atlantic coast and flowed into the ocean, devastating the ecosystem on its path. The former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff dubbed the incident the worst environmental disaster in her country’s history.

Although the images of the dead river and its estuary tainted red by chemicals are dramatic, the case of Rio Doce isn’t a unique tragedy. The sad reality is that such spills are all too common: Rio Doce is everywhere.

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