The Consumption Ecosystem

James Whitlow Delano

2010 - 2014

Out of sight, out of mind billions labor in poverty so more-prosperous end-consumers can enjoy a bounty of cheap food, cheap energy and cheap goods. By no choice of their own, they must shoulder a heavy burden so that more prosperous end-consumers can live better, more fulfilling lives secure in the belief that the supply of cheap stuff is a birth right not a privilege. The bounty of this capitalistic Mardi Gras, most consumers believe, is supposed to go on forever, free from consequences.

Multinational corporations, just like their colonial predecessors, extract resources and exploit cheap labor, as if the land and those who live on it are completely expendable. The goal to minimize production costs and maximize profit seems to take precedent above all else. With the rise of Asia, new players have emerged and become the biggest commodity consumer markets. Hard-fought gains in human rights and environmental protection are quickly being erasing.

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  • Workers dig trough for water line as a part of a massive project to reclaim a parcel of sand desert near Shapotou, Ningxia, China. Although desertification in China began centuries ago, the process was accelerated in the 1950’s, during the Maoist policies of the Great Leap Forward, when farmers were ordered to plough the marginal steppe grassland, unleashing massive dust storms reminiscent of America’s Dust Bowl years during the 1930’s. As the desertification mechanism has subsequently accelerated, this project is part of the government's effort to "tame the yellow dragon". China’s Environmental Agency says that the Gobi Desert expanded 52,400 square km. (20,240 square miles) from 1994 to 1999, about half the size of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. Migrants forced off of desiccated land may eventually number in the tens of millions.

  • (L) Husband and wife pick through the ruins of a house in a demolition wasteland where a 2,000+ year old city once stood, ever wary of boulders tumbling down from dump trucks above, in preparation for the coming inundation when the sluice gates were closed at the 3 Gorges of the Yangtze River Dam to generate electricity for millions of consumers living hundreds of kilometers away, and to control flooding downstream (now lowering water levels of lakes downstream), etc. During the construction of the dam in Hubei Province, 1.3 million people were forced to relocate, many living on rich farmland their families occupied for centuries in the area to be inundated. Wushan, Chongqing Municipality, China. (March 2003)
    (R) It is nothing but water above where the couple once picked through the rubble, after the sluice gates at the 3 Gorges of the Yangtze River Dam were slammed shut. Wushan, Chongqing Municipality, China. (July 2003)

  • Tomas Culangas, an undersized 10 year old child laborer, has emerged from a coffee finca or plantation, carrying a heavy sack of coffee beans he has picked while working with his grandfather. Guatemala exported 228,360,000 kg (502,392,000 lbs.) of coffee in 2010, its second largest export product by value, mostly to its largest trading partners the USA and Japan (Source: USDA). Near Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala

  • A pregnant Haitian woman in a makeshift batey (living compound) built on exposed coral near a popular tourist area. Sanitation facilities are non-existent and clean water must be purchased for drinking and bathing, creating a high risk for disease, particularly among children, the infirm, and the elderly. Boca Chica, Dominican Republic

  • Coal is the primary energy source fueling China's economic rise but this seemingly endless stream of heavy dump trucks filled with coal on a Gobi Desert highway is far from the big urban electricity consumers on the east coast. Inner Mongolia, China. China now consumes more coal than the rest of the planet combined. A new coal-fired power plant is opened in China at a pace of one per week. China now emits more carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, than any other country on the planet.

  • Young Mexican men, who have been arrested by the US Border Patrol are bused and then corraled into this enclosure where they are processed by Mexican gov't officials and released back into Mexico. Their labor is needed to keep the U. S. economy running and yet they must expose themselves great danger in Mexico from local police, federal police (Federales), local street gangs, human traffickers (now transnational cartels to whom they are often indebted) and finally U.S. Border Patrol (I.C.E) in order to cross the border to offer their labor. The entrance to the left is the entrance into Mexico where Americans or citizens of any other nationality are allowed to pass without presenting identification into Mexico as long as they stay within a prescribed zone along the border. (Documentations is needed to travel deeper into Mexico.)

  • Penan clan from Long Kelamu build a barricade to block loggers from Samling Group from accessing one of the very last tracts of virgin forest in the Malaysian state of Sarawak that is not part of a national park or reserve. According to Forbes Magazine, Samling's father & son owners, Yaw Teck Seng & Yaw Chee Ming have an estimated worth of US$ 480 million. According to Survival International, there are roughly 10,000 to 12,000 traditionally nomadic Penan living in the forests of Sarawak now in settled communities. The per capita GDP in Malaysia is US$ 6,970 (World Bank). Even if, taking the upper figure of 12,000, all the Penan people earned the per capita GDP of US$ 6970, the entire population of the Penan people would earn US$ 84 million per year, less than 20% the net total worth of the two tycoon owners of Samling Group.

  • Exported toxic waste: Children ride past computer components, which contain toxic heavy metals, brought in from North America, Europe and Japan to be dismantled to obtain recyclable materials to sell in what was, less than a generation ago, a bucolic agricultural village. Near Guiyu, Guangdong, China.

  • The Borneo end game: After several passes of loggers, a final clear cut, now a monoculture oil palm plantation is planted on what for centuries was the hunting ground for the indigenous Iban Dayak people to whom it is now off limits. Oil palm is used to make bio-fuel, cosmetics, bread, cookies, chocolate, instant noodles, shampoo and much more. In fact, it is hard to get through the day without consuming palm oil in one form. Malaysia is #2 in the world in the production of palm oil, and the state of Sarawak, this location, plans to expand its production to become the Malaysian state that produces the most palm oil. This Borneo rainforest could not regenerate here, even if this land were left alone. The topsoil has washed away, and the most complex ecosystem in the world has been obliterated. In five years with the help of copious amounts of fertilizer, this ravine will look like a tropical paradise of palm fronds concealing this botanical desert beneath it. Lambir Hills, Sarawak, Malaysia.

  • Farmland irradiated after the March 2011 meltdown at a Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant built to satisfy the energy consumption needs for millions people living hundreds kilometers away in the Tokyo megalopolis. Farmer, wearing a hazmat suit to protect against high rates of radiation, cuts weeds that have taken over his field so that he can then plough under the radiation-contaminated topsoil or even remove the topsoil altogether so that radiation levels in future crops can meet Japanese national standards one day in the future. This land in the mountains northwest of crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power plant will remain highly contaminated by fall-out for decades to come. Iitate-Mura, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.

  • Wasson, 21, is an orphan who came to the Dominican Republic from Haiti in order to find a job with which he could support his brothers and sisters. He is paid approximately $2.50 for each ton of cane and on a productive day will reach a maximum of three tons. A ton of refined sugar can be sold in the US markets for as much as $500. Barahona, Dominican Republic

  • Man, who lost his arm in an industrial accident, is reduced to begging, Shenzhen, China. Though there is great opportunity in coastal cities in China, not everyone attains the "Chinese Dream" of prosperity, especially if seriously injured on the job.

  • Decontamination work crew on the main highway, that links highly radioactive Iitate-mura with Fukushima City and the sea, after the March 2011 meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Local residents lament that the coastal strip of Fukushima Prefecture was known as the "Ginza" of electric power plants because like the luxury shops lining Tokyo's Ginza District, power plants line the coast providing Tokyo consumers with power without any risk if things like this go wrong. Residents may return to Iitate-mura but, due to the radioactive fall out from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, the levels of radiation make it too dangerous to inhabit full time. Iitate-mura, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.

  • (L) Fisherman returns through factories from the Yellow River, heavily contaminated by toxic effluent from heavy industry (including a massive PVC pipe manufacturing plant nearby), where he fishes for food to eat, Shizuishan, Ningxia, China.
    (R) His fishing spot: Factory effluent enters the Yellow River, the primary source of drinking and irrigation water for much of Northern China, Shizuishan, Ningxia, China. The river will subsequently pass through dozens of cities and towns, that depend upon it as a water source, on its way to the sea, several hundred kilometers downstream.

  • Batek Negrito women rest beside a muddy logging road in the heart of the Batek Negrito homeland that has been surveyed and marked for logging in the last, very narrow strip of old growth rainforest that still exists sandwiched between Taman Negara National Park and massive oil palm plantations that less than a generation ago were also old growth rainforest and the homeland of the Batek. Orange runoff from the laterite undersoil is already threatening to cloud the clear river where they are going to fish, which comprises a staple source of protein for the Batek. The woman in the foreground on the left is wearing waxy leaves in her hair for decoration. Near Kuala Koh, Kelantan, Malaysia.