by Robert Wilkinson
Though I'm a big fan of alternative fuels and renewable energy sources, we find the miracle of ethanol also includes a chilling story of hell of Earth for thousands of beings trapped in a sisyphean dystopia exposing the true costs of cheap ethanol. What you'll read today is sad, frustrating, and outrageous in our 21st century.
From the very respected German publication Der Spiegel, courtesy of the ever-great Truthout, a story by Clemens Höges where it's clear that the "green tsunami" of Brazil's success with cheap ethanol comes at the cost of thousands of early deaths through a miserable form of capitalist enslavement of poor people. The price of power for our automobiles includes starvation, misery, and worn out, disposable impoverished workers. From the story:
... He knows a hernia finished him, and it was the hernia that forces him to push his intestines into place when he straightens up after bending over. He feels two types of pain: a dull throbbing pain in his groin that has been there for a long time, and the sharp pain he experiences whenever he cuts sugarcane with his facão, or machete.
When foremen realized he was holding his intestines in place with his hand, they chased him off the plantation. They are uninterested in sick old men when plenty of young, strong workers can take their place. According to a study done at the University of São Paulo, cane cutters last an average of 12 years on the job before they are so worn out that they have to be replaced. Da Silva is 43, an old man on the plantations.
Though his hernia was repaired in the hospital, the doctor told him he should no longer cut cane, especially not for the next few months. Otherwise the wound might reopen and possibly kill him.
"What can I do?" da Silva asks. "There is nothing else here. Those who do not cut sugarcane go hungry. And then there are the children."
A little more:
Da Silva could not have ended up anywhere else. He is illiterate and had no other opportunities. His father died when he was seven. When his mother fell ill, she gave Antonio a facão and sent him to the foreman on the plantation.
The machete, with a blade wider than a hand, is sharpened seven or eight times a day. It's sharp as a razor blade. The hook at the end of the blade can make serious wounds.
The act of cutting the cane consists of two strokes with the facão. The first stroke separates the cane from the root, and the second removes the remaining leaves from the stalk, allowing the worker to twist the stalk with his free hand. The motions are fast and fluid, but the double stroke requires strength, even the first, second or third time. After 3,000 or 4,000 strokes a day, by evening the men are often too exhausted to speak....
"... On the plantations, workers are not entitled to eat anything but corn meal with water, the daily subsistence food of cane cutters. Their wages are insufficient to buy anything else.
They work six days a week. Da Silva earns about 400 real (about €130, or $172) a month during the season, which last about five or six months. One of the curses of monoculture is that there is no work for sugarcane cutters in the northeast except during the harvest season. In other words, they and their families must survive on their earnings for an entire year. This is far too little, especially when a kilo of beans costs 5.80 real (about €2, or $2.65).
By all means, read the entire story of A "Green Tsunami" in Brazil: The High Price of Clean, Cheap Ethanol to learn even more about our very deluded world idea of the worth of a human life. It reminds me of an old song:
You load 16 tons and whaddaya get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don'tcha call me 'Cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the Company Store
© Copyright 2009 Robert Wilkinson