It has been 4 months since Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico, and half of the residents on the island are still living without power. Dr. Catalina de Onís of Willamette University is reporting that this humanitarian crisis can be blamed on the energy colonialism of the United States just as much as the storm itself.
The Trump Administration recently announced that Puerto Rico is too wealthy to be given additional funding for recovery. However, over a million people still have no electricity and tens of thousands are relying on drinking water that may be contaminated with raw sewage.
According to Dr. Onís, a perfect storm of devastation was created in Puerto Rico by the colonial legacy, a $73-billion debt crisis, outdated infrastructure, and Hurricanes Irma and Maria. She has been investigating the country’s colonialist energy policies and has determined that many of these policies must be given further examination.
“Inspired by local grassroots organizing efforts, and angered by the ongoing exploitation of Puerto Rico as a US colony, I have spent four years studying how the territory has been exploited as a sacrifice zone for empire building and experimentation, corporate greed, and toxic energy projects,” said Dr. Onís.
The study addresses one particular policy, known as Operation Bootstrap, that “continues to haunt Puerto Rico.” Launched in the 1940s, the initiative industrialized the economy of Puerto Rico and positioned the territory as a destination for wealthy investors and corporate polluters, including the fossil fuel industry.
Dr. Onís notes that there are ongoing efforts by some communities in Puerto Rico to develop and implement resident-managed solar projects.
She explains: “If shifting to solar and wind becomes a license for green capitalism, continued hyper-consumption and an outsider-knows-best mentality, then alternative energy sources only perpetuate the same unsustainable systems that created our current problems. As so many Puerto Ricans have argued, radical transformations and disruptions to colonial, neoliberal business-as-usual are urgent and they begin with local community control.”
This research ultimately emphasizes the importance of understanding energy colonialism’s role as a barrier to energy justice. Dr. Onís says that energy colonialism should be addressed in every conversation about weather disasters and everyday crises to support the needed movement toward energy democracy.
The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Communications.
By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer