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The Big Green Lie

 

 

WWF recently released (June 5th, 2020) a short video[1] of British “national treasure” and conservation icon, Sir David Attenborough, telling us that “suddenly” saving the world is within reach. He says they know what to do and have a plan to build a stable, healthy world that we can benefit from forever. What’s not to like? Well, a lot! WWF’s plan regurgitates a 19th century racist assumption: That too many of the wrong kind of people threaten us all.

Their “plan” has four commandments: 1) “stop the damaging stuff”; 2) “new green tech”; 3) get population down, and; 4) keep hold of “natural wealth we have currently got.”[2] Let’s begin by removing the two “no-brainer” outliers, the first and last in the plan, stopping doing damage and keeping existing advantages. Both are self-evident approaches to pretty much anything. What we’re left with then is just two answers to the planet’s problems – new green tech and reducing population.

What’s the underlying message in the first: We can carry on business as usual so long as we change our energy source? We swap oil and coal for wind and solar and hey presto the world is saved? But hang on, what about the carbon footprint, and the slave and child labor, used in building that “new green tech” – tiny children digging cobalt in the Congo,[3] for example? What about the growing inequalities which fuel the massive overconsumption by the élite? If the world’s most famous opera house in Milan played to a packed house of the world’s richest people, it’d be host to nearly two-thirds of the total money owned by everyone on the planet.[4] Might that astonishing detail be relevant? What about the fact that the average American citizen – leave aside a well-heeled WWF executive – in just over a week consumes about the same as a sub-Saharan African does in a year, and uses the same energy as a South Sudanese does in two years?[5] Who bears the real responsibility for doing “the damaging stuff”? After all, there are hundreds of millions of people in the world who live and die, often hungry, who are responsible for practically no pollution at all.

Yes, it’s certainly vital to stop burning fossil fuels, but will the “world” be saved simply by swapping oil for renewables, or might that really also be about enabling the élite to carry on doing what they’re doing, just by investing in different companies?

But it’s in the other “solution” – getting the population down – where both Attenborough and WWF really plumb the depths of their elitist ideology. One can visualize the meetings of writers who struggled to express this without attracting attacks from those like me who think the 200-year old cry of “overpopulation” is ideological, fundamentally racist, certainly eugenic, and nothing to do with science.

The writers finally came up with, “stabilize the human population as low as we fairly can.” They presumably thought that using “stabilize” rather than “reduce” (which is what they mean), and that inserting “fairly,” would satisfy the critics. That only goes to show just how little they understand what the problems with their “overpopulation” dirge actually are!

The inconvenient truth, never mentioned by the ideologues, is that the Global North’s population has been dropping for generations. Overall numbers are still growing there only because they’re boosted by newcomers from the Global South.[6] The largest growth area is sub-Saharan Africa, where the population density remains extremely low and where they use very little of the world’s resources themselves.[7] That’s because the “natural wealth they have currently got” is largely stolen from them by the North.[8] Have a look at the area at night from a satellite to see just how little energy is used in Africa compared to Europe, or get the view from a plane, as Attenborough will have done hundreds of times.

 

In other words, if you’re worried about overpopulation threatening the environment, then you’re blind to the real menace: It’s not the growing number of “have nots” in the South, but growing overconsumption by the “haves” in the North.

One group acutely worried about this non-existent “overpopulation” is the fascists who believe in “replacement theory” – that the “white races” are being overrun by growing numbers of Africans, Asians and Latin Americans. Many progressive folk don’t realize just how widespread that conviction is, but it’s time they wised up: It’s been the founding creed of the extremist right wing for over a century.[9] Ecofascists are also concerned about the environment being overrun, and so are many in the conservation sector, which has its own foundation in racism and anti-immigration.[10] They might balk at thinking they too share ecofascist beliefs, but many of them do.

To underscore its point, WWF’s footage accompanying its cry to “stabilize” the population “low” looked like it was shot on the banks of the Ganges or similar. The inference is clear. Overbreeding non-Europeans threaten our world.

 

Now, social media is not the best repository for definitive answers to the universe’s riddles, or even one planet’s problems, but let’s consider all this. The film may be less than a minute long but it doubtless cost WWF thousands. Experts would have pored over the script to ensure it was exactly right before attaching the best footage to illustrate the meaning. Attenborough’s people, probably the man himself, must have approved the final cut, after all he’s probably the world’s most experienced broadcaster and he certainly picks his “issues” with extreme care. Believe me, nothing here was left to chance.

People on social media, including me, reacted quickly to the film. We complained and forced the conservation giant to take it down and apologize.[11] But it’s too late. It’s clear what WWF and their ilk actually believe.

The story reminds me of WWF fundraising from 1994, which posed the very odd question: whether to send in the army or an anthropologist to stop indigenous people destroying the Amazon (its proposed answer, needless to say, was to give WWF yet more money). Yes, WWF actually suggested that indigenous people, not the industry bigwigs[12] it invites to sit on its boards are the destroyers of the world’s largest rainforest, an ecosystem which those same indigenous people are both responsible for creating and by far the best at protecting. That can now be proven from satellite pictures and data about the higher biodiversity in indigenous-controlled territories.

 

The real tragedy here is not what Attenborough and WWF believe – that won’t change unless and until savvier folk get a controlling hand – it’s that they are able to foist their propaganda on so large a sector of the Global North, including on many progressives. Perhaps many white environmentally-aware people really do believe that “overbreeding” will overrun the Earth and see it as a duty, even “sacred” duty, to defend the planet from the barbarian hordes. That’s been the really big lie drummed into us for over a century, it’s a key component of racism and anti-immigration. It has financial support from corporations and big foundations, and enormous backing from governments which dedicate massive amounts of our money to foment it. Worst of all, those who promulgate this lie are now planning on getting billions more dollars through their terrible “new deal for nature,” which is warming up to be the biggest land grab in history. They want control of no less than one-third of the globe for their “Protected Areas,” and yes, they are sending in the army, often private militias, to get local people out.[13]

If we really want to save the world, we have to fight against such a truly destructive message. My guess is that it’s a struggle which will never end, but like combatting bigotry, cruelty and disease, that’s no reason not to engage. Here’s the real choice: On the one side are billions of dollars, on the other, billions of lives.

Attenborough and WWF say, “We now have the choice to create a planet that we can all be proud of.” They illustrate it with a sci-fi-like cityscape to illustrate what they have in mind.

 

It’s actually a picture of Singapore’s “Gardens by the Bay” theme park, which cost over (U.S.) $700 million to build and $20 million a year to run, in the world’s third richest country (per capita).[14] As you would expect, the futuristic “gardens” were built by migrant laborers who face prison and beating if they overstay. Many low-paid construction workers in Singapore are from India.[15] Who knows, perhaps some of the same laborers could be in the clip of the overpopulated “Ganges” earlier in the film? Anyway, it’s entirely fitting that Attenborough and WWF’s choice for the future is a theme park reserved for the rich. If the rest of us have a choice, then please count me on the other side.

Notes.

1) Link to the original film: (https://twitter.com/Survival/status/1268935324232814592?

2) The full text is: “Suddenly, saving our planet is within reach. We have a plan. We know what to do. Stop the damaging stuff, roll out the new green tech, stabilise the human population as low as we fairly can, keep hold of the natural wealth we have currently got and we’ll have built a stable, healthy world that we can benefit from forever. We now have the choice to create a planet that we can all be proud of, our planet, the perfect home for ourselves and the rest of life on earth.” ?

3) Amnesty International. “This is what we die for”: Human rights abuses in the Democratic Republic of the Congo Power the global trade in cobalt. London: Amnesty International, 2016. https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/AFR6231832016ENGLISH.PDF (accessed June 23, 2020) ?

4) The world’s billionaires own as much wealth as 60% of the earth’s population.
Lawson, Max, Anam Parvez Butt, Rowan Harvey, Diana Sarosi, Clare Coffey, Kim Piaget and Julie Thekkudan. Time to care: Unpaid and underpaid care work and the global inequality crisis. Oxford: Oxfam International, 2020. https://oxfamilibrary.openrepository.com/bitstream/handle/10546/620928/bp-time-to-care-inequality-200120-en.pdf (accessed June 23, 2020) ?

5) World Bank. “GDP per capita (current US$)”. World Development Indicators. The World Bank Group. 2018.

https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD?locations=US-ZG (accessed June 23, 2020) ?

6) The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. “Migration and population change – drivers and impacts”. Population Facts, no 2017/8 (2017). ?

7) The World Bank. “Population growth (annual%)”. 2018.

https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.GROW?locations=EU-ZG-US-AU-CA-NZ&name_desc=false (accessed June 23, 2020) ?

8) McVeigh, Karen. “World is plundering Africa’s wealth of ‘billions of dollars a year’”. The Guardian, May 24, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2017/may/24/world-is-plundering-africa-wealth-billions-of-dollars-a-year (accessed June 23, 2020) ?

9) Bowles, Nellie. “Replacement Theory,’ a Racist, Sexist Doctrine, Spreads in Far-Right Circles”. The New York Times, March 18, 2019.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/18/technology/replacement-theory.html (accessed June 23, 2020) ?

10) Corry, Stephen. “The Colonial Origins of Conservation: The Disturbing History Behind US National Parks”. Truthout, August 25, 2015. https://truthout.org/articles/the-colonial-origins-of-conservation-the-disturbing-history-behind-us-national-parks/ (accessed June 23, 2020) ?

11) https://twitter.com/wwf_uk/status/1268933761573490689 ?

12) Eg. Coca-Cola, Tata, KPMG, Adamjee, AES, Indus Basin etc. ?

13) Further information can be found here:

Survival International, Rainforest Foundation UK and Minority Rights Group International. The ‘Post-2-2- Global Biodiversity Framework’ – a new threat to indigenous people and local communities?. London: Survival International, 2020. https://assets.survivalinternational.org/documents/1908/post-2020-biodiversity-framework-briefing-final-survival-rfuk-mrg.pdf (accessed June 23, 2020) ?

14) AsiaOne. “Final cost for Gardens by the Bay within budget: Khaw.” AsiaOne, Oct 15, 2012. https://www.asiaone.com/News/Latest+News/Relax/Story/A1Story20121015-377822.html#:~:text=He%20estimated%20that%20the%20annual,of%20operating%20the%20outdoor%20gardens. (accessed June 23, 2020)

Suneson, Grant. “These are the 25 richest countries in the world”. USA Today, Jul 8, 2019. https://eu.usatoday.com/story/money/2019/07/07/richest-countries-in-the-world/39630693/

(accessed June 23, 2020) ?

15) Ratcliffe, Rebecca. “’We’re in a prison’: Singapore’s migrant workers suffer as Covid-19 surges back.” The Guardian, April 23, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/23/singapore-million-migrant-workers-suffer-as-covid-19-surges-back (accessed June 23, 2020) ?

[Stephen Corry has worked with Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights, since 1972. Twitter: @StephenCorrySvl.]

Planet of the Humans Backlash

Journal of People, Peasants and Workers

May 11, 2020

By Yves Engler

 

Planet of the Humans

The backlash may be more revealing than the film itself, but both inform us where we are at in the fight against climate change and ecological collapse. The environmental establishment’s frenzied attacks against Planet of the Humans says a lot about its commitment to big money and technological solutions.

A number of prominent individuals tried to ban the film by Jeff Gibbs and Michael Moore. Others berated the filmmakers for being white, male and overweight. Many thought leaders have declared they won’t watch it.

Despite the hullabaloo, the central points in the film aren’t particularly controversial. Corporate-industrial society is driving human civilization/humanity towards the ecological abyss and environmental groups have largely made peace with capitalism. As such, they tout (profitable) techno fixes that are sometimes more ecologically damaging than fossil fuels (such as biomass or ethanol) or require incredible amounts of resources/space if pursued on a mass scale (such as solar and wind). It also notes the number of human beings on the planet has grown more than sevenfold over the past 200 years.

It should not be controversial to note that the corporate consumption juggernaut is destroying our ability to survive on this planet. From agroindustry razing animal habitat to plastic manufacturers’ waste killing sea life to the auto industrial complex’s greenhouse gases, the examples of corporations wreaking ecological havoc are manifold. Every year since 1969 humanity’s resource consumption has exceeded earth’s capacity to regenerate those resources by an ever-greater volume.

It is a statement of fact that environmental groups have deep ties to the corporate set. Almost all the major environmental groups receive significant cash from the mega-rich or their foundations. Many of them partner directly with large corporations. Additionally, their outreach strategies often rely on corporate media and other business-mediated spheres. It beggars belief that these dependencies don’t shape their policy positions.

A number of the film’s points on ‘renewable’ energy are also entirely uncontroversial. It’s insane to label ripping down forests for energy as “green”. Or turning cropland into fuel for private automobiles. The film’s depiction of the minerals/resource/space required for solar and wind power deserves a far better response than “the data is out of date”.

The green establishment’s hyperventilating over the film suggests an unhealthy fixation/link to specific ‘renewable’ industries. But there are downsides to almost everything.

Extremely low GHG emitting electricity is not particularly complicated. In Québec, where I live, electricity is largely carbon free (and run by a publicly owned enterprise with an overwhelmingly unionized workforce, to boot). But, Hydro-Québec’s dams destroy ecosystems and require taking vast land from politically marginalized (indigenous) people. Likewise, nuclear power (also publicly owned and unionized) provides most of France’s electricity. But, that form of energy also has significant downsides.

In the US in 2019 63% of electricity came from fossil fuels, 20% from nuclear and 17% from ‘renewables’. But, even if one could flip the proportion of fossil fuels to ‘renewables’ around overnight there’s another statistic that is equally important. Since 1950 US electricity consumption has grown 13-fold and it continues to increase. That’s before putting barely any of the country’s 285 million registered private automobiles onto the grid. Electricity consumption is growing at a fast clip in China, India and elsewhere.

Oil is another source of energy that is growing rapidly. Up from 60 million barrels a day in 1980 and 86 million in 2010, 100 million barrels of oil were consumed daily in 2019. That number is projected to reach 140 million by 2040.

On one point I agree entirely with critics of the film. It’s unfair to (even indirectly) equate Bill McKibben with Al Gore. Representing the progressive end of the environmental establishment, McKibben has engaged in and stoked climate activism. Gore was Vice President when the US led the destruction of the former Yugoslavia, bombed Sudan and sanctioned Iraq.

Still, it’s ridiculous for McKibben and others to dismiss the film’s criticism of his decade-long promotion of biomass and refusal to come clean on 350.org’s donors as divisive. “I truly hope that Michael Moore does not succeed at dividing the climate movement. Too many have fought too long to build it”, he tweeted with a link to his response in Rolling Stone titled “‘A Bomb in the Center of the Climate Movement’: Michael Moore Damages Our Most Important Goal.” Echoing this theme, Naomi Klein came to her 350.org comrade’s defence tweeting, “it is truly demoralising how much damage this film has done at a moment when many are ready for deep change.” Democracy NowCommon Dreams, the Guardian and other media picked up her remark.

If it is divisive to criticize McKibben’s positions, then the same must be said of his own criticisms aimed at those demanding the Pentagon be highlighted in decarbonization efforts. In a June New York Review of Books column titled “The Pentagon’s Outsized Part in the Climate Fight” McKibben pours cold water on those who have asked him about the importance of “shrinking the size of the US military” (the world’s largest single institutional emitter of fossil fuels) in the fight for a sustainable planet. In fact, his piece suggests the Pentagon is well-positioned to combat the climate crisis since right wingers are more likely to listen to their climate warnings and the institution has massive research capacities to develop green technologies. McKibben seems to be saying the green movement should (could) co-opt the greatest purveyor of violence and destruction in the history of humanity! (In the Wrong Kind of Green blog Luke Orsborne offers a cogent breakdown of McKibben’s militarism.)

McKibben’s repeated advocacy of the private electric car could also be considered divisive. In Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? McKibben calls for “millions and millions of electric cars and buses” (alongside “building a hell of lot of factories to turn out thousands of acres of solar panels, and wind turbines the length of football fields.”) Does anyone believe the planet can sustain a transportation/urban planning system with most of the world’s 7.8 billion people owning 3,000-pound vehicles?

When an electric car is powered from a grid that is 63% fossil fuels the GHG it contributes per kilometer of travel is generally slightly less than an internal combustion engine. But the production and destruction phases for electric vehicles tend to be more energy intensive and they still require the extraction and development of significant amounts of resources. Additionally, the private car underpins a land, energy and resource intensive big box retail/suburban economy. (For details see my co-authored Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the Road to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay.)

Moreover, as Death by Car recently pointed out, “electric vehicles are haloware — a product that exists to distract attention from continuing SUV and pickup sales. If this thesis is correct, then it is a huge mistake for progressive forces to express enthusiasm” for electric vehicles. Of the 86 million new passenger and light commercial vehicles sold globally in 2018 about 1.2 million of them were powered by battery-only electric engines while 37 million were pickups and SUVs. In other words, for every new battery-electric car there were 30 new SUVs/pickups sold. Alongside growing buzz about electric vehicles, the number of SUVs increased from 35 million to 200 million between 2010 and 2018.

McKibben and associates’ ability to frame the film as divisive rests on the stark power imbalance between the ‘green’ capitalist and degrowth outlooks. While there are few profits in the consume-less worldview, McKibben is situated at the progressive end of a network of organizations, commentators and media outlets empowered by hundreds of billions of dollars of ‘green’ capitalism. This milieu has counterposed solar, wind and biomass to the hyper fossil fuel emitting coal, natural gas and oil industries. But, they aren’t keen on discussing the limitations of their preferred energies and the fundamentally unsustainable nature of limitless energy (or other) consumption. And they certainly don’t want any spotlight placed on environmental groups ties to the mega-rich and an unsustainable model.

Fragments of wind turbine blades await burial at the Casper Regional Landfill in Wyoming. Photographer: Benjamin Rasmussen

But, in reality it’s not the criticism that bothers. Wrong Kind of GreenDeath by CarCounterpunch and various other small leftist websites and initiatives have long documented McKibben and associates’ concessions to the dominant order. Often more harshly than in the film. What is unique about Planet of the Humans is that these criticisms have been put forward by leftists with some power (Michael Moore’s name and the funds for a full-length documentary, most obviously.) In other words, the backlash is not a response to the facts or argument, per se, but the ‘mainstreaming’ of the critique.

The environmental establishment’s ability to generate hundreds of hit pieces against Planet of the Humans suggests the movement/outlook has amassed substantial power. But, it’s not always clear to what ends. Most indicators of sustainability are trending in the wrong direction at the same time as top environmental figures have risen to the summits of power. Québec’s most prominent environmentalist, Steven Guilbeault, recently became a cabinet minister in the Liberal government while the former head of World Wildlife Fund Canada, Gerald Butts, was Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff. These individuals happily participate in a government that oversaw a 15 million tonne increase in Canada’s GHG emissions in 2018 and then decided to purchase a massive tar sands pipeline.

The incredible popularity of Planet of the Humans — seven million views on YouTube — suggests many are worried about the ecological calamity humanity is facing. Many also sense that the solutions environmental groups are putting forward don’t add up.

The lesson to be learned from the film and the frenzied attacks against it is that questioning the system — be that capitalism or the mainstream environmental movement — won’t make you friends in high places.

 

[Yves Engler is the author of 10 books, including A Propaganda System: How Canada’s Government, Corporations, Media and Academia Sell War and ExploitationRead other articles by Yves.]

Clinton to McKibben to Steyer to Podesta: Comments on Planet of the Humans by Michael Swifte

May 20, 2020

by Michael Swifte, Wrong Kind of Green Collective

 

 

“I think that the mainstream climate movement needs to collapse. It needs to end. And that the very comfortable organizers within that mainstream climate movement working in those NGO jobs – they need to fail. I think they need to be brought down. I think they need to have a little bit of hardship and a bit of suffering, and they need to create space for those historically oppressed groups.” [1]

 

— Tim DeChristopher, Transformation without Apocalypse – Episode #6 [SOURCE]

 

To understand the “damage” Bill McKibben claims the Planet of the Humans documentary has done to the climate justice movement you have to look at where 350 dot org began.

A fifty million dollar beginning

Bill McKibben has been in a dance with philanthropo-capitalists for more than a decade. He may not have been paid to be the face of 350 dot org but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t ‘corporate’ money around.

There was corporate and philanthropic money from the start. Bill Clinton announced 50 million from a “range of corporate and non-profit partners” for 1Sky at the 2007 Clinton Global Initiative. Bill McKibben was on the board of 1Sky in 2009 before it was merged with 350 dot org.

Watch this video and ask yourself how anyone could claim to be a leader of a ‘grassroots’ organisation or say that 350 dot org was ever a “rag-tag bunch of kids”. Watch the video.

 

Cory Morningstar has been tracking, analysing and cataloguing this stuff for 10 years, and by “this stuff” I mean the global capture of climate justice activism through #networkedhegemony at the behest of the non profit industrial complex #NPIC. Cory follows the money, analyses the networks, and interrogates the messaging.

#NewPower networks connect 350 dot org to a vast web of similarly funded campaigns and critically deliver opportunities to shape the Democratic party agenda. 350’s global expansion was built on replicating the organisations, institutions and campaigns that positioned it in the US and Canada.

Here are some links providing deep background on the #NewPower constructs and networks that empower the ‘climate cartel’.

‘Rockefellers’ 1Sky Unveils the New 350.org | More $ – More Delusion’

http://www.theartofannihilation.com/rockefellers-1sky-unveils-the-new-350-org-more-more-delusion/

‘SumOfUs are Corporate Whores | Some Of Us Are Not’

http://www.theartofannihilation.com/sumofus-are-corporate-whores-some-of-us-are-not/

Jessica Bailey at Rockefeller Brothers Fund actually used the word ‘merger’ to describe the union of the 2 campaign organizations incubated by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

“Bill McKibben, who has been a 1Sky board member and will chair the new 350.org board, once referred to 1Sky as the U.S. Embassy for 350.org and 350.org as 1Sky’s foreign legion.[] Matching 350.org’s talent for mass mobilization and online action with 1Sky’s advocacy and field campaign experience is tremendously exciting. Mergers are tough, and I applaud the leaders in both organizations for recognizing they’d be stronger together.“ [SOURCE]

Comments on Planet of the Humans

Planet of the Humans is a worthy documentary for it’s revelations about “green energy” and the failures of the climate justice movement. It is a testament to Jeff Gibbs’ extensive documentation and long commitment to environmental issues. I was pleased that it included the Climate Challenge segment with Karyn Strickler pitching a question from Cory Morningstar to Bill McKibben, and I was glad the film makers told the truth about Ivanpah and Robert F Kennedy Jr’s ties to fossil fuel giants.

Planet of the Humans is mostly about North America, and while it opens up a range of departure points for discussion of planetary issues, it’s a documentary about North American humans and westerners more generally, not the 100s of millions of blameless people who struggle to put food on the table. I found the discussion of the ‘population issue’ concerning given how little time had been given to putting global consumer markets into perspective, but documentary making is about access, and Jeff Gibbs has gained access to the world of “green energy” in North America. Michael Moore brings access of a different but equally vital kind, if you want to make a splash with a documentary.

Departure points are vital if we’re to make the most of what Planet of the Humans has highlighted as key issues. If the climate justice movement has failed and the environmental movement has been captured by billionaires, what else have they messed up? What are the other billionaire philanthropists doing to capture the efforts of environmental campaigners? What new diabolical schemes are planned to keep business as usual going?

People who feel inspired or moved by Planet of the Humans should look into biomass burning in Europe and the future plans for burying CO2 produced from burning biomass under the North Sea. American and European philanthropies have invested staggering amounts of money into organisations like the European Climate Foundation which is part of a global empire of similar organisations. The IPCC mitigation pathways are replete with the term BECCS (bio-energy with carbon capture and storage).

I watched Planet of the Humans after watching the Earth Day livestream discussion with Michael Moore, Jeff Gibbs and Ozzie Zehner. I hope that Michael Moore’s endorsement of Bernie Sanders and his plea that we put environmentalism into the hands of young people like the Sunrise Movement which was incubated by the Sierra Club is not the position of all three film makers. We can’t take Michael Moore’s words as a call to action so we are going to have to make our own calls to action.

Watch the full video of Karyn Strickler interviewing Bill McKibben on Climate Challenge here:

 

Departure point: John Podesta and a parallel climate campaign

In 2007 a plan was launched by 6 foundations. This plan #DesigntoWin produced the ClimateWorks Foundation, headed by John Podesta, which has spearheaded the incubation and funding of re-granting NGOs globally. ClimateWorks is perhaps the world’s largest recipient of  climate philanthropy having received more than 1.3 billion USD since it’s inception in 2008.

John Podesta has a long relationship with the Clintons, both as politicians and philanthropists. In the various roles he has played – always as a Democrat – his focus has been on the future of energy and how to message a position on climate change for the party and for the global philanthropo-capitalist agendas.

Have a read of the Wikileaks ‘Podesta Emails’ that refer to Bill McKibben and/or Tom Steyer. Check out the ‘climate tick tocks’ for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, the updates from philanthropist-billionaires like Tom Steyer and Henry Sandler, or Chris Lehane’s ‘big idea’ briefing that became the ‘Clean Power Plan’ (more business as usual). [SOURCE]

Podesta is always engaged with philanthropists. The Sandler Foundation helped establish the Center for American Progress which Podesta heads up. It helped fund the Australian climate justice regranting NGO the Sunrise Project and the US Beyond Coal campaign. Tom Steyer, a former Wall St banker, hedge fund manager and friend of Nancy Pelosi befriended Podesta who welcomed him into his Center for American Progress. Podesta encouraged Steyer to start his NextGen Climate Action Committee. It is likely that Steyer’s dubious defection from the ranks of billionaire fossil fuel investors and hedge fund managers was orchestrated under the advice of Chris Lehane. Steyer’s defection would see him join with McKibben and 350 at high profile events, and according to the Podesta emails they were in regular contact.

350/McKibben have been a foil for Democrat positioning on climate. The non profit industrial complex needed a global climate justice brand, and it needed to nestle it in a web of networks all connected by funded talking points and touchstone pieces in Rolling Stone and Grist. Granting and regranting NGOs pass over talking points in their transactions with grant recipients. Billionaires on every continent get to play the game.

Important background on the Design to Win plan here:

http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2019/09/11/the-manufacturing-of-greta-thunberg-for-consent-volume-ii-act-i-a-design-to-win-a-multi-billion-dollar-investment/

Background on the largely ignored mitigation plans of big oil & gas here:

http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2019/10/19/perfect-distractions-and-fantastical-mitigation-plans/

Departure point: The Steyer-Taylor Center and financing for CCS

Tom Steyer and his wife Kat Taylor fund the Steyer Taylor Center at Stanford. The center was headed from it’s founding in 2011 until September 2018 by Dan Reicher who has spoken in favour of financing to support carbon capture and storage on numerous occasions.

Dan Reicher is a Clinton administration energy wonk who spent some of the Obama years at Google. He’s the Founding Executive Director of the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy & Finance, but is now at the Stanford Woods Institute. Reicher explains how the future is all laid out for enhanced oil recovery with CO2 in this 2016 video. His slides include the prexisting CO2 pipeline maps for enhanced oil recovery.

 

A quote from the video:

“Carbon capture and sequestration is a key climate change strategy. You ask the IPCC, you ask the International Energy Agency.”

Reicher argues that with the CO2 pipeline infrastructure that is already in place and the right financial instruments “Full scale cost effective CCS” is deliverable.

Here is Reicher discussing private activity bonds and CCS. In the past he has spoken about the usefulness of master limited partnerships. Both of these financial instruments have been included in bipartisan bills currently before congress.

“It’s less about how to make it work technically these days but more about how to make it work financially,” [SOURCE]

Here is a quote from Reicher speaking at the Exxon funded Global Climate and Energy Project – Research Symposium in 2015.

“We really need to be using CCS for coal, natural gas, and a whole host of industrial carbon sources. But the costs are too high,” [SOURCE]

The Steyer-Taylor Center has partnered with the Exxon incubated and funded Global Climate and Energy Project which was ended in August 2019.  Exxon are a founding member of the Strategic Energy Alliance along with Bank of America who support the – Sustainable Finance Initiative along with the Steyer-Taylor Center. [SOURCE]

Departure point: The Green New Deal and the failing phase out

Dan Lashof is the director of the World Resources Institute and the current COO of Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate America and Nextgen Policy Center. In January Lashof co-wrote an opinion piece for the Houston Chronicle with Occidental Petroleum – Low Carbon Ventures president Richard Jackson. Oxy’s air capture plans support their enhanced oil recovery efforts and net zero targets through negative emissions from their planned air capture for CO2 enhanced oil recovery project. [SOURCE]

There’s a lot of interest in Oxy’s direct air capture plans which are supported by Carbon Engineering who have a long list of investors including Bill Gates, Murray Edwards, Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, LLC, Chevron Technology Ventures and BHP. [SOURCE]

The World Resources Institute provided 2 of the 3 Data for Progress researchers that developed the #netzero language that made it into the Green New Deal resolution. After the resolution came and went it has become clear that any sort of commitment to a fossil fuel phase out had been abandoned.

Important background on the ties between the World Resources Institute and Data for Progress here:

http://www.wrongkindofgreen.org/2019/02/13/the-manufacturing-of-greta-thunberg-for-consent-the-new-green-deal-is-the-trojan-horse-for-the-financialization-of-nature/

The Green New Deal has taken some of the pressure from McKibben/350. The Clean Power Plan was business as usual, but a little bit cleaner. The GND allows Democrats to appear to be taking a harder line on climate,  but it’s a vehicle that has little legislative substance.

The Green New Deal must be failing to deliver a fossil fuel phase out if the director of the WRI, a so called ‘environmental advocate’, can share a by-line with a big oil executive to spruik a project that is the opposite of phasing out fossil fuels and seemingly nobody cares.

Here’s a quote from Dan Lashof regarding Oxy’s air capture for CO2 enhanced oil recovery project that clearly shows he’s not working for a fossil fuel phase out.

“On the other hand, to the extent that you’re expanding the total energy resources base and extending the fossil-fuel era, obviously that doesn’t solve the climate problem.” [SOURCE]

Data for Progress, New Green Deal Research Director and World Resources Institute US, Manager for Climate Action and Data, Greg Carlock referred to a WRI working paper on direct air capture in a recent blog post for WRI. The paper refers to Oxy’s DAC for CO2 EOR project as an example of where investments are increasing.

“Some companies interested in combining enhanced oil recovery with direct air capture are increasing investments. For example, Occidental Petroleum is partnering with Carbon Engineering to build potentially several direct air capture plants.” [SOURCE]

Departure point: Drax, BECCS and the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative

  1. On April 21, 2020, while the global oil market was in free fall, it was reported that a formal agreement had been signed confirming that Drax would be part of a consortium that included Equinor and Phillips 66 to develop “the world’s first net zero carbon industrial cluster” in Humber, UK. [SOURCE]

 

  1. Equinor are a member of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative who are funding the Teesside CCS cluster. [SOURCE]

 

  1. Drax have been trialling BECCS (bio-energy with CCS) in the UK. [SOURCE]

 

  1. The lions share of the biomass burned by the Drax Group is from North America. [SOURCE]

 

  1. BECCS is in 3 of the 4 pathways offered by the IPCC working group on mitigation. [SOURCE]

Departure point: European Climate Foundation and industrial CCS clusters

Laurence Tubiana is a former French ambassador to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and CEO of the European Climate Foundation.

 

“The phase when abatement of emissions from industry was considered impossible is over. Industry leaders are looking at totally disruptive technologies and visions.” [SOURCE]

I could try and explain how the ECF is positioned to shape the ‘climate solutions’ on offer, but Cory Morningstar has already done it perfectly:

“As “the core of the ClimateWorks system in Europe“, the ECF constitutes an integral part of the regional global network created by the San Francisco-based ClimateWorks. ClimateWorks works to oversee and shape climate-related policy work worldwide. Launched in 2008 – the same year as ClimateWorks) – the ECF is a regranting foundation like its US counterpart.” [Background on the European Climate Foundation]

3 key points about European Climate Foundation

  1. The European Climate Foundation commissioned Element Energy to prepare 2 reports. One report is on carbon capture utilisation and storage for gas, coal, oil and biomass, and the other is on liquid fuels (hydrogen) which will largely come from processing North Sea gas and sequestering the CO2 in geological storage or from electrolysis using electricity largely supplied from the grid that is ostensibly renewable.
  2. Element Energy prepared reports for the developers of Teesside CCS industrial cluster and for the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative which are funding the Teesside CCS cluster as part of their UN endorsed Kickstarter Initiative investments.
  3. It is clear that the European Climate Foundation which is part of the ClimateWorks empire under the Design to Win plan, are 100% in support of further entrenching fossil fuel extraction and use as part of their #NetZero

5 studies relating to BECCS and industrial clusters in Europe

2018: Study funded by the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative

‘Policy Mechanisms to support the large-scale deployment of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)’

“Element Energy and Vivid Economics have assessed policy mechanisms that could accelerate the deployment of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) to the scale required to meet climate change targets. The report begins by considering why, despite the central role that CCS plays in many deep decarbonisation trajectories, CCS has failed to build momentum. Having identified the problems, the work lays out policy and market mechanisms that could stimulate investment across the stages of deployment, acknowledges regional circumstances, and suggests principles that could help governments and firms to collaborate. Note that in this report CCS includes CCUS (carbon capture, utilisation and storage) in those cases where storage is permanent.'” [SOURCE]

2018: Study funded by the European Climate Foundation

‘Low-carbon cars in Europe: A socio-economic assessment’

“Hydrogen production for the transport sector is expected to be dominated by water electrolysers, steam methane reforming (SMR) and by-product from industrial processes (for example chloralkali plants). These sources form the basis of the production mix in this study. Other potential sources include waste or biomass gasification, or SMR with carbon capture and storage. These additional routes could potentially provide low cost, low carbon hydrogen, but are not yet technically or economically proven and have not been included in the cost assumptions below.” [SOURCE]

2017: Study funded by the European Climate Foundation and Industrial Innovation for Competitiveness (i24c)

‘Deployment of an industrial Carbon Capture and Storage cluster in Europe: A funding pathway’

“The 2020s will be a make-or-break decade for so many aspects of the low carbon transition. CCS in industrial plants needs to be part of the picture. Getting the financing right is clearly an essential first step. But we also need to establish the right frameworks for shared liability between operators and tackle some of the concerns the public and some policymakers still harbour over industrial CCS. This report shows the way for at least one of the hurdles related to CCS. I hope you enjoy reading it.” [SOURCE]

2011: Study funded by the One North East Regional Development Agency and the North East Process Industries Cluster.

‘Tees Valley CCS Network’

“An Element Energy study has looked at the logistics of implementing a shared CCS pipeline network in the Tees Valley to connect major CO2 emitters in one of the UK’s largest industrial clusters. By Harsh Pershad, Element Energy”[SOURCE]

2019: Study prepared for European Climate Foundation in collaboration with the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, Climate-KIC, the Energy Transitions Commission, RE:Source,and SITRA.

‘Industrial Transformation 2050: Pathways to Net-Zero Emissions from EU Heavy Industry’

“BIOMASS WILL BE REQUIRED PRIMARILY FOR FEEDSTOCK Achieving net zero emissions for the economy as a whole will lead to multiple competing claims on scarce biomass re-sources. The use of biomass for fuel or feedstock can compete with alternative uses for land like food or feed production, conservation for maintained biodiversity, or as a ‘sink’ for CO2 emissions. Furthermore, once the biomass has been extracted, there are multiple competing uses, from simple combustion for heat or electricity generation (the largest use today) to the production of transportation fuels, or use with CCS for ‘negative emissions’ to offset remaining emissions in other sectors.” [SOURCE]

2017: Research paper prepared for Chatham House by independent policy analyst Duncan Brack

‘Woody Biomass for Power and Heat: Impacts on the Global Climate’

“Biomass is classified as a source of renewable energy in national policy frameworks, benefiting from financial and regulatory support on the grounds that, like other renewables, it is a carbon-neutral energy source. It is not carbon-neutral at the point of combustion, however; if biomass is burnt in the presence of oxygen, it produces carbon dioxide. The argument is increasingly made that its use can have negative impacts on the global climate. This classification as carbon-neutral derives from either or both of two assumptions. First, that biomass emissions are part of a natural cycle in which forest growth absorbs the carbon emitted by burning wood for energy. Second, that biomass emissions are accounted for in the land-use sector, and not in the energy sector, under international rules for greenhouse gas emissions.”

 

“Many of the models used to predict the impacts of biomass use assume that mill and forest residues are the main feedstock used for energy, and biomass pellet and energy companies tend to claim the same, though they often group ‘low-grade wood’ with ‘forest residues’, although their impact on the climate is not the same. Evidence suggests, however, that various types of roundwood are generally the main source of feedstock for large industrial pellet facilities. Forest residues are often unsuitable for use because of their high ash, dirt and alkali salt content.” [SOURCE]

 

End notes:

[1] Verbatim: “I think that the, the mainstream climate movement, needs to, needs to collapse. It needs to end. Um, and, and that the very comfortable organizers within that mainstream climate movement, ah, working in those NGO jobs, um, they, they need to fail. Um, I think they need to be brought down. I think they, they need to, ah, have a little bit of hardship and a bit of suffering, and they need to create space for, ah, for those historically oppressed groups.” Tim DeChristopher, Transformation without Apocalypse – Episode #6

 

[Michael Swifte is an Australian activist and a member of the Wrong Kind of Green critical thinking collective.]

Green Capital and Environmental “Leaders” Won’t Save Us

Undisciplined Environments

May 20, 2020

By Alexander Dunlap

 

People are outraged! Jeffery Gibbs’s new documentary, Planet of the Humans – co-produced by Michael Moore and Ozzie Zehner – has shocked and awed “progressive” critics, fuelling a steady stream of outcry. “It is truly demoralizing how much damage this film has done at a moment when many are ready for deep change,” exclaims Naomi Klein on Twitter.

Much of the concern voiced is correct, yet it detracts away from two fundamental messages: “renewable energy” is dependent on extreme mineral and hydrocarbon extraction, and mainstream environmentalism has “sold out.” This, in many ways, is old news for political ecologists, especially those involved in environmental conflicts concerning wind powerhydroelectric dams and mineral extraction development, yet the pandemonium generated by this film deserves some clarification.

Important Criticisms: Caveat

The documentary has some foundational flaws. It underestimates the efficiency and capacity of wind and solar technologies. The data is old and the range of people interviewed limited. More damaging, however, is their discussion of population. Yes, population is an issue, and voluntary initiatives to control it are adopted by some environmentalists (for instance, degrowth advocates). Yet, modes of consumption and production will always be the determining factors for how populations will articulate catastrophic ecological and climatic impacts.

The problem with the “overpopulation” narrative is that it condemns all of humanity for the present socio-ecological situation. Even if, later in the documentary, corporations, financial consultants and their “environmental movement” collaborators become the main focus of critique, the directors largely neglect class, race, and gender as issues related to environmental degradation.

At the same time, the film forgets the socio-ecological values of different groups. It overwrites the variegated agency of (a “pluriverse” of) people, positioning Indigenous land defenders at war with extraction in the background, and not acknowledging in any way their different socio-ecological practices and relationships. The lack of clarity surrounding these issues, or the missing explicit support for environmental struggles against green capitalism and extraction is damaging, ultimately taking away from issues that deserve popular acknowledgment in the film.

Film segment title page reviewing the extraction necessary for so-called renewables (Screenshot: 36’55”). Source: youtube.com

 

So-called Renewable Energy

The outraged critics need to realize that the distinction between fossil fuels and so-called renewable energy is exaggerated. Every aspect of so-called renewable energy requires hydrocarbons and hydrocarbon-based facilities for equipment construction and operation; mining; processing, manufacturing, transportation and the security personnel to enforce land control for these projects. Hence, I proposed the term “fossil fuel+” as a replacement for the inaccurate concept of “renewable energy.”

Ethnographic research investigating natural resource extraction for fossil fuel+ systems remain insightful in this regard. Modelling studies, however, have exposed the seriousness of resource extraction and waste for fossil fuel+ systems. Drawing on a World Bank report, Jason Hickel estimates that making 2050 renewable energy targets will require mining “34 million metric tons of copper, 40 million tons of lead, 50 million tons of zinc, 162 million tons of aluminium, and no less than 4.8 billion tons of iron.”

This also includes increases in other minerals essential to solar, wind and battery technologies over the same period:  35-70% neodymium, 38-105% in silver, 920% in indium, 2,700% increases in lithium and is compounded with further increases (70%) with the promotion of electric vehicles.

Moreover, Benjamin Sovacool and colleagues calculate a single 3.1 MW wind turbine creates “772 to 1807 tons of landfill waste, 40 to 85 tons of waste sent for incineration and about 7.3 tons of e-waste per unit.” This does not even account for mineral processing, component manufacturing, transportation or provisions for security personnel to facilitate security operations of “renewable energy” extraction sites or development sites. Remember: “It takes 500,000 gallons of water to produce a single ton of lithium.”

Critics of the film declare to speak in the name of science. Yet this is a question of research design and methodology. Fossil fuel+ projects are frequently justified by carbon accounting and modelling practices imbued with capitalist ideologies and technological utopianism, which – more to the point – are separated from the political contexts, neglect various forms of pollution (e.g., industrial wastes), local struggles and violence emanating from “green” and corresponding mining projects that animate fossil fuel+ development.

Corporate Environmentalism

Land defenders are well aware of corporate co-optation of environmental struggles. Jeff Gibbs and colleagues are correct to highlight these connections as this problem has only intensified. Submedia.tv released a documentary nearly 10 years ago demonstrating at length the problem of environmental NGOs co-opting struggles and marginalizing land defenders. This segment, moreover, documented the connection between large environmental NGOs, such as Greenpeace and Sierra Club, and their staff going to work in mineral extraction and timber industries. Does anyone remember how, in 2014, Greenpeace lost £3 million in currency speculation? The proclaimed mission and actions of environmental NGOs frequently do not add up.

The “NGOization” of struggle has emerged as a body of literature. Meanwhile, Cory Morningstar’s updated the connection of green capitalists, “climate youth leaders” and the new (corporate) environmental movement, charting trends and issues many ignore or fail to understand. Planet of the Humans documents a small piece of this compared to Morningstar’s work, focusing primarily on Al Gore, Bill Mckibben and their financial managers and partners.

While Al Gore is no surprise, some film reviewers suggest Bill McKibben’s exposé was startling, if not personally offensive. “I have never taken a penny from green energy companies or mutual funds or anyone else with a role in these fights, ” explains Mckibben in a Rolling Stone interview, “I’ve never been paid by environmental groups either, not even 350.org, which I founded and which I’ve given all I have to give.”

The film presents some damaging evidence. For instance, it shows McKibben sitting on a panel at the “Investors and Environmentalists Sustainable Proposal,” discussing a “40-50 trillion ‘green energy fund’” with The World Resource Institutes’ David Blood, who “spent 18 years at Goldman Sachs including serving as CEO of Goldman Sachs Asset Management.” Moreover, 350.org’s collaboration with the “Green Century Funds” makes a clear connection to how manufactured or self-styled “environmental leaders” (see 1:15:14) are clearly in bed with green capitalism and efforts to financialize nature.

The No Deal for Nature Campaign is particularly relevant in this regard. The exposé of corporate environmentalism and collaborative efforts to financialize nature holds. The film highlights the timeless issues of “leaders,” but also how single-issue campaigning – built on carbon accounting and narrowing its focus to “fossil fuels” – disables itself from holistic assessments and offers itself to the construction of a “green” or “climate” economy their movement leaders are invested in promoting.

 

David Blood (co-founder of Generation Investment with Al Gore) and 350.org’s Bill McKibben: featured keynotes for divestment partner, Ceres.

 

Conclusion

The film deserves both hostility and love. Hostility for carelessly discussing population issues, homogenizing different people – a socio-ecological-cultural flattening – and lacking, even in passing, respect for those fighting the mines, energy factories and politicians small and large, formal and informal. The film would have benefited from a more refined scope and tighter narrative, with a greater diversity of participants, from Indigenous groups struggling against fossil fuel+ projects, to political ecologists and environmental anthropologists.

Yet the film also deserves love, as it highlights a neglected and sensitive issue for many: how the (mainstream) “environmental movement” has been corporatized, how its actions are not working, and how “renewable energy”/fossil fuel+ systems are not ecologically sustainable. The film is correct to publicize these issues, even if most popular media outlets are having a less than intelligent conversation about the contested issues within the film. Instead of writing the film off as “demoralizing“, it should resituate one’s hopes and realities concerning environmental struggle.

Concern has also been voiced about the film “dividing” the environmental movement. But the movement is already divided, to the extent that environmental “leaders” are divided from their “flock”, and “light” green (capitalist) movements try to extinguish or recuperate “dark” green radical critique and action. Autonomous, horizontal and leaderless resistance akin to the multiplicity of land struggles taking place across the world, should be what climate activists gain inspiration from – not McKibben or Gore. Earth First!, for instance, – not without its critiques – represents an alternative mass-organizational model, discarding leaders and dedicated to organizing discussion space and direct action.

Those shocked by Planet of the Humans’ revelations concerning “renewable energy” and environmental movement “leaders” are either unfamiliar with the boundless treachery of capitalist society or have yet to commit themselves to fighting the capture, domestication and exploitation of human and nonhuman resources near and far.

[Alexander Dunlap holds a PhD in Social Anthropology from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands. His PhD thesis examined the socio-ecological impact of wind energy development on Indigenous people in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region of Oaxaca, Mexico. Alexander’s work has critically examined police-military transformations, market-based conservation, wind energy development and extractive projects more generally with coal mining in Germany and copper mining in Peru. Current research investigates the formation of transnational-super grids and the connections between conventional and renewable extraction industries.]

Featured image: Planet of the Humans poster. Source: planetofthehumans.com.

 

WATCH: Planet of the Humans [Full Film]

WATCH: Planet of the Humans [Full Film]

April 22, 2020

 


WKOG caveat: Industrial civilization is destroying all life on Earth. Human destruction of biodiversity is not created equally: “Yet tribal peoples are the best conservationists and guardians of the natural world, and 80% of our planet’s biodiversity is found in tribal territories.” [Further reading: The best conservationists made our environment and can save it, Stephen Corry] Human population is often identified as a problem because it strains the world’s resources and pollutes. [1] The first and most efficient way to address over consumption is to reduce consumption in the North is to a) redistribute the resources, (all arable land, etc.) to the Global South, to sustain those in the Global South, and b) phase out the production of all superfluous consumer products that harm life and biodiversity. [Further reading: Too Many Africans?, July 11, 2019] An analysis of population growth that accounts for the vast differences in consumption across class and region is critical in examining the worldwide environmental crisis.

 

Jeff Gibbs, Writer, Producer, Director:  “At long last our film “Planet of the Humans” is now released to the world! It’s one of the happiest days of my life, and a day I fervently hope has a role in initiating some real change in the world. “Planet of the Humans”  is now available free of charge to everyone on planet Earth courtesy of our partnership with Michael Moore. Please help us spread the word by sharing, blogging, posting, tweeting, emailing, or pony expressing your enthusiasm and urgency about why people must see this movie.”

Planet of the Humans takes a harsh look at how the environmental movement has lost the battle through well-meaning but disastrous choices, including the belief that solar panels and windmills would save us, and by giving in to the corporate interests of Wall Street.

Jeff Gibbs, the writer/producer/director of Planet of the Humans, has dared to say what no one will – that “we are losing the battle to stop climate change because we are following environmental leaders, many of whom are well-intentioned, but who’ve sold out the green movement to wealthy interests and corporate America.” This film is the wake-up call to the reality which we are afraid to face: that in the midst of a human-caused extinction event, the so-called “environmental movement’s” answer is to push for techno-fixes and band-aids. “It’s too little, too late,” says Gibbs. “Removed from the debate is the only thing that might save us: getting a grip on our out-of-control human presence and consumption. [1] Why is this not the issue? Because that would be bad for profits, bad for business.”

“Have we environmentalists fallen for illusions, ‘green’ illusions, that are anything but green, because we’re scared that this is the end — and we’ve pinned all our hopes on things like solar panels and wind turbines? No amount of batteries are going to save us, and that is the urgent warning of this film.”

This compelling, must-see movie – a full-frontal assault on our sacred cows – is guaranteed to generate anger, debate, and, hopefully, a willingness to see our survival in a new way—before it’s too late.

[Jeff Gibbs, Writer, Producer, Director | Ozzie Zehner, Producer | Michael Moore, Executive Producer]

 

[1]

The Revolution will not be Corporatised!

The Revolution will not be Corporatised!

Environmental Values 29 (2)

April 2020: 121–130.

By Clive Spash

© 2020 The White Horse Press. doi: 10.3197/096327120X15752810323968

 

 

Calls for ‘systems change, not climate change’ have been minority positions that have gained ground over the last year or so, aided by the likes of Extinction Rebellion, and the school strikes of FridaysForFuture, fronted by the now iconic figure of Greta Thunberg. These new environmental movements have pushed into the background the mealy-mouthed talk of avoiding negative ‘framing’, supressing terms that disturb people and dismissing catastrophic scenarios. I have previously noted problems with the promotion of such a conformist and conservative rhetorical strategy (Spash 2018). The plain speaking of the new environmental movements places emphasis on an imminent ecological crisis, which has become increasingly more real for many given the steady rise in the frequency of major extreme weather events. The planetary havoc promised by human induced climate change is deemed an ‘emergency’ entailing a sense of ‘urgency’. A primary and repeatedly expressed concern of Greta has been that politicians should ‘act’ on scientific advice; how they should act is left open but with the admonition that they have done little or nothing but talk for decades. Yet, the ‘new’ environmentalists appear to lack insight into what specific action is required, to what they stand in opposition and more generally the political and economic context within which they (as social movements) are operating.

The new environmental activists have not addressed the structure of the economic system, the dominant corporate institutions of which it is constituted, the political processes that maintain it, nor how such a system of political economy can realistically be transformed. There is much wishful thinking in their statements. While these movements are internally diverse collectives, elements of both Extinction Rebellion and FridaysForFuture have argued against becoming ‘political’, while simultaneously engaging in political acts of protest and having agendas that are highly political. There appears to be a belief in objective science informing a political elite, who can be nudged into action, regardless of the structure of the dominant economic system and its power relations. The primary concern has also been narrowly focused around human induced climate change, and often even more narrowly carbon emissions, not systemic social-ecological issues. The failures here go across the board from the political naivety of the protesters (both young and old) to the apologetics for the capital accumulating growth economies made by the exponentially increasing community of academics commenting on environmental policy and specifically climate change.1 A prevalent claim is that ‘the system’ can be ‘adjusted’ without removing corporate or capitalist structures let alone the global imperialism they have created under the guise of ‘free’ trade and unregulated
financialisation.

That neoliberal political leaders and the World Economic Forum (WEF), commonly known as the Davos elite, have been hosting Greta and promoting her speeches, raises the question as to what they expect to achieve by doing so. For example, the WEF website promotes a speech, given by Greta in Brussels last year to the international press corps, in which she calls for a new political system without competition, a new economics and a new way of thinking that includes living within planetary boundaries, sharing resources and addressing inequity.2 Greta has also been cited as calling for corporations to be held responsible for knowingly perpetrating harm and regards this as ‘a crime against humanity’ (Aronoff 2019), but how are they to be held responsible and what for exactly? And what is the appropriate ‘punishment’ for their crime? Diverting such general and unspecific criticism and calls for systems change away from radical and revolutionary reform would seem a likely concern for those profiteering from the current system. After the Paris Agreement the world’s five largest oil companies spent $1 billion on ‘green’ rebranding, while simultaneously undermining legislation and establishing new oil supplies.3 The Davos elite are also adept at borrowing their opponents’ language and far from averse to adopting and redirecting a sense of emergency and crisis.

The fact is that political and economic elites around the world have long been taking ‘environmental action’, to protect not Nature but themselves, against environmentalists and environmental regulation. The public relations end of the spectrum has been corporate social responsibility, green accounting, investment in new technologies, sustainable development and the rhetoric of a ‘Green circular inclusive sustainable smart economy’. The opposite end involves corporate funding of denialism and anti-environmental think tanks, media control of the popular discourse, lobbying and funding politicians, capture of environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and personal attacks on scientists. Most directly, protesters and activists are subject to police harassment and brutality, surveillance, infiltration and repression, and are being branded as terrorists, e.g. British police attempts to officially list Extinction Rebellion as such. The toll on both activist and academics is something recently highlighted in this journal (Spash 2018), and especially with regard to those opposing climate change (Hoggett and Randall 2018). In some countries environmental activists are also subject to assassination, especially where they oppose enforced and unjust ‘development’ in the rush for economic growth.

Indeed, urgency and emergency empower authoritarian regimes in overriding just, legal and democratic processes. They can also be used more subtly to create a sense of insecurity. The last two decades have seen the fear of ‘others’ being escalated and used to deconstruct post World War II multilateralism and create a new era of unilateralism, in which free-roaming American assassinations are openly bragged about, and respect for the law is increasingly replaced by a lynch-mob mentality. The rise of the extreme right and nationalism has relegitimised sexism, racial hatred, anti-immigrant policies, fortress building, promotion of imperialism, securitisation and militarisation amongst voters of the supposed democracies. The climate crisis, with its threat of mass migration, can therefore play to those claiming to protect jobs, maintain business as usual and defend the existing economic and social structures within which people have created their sense of self and community. However, environmentalism must then be neoliberal and corporate rather than revolutionary.

So the time is ripe for a new neoliberal agenda that adopts calls for urgent radical transformation and uses the environmental movement to support growth and financialisation of Nature. To this end a range of environmental ‘deals’ were announced in 2019, such as the European Commission ‘Green Deal’, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) ‘New Deal for Nature’, and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) ‘Global Green New Deal’. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, has stated that ‘Supported by investments in green technologies, sustainable solutions and new businesses […] The European Green Deal is our new growth strategy. It will help us cut emissions while creating jobs’.4 Typical of all these ‘deals’ are claims of coordinating and organising stakeholders, having civil society and government work with, or more accurately for, ‘industry’, with promises of economic growth, jobs and climate stability. Similar ideas are touted under the term ‘stakeholder capitalism’, the theme of Davos 2020. In this ‘new’ era of corporate capitalism the environmental non-governmental organisations also have their role to play.

We Mean Business newsletter, 2019

We Mean Business newsletter, 2019

 

A prime example of the strategy in operation is the capture of the World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature, which has fully committed itself to corporate capitalism since appointing Pavan Sukdev as its President in 2017. He was developing new financial instruments for Deutsche Bank, before heading a UNEP backed project on ‘The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity’ (TEEB) with goals of capturing value and mainstreaming the economics of Nature (Spash 2011). Cynical financiers, out to make as much money as possible from bits of paper they transfer from one to another for profit, have been keen to join the environmental bandwagon: expanding emissions trading, wetland banking and biodiversity offsetting. Enter the UNEP Finance Initiative (UNEP FI). This is a partnership of the UN with the global financial sector. Its mission is to promote ‘sustainable finance’, which includes ‘hardwiring biodiversity and ecosystem services into finance’ (UNEP Finance Initiative 2010).

The latest project, entitled ‘The Net Zero Asset Alliance’, boasts being led by asset owners representing more than US$ 2 trillion (UNEP Finance Initiative 2020: 8), in a network controlling US$ 4 trillion.

The latest project, entitled ‘The Net Zero Asset Alliance’, boasts being led by asset owners representing more than US$ 2 trillion (UNEP Finance Initiative 2020: 8), in a network controlling US$ 4 trillion.

 

The latest project, entitled ‘The Net Zero Asset Alliance’, boasts being led by asset owners representing more than US$ 2 trillion (UNEP Finance Initiative 2020: 8), in a network controlling US$ 4 trillion.5 The public face is fronted by Sukdev and Christiana Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). She, Sukdev and WWF are meant to provide the corporate executives, bankers, billionaires and financiers with an air of respectability and environmental concern. After all, they desperately need it, given that investor returns, or more simply making money grow exponentially, has nothing to do with sustaining anything, let alone Nature, biodiversity or ecosystems.

As Schoppek explains in this issue of Environmental Values, neoliberalism was selected by powerful actors as conforming with their view of the world. It has been institutionalised in rules and regulations helping form identities and strategies. As a hegemonic discourse it promotes ideas of meritocracy, the individual as an ‘entrepreneurial self’ (innovative, independent and responsible for all that goes wrong in their lives), utility  maximisation, commodification, economic efficiency, and the market economy as the sole legitimate institution for social organisation. This dominant economic imaginary helps embed the system and ensure its reproduction. Forms of environmentalism that engage in the rhetoric of sustainable growth then evidence a Gramscian passive revolution. That is, a top down strategically designed alternative to radical environmentalism is offered to maintain business as usual. A successful passive revolution absorbs external critique, transforms it and stabilises existing power relations. The aim is to silence more critical perspectives and supress power disrupting alternatives. Ecological crisis is therefore altered into an opportunity for growth and profiteering via commodification and financialisation of Nature.

Shoppek then questions the extent to which even the apparently more radical degrowth movement has the potential to be co-opted. Her core argument is that degrowth contains elements that are counter-hegemonic but also those that are sub-hegemonic. She illustrates the point with two degrowth positions identified in the work of Eversberg and Schmelzer (2018). That of a politically informed progressive left, supporting an anarchistic continual struggle for freedom, is argued to be counter-hegemonic. This is described as supplying a structural critique in addition to the kind of moral perspective found under the second position, termed self-sufficiency discourses. This latter position, as advanced in Germany by Niko Paech (e.g., Paech 2017, 2012), is argued to be compatible with neoliberal thought and so sub-hegemonic. Its failure is due to the over-emphasis on individual action that actually supports spreading the concept of an ‘entrepreneurial self’ (e.g., the sharing economy) while ignoring the structure of the economic system. This encourages the creation of organisations that substitute for the role of the State in the care of those at the bottom, and so reduce the potency of those individuals contesting the system and its ever-growing inequities. Thus we might reflect upon how a neoliberal consumerist society, such as the UK, encourages the role of charity shops that assuage the guilt of the consuming middle classes while substituting elements of a Welfare State, and doing nothing to address the causes of poverty.

The importance of a structural systems perspective is also identified by Boscov-Ellen. He highlights the failure of environmental ethicists (e.g. Dale Jamieson, Simon Caney, Peter Singer and Henry Shue) to address the systemic aspects of human induced climate change and as a result to over-emphasise the role of individual agency and responsibility in debating who is meant to take action and what action they should take. Environmental ethicists are criticised for focusing on acts of consumption and their related emissions, ignoring production and producers, and so reducing humans to their role as consumers with ethical preferences. Historical and contextual understanding of poverty, wealth and inequity are lacking. There are also some clear strands of liberal political thought behind several of the ethicists’ positions, and an inherent conservatism (e.g., the unquestioned permanence of Nation States and capitalism). The supposed solutions of the likes of Jamieson and Singer adopt neoliberal polices of pricing and trading carbon despite their flaws (Spash 2010). In contrast, once the existing social and economic structure is identified as a causal determinant of ecological crises then attention shifts to an ethical responsibility to change that system.

As Boscov-Ellen remarks, current ethical debate has produced ‘a framing that dovetails perfectly with the longstanding (and successful) efforts of liberal governments and corporations to individualise responsibility for systemic ills, even as they single-mindedly pursue growth’. He goes on to develop the case for undertaking radical change in economic and political structures as a moral imperative. This would require expanding collective causal responsibility for harm to account for structural mechanisms that limit and shape behaviour. The emphasis is then placed on solidarity, as part of a collective, seeking political and economic transformation, rather than on individual actions.

Identifying the organisations and institutions reproducing the political and economic structure is necessary in the process of seeking radical change in those structures. Corporations are obviously key in modern society and their activities are directly linked to global greenhouse gas emission. In recent years the term ‘carbon majors’ has become associated with the 100 corporations most responsible for creating and perpetuating the climate crisis, as noted by Boscov-Ellen and picked up as the central focus of the paper by Grasso and Vladimirova. These top 100 polluters produced over 70% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gases (1988–2015), with just 25 producing 51%. The top 100 include 43 state owned or government run  corporations.6 Grasso and Vladimirova regard these corporations as moral agents whose activities they review in terms of their having violated the negative responsibility of doing no harm to others. Beyond a consequentialist causal aspect, they invoke a more stringent set of requirements related to appraising agents’ intentions, something they refer to as ‘moral responsibility’, which seems directed more towards assessing culpability (the phrase seems somewhat misleading, given that causal responsibility is also ‘moral’). The authors then assess this culpability in terms of corporate responsibility for human induced climate change, with specific reference to a priori knowledge of creating harm, awareness of doing so over a long time frame, capacity to avoid harm, denial of the truth (amounting to spreading lies in their own interest), and self enrichment by their harmful actions. Having been found guilty as charged what is the outcome?

Grasso and Vladimirova make the case for corrective justice involving decarbonisation and reparation. The former would involve gradually reducing emissions to zero, with some notion that an increasing supply of ‘cleaner energy’ will ‘avoid disrupting the global energy demand’ (something that seems highly unlikely given the scale and extent of fossil fuels in the economy). The latter is, on rather unclear grounds, restricted to corporations relinquishing part of their accumulated wealth from activities related to creating harm. Reparations are discussed in terms of restitution, compensation and disgorgement (relinquishing historically ill-gotten gains). There are perhaps more questions raised than answers given in the ensuing discussion, e.g. ideas of not endangering the wealth of the rich, not pursuing shareholders’ or employees’ gains and concerns over protecting pension funds. Most problematic of all is the claim that actions should ‘not financially prevent carbon majors from engaging in the just transition required by the duty of decarbonisation’. This idea of ‘just transition’ is itself problematic and is employed to justify the preservation of carbon majors in order to avoid being too disruptive to the ‘socio-economic system’. The contradiction is that the system and its capital accumulating corporate form is the problem that needs to be addressed and this cannot be avoided. The idea of a ‘just transition’ appears to offer a get out of jail free card to the corporations who will (as they are doing) argue for offsetting, subsidies for transition, waiting for new technologies and maintaining business as usual for as long as possible.

An interesting question that arises in light of the discussion by Grasso and Vladimirova is why stop with carbon emissions? These same one hundred corporations produced 91% of global industrial emissions in 2015 (Griffin 2017: 7), and would therefore be culpable on the same grounds for the plethora of associated harms to human health and the environment. Grasso and Vladimirova have made a strong case for recognising that these corporations engage in deliberate cost-shifting, and are not innocent victims of unforeseen externalities that can be blamed on markets having the wrong prices. If all the other cost-shifting activities of corporations were taken into account, the grounds for maintaining such institutions would seem to disappear.

Private Property 2019, Anahita Mobarhan

In practice, the attempts by corporations to avoid any claims of wrongdoing in polluting activities have been extensive and have involved public relations firms being hired to strategise the undermining of science and scientists (Oreskes and Conway 2010). Responsibility for reparations is frequently shifted to the public purse, and ‘solutions’ displaced into the future via technologies, often requiring public funding both in research and development and (where realised) implementation. This technological strategy is evident in the increasing promotion of geoengineering for solar radiation management and/or greenhouse gas removal (GGR): e.g., direct air capture, enhanced rock weathering, and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage. The related ‘negative emissions’ approach is totally embedded in the hundreds of scenarios run by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).7 This allows business as usual with no reduction of greenhouse gases, and indeed their potential increase, because they are assumed to be removable after emission by application of an appropriate technological fix. Cox, Spence and Pidgeon note how media coverage has created a discourse on geoengineering that removes issues of justices, equity, fairness and distribution, while framing it as an ‘essential’ action in the face of the climate emergency. Similarly, in mitigation scenarios informing policy, GGR is not an additional policy measure but is rather modelled as critical for stabilising global average climate temperature at international target levels. Cox, Spence and Pidgeon are concerned to probe into the content of the related discourse and debate as occurring amongst experts (defined as those with pre-existing knowledge and opinions). Their research involves interviews with 17 people from the UK and USA, the majority of whom represent academia and the remainder the private sector, NGOs and policy/regulation. The two themes they find across the interviews are ‘risk’ and ‘responsibility’.

In terms of risk, GGR is described by interviewees as part of a ‘portfolio’ of measures, in contrast to the IPCC, media and policy framings. Reduced  energy demand and increased renewable energy supply are regarded as coming first and foremost. Urgency (i.e., doing something immediately), and the need to avoid dangerous climate change, support regarding GGR as essential, but this discourse is also noted by some interviewees as being top-down, expert driven and potentially dangerous for democracy. A classic risk and portfolio investment managers’ approach then raises the question of who gets to decide on the risks and the investments? This leads into how societal decisions are made, and an implicit technocracy appears to surface with the key players mentioned by interviewees being experts, policy-makers and (high emissions) industry. Although mistrust of the latter two was also evident, a naïve pragmatism appeared in a readiness to acquiesce to the wealth of corporations and their power to get action, summarised as ‘working with powerful institutions is more pragmatic than working against them’. GGR then offers a potential means for corporations and  governments to opt-out of actual emissions reductions, and plays the role of a ‘mitigation deterrent’. GGR measures, such as widespread use of Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS), were also seen as likely to have unjust outcomes, due to their being undertaken to maintain the lifestyles of the rich and powerful while being imposed on vulnerable communities who suffer negative consequences (e.g., land grabbing).

Such pragmatic arguments contrast strongly with the moral arguments against corporations of Grasso and Vladimirova, as well as with the case for revolutionary change made by Boscov-Ellen, and both link to the need for addressing the social and economic structure highlighted by Shoppek. In  the discussion by Cox, Spence and Pidgeon these conflicting positions appear as a core aspect of debate about human induced climate change, where the main question becomes the extent to which ‘strategies should aim to work within existing incumbent capitalist systems’. GGR then indicates failure to adequately challenge the system and instead to support top-down ‘solutions’ that maintain existing structure, power and wealth and so become part of another ecological modernist passive revolution. This appears as technological optimism, claiming sustainability and economic growth are compatible, and the legitimisation of corporations as profit seeking organisations and their beneficiaries as justified in their accumulation of wealth and power. There is today an on-going struggle for how environmental issues are to be perceived, described and explained, which determines what knowledge and which voices are deemed admissible to the policy debate.

The construction of knowledge and what knowing something means is a longstanding issue in philosophy. The term co-creation (mentioned by Cox et al. and Mancilla Garcia et al.) has become popular of late, and it covers a range of ideas that have for some decades been part of debates around participatory decision process and post-normal science. Mancilla Garcia et al. highlight the roles of process and relations, epistemology and ontology, and empiricism. Whether the social process involved is important to conceptualisation has divided philosophers, with the implications extending from the extremes that knowledge requires total exclusion of values (in a naïve objectivist methodology), to knowledge being a totally cultural and socially determined perspective (under a radical relativist position) (Sayer 1992). Both these extremes assume flat ontologies (the former empiricist and latter actualist) without attention to underlying structure. When trying to identify what lies behind experience and actualised events, and indeed to  understand our experiences, what come to the fore is the role of non-empiricist conceptualisation and inference (e.g. deductive, abductive,  retroductive), along with metaphysical concepts. The basis for the validity given to knowledge claims remains contentious, but what the papers on climate change in this issue hold in common is their identification of the same fundamental social and economic structures in human society as being central to the reproduction of the ongoing ecological crisis.

Stephanie McMillan

That the discourse of the environmental movement has been failing, captured and adopted by a ‘new environmental pragmatism’, is more evident every day with the spread of financialisation and commodification of Nature, often legitimised by environmental NGOs acting as fronts for corporate interests. For corporate capitalism the environmental crisis is not about the dangers posed by collapsing biophysical systems, but the threat of environmentalism to the growth economy and capitalism’s continuing existence. An escalation of attempts to reinforce the status quo means more passive revolutions, orchestrated by the incumbent leaders of the capital accumulating systems, who adopt even the apparently radical discourses of urgency, emergency and crises. Calls for immediate action without direction play straight into the hands of those seeking to maintain their hegemonic economic and social power. Those seeking social ecological transformation increasingly face the stark choice of either conforming to or opposing the structures reproducing social, ecological and economic crises. The former promises a technological future dependent upon experts and the noblesse oblige of billionaires, corporate interests and their protectors. It offers those living well today the comforting vision of a system that maintains their position in an increasingly divided and divisive world. The papers in this issue of Environmental Values set out a range of ethical arguments and concerns that bring corporate capitalism into question or oppose it, and reflect upon ethical responses to its ongoing infliction of harm on the innocent. They make it clear that conformity to the system that produced the crisis will not deliver the necessary revolutionary social ecological transformation.

 

1. For example, in 2019 over 3000, mainly American, economists, including twenty-seven Sveriges Riksbank (‘Nobel’) Prize winners, endorsed a ‘carbon tax’ because ‘[s]ubstituting a price signal for cumbersome regulations will promote economic growth’. (Economists statement on carbon dividends. https://www.econstatement.org/ Accessed 7th May 2019.)

2. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/03/climate-strikes-greta-thunberg-calls-for-systemchange-not-climate-change-here-s-what-that-could-look-like

3. Report by think tank InfluenceMap ‘Big Oil’s Real Agenda on Climate Change’ cited by
Aronoff (2019)

4. https://ec.europa.eu/info/strategy/priorities-2019-2024/european-green-deal_en Accessed 11
January 2020.

5. https://www.unepfi.org/net-zero-alliance/ Accessed 11 January 2020.

6. ‘The highest emitting companies since 1988 that are investor-owned include: ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Chevron, Peabody, Total, and BHP Billiton. Key state-owned companies include Saudi Aramco, Gazprom, National Iranian Oil, Coal India, Pemex, and CNPC (PetroChina).’ (Griffin 2017: 8, emphasis original).

7. Kevin Anderson (2015: 899) notes that 344 of the 400 IPCC scenarios assume the successful and large-scale uptake of negative-emission technologies.

 

References

Anderson, K. 2015. ‘Duality in climate science’. Nature Geoscience 8 (12): 898–900.
Crossref

Aronoff, K. 2019. Don’t Be Fooled by Fossil Fuel Companies’ Green Exterior. Rolling Stone. https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/dont-be-fooled-byfossil-fuel-companies-green-exterior-850285/ (accessed 22 January 2020).

Boscov-Ellen, D. 2020. ‘A responsibility to revolt? Climate ethics in the real world’. Environmental Values 29 (2): 153–174.

Cox, E., E. Spence and N. Pidgeon. 2020. ‘Incumbency, trust and the Monsanto effect: Stakeholder discourses on greenhouse gas removal’. Environmental Values 29 (2): 197–220.

Eversberg, D. and M. Schmelzer. 2018. ‘The degrowth spectrum: Convergence and divergence within a diverse and conflictual alliance’. Environmental Values 27 (3): 245–267. Crossref

Grasso, M. and K. Vladimirova. 2020. ‘A moral analysis of Carbon Majors’ role in climate change’. Environmental Values 29 (2): 175–195.

Griffin, P. 2017. ‘The Carbon Majors Database: CDP Carbon Majors Report 2017’. London: Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) UK.

Hoggett, P. and R. Randall. 2018. ‘Engaging with climate change: Comparing the cultures of science and activism’. Environmental Values 27 (3): 223–243. Crossref

Mancilla Garcia, M., T. Hertz and M. Schlüter. 2020. ‘Towards a process epistemology for the analysis of social-ecological systems’. Environmental Values 29 (2): 221–239.

Oreskes, N. and E. M. Conway. 2010. Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. New York: Bloomsbury Press.

Paech, N. 2012. Liberation from Excess: The Road to a Post-Growth Economy. Munich: oekom verlag.

Paech, N. 2017. ‘Post-Growth Economics’. In C. L. Spash (ed), Routledge Handbook of Ecological Economics: Nature and Society, pp.477–486. Abingdon: Routledge.

Sayer, A. 1992. ‘Theory, observation and practical adequacy’. In A. Sayer (ed), Method in Social Science: A Realist Approach, pp.45–84. London: Routledge.

Schoppek, D. 2020. ‘How far is degrowth a really revolutionary counter movement to neoliberalism?’ Environmental Values 29 (2): 131–151.

Spash, C. L. 2010. ‘The brave new world of carbon trading’. New Political Economy 15 (2): 169–195. Crossref

Spash, C. L. 2011. ‘Terrible economics, ecosystems and banking’. Environmental Values 20 (2): 141–145. Crossref

Spash, C. L. 2018. ‘Facing the truth or living a lie: Conformity, radicalism and activism’. Environmental Values 27 (3): 215–222. Crossref

UNEP Finance Initiative. 2010. ‘Demystifying Materiality: Hardwiring Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services into Finance’. In CEO Briefing. Geneve: United Nations Environment Programme Finance Intiative.

UNEP Finance Initiative. 2020. ‘The Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance’. Geneve: United Nations Environment Programme Finance Intiative. unepfi.org/net-zero-alliance

2020 Spash Editorial EV

New Deal for Nature: Paying the Emperor to Fence the Wind

Counterpunch

 

 

The conservation industry says 2020 is its “super year.”[1] It wants to set aside thirty percent of the globe for wildlife, and divert billions of dollars away from reducing climate change and into “natural climate solutions.”[2] This would be a disaster for people and planet. Conservation was founded in the racist ideology of 1860s USA but it committed thirty years ago to becoming people-friendly. It hasn’t happened. There will be more promises now, if only to placate critics and funders like the U.S. and German governments, and the European Commission, which are paying for conservation’s land theft, murder and torture.[3] More promises will be meaningless. No more public money should go for “Protected Areas” until the conservation bodies recognize their crimes, get rid of those responsible, and hand stolen lands back, with compensation. Conservation NGOs must also stop cozying up to mining, logging, oil, and plantation companies.

 

 

The latest idea to be heavily promoted by big conservation NGOs is doubling the world’s so-called “Protected Areas” (PAs) so that they cover thirty percent of the globe’s lands and oceans. This is now their main rallying cry and response to two of the world’s biggest problems – climate chaos and loss of biodiversity. It sounds good: It’s easy to grasp and has numbers that are supposed to be measurable, and advertisers do love numbers.

What better answer to climate change and biodiversity loss than to ban human “interference” over huge areas? If, that is, you think “everybody” is guilty of causing both crises and that everything’s solved by keeping them away. The idea’s been around for years, but now governments and industries are promoting it to the tune of billions of dollars,[4] so it’ll be difficult to oppose. But it’s actually dangerous nonsense which would have exactly the reverse effect to what we’re told, and if we want to save our world, it must be stopped.

Let’s be clear that cutting destructive pollution globally is vital for the climate, and that stopping industrial exploitation of unspoiled areas is essential for the flora and fauna, and the physical and mental health of inhabitants and visitors. None of that is disputed, but these are not the arguments advanced for asserting the right of this “New Deal for Nature” to more taxpayers’ cash. It’s a marketing gimmick designed to funnel even more money to those who have for decades demonstrated their failure to mitigate either climate change or biodiversity loss.

Sept. 24, 2019: Tweet, Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International, New Deal For Nature event

 

Let’s assume they did succeed in putting so much territory “out of bounds.” As with the emperor in his new suit, it’s childishly obvious that this wouldn’t necessarily bring any reduction to climate chaos: That’s simply because it wouldn’t affect what happens in the remaining seventy percent of the world – where most pollution originates. If just as much pollution carries on outside, then it doesn’t matter what’s going on inside PAs, because they too depend on the world’s climate, and you can’t fence the wind. Without reducing industrial emissions globally, leaving existing forest intact or planting lots of trees just won’t be enough to solve the problem. Wreck the atmosphere – even from a tiny proportion of the Earth – and you wreck it everywhere.

Not for the first time, the “experts” are promoting a policy which a child can see is senseless, but if they tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.

What about the second claim, that more PAs are needed to ensure the protection of biodiversity? Everyone rightly wants more of that: The more diverse an ecosystem, the more likely it is to adapt and survive. “Biodiversity” means the enormous variety of life, and life forms are interconnected: They depend on each other. Where the flora and fauna is reduced to just a few species, there’s a domino effect that cuts the number still further.[5]

However obvious, it merits restating: To mix metaphors, when the domino becomes a snowball effect then ecosystems become deserts, even when visibly green. Oil palm plantations carved out of tropical forests are a famous example of lots of trees being planted in an area where biodiversity has been slashed to just a few species. Such plantations are effectively “green deserts.”

Putting the propaganda aside, it’s impossible to determine scientifically how effective PAs are for enhancing biodiversity. For example, a line drawn around a highly biodiverse area, which is then declared a national park, proves nothing about the park: The biodiversity was there in the first place. There is, however, considerable agreement about one thing, and it’s not that PAs are the solution at all.

It turns out that the most diversity is not found in areas where all human interference is banned, but actually the reverse – it’s found in places where tribal, indigenous, and other local, communities have stayed put and carried on doing what they’ve always been doing. It’s simply not true that everyone shares responsibility for biodiversity loss. Studies show that community-managed forests have less deforestation than inside PAs, and that “nature” is doing better in areas managed by indigenous peoples than elsewhere.[6] In places as different as Australia, Brazil, and Canada more diversity is found in indigenous territories than in PAs.[7] It seems clear that biological and human diversity are interlinked.

This is a key point which conservation NGOs haven’t wanted the public to know as they clamor for yet more cash: Areas managed by local people, especially if they’re indigenous, are much better than PAs imposed by outsiders. One study concluded, albeit limply, the “notion that indigenous reserves are less effective than parks… must be re-examined.”[8] You can say that again! They are already reckoned to contain no less than eighty percent of global species diversity. That’s the very reason conservationists want to take control of them. Indigenous peoples are now being victimized precisely because of their expertise in environmental stewardship.

Even where PAs are hyped as being about preserving iconic species, the evidence is mixed. For example, the former head of a conservation NGO thinks there could be more Indian tigers outside protected areas than inside. No one knows, but what’s certain is that when the British colonizers imprisoned the Waliangulu tribal elephant hunters in 1950s Kenya, elephant numbers did skyrocket, but only to plummet when the next drought hit and the herds proved too numerous for the environment. Thousands died of starvation, restoring a balance that the Waliangulu had achieved for generations or millennia. In South Africa, an average of nearly 600 elephants were culled every year from 1967 to 1996 (without publicity, to avoid upsetting conservation donors).[9] Banning traditional indigenous hunting generally harms biodiversity.

Protecting “nature” by fencing it off from the locals simply hasn’t worked. It doesn’t help that many PAs aren’t really protected at all. They include industrial exploitation – mining, logging, plantations, trophy hunting concessions, or extensive, usually high-end, tourist infrastructure – but that’s the reality. The locals are thrown out as the land is grabbed by one or other industry, partnering with one or other big conservation NGO.

Like it or not, many PAs are as much about stealing the land from local people to make someone else a profit as they are about conservation. The famous Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana is the second largest “game reserve” in the world but it’s also leased to mining exploration. There’s a diamond mine, with its roads and heavy machinery, where a tiny handful of the Bushmen who have lived there for generations are occasionally given menial jobs. (The government kicked them out until forced to backtrack by the high court.) As in almost all African PAs, wealthy tourists enjoy luxury accommodation inside the reserve. The man responsible for both the tourism and mine was the former president, General Ian Khama, a much-feted conservationist who was on the board of Conservation International.

This land theft is a problem for us all, and not only because the indigenous people are generally much better conservationists than “us”: Not surprisingly, the locals object when their land and self-sufficiency are looted for someone else’s gain, and their need for food, and sometimes their anger, translates into defying hunting bans (making them “poachers” for trying to feed their families), as well as taking action to recover their ancestral territory. For example, pastoralists whose herds are banned from private “conservancies” in East Africa are cutting the fences and going back in. They can be armed and violent clashes are increasing. Some researchers fear increasing bloodshed is inevitable[10] and the increasing militarization of conservation will just make things worse. Yet this is the model touted as the future of PAs, one supposedly enacted with the support of local communities (which is often a lie). They’re supported by the American NGO, The Nature Conservancy, and are largely profit-making investments aimed at wealthy companies and tourists. They’re now taking over huge areas of East Africa and beyond.

February 19, 2020

 

Just as Africans extricated themselves (at least, partly!) from European rule in the last century, they are unlikely to accede quietly to what is seen as more colonization, this time by conservationists. Unless things change, PAs in Africa will become real, not metaphorical, battlegrounds. Serious environmentalists know that you can’t have a PA for long if it’s surrounded by an angry population, yet conservation groups seem incapable of changing their practice. They exhort industry to become sustainable, while promoting their own model, which palpably isn’t.

WWF, for example, routinely violates human rights, the law and its own policies. It’s already spent millions of dollars illegally pushing for a new park in Congo, Messok Dja. The money comes from WWF itself and its accomplices, including a logging, oil palm, and luxury tourist company, as well as the Wildlife Conservation Society, the U.S. government, the EU, and the UN. As with the creation of almost all African PAs, the first step has been to kick out and terrorize the local Baka (so-called Pygmies) who’ve probably lived there for thousands of years, and who have adapted and sustainably managed their biodiverse-rich environment. Now they are kept out of their ancestral lands and terrorized, beaten and arrested if they return to seek traditional foods or plant medicines.

This is what the thirty percent of the globe taken for the New Deal for Nature will look like – a third of the globe stolen for profit. It’s a new colonialism, the world’s biggest land grab, supposedly “green” and supposedly to save the world – a really big lie. As Odette, a Baka woman from Congo, says of such imposed conservation projects which don’t work, “We’ve had enough of this talk of ‘boundaries’ in the forest. The forest is ours.”[11]

The last couple of generations has amply demonstrated that meetings of corporate heads, NGOs, politicians, and celebrities are not going to solve the crises of climate and biodiversity. Those attending are amongst the major contributors to the problems, and least willing to accept any change which might threaten their position. They argue over statements that no one actually applies, or even intends to, and which are replete with clauses ensuring “business as usual.” The meetings and declarations attract an enormous media circus, but are akin to the emperor’s workshop, with hundreds of tailors busily cutting suits of such rarefied material that they don’t cover his nakedness.

Youth exploitation is key to the goal of commodifying nature.

 

The real answers to the crises of climate and biodiversity lie in an inversion of the current approach, and a rejection of the New Deal for Nature and its failure to understand the relationship between indigenous peoples and nature. If we really want to save our world, then we have to start with the rich cutting their massive overconsumption. The wealthiest ten percent cause about half the world’s total pollution,[12] so they must work hardest to cut it. Both military conflict and the growth of information technology must be seen as the major polluters they are. The first is barely mentioned in climate activism, and the plan for the second is the exact opposite of what’s needed, with yet more energy-hungry “artificial intelligence” lined up to monitor our lives for the benefit of industry and state control.[13] If we’re going to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, we must also reduce dependence on “smart” tech, and we must accept the fact that real solutions aren’t found in marketing gimmicks like “net zero,” offsetting, carbon markets, or “pricing nature.” Real solutions are found with the local peoples that have successfully been creating and managing the world’s biodiversity since prehistory.

Humanity as a whole isn’t responsible for these problems, one particular sector is, and it’s same one coming up with the New Deal for Nature. Those promoting it want to dictate how the rest of the world should live, but they’re acting primarily for themselves. Banning human activity from yet more so-called “Protected Areas” is another manifestation of the hubris that got us into this mess in the first place. Local people – those who retain some self-sufficiency, common sense, and connection with their environment – remain the strongest backbone of humanity, even today. They have better answers than the conservation technocrats and other global elites who lack their perspective. Kicking even more of them out at best reduces them to landless poverty and at worst destroys them and the environment. It would be disastrous for everyone.

 

 

We should be respecting land rights and encouraging indigenous peoples and other local communities to remain where they are – if they wish – to carry on managing their lands in their own ways, and we must, above all, stop the theft of their territories for conservation. Those who want to, should be maintaining their self-sufficiency, not forced into global markets that profit the polluters more than anyone. We must “give” them back previously stolen lands, to manage themselves. We must listen to them rather than destroying them, as we are now.

Whether this happens remains to be seen. The few voices pointing out that the emperor has no clothes at all, are up against a deafening scream from conservation propagandists and mainstream media, baying that the New Deal for Nature is the perfect solution. Whose voice will prevail depends on people’s gullibility and ability to challenge both their own prejudices and powerful vested interests. It’s a real battle, and the outcome will determine how much more nature is stolen from this beautiful world we have helped create.

1) WWF Ecological. “2020: let’s put nature top of everybody’s to-do list.” Ecological.panda.org. April 20, 2018. (accessed 13/02/2020)

2) Tollefson, Jeff. “Global deal for nature’ fleshed out with specific conservation goals.” Nature, April 19, 2019. (accessed 13/02/2020)

3) Baker, Katie & Tom Warren. “The US Government Spent Millions Funding WWF-Backed Forces Accused Of Torture and Murder.” Buzzfeed News, September 24, 2019. (accessed 13/02/2020); Baker, Katie & Tom Warren. “WWF Says Indigenous People Want This Park. An Internal Report Says Some Fear Forest Ranger “Repression.” Buzzfeed News, March 8, 2019. (accessed 13/02/2020)

4) The estimate for the total global ecosystem services in 2011 is $125 trillion/yr

Costanza, Robert, Rudolf De Groot, Paul Sutton, Sander Van der Ploeg, Sharolyn J. Anderson, Ida Kubiszewski, Stephen Farber, and R. Kerry Turner. “Changes in the global value of ecosystem services.” Global environmental change 26 (2014): 152-158. (accessed 13/02/2020)

5) Carrington, Damian. “What is biodiversity and why does it matter to us?The Guardian, March 12, 2018. (accessed 13/02/2020)

6) Porter-Bolland, Luciana, Edward A. Ellis, Manuel R. Guariguata, Isabel Ruiz-Mallén, Simoneta Negrete-Yankelevich, and Victoria Reyes-García. “Community managed forests and forest protected areas: An assessment of their conservation effectiveness across the tropics.” Forest ecology and management 268 (2012): 6-17

7) The study measured vertebrate animal diversity only.

Schuster et al, 2019, Vertebrate biodiversity on indigenous-managed lands in Australia, Brazil, and Canada equals that in protected areas, Environmental Science & Policy Volume 101, November 2019, Pages 1-6

8) Woods Hole Research Center. “Satellites Show Amazon Parks, Indigenous Reserves Stop Forest Clearing.” ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/01/060126200147.htm (accessed February 13, 2020).

9) Dickson, Paul, and William M. Adams. “Science and uncertainty in South Africa’s elephant culling debate.” Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy 27, no. 1 (2009): 110-123.

10) Letiwa, Paul. “Herders protest as wildlife conservancies drive them out.” The Daily Nation, August 18, 2019. (accessed February 13, 2020).

11) Survival International. “We’ve had enough of this talk of ‘boundaries’ in the forest.” YouTube video, 01:00. 4 Jan 2019. (accessed February 13, 2020).

12) Gore, Timothy. Extreme Carbon Inequality. London: Oxfam. Dec 2, 2015. (The report can be found in Spanish and French at https://www.oxfam.org/en/research/extreme-carbon-inequality) (accessed February 13, 2020).

13) See: Lu, Donna. “Creating an AI can be five times worse for the planet than a car.” New Scientist, June 6, 2019. (accessed February 13, 2020).

Berners-Lee, Mike and Duncan Clark. “What’s the carbon footprint of … email?The Guardian, Oct 21, 2010. (accessed February 13, 2020).

[Stephen Corry has worked with Survival International, the global movement for tribal peoples’ rights, since 1972. The not-for-profit has a San Francisco office. Its public campaign to change conservation can be joined at www.survivalinternational.org/conservation. This is one of a series of articles on the problem.]

State of the Empire: Reviewing 2019

State of the Empire: Reviewing 2019

Zero Anthropology

December 31, 291

 

The Insane Nexus of “Natural Capital” & the Rights of Nature

The Insane Nexus of “Natural Capital” & the Rights of Nature

January 3, 2020

By Michael Swifte

 

To my mind, the concepts the ‘rights of nature’ and ‘natural capital’ are counterposed. To me, Rights of Nature thinking supports the recognition of nature’s pricelessness, its intrinsic value, its interdependentness; whereas Natural Capital thinking supports, as Clive Spash says, “the commensuration of all values”.

Natural Capital proponents will always say that their concern is with conserving and protecting nature, but it is the process of ‘commensuration’ that transforms responsible stewardship into opportunities to exploit nature for profit. Nature is transformed from something of intrinsic value to be preserved and protected, to an asset class delivering ‘services’ for humans and great returns on investment.

Natural Capital and ecosystem services are the products of what Derrick Jensen in his 2015 Open Letter to Reclaim Environmentalism calls the “Conservation Industrial Complex”.

It is in the intersection of environmentalism and corporate conservation that I encountered the insanity of trying to engage simultaneously with two counterposed ideas.

3 Moments

I will outline 3 moments that left my head spinning. I will highlight moments when individuals and organisations that are deeply committed to Natural Capital thinking engage with individuals and organisations that are committed to promoting the intrinsic rights of mother nature. In these moments the fundamental contradictions between these 2 types of thinking did not become apparent to those involved. My concern is particularly with the absence of a contest of ideas. Surely those advocating for the Rights of Nature should be shouting out about the risks posed by further integrating our care for nature into the sphere of financial reckoning?

Context: Rights of Nature

People's Agreement of Cochabamba

People’s Agreement of Cochabamba

 

In 2016 the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund – International Center for the Rights of Nature prepared an historical timeline presenting key moments in the development of the Rights of Nature ‘movement’. While ideas were posited as far back as 1972, it wasn’t until the late 2000s that Rights of Nature were formally recognised under the provisions of local, state or national governments. Ecuador is the most often cited example having recognised the Rights of Nature in its constitution in 2008, but it wasn’t till 2010 that a collective voice was heard. [SOURCE]

In April 2010 the ‘People’s Agreement of Cochabamba’ presented an historic formulation and assertion of The Rights of Mother Nature:

In an interdependent system in which human beings are only one component, it is not possible to recognise rights only to the human part without provoking an imbalance in the system as a whole. To guarantee human rights and to restore harmony with nature, it is necessary to effectively recognize and apply the rights of Mother Earth. [SOURCE]

Rights of Nature as a position of environmental advocacy has been carried forward over the last decade by various organisations including the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, Australian Earth Laws Alliance and Mumta Ito’s Natures-Rights.org.

Context: Natural Capital

May 15, 1997

May 15, 1997

 

Natural Capital thinking finds its roots in the merging of economics and ecology that was started at the 1982 Wallenberg Symposium in Sweden which was themed ‘Integrating Ecology and Economics’. In attendance at the Wallenberg Symposium was before a brief stint with the World Bank where he advocated for “rights to pollute” within his ‘steady state’ framework. In 1997 Costanza had the dubious honour of being the first person to present a Natural Capital valuation of the whole earth’s “biosphere” at somewhere between US$16-54 trillion per year.

In her 2007 obituary of Ecological Economics co-founder AnnMari Jansson for the  International Society for Ecological Economics newsletter, Karin E. Limburg highlights the “chasm” between ecology and economics at the first Wallenberg Symposium:

Several days of intensive meetings brought home the philosophical chasm between these disciplines, but also made it clear that there was some common ground to be nurtured. [SOURCE]

All the most wealthy conservation organisations on the planet support Natural Capital thinking through various means; WWF, The Nature Conservancy, and Conservation International being prime among them. Collectively these organisations who are deeply engaged with corporations and governments, and in possession of unprecedented access to land and resources in the global south are represented by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Nature or Natural Capital is viewed by the Conservation Industrial Complex, embodied by the IUCN, as a “stock”, “producing value for people”. Under a policy motion prepared for the IUCN for the World Conservation Congress 2020 in Marseille the IUCN envisage their role as sustainable managers of nature to deliver “goods and services”. [SOURCE]

Mumta Ito, Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature

It’s hard to know what became of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature’s (GARN) efforts to get the IUCN to operationalise recognition of the Rights of Nature. The trail goes cold in 2017 after an event hosted by Nature’s Rights in the European Parliament in Brussels. [SOURCE]

Between 2012 when the first Rights of Nature resolution was presented at the IUCN World Congress, and 2017 when the IUCN Global Programme 2017-2020 came into action, Rights of Nature advocates led by Mumta Ito put in significant efforts imploring the IUCN member organisations to incorporate nature’s rights in “all its initiatives”.

Between 2012 and now many IUCN member organisations have accelerated their efforts to push forward with the ‘natural capital approach’. The Natural Capital Coalition was formed in 2012 and the Natural Capital Protocol was launched in 2016.

Here is a quote from Conservation International CEO Peter Seligmann upon the launch of the Natural Capital Protocol:

The urgency of addressing climate change requires innovations across all sectors of society. This is why Conservation International strongly supports the innovations of the Natural Capital Protocol. Their breakthrough methodology provides Businesses with the tools to understand their dependency on nature and their impact on nature. This is essential if they want to achieve sustainability. It is a challenge that enlightened business leaders should undertake for their bottom line, as well as for the interest of humanity and the preservation of the benefits we all receive from nature: fresh air, clean water and food production. [SOURCE]

2012

The Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature (GARN) asked for nothing less than a deep commitment from IUCN member organisations. Here’s a selection from the resolution presented to the IUCN at the 2012 World Conservation Congress:

RECALLING that the Peoples’ World Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in April 2010, resulted in a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, announced and supported by indigenous peoples and social movements, who, as representatives of an active civil society call on their governments and the United Nations to include this topic in key debates such as those on climate change and biodiversity; [SOURCE]

2016

At the IUCN World Conservation Congress in 2016 the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature again asserted the need for a deep commitment from the IUCN.

We ask for your support in urging the IUCN to implement its 2012 Resolution on nature’s rights. WCC-2012-Res-100, “Incorporation of the Rights of Nature as the organizational focal point in IUCN’s decision making,” calls on the IUCN to adopt a Declaration of the Rights of Nature and incorporate nature’s rights into all its initiatives. Help us ensure the IUCN makes implementation of this Resolution a key action item in its 2017-2020 work program. [SOURCE]

In a TedXFindhorn talk in 2016 Mumta Ito argued for the implementation of the Rights of Nature “in law”. My concern is that her argument that implementing Rights of Nature is a “counterbalance to corporate rights” puts the cart before the horse. Corporate rights are being advanced through Natural Capital projects supported by the IUCN and its member organisations. GARN and Mumta Ito have implored the IUCN and its members to operationalise the Rights of Nature while the architecture supporting Natural Capital has rapidly expanded.

Rights of Nature proponents do not challenge Natural Capital thinking in their advocacy. Rights of Nature cannot act as a counterbalance against corporate rights unless it is operationalised. Merely promoting Rights of Nature without at least attending to the possible threats posed by Natural Capital thinking does nothing to contest the appropriateness of measuring and managing nature into the sphere of financial interests rather than into the interests of priceless nature. If Natural Capital thinking can coexist or supplement the operationalisation of the Rights of Nature then Mumta Ito and GARN ought to be on record somewhere making that case. The reality is that Natural Capital thinking, and the projects initiated and supported by IUCN members like The Nature Conservancy, WWF and Conservation International are barely given any consideration by Rights of Nature advocates.

Here I’ve transcribed a quote from Mumta Ito’s TedXFindhorn talk:

Establishing rights of nature in law is the first step to moving us to a holistic paradigm of ecological governance, and it’s also a very powerful counterbalance to corporate rights. It’s a game changer.[SOURCE]

The response by the French representatives to the inclusion of “the rights of nature” in the IUCN Programme 2017–2020 makes clear that no additional Rights of Nature have been conferred.

France supports the IUCN Programme 2017–2020. Concerning the inclusion of “the rights of nature” in Programme Area 2 (Objectives 14 and 15), France interprets the terminology used in the Programme as creating no additional rights to those that France recognises in its national legislation and within the framework of the United Nations.[SOURCE]

The ‘IUCN Programme 2017-2020 Draft 2’ suggests that the IUCN will spread the word about the Rights of Nature. The text of the only reference to the “rights of nature” in the 2017-20 programme  suggests that Rights of Nature will be used to inform certain approaches to conservation, but it does not suggest anything like operationalisation. Aiming to “secure” Rights of Nature is not the same as adopting the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Nature’.

IUCN also aims to secure the rights of nature and the vulnerable parts of society through strengthening governance and the rights-based approach to conservation. Knowledge is disseminated widely and is taken up widely by the Union itself, the international system, governments, the donor community, the business sector, individual scientists and practitioners. [SOURCE]

2017

In March of 2017 Nature’s Rights held an event at the European Parliament in Brussels titled ‘Nature’s Rights Conference: The Missing Piece of the Puzzle’. This event seems to be the last hurrah for the Rights of Nature.

I keep coming back to this particular moment in my research and I wonder where the battle went from here. I suspect Rights of Nature have been disintegrated into the “rights-based approach” referred to in the 2017-2020 programme.

Luc Bas, Director, IUCN European Regional Office was non-committal in his response to pressure to support a Universal Declaration of the Rights of Nature:

Being a science-based and evidence-based organisation, IUCN will continue to explore and evaluate the benefits of such an initiative, [SOURCE]

2020

The IUCN have 128 motions listed for their 2020 World Conservation Congress. None contain any reference to the “rights of nature”. [SOURCE]

Here is a quote from ‘IUCN World Conservation Congress 2020 – Motion 062: Towards a Policy on Natural Capital’.

Natural capital is defined in these Principles as the stock of natural ecosystems on Earth including air, water, land, soil, biodiversity and geological resources. This stock underpins our economy and society by producing value for people, both directly and indirectly. Goods and services provided to humans by sustainably managed natural capital include a range of social and environmental benefits including clean air and water, climate change mitigation and adaptation, food, energy, places to live, materials for products, recreation and protection from hazards. [SOURCE]

Robert Costanza and NENA 2017

Robert Costanza was one of the guests at the New Economy Network Australia (NENA) annual conference 2017. NENA was founded and is directed by the founder and convenor of Australian Earth laws Alliance (AELA), Dr Michelle Maloney. AELA are the most active proponents of Rights of Nature in Australia having partnered with Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) on a 2018 campaign for Rights of the Great Barrier Reef. [SOURCE]

Costanza sits on the Earth Economics – Advisory Group along with Herman Daly, Annie Leonard (Greenpeace USA) and former Gund Institute colleague Joshua Farley. The Gund Institute are members of the New Economy Coalition and played a leadership role in the development of the Natural Capital Approach that is at the heart of the Natural Capital Project which is a partnership between The Nature Conservancy, WWF, and Stanford University. The Natural Capital Approach is defined here with crucial input from Natural Capital Project partners and the Gund Institute:

A means for identifying and quantifying the natural environment and associated ecosystem services leading to better decision-making for managing, preserving and restoring natural environments. [SOURCE]

I sat outside The Edge conference hall in Brisbane as Robert Costanza presented to the New Economy Network Australia conference in 2017. I tweeted furiously to the conference hash-tags while Costanza offered his 1997 valuation of the earth’s biosphere. I received zero replies.

I cannot comprehend how the conference organiser Dr Michelle Maloney reconciled herself with the imperatives and networks behind Natural Capital thinking while trying to promote Rights of Nature thinking.

You can view Costanza’s slide presentation here:

The Reforms Needed to Build an Ecological Economy

Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, Deep Green Resistance and Spencer Beebe

"After a century as a hub for the goods of the industrial economy, our building has become a focal point for a new economy in which “Natural Capital” — the flow of goods and services from nature — is our measure of prosperity and resilience."The 70,000-square-foot Natural Capital Center also houses Ecotrust's headquarters and a mix of nonprofit and business tenants gathered around the themes of ecological forestry and fisheries, green building, technology and financial investment. Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company known for its environmental ethic, is our retail anchor, working in its largest retail outlet anywhere."

“After a century as a hub for the goods of the industrial economy, our building has become a focal point for a new economy in which “Natural Capital” — the flow of goods and services from nature — is our measure of prosperity and resilience.” “The 70,000-square-foot Natural Capital Center also houses Ecotrust’s headquarters and a mix of nonprofit and business tenants gathered around the themes of ecological forestry and fisheries, green building, technology and financial investment. Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company known for its environmental ethic, is our retail anchor, working in its largest retail outlet anywhere.”

Image: [Source] [Source] [Source]

When the Community Legal Defense Fund and Deep Green Resistance lawsuit against the State of Colorado was summarily dismissed in October 2017 I started to look at the environmental organisations that engage Natural Capital thinking in regard to the Colorado River Basin. I found that Earth Economics had completed an assessment of “nature’s value” in the Colorado River Basin in 2014. The identified/key stakeholders in the Colorado River Basin were utilities and irrigation companies. Here is a quote from ‘Nature’s Value in the Colorado River Basin’:

Based on the ecosystem services examined and treated like an asset with a lifespan of 100 years, the Colorado River Basin has an asset value between $1.8 trillion and $12.1 trillion at a 4.125 percent discount rate. [SOURCE]

When I looked at the staff and advisory board membership of CELDF I found connections to both Derrick Jensen’s ‘Open Letter to Reclaim Environmentalism’, and the Conservation Industrial Complex. I also wondered how it was possible that DGR and CELDF did not give consideration to environmental organisations that employ Natural Capital thinking in the Colorado River Basin. Surely a key component of the risk assessment for a significant law suit would include consideration of the economic stakeholders in the Colorado River Basin?

Thomas Linzey is the founder and senior legal counsel of CELDF as well as a signatory to Jensen’s open letter. On the advisory board with Jensen is Spencer Beebe, the founder of Ecotrust. It is Beebe’s career in the Conservation Industrial Complex that I will unpack here.

Beebe could be said to be the embodiment of the Conservation Industrial Complex. He spent 14 years working with The Nature Conservancy before becoming the founding president of Conservation International.

He developed the Ecotrust headquarters in Portland with a 2 million loan from the Ford Foundation and named it the ‘Natural Capital Center’.

our building has become a focal point for a new economy in which “Natural Capital” — the flow of goods and services from nature — is our measure of prosperity and resilience [SOURCE]

Ecotrust clearly treat nature as an asset class, a set of ecosystem services to be valued, data captured, and capital to be managed. A biography written by Aaron Reuben in 2014 outlines the engagement of the financial sector in the work of Ecotrust:

Early on, Ecotrust partnered with ShoreBank to form a community development bank, ShoreBank Pacific (now Beneficial State Bank), to support small and natural resource-based businesses with sustainability goals, including fishing, farming and redevelopment enterprises. Beneficial State now manages $500 million in sustainability-minded assets across the Pacific Northwest. Ecotrust also started the world’s first forest ecosystem investment fund, with the goal of generating profits for investors through the sale of forest products, like timber, and ecosystem services, like wildlife habitat and carbon sequestration. In all, according to the organization, Ecotrust has “converted $30 million in grants into more than $1 billion in capital assets at work for local people, businesses, and organizations from Alaska to California.” [SOURCE]

In 2016 Ecotrust partnered with Earth Economics on a ‘Pure Water Partnership’ with Eugene Water and Electric Board (EWEB) who have dams and power stations on the McKenzie River.

The following quote is from a news item titled ‘Eugene’s Incentive Based Approach to Protecting Water Supply’ posted to the Earth Economics website in November 2016:

The work has involved partnership with other key organizations – Ecotrust, our primary partner, provided all of the GIS mapping and biophysical data, including collecting shade and carbon data.

Early in 2017 the utility EWEB announced that it was beginning a rehabilitation and modernisation project. It’s clear to see that the utility was the primary beneficiary of Ecotrust’s work in collaboration with Earth Economics.

The Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB) announced beginning March 27, and continuing for the next five years, it will begin a US$100 million rehabilitation and modernization project at its 114-MW Carmen-Smith hydroelectric facility along the upper McKenzie River, about 70 miles east of Eugene, Ore. [SOURCE]

Long term plans for the McKenzie River are to be led by the utility. Here are 2 quotes from a document titled ‘McKenzie River Sub-basin Strategic Action Plan for Aquatic and Riparian Conservation and Restoration, 2016-2026’:

McKenzie Collaborative: This group was formed in 2012 to develop new programs that protect water quality and protect and restore habitat. The Voluntary Incentives Program (VIP) and the McKenzie Watershed Stewardship Group are products of the Collaborative. Member organizations are CPRCD, Earth Economics, Ecotrust, EWEB, LCOG, MRT, MWC, MWMC, OSU, The Freshwater Trust (TFT), UO, USFS, and UWSWCD. The group is led by EWEB and meets monthly on the second Friday.

 

Ecosystem Valuation and the Economic Benefits of Source Protection EWEB recognizes that the McKenzie Watershed is an extremely valuable asset. Although the natural services that it provides are not financially accounted for in traditional economic models, new methods are being developed attempt to place value on this ‘natural capital.’ In 2010, EWEB hired Earth Economics to conduct a watershed valuation, which estimated the annual value of McKenzie Watershed ecosystem services at between $248 million to $2.4 billion. Services include things such as water supply, flood mitigation, soil erosion control and many other ecosystem services. [SOURCE]

No Contest

The proponents of the Rights of Nature are failing to contest the greatest threat to the achieving their objectives. The integration of the measurement and the management of nature and natural resources,  and watersheds and carbon sinks into our existing systems of corporate finance continues unabated. Promoting the Rights of Nature through entreaties to collective bodies and legal actions against governments does not necessarily function as a challenge to Natural Capital thinking. Former Managing Director at JP Morgan and Capital Institute founder John Fullerton has integrated Natural Capital thinking in his ‘regenerative capitalism’ concept. John Elkington, B Corporation boss and corporate responsibility ‘leader’ has a new book coming out called ‘Green Swans: The Coming Boom In Regenerative Capitalism’. The commensuration of all values is taking place at speed under the #NaturalClimateSolutions hash-tag underwritten by the leading lights of the Conservation Industrial Complex. Proponents of the Rights of Nature need to take account of the language of ‘assets’, ‘investments’ and ‘services’ used by the proponents of Natural Capital thinking and their clients.  Rights of Nature proponents need to name the problem and contest the ideas presented by those individuals and entities who are promoting dangerous and counterposed thinking. The Rights of Nature is a revolutionary demand requiring a clear and uncompromising response. Natural Capital thinking only offers capitalist reform which only ever leads to business as usual.

 

Notes:

*The following notes provide some background to the work of Conservation International in its first year of operation under the leadership of Spencer Beebe and Peter Seligmann. Debt-for-nature swaps were a vital tool for the penetration of conservation organisations into the developing world and establishing the groundwork for the implementation of Natural Capital thinking.

1.‘Eco Rover: It’s Hard to Pin Down Spencer Beebe’ By Aaron Reuben

1987, in search of a more nimble organization, he and fellow Yale alum Peter Seligmann co-founded Conservation International (CI) to pursue the same goal, global biodiversity conservation, through more innovative means. (One of CI’s first actions was to complete the world’s first “debt for nature swap,” buying foreign debt from Bolivia in exchange for the creation of a three million acre nature reserve).

https://environment.yale.edu/news/article/eco-rover-its-hard-to-pin-down-spencer-beebe/

2.‘Tropical Rain Forests: Bolivia’

In 1987 Conservation International initiated the first “debt-for-nature” swap when it purchased $650,000 worth of Bolivian debt for only $100,000.

https://rainforests.mongabay.com/20bolivia.htm

3.‘A Challenge to Conservationists’ By Mac Chapin

*It took Conservation International 1 year to engineer the world’s first debt for nature swap.

Conservation International began in dramatic fashion in 1986. During the previous several years, TNC’s international program had grown rapidly, and tension with its other programs had mounted. When TNC’s central management tried to rein it in, virtually the entire international staff bolted and transformed itself into CI. From the start, the new organization was well equipped with staff, contacts, and money it had assembled before-hand.  In  1989,  it  brought  in  yet  another  group  of defectors—this time from WWF—and began expanding with the help of an aggressive fundraising machine that  has  become  the  envy  of  all  of  its  competitors. However, a substantial portion of its funding comes from just  four  organizations:  the  Gordon  &  Betty  MooreFoundation,  the  MacArthur  Foundation,  the  World Bank,  and  the  Global  Environment  Facility  (GEF).

https://redd-monitor.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/WorldWatch-Chapin.pdf

4.‘Profiles of Impact: Swapping Debt for Nature in Bolivia’ By Maria Rodriguez

In 1987 — the year that both Conservation International (CI) and Vanguard Communications were founded — CI undertook the first-ever “debt-for-nature” swap between Citicorp and the government of Bolivia. Vanguard publicized the groundbreaking deal, wherein CI purchased a portion of Bolivia’s foreign debt in exchange for the protection and management of nearly 3.7 million acres in the Beni Biosphere Reserve.

[]

Conservation International is also turning 30 this year, and now employs more than 1,000 people and works with more than 2,000 partners in 30 countries. Vanguard President Maria Rodriguez caught up with CI’s CEO, Peter Seligmann, to discuss how this groundbreaking deal paved the way for CI and the work it does today. 

  1. What’s your best memory of that July day back in 1987 when you announced the first debt-for-nature swap?

 “A couple of things stand out. First, it was so powerful to demonstrate that foreign debt accrued by countries impacted the health of tropical forests and there was a way to solve that problem. We were able to do something truly worthy that impacted the ultimate health and well-being of a nation.

 “Second, the announcement was essentially the coming-out party for Conservation International, since we’d just opened our doors at the end of January of that same year. What an impactful way to gain attention for our mission to link conservation of nature with finance and economics. Through the incredible media attention garnered by the debt-for-nature swap, we illustrated that solutions to environmental problems have to be sensitive to the livelihoods of people.”

https://www.vancomm.com/2017/02/01/swapping-debt-nature-bolivia/

5.’Overview of Debt for Nature Swaps and Description of the Structure of Debt for Nature Swaps’ By Romas Garbaliauskas

Why do NGOs like Conservation International, the Nature Conservancy, KEHATI, and WWF participate? There is a cost here. We pay 20% of the debt forgiveness. One is that, invariably, we always work in the countries where we participate in these debts for nature swaps. I believe that has always been the case. It would be hard to understand why an NGO would participate in a debt swap for a country where they are not working. We get to basically help establish conservation priorities.

http://redd.ffpri.affrc.go.jp/events/seminars/_img/_20150203/234_D2S2_04_Mr.%20Garbaliauskas%20_final.pdf

6.‘New impact investment instrument aims to restore degraded cloud forests and improve energy security in Latin America’

“Cloud forests are among the most water-productive of any tropical forest ecosystem, are uniquely biodiverse and deliver a multitude of clear benefits, but finance for conserving and restoring forests has fallen short of the need,” said Justus Raepple, Conservation Finance Lead for TNC’s Global Water division. “There aren’t many connections in nature like this, where the benefits are so profound to a single beneficiary that the restoration actions can potentially pay for themselves.”

“Restoring cloud forests helps hydropower operators reduce significant sedimentation management costs, and also prolongs the life of the plants, so it avoids having to build more dams, or finding the energy in less environmentally friendly ways,” explained Romas Garbaliauskas, Senior Director of Conservation Finance at Conservation International.

https://www.conservation.org/press-releases/2018/09/27/new-impact-investment-instrument-aims-to-restore-degraded-cloud-forests-and-improve-energy-security-in-latin-america

7.‘Hydropower threatens Bolivian indigenous groups and national park’ by Eduardo Franco Berton/RAI

Torewa in the Tsimané (also called Chimane) language means “place of enchantment.” This is a community of 46 indigenous families, located in an area of 300 hectares within the forests of the Integrated Management Natural Area and Madidi National Park. Combined, the natural area and the park cover nearly 1.9 million hectares. Torewa is one of 17 communities that could potentially be affected by the construction of two dams planned in the El Bala and El Beu canyons on the Beni River.

https://news.mongabay.com/2016/10/hydropower-threatens-bolivian-indigenous-groups-and-national-park/

8.‘Bolivia announces plans to develop hydropower in Grande River basin’

In October 2018, HydroWorld reported that Bolivian energy authorities were in the process of identifying about US$2 billion in financing for early stage hydro and wind power generation projects. This included Rositas.

https://www.hydroreview.com/2019/07/30/bolivia-announces-plans-to-develop-hydropower-in-grande-river-basin/

9.‘Bolivia’s ENDE awards contract to Chinese firms for Rositas hydroelectric plant’

The deal comes with an initial US$1 billion in financing from the Export-Import Bank of China and will see China Three Gorges Corp. and China International Water & Electric engineer and construct what is expected to be a 500 MW to 600 MW project.

https://www.latinamericahydrocongress.com/en/news-en/bolivia-s-ende-awards-contract-to-chinese-firms-for-rositas-hydroelectric-plant

 

[Michael Swifte is an Australian activist and a member of the Wrong Kind of Green critical thinking collective.]

 

 

 

 

 

WATCH: The Global Climate Ghetto – The Environmental Crisis from the Perspective of the Global South

WATCH: The Global Climate Ghetto – The Environmental Crisis from the Perspective of the Global South

December 14, 2019

Transcript by Geraldine Ring

 

“And the third group, are the anti-ecological environmentalists. They who love trees, forests and organic food, but find no inconsistency between their environmentalist ideology and discrimination, racism and colonialism. In their conceit, they believe that they can be anti-fascist and hate blacks, Asians, immigrants and embracing discriminations against women, the working class and the poor. And you howl Coltrane, as he asks simply with Diana, Dylan, Mali, Masekela, ‘Where are you? Sing me a song of consolation and ascension, send me to Google at the river Congo to find dead souls in the Amazonian forest, take me on a sudden Guernica trip to hear them black bodies singing.’ They’re burning flesh.”

In this lecture, Ambassador Lumumba Di-Aping, Chair of Rights of Future Generations Working Group, voices a critical analysis of the impact of climate change, especially on non-emergent poor countries of the South. [Hosted by the V&A Museum in conjunction with the Sharjah Architecture Triennial and the Royal College of Art London. October 4, 2018]

 

Transcript

Introduction

Adrian Lahoud, Dean of the School of Architecture at the Royal College of Art, London:

Let’s start in 2009 during the Copenhagen climate conference. Lumumba is the Sudanese ambassador to the United Nations and chair of the G77 plus China group of 132 developing nations. For the first time in the history of that group the chair has forged an agreement between them that they will negotiate as a single block. The crowds waiting outside of the Vela Centre in Copenhagen are seized by a concern. Will an accord be signed in the wake of Kyoto, and what will be the agreed global average temperature increase. Will it be 1.5 degrees, 2 degrees, etc.?

Unbeknownst to everyone else the G20, a group of the most powerful economies on the planet, had been meeting in secret with a proposal that they had agreed upon to commit the planet and its people to an average 2 degree temperature increase. Then somebody leaked the text to Lumumba Di-Aping.

And so with President Obama flying back to Washington content in the notion that the secret G20 agreement had been sealed and would soon be adopted by all the other Earth’s nations, Lumumba called a press conference – you can hear a fragment of it in the piece next door – and delivered an extraordinary speech, shattering the callous façade of agreement that northern countries were preparing for their poorer neighbours. I have no doubt it will be remembered as one of the greatest, and most significant, political interventions in our lifetimes.

So at great personal risk and sacrifice, Lumumba broke with all the protocols of diplomatic speech – the secrecies, the silent disparities, the resigned subjugations. He spoke truth to power. He described the text as climate genocide, and indeed it was. He accused the G20 of trying to colonize the sky, as indeed it was. For hidden in the scale of the global average temperature increase were the differentiated hazards and vulnerabilities of climate impact. As Lumumba said, it would have meant certain devastation in Africa. Lumumba did something else that is extremely important. He connected the language of numbers in climate negotiation to an existential calculation: a calculation of life and death. We should heed his lesson. Lumumba has been an incredible inspiration to many people. Please join me in welcoming him to the stage tonight.

+++

Lumumba Di-Aping:

Good evening, good evening. It is a real honour to stand in front of you to deliver these remarks on the tectonic challenge of climate change. As you all know, this tectonic challenge is man-made. It is a civilizational, moral and existential challenge – to humanity today, tomorrow, and for the future generations. If not addressed properly, the effects of this ecological challenge will be catastrophic to all future generations. Be they from the west or from the south, be they white, black, yellow or in-betweens. These remarks are thus driven by a certain consciousness. And an enduring determination and a vigilant critique of anti-ecological knowledge, immaturity and environmental dis-enlightenment, bent on not only denying science, but one that has marshalled successfully so far a grand strategy to render impotent any moral, social, economic and political, or categorical transformative leadership.

These remarks are against the haunting suffering of 99% of the human family. They are personal outrage against horrid violence inflicted against humanity. I represented the Global South as their chief negotiator in the trenches of Copenhagen in 2009. These remarks am I telling it like it was. A naked experience. They are remarks aimed at igniting, for the interests of the future generations of the world for a robust, truthful and just discourse on climate change.

But before I proceed, let me take this opportunity for a world of dedication to my family Ulysses Henry Epping and Sonja D. Epping and to Dom Henry Walsborough of Ampleforth. May your wings be strong. May your days be long. Safe be your journey. Each of you bears inside of you a great gift of love which you have given me abundantly. May bring you light and warmth and the pleasure of giving, as you have always done. Eagerly savour each day the taste of its warmth, of its mouth. Never lose sight of the thrill and the joy of living. Son, may you grow up to be true, may you always know the truth, and see the lights surrounding you. May you always be courageous. We stand upright and be strong and may you stay forever young.

Now, now if you were born in Africa. If you went to school there and if you were fortunate, or perhaps unfortunate enough to have had a British Council sent English teacher who admired and taught you Charles Dickens, COP15 would have descended upon you the way a thousand ton of slab of concrete nightmare have done. A diluvial desolation, a hell of other implacable global injustice and bull everywhere.

You would have seen COP15 chairperson, the Honorable Prime Minister of Denmark, presiding over the UNF Triple C Court of Chancery, which – to paraphrase Dickens – gives to the many might the means of abundantly wearing out the right and the downtrodden global poor, the means of exhausting patience, courage and negating hope, and the means to deject, close the minds and overthrow the brains, and break the hearts, and the means to force them to succumb and sign an accord and a pact that not only denies their humanity, but cages them to watch helplessly their entire nation, countries and state drowning slowly under water, savaged by the extreme hurricanes, rains, heatwaves, droughts, fires and getting torched red and scorched yellow – and ultimately incinerated like Giacometti’s men and women and you needn’t recall Eichmann.

There is not one honourable man, woman among the UNF Triple C Chancery lead negotiators. And developing countries have known, have been experiencing, and witnessing the world that is to come. The new normal to arrive. Desolation. In that UNF Triple C Chancery, dominated by G8 plus China and India and India’s delegation, it was all pretence. And you ask, “On a 2 degree Celsius pathway? Are you serious?” And they come down the slinging, with their prepared answers, “The perfect, the perfect is the enemy of the good”. You come to your senses. There is not one honourable man, woman among the UNF Triple C Chancery lead negotiators. Their well-rehearsed sermon was “Two degrees on a legally-binding plate. Call it a pact. Mitigation and adaptation – pledges without any commitment to emission reduction targets. No technology transfer, no finance.” They repeated this sermon ad infinitum and sang it like a hymn and, as it turned out it, it was one, from a secret text – known only to them. And thank God, it was leaked by a rat, as the Guardian put it, years later.

See, the UNF Triple C have been turned into an attrition arena, a holding spectacle purposely – purposely intended to preclude forever any attempt to reduce ambitions forever, or until perhaps 2030, 2050, when the burden shifts to advanced developing countries in the future generations. See the UNF Triple C, COPS, have been turned into “this is spectacle, historically”. And they kept giving this atrocious, vicious, malice co-ordinated against all demands for deep emission cuts, all negative emissions.

This belligerent animosity towards developing countries, in general, has always come from three groups in the alliance – and this is very important. The first group is the quintessential Western establishment type with their apologist among the intelligentsia, particularly their juris economistas aided by journalists and editors. And the second group are the clevers, the ID 77 insiders and members. They are adept diplomats, sophisticated, delicate and dexterous representatives of the new economically superior emergent block in cahoots with developing countries, fossil fuel heavyweights. They apply their finance for infrastructure muscles in Asia, Africa and Latin America to force their will. They have become the poor countries’ and LDCs’ main trading partners. And the third group, are the anti-ecological environmentalists. They who love trees, forests and organic food, but find no inconsistency between their environmentalist ideology and discrimination, racism and colonialism. In their conceit, they believe that they can be anti-fascist and hate blacks, Asians, immigrants and embracing discriminations against women, the working class and the poor. And you howl Coltrane, as he asks simply with Diana, Dylan, Mali, Masekela, “Where are you? Sing me a song of consolation and ascension, send me to google at the river Congo to find dead souls in the Amazonian forest, take me on a sudden Guernica trip to hear them black bodies singing.” They’re burning flesh.“The first group is the quintessential Western establishment type with their apologist among the intelligentsia, particularly their juris economistas aided by journalists and editors..”

But Copenhagen continues. The game is on and it’s the only game, the only one in town, so be, shape up. You remember Ruth’s first words in her seminal work, ‘The Barrel of a Gun’. For I count myself an African and there is no cause I hold dearer. Be, or the only legacy you live. Ulysses your son is a burden of absolute unforgettable, unforgivable shame, the burden of having signed to the total destruction of his world, the future generations’ world. It’s 3 o’clock. You are holding an espresso, double shot. You remember Mahmoud Darwish. You aim the sea, sky and earth at me, but you cannot root that continent out of me. You cannot root my son out of me, and not his generations – never. And time goes on, negotiating. It’s midnight now. You are in Copenhagen. The negotiation texts are over a thousand page. And it’s freezing cold. So you say to yourself, two degrees is four degrees, three degrees and they simply feast, two degrees the riches are theirs. Two degrees, we are dead and they are not. Two degrees, do they care? Four degrees, and we don’t live and they won’t live. Do they know? Shouldn’t they care? We will rise and they will wise. We can rise and they won’t rise. Five degrees, we are shades and they are hues. Six degrees and the world is fire. We are on fire. Our breath is gone. We are done and the world end done. Six degrees, we are all done. Done. Done.

Diplomatically, the G8 in the leadership of the US, China and India where the main culprit diplomatically, the USA, negotiated on the basis that what of society does wrote the wars of Sparta and Athens. The powerful exact what they can and then we have to comply. In such a world, it is no use that the destitute poor of the South must suffer what they must. And Africa has a peculiar position in climate change negotiations as a non-industrial bloc of nations that has contributed near zero emissions since the heralding of the Anthropocene, the geological age of man-making.

Since the 15th century Portuguese endeavours in despised islands to the advent of the Industrial Revolution in England in 18th century, Africa has, had been a colony, denied the dignity of being human, denied freedom and free will, justice and development. And thus to understand the predicament of an African negotiator, or the African negotiators, one has to first recall that until mid-1950s Africa was not part of the global affairs – the global affairs and politics of the multilateralism. Until 1950s, African states were colonies, not equal member states in the global scene. A non-white, and in particular the African was deemed sub-human, a useless harmful stock of a Negro race whose temperament and capacity were peculiarly suited to hard labour, not least because they were significantly less susceptible to physical pain than white man. And further, it was common perspective among the elites that slavery was, is, and will be needed for the regeneration of contemporary European cultures. And, of course, all of this was justified and justifiable for the incomplete humanity of the state. Thus, if colonies demise, they become freedom, then the metropolis gives herself the right to be the new robbers, the ravagers. As long as they cannot rule, cannot be rulers and owners, they are men of knowledge after all.

In a recent article by Sir Robert Tony Watson, a distinguished and respectable scientist and a former director of the United Nations, inter-IPCC, three degrees, he said the following, “Three degree warming is the realistic minimum. Four degrees, Europe in permanent drought. Vast areas of China, India and Bangladesh claimed by desert.” And he goes on, “The prospect of a five degree warming has prompted some of the world leading climate scientists to warn of the end of the human civilization.” This elegantly-phrased paragraph embodies profound truth about the challenge and calamity of the climate change in what it states and what it curiously omits. A curious omission in that important passage which forces us to ask, “What does science say about the climate change in Africa?, what is the state of affairs on climate in Africa? And what bearing did it have on its position on Copenhagen and Paris Agreement?

The conclusion of the fourth assessment report by IPCC is that in all four regions, in all seasons, the median temperature increase lies between three degrees and four degrees Celsius – roughly one point five times the global mean. But as African we knew that is the real situation, the actual reality we live. Africa is already suffering from climate change – even with the admission of IPCC itself, which is a highly respectable report. “Africa’s major economic sectors are vulnerable to current climate sensitivities with huge economic impact and this vulnerability is exacerbated by existing developmental challenges such as enduring poverty, complex government, institutional dimensions, limited access to capital including markets, infrastructure and technology, ecosystem degradation and complex disasters and conflict”. And this brings us to some very important considerations. I want to highlight here. What limit on warming does this require globally? And the answer is simple. Keeping temperature increase in Africa to below 1.5 degrees Celsius requires a global goal of less than 1 degrees Celsius. Keeping it below 2 degrees Celsius requires a global goal of less than 1.3 degrees Celsius. And we are asked to sign for 2 degrees. Further, what emission reduction that is required for 2050. The answer again, “Limiting temperature increase requires limiting GHG concentrations and emissions. Limiting concentrations to 350 ppm CO2 yields. 350 ppm yields 14% chance of exceeding 2 degrees Celsius globally, and a considerable chance of exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius.” Even temperatures and risks of these levels are arguably unacceptable to Africa. To limit concentrations to 350 ppm CO2 emissions must be limited to 750 Gigaton CO2, and that is between 2000 and 2050. And of this amount 330 Gigatons has been used between 2000 and 2008, leaving the world with 420 Gigatons.

Lesser level of ambition have been misleadingly presented as consistent with keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius. And we are reading the same report of the IPCC. “In particular, developed countries have called for a 50% global ambition reduction by 2050 from 1990 levels. This, however, entails a risk of more than 50% exceeding the 2 degrees Celsius, and it would not be reasonable therefore to characterize this as a 2 degrees pathway. Even if you were to say it’s a 2 degree pathway, it’s not. Even an 85% global cut by 2050 entails the risk of exceeding 2 degrees Celsius of around 25%.”

We go to the question of allocation. How should the budget of this global resource then be allocated? We call for a sustainable approach. And a sustainable approach to climate change requires the Earth’s emission budget to be set at levels that avoid dangerous climate change. An equitable approach to climate change requires the Earth emissions budget to be allocated fairly, because part of the critical issues that we face are related to issues of economic inequality. An equitable approach to climate change was thus the central issue. And Nicholas Stern stated, “If the allocations of rise to emit any given year took a greater account both of history and of equity, in stocks rather than throughput flows then rich countries would have rights to emissions levels, which were less than two tonnes per capita. The negotiations of such rights involve substantial financial allocations at $40 per tonne CO2. A total world allocation of 30 Gigaton would be worth 1.1 trillion.” Mind you, in 2009, a barrel of oil was priced as 100-115 euro. Will asked Annex I countries to take an allocation of 390 Gigaton CO2, based on their population ratio, 20% of the world population and non-Annex I would be allocated a 1,270 Gigaton. And the basis of this is the concept of contraction and convergence so that Annex I would actually use 640 Gigatons. More than their fair allocation. Whether it’s borrowing, or the inevitable – the West, obviously, until there is a new way of producing energy would need significant allocation.

Let me proceed, and bring to your attention another issue. And that would be around the goals for mid- and long-term cuts for Annex I. The scenario we assumed in 2009 was that Annex I countries would cut their emissions by at least half by 2017, and become neutral by 2050. We are in 2018. Nothing has been done. None. On this scenario, the 20% of the world’s population in Annex I countries would still have used 640 Gigaton. That’s more than 60% of the total global budget and more than 40% of the remaining global budget. In a fairer world, they should have compensated, or should compensate developing countries for their overuse of a trillion-dollar resource, providing some financial and technology transfer, but of course that was not to be. On that issue. non-Annex I countries would still need to cut emissions drastically, if global emissions are to remain within the budget of the 350 ppm. But, of course, as I have said, the clevers were having none of it.

We wanted developed countries to have ambitious cuts, but then Annex I countries have to accept less of the burden of cutting their own emissions. On technology, there are a number of issues that are important. The level of technology and financing required by non-Annex I depends on, one, the number of tons of GHG to be reduced, and the cost per tonne of reducing emissions. The cost in total was around 489 billion euro. That is, if the average cost per tonne is 60 euro, which was then huge discount, because if you compare it with the barrel oil, the barrel of oil was 115. If we use the 100 euro as the base, the total financing required for the deal was 814 billion euros. I think that table gives you the full calculation.

What I would say, is that recent estimates put cost and damages from climate change into trillions. One recent study by Allianz Insurance suggests that, the value of assets at risk from sea level rise in port facilities alone by 2050 could exceed 22 trillion dollars. And you ask yourself, if the value at risk of inaction in a sum just for those cities is 22 trillion, and the value of action of a real solution is a trillion why would you choose that pathway? Other issue that was contested was the issue of adaptation cost. We cannot adapt without deep emission reductions by Annex I countries, without major financing technology transfer for emissions reductions by Annex I countries, major financing of producing actual opportunity cost. And I think, even speaking about adaptation was not acceptable for them. The final issue that bedeviled the negotiations was the issue of the institutions.

Achieving climate change resolution requires new institutions for mitigation, adaptation, technology transfer and finance. It would require a major mobilization to help people address inevitable damage associated with current and permitted work, and it will require a major effort to deploy technologies in all countries within the next five to ten years. We are talking about 2009. As others have said, that was the essence of the position of the African group. That’s the perspective I tried to persuade Annex I, the major polluters, and the major polluters from the South. In our view, this was an equitable framework for global climate policy, a policy that is transformative and does not hide behind economics of the 1% who control the global economy and their ideologies – its skepticism, denialism, all the rest. Ascriptions of radicalism, derision and vilification were the answers we received from Annex I countries, particularly after they managed to convert Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to abandon the African position which was approved on the 12th African Union summit and in the Algiers declaration an African common platform to Copenhagen. In that spirit, originally Zenawi on the 3rd of September 2009 announced that, “We will never accept any global deal that does not limit global warming to the minimum unavoidable level, no matter what levels of compensation assistance are promised to us. If needs be, we are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threaten to be another rape of the continent.” Those the words of the Prime Minister of Ethiopia.

“Fanon said, ‘The colonized man will manifest his aggressiveness against his own people.'” And, of course, the EU managed to persuade Meles Zenawi to abandon the agreed African Union position. On the 15th of December 2009. Zenawi issued a joint press release with President of France Nicolas Sarkozy. Sure you all remember him. Which declared that the African Union’s position on Copenhagen was a 2 degrees Celsius temperature target, 10 billion dollars in fast-track financing, 100 billion euros in long-term financing. We were shocked. We condemned the position as a betrayal of Africa. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “The two-degree target condemns Africa to incineration and no modern development.” And when I asked President Sarkozy in the negotiation, he said to me, “Ask Meles”. So I asked Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, and he said, and I quote, “I want cash, not SDRs (Special Drawing Rights).” Later on it transpired that he secured 1 billion US dollars to fight terrorism in Somalia. Fanon said, “The colonized man will manifest his aggressiveness against his own people.” I will stop.

“And so you ask yourself, why talk about damage when we know we are really talking about mortality, death, social degradation, and annihilation.”Copenhagen has thus failed because of three reasons, and these three reasons will continue destroying any attempt to stop ecological degradation. The first reason – sorry, I mean two reasons. The first reason: the problem embedded in Article 2 of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change. And it states, “The ultimate objective of the convention is to achieve a stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” The truth is that climate change has already reached dangerous levels, dangerous levels that makes this stabilization impossible. Second, is the fiction of the plausibility of two degrees Celsius pathway. The two degrees Celsius pathway, the dictated perspective of the EU is a repetition of what I would deem a eurocentric perspective that dominates its occidentalism, the basis of its scientific moral and economic approaches to the climate change challenge. It is fully consistent with position and practices in world history. It is a perspective that defines what the maximum tolerable temperature on the basis of what it perceives to be acceptable levels of damage, rather than avoidance of all damage. And so you ask yourself, why talk about damage when we know we are really talking about mortality, death, social degradation, and annihilation. In view of that, the African position in the negotiations called for 45 degrees emission reduction by developed countries by 2020. That’s now gone. Finance for adaptation of 150 billion immediately as SDRs (Special Drawing Rights) from the IMF, and a global 500 billion in fast-track financing and another 5% of developing countries GNP in longer term financing and transfer of technology. Our logic was very simple. Countries like United States had then a budget of over 3.7 trillion dollars and they spent annually five to six hundred billion in defence alone. The 2008 bailing of Wall Street, you would recall, was well above a trillion. And they are questioning, or they’re claiming, that climate change is not financeable.

We have to reject the signing of Copenhagen Agreement for all those reasons. And of course with the collapse of Copenhagen we come to the reality of the Paris Agreement which is what we are facing now, or dealing with now. My own perspective. The Paris Agreement, which entered into force in 2016, had been hailed as a major diplomatic success. It is indeed a tour de force, a rhetorical one that requires careful, critical and sign-centric reading. The Agreement reads as follows, “This Agreement aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.” And the question is, “how?”. And I read again, “first by holding the increase in the global average temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial levels.” The strategic intent of Paris response would have been truly noble, if not for the sad fact that it was killed off by the fraternity of the ”shoulds”. There’s nothing legally binding in Paris Agreement. It’s all “shoulds”. Second, the reality and magnitude of existential crisis that we face as Africans is straightforward: keeping temperature increase in Africa to below 1.5 degrees Celsius requires a global response of less than 1 degrees Celsius. Keeping the temperature below 2 degrees Celsius requires a global goal of less than 1.3 degrees Celsius, and we are holding as a great achievement a non-committal position of maybe 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“What Paris Agreement begat us thus is a median temperature increase that lies between 3 and 4 degrees Celsius in Africa – roughly 1.5 times of the global average.”What Paris Agreement begat us thus is a median temperature increase that lies between 3 and 4 degrees Celsius in Africa – roughly 1.5 times of the global average. You calculate. It is therefore academic to talk of other purposes of the Paris Agreement. What is the use of dissecting intentions of increasing the ability to adapt to adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development in a manner that does not threaten food production? What food production if you are in the territory of a 4 degrees Celsius? What poverty reduction? Africa is already buried 20 metres under poverty threshold. What sustainable development if we can’t survive? But, it had to be done in Paris, elegantly. COP20 had to yield and succumb to this end. This is because all the COPs, ever since the very beginning, have been largely a concerted effort to exclude the authority and the legitimacy of genuine science.

When they talk policy, they basically leave science alone. This rejection of science and scientific evidence has led to the systemic marginalization and former exclusion of the African continent, the small island states and the global poor South and 80% of humanity from Earth’s future. The Paris Agreement vision, strategic intent remains a normative high note that was disembowelled by history. It would have been a stellar ground-breaking outcome had it been adopted in 1950s. Furthermore, even if we discount the science and the plight of the poor who constitute more than 80% of the world population, its purpose, moral aim and ambitions lack the necessary delivery mechanisms. Because by deregulating its own climate contributions, it institutionalises the tragedy of the Commons. Which, in the first place, led to the crisis chain, and which will now further fail its strategy.

And this is what has been provided by IPCC fifth report. Climate change is already having negative impacts on Africa. It is impacting the health of land and marine-based ecosystems and the health of food security, of many of the regions and most vulnerable people. This rejection, is not only against the poor, it is also against future generations who have right and moral obligations against the current generations. We are thus obligated, morally, to make sacrifices for common good of humanity, but equally on behalf of posterity. And in truth, these obligations are not intolerable, as some economies want to convince us. And in the context of climate change these obligations can be achieved by freeing ourselves from fossil fuel addiction, by moving fully towards a renewable energy, an ecologically sustainable world and economy. Our challenge is rampant individualism, and not scientific or technological challenge anymore. And there is no economic or financial difficulties here.

The world has produced so much material wealth, so much knowledge that it can today – if governments were supportive and full range of renewable technologies were deployed that renewable energy could count for almost 80% of the world’s energy supply within four decades. By the way, that was the IPCC Renewable Energy report in 2011. It was announced in Abu Dhabi. And the necessary investment in renewables would cost only one percent of the global GDP. One percent of global GDP can in four decades generate 80% of our energy needs globally. This approach could keep greenhouse gas concentrations less than 450 ppm (parts per million). That level IPCC thinks is safe level beyond which climate change becomes catastrophic or irreversible. There is nothing radical in this. It is not as radical for example as Bill Gates mission to Microsoft in 1980. A computer in every desk and every home. 1980. Today, everyone of us has at least two three devices. If there is a will, it can be done.

And this brings me to a critical aspect of this tectonic challenge. Leadership, or lack of it. Recently, the Secretary General of the United Nations said that climate change is moving faster than we are. If we don’t change course by 2020, we risk missing the point where we can avoid runaway climate change with disastrous consequences for people and all natural systems that sustain us. I would say to the Secretary General: Your Excellency, urgent action and leadership is what is needed, because – as you have rightly said – we have the moral and economic imperatives to act, as the ferocity of this summer’s wildfires and heatwaves shows the world is changing before our eyes. At least, the West have started to experience and see what we have been living with since 1950.

“The world needs a real solution and it is not Paris Agreement. What we need therefore is a UN to act to stop ecological degradation, because with that taking place there cannot be peace with a runaway climate change, there can be no peace.”If that’s the case and we agree with the Secretary General, what is critically needed is a critical review of the Paris Agreement, because it has not addressed the reality of the dangerous situations we are in. We must have the courage to call a spade one. The world needs a real solution and it is not Paris Agreement. It is within your powers, and your mandate, and your character – and I am speaking here to the Secretary General – to act  to fulfil the purposes of the United Nations in Article 1. Article 1 of the United Nations Charter says that the purposes of United Nations is to maintain international peace and security, and to that end to take effective collective measures for prevention. What we need therefore is a UN to act to stop ecological degradation, because with that taking place there cannot be peace with a runaway climate change, there can be no peace.

So let me conclude in humility. Let me say the Prime Minister of this country, Theresa May. Because yesterday she made a very important speech, referring to honourable Diane Abbott. There are billions of Diane Abbotts and their children out there whose rights to survival and their very humanity are being denied by the position of the UK in climate change which is fundamentally cynicism and ecological denialism in practice. So lead by the example. There can be no freedom which the UK speaks of champion. There can be no freedom, no democracy and upholding of fundamental rights if your policies deny the women of the South and their children their very right to existence and equity. And I would say the same thing to the Labourite and the Labour and to honourable Corbyn, there is nothing progressive and there is everything reactionary in a Labour Party that continues to follow Ed Miliband’s neoliberal pathway of 2 degrees Celsius that condemns Africa and small island states into drowning. There is nothing progressive in that climate neoliberal colonialism. There can be no justice at your home turf without global justice. You and McDonnell and Momentum would in full class consciousness, would have become another climate Trumpiskite. So let’s stand up. Let’s stand up for the rights of future generations, for the rights of earth, for rights of humanity.

 

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Climate Crimes

“Adrian Lahoud’s large-scale immersive video installation, [] explores the complex relationship between air pollution and the migration of refugees. It illustrates how atmospheric particles originating in the wealthy nations of the global north – Europe, USA, China, and others impact the global south, contributing to desertification and migration.

The research builds on an event that took place during the 2009 UN climate change conference, where Sudanese diplomat Lumumba Di-Aping argued that industrialisation in these regions in the global north was contributing to ‘climate genocide’ in Africa.” [Source]

“There is a strange sympathy between the atmospheric particles that float through the sky and the human beings who migrate across the ground and then across the sea. Each body sets the other into motion: the particle bodies flow from north to south; the human bodies move from south to north.”

 

— Adrian Lahoud

 

 

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