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Environmentalism and Democracy in the Age of Nationalism & Corporate Capitalism

December 14, 2017

by Clive Spash

 

 

Recently my masters’ students and I watched the film Carbon Rush. This reveals how numerous carbon offset projects – under the Kyoto Protocol’s emissions trading related Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) – are devastating the lives of some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world, and simultaneously destroying the environment on which they depend for their survival. CDM projects (such as dams, waste incinerators, wind farms, commercial forestry and oil palm plantations) suffer from dubious or no additionality and may as easily increase as reduce net greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, the international climate community commonly regards offsetting as central to climate change policy. Such schemes have proliferated due to the desire for making money out of environmental crises and a total disregard for exploitation of the poor and weak, the very groups that ‘development’ (clean or dirty) was supposed to help. In the neoliberal era the rule of the banking and finance sector and multi-national corporations means prioritising making profits by shifting costs onto others; something that has long been recognised as the modus operandi of the business enterprise (Kapp, 1978).

Environmental commodification, trading and offsetting are business as usual approaches to  environmental policy. Whether converting wetlands into bankable assets as in the USA or greenhouse gases into tradable permits as in Europe, the justification is that the preservation of the capital accumulating growth economy requires mechanisms that institutionalise the ‘right’ to undertake environmental degradation. There is also consensus across political divides about the need for economic growth. In the UK, neither Corbyn (Labour) nor May (Conservative) had any meaningful environmental agenda, and both their parties remain totally committed to a growth economy. Diverse nation states are similarly united in promotion of environmental crises as growth opportunities. For example, the European Union and China are pushing the rhetoric of ‘Green Growth’. This combines increasing domestic greenhouse gas emissions through the extension of market based mechanisms and offsets with the promise of new future technologies as the ultimate ‘solution’ to address those same emissions. Faith in markets and technology remains core to international climate policy and unaffected by whether the USA is in or out of the Paris Agreement. Similarly, faith in markets and technology as environmental saviour would have remained the same regardless of having Trump or Clinton in the White House.

In actual fact, the USA has never been a leader in greenhouse gas emissions reduction or climate policy, and both Democrat and Republican administrations have contributed to weakening international treaties. The Paris Agreement was watered down at the behest of the Obama administration compared to a more rigorous treaty, with common base year and targets, recommended by the European Commission (Spash, 2016a). Obama made clear his commitment to protect American jobs over the environment and specifically over any need to address human induced climate change. In this logic, environmental policy is justified if it creates jobs and growth, which always come first despite the inevitable contradictions. Obama’s administration massively expanded domestic oil and gas exploration to make the USA the worlds largest oil exporter (Spash, 2016a: 70). Non-conventional oil has been part of this strategy, despite the world already having over 6 times the reserves it could possibly burn and still have a ‘likely chance’ of the 2°C target (Spash, 2016b). Obama boasted that under his administration enough oil and gas pipelines had been built to ‘encircle the Earth and then some’ (see full quotation in Spash, 2016a). He ignored the associated ecological and social harm, not least that to indigenous communities. In 2016, Native American protestors at Standing Rock opposing construction work on the Dakota Pipeline that, now operational, transports fracked oil, were brutally suppressed by the combined efforts of the construction corporation’s security forces, riot police and the national guard. All that was before the election of a climate denialist with personal investments in fossil fuels.

The USA is one amongst many nations putting their own interests before the common good, and with a record of saying one thing and doing another. Modern development is allied to a military-industrial complex that ensures nation states work to secure, maintain and expand their fossil fuel resource supplies at all costs. Current fossil fuel and infrastructure polices totally contradict the supposed  commitment of nations to the Paris Agreement, and its already exceeded, scientifically unhinged, target for a potentially catastrophic 2°C average global temperature increase (Spash, 2016a). Meanwhile, the
United Nations, the European Commission, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and similar international bodies have continuously pushed market approaches that fail to address  biophysical reality, permitting exploration for and exploitation of fossil fuels leading to emissions that should never have been allowed. Thus, there is no surprise that recent moves by the airline industry to justify its plans for 700% expansion by 2050 rely on carbon offsetting, while numerous governments (e.g. Austrian, British, French, Turkish) support airport expansion as an economic necessity to create domestic jobs and growth.

Sadly, over the last two decades, in the midst of our ongoing ecological and associated geo-political crises, a range of environmental non-governmental organisations (ENGOs), rather than opposing such schemes, have formed alliances with some of the worst corporate polluters and resource extractors in the world and now actually promote them (Spash, 2015a). Greenwashing has become a major occupation for ENGOs. Many have become apologists for corporate self-regulation, market mechanisms, carbon pricing/trading and biodiversity offsetting/banking, while themselves commercialising species ‘protection’ as eco-tourism. Foremost amongst the neoliberal ENGOs is The Nature Conservancy (TNC). Its President and CEO is Mark Tercek, previously a managing director at Goldman Sachs. Its Vice President until recently was Peter Kareiva, a key player in the Stanford University flagship ‘natural capital’ project with its mission to convert ecosystems into environmental services that can be traded off. Together Tercek and Kareiva have promoted capitalism as natural and berated conservation biologists for not allying with corporations. In a revival of social Darwinism, Kareiva has even claimed that corporations are a keystone species!

ENGOs have been deliberately targeted by corporate strategists and in several cases they have been captured at management level. For example, Holmes (2011) reports on some of the boards of American ENGOs that include large numbers of current or former directors of major transnational corporations:

TNC 15 out of 26; Conservation International 26 out of 36; WWF-USA 13 out of 21. In addition, ‘these NGOs each have a business council, made exclusively from corporate directors, to advise the board of directors’ (Holmes, 2011: 9). Besides TNC, Conservation International and WWF, Hari (2010) cites the National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, and the Natural Resources Defense Council as all suffering from corporate capture and conformity to the basic tenets of neoliberalism. This is the spread of what I have referred to as new environmental pragmatism (Spash, 2009). The inroads into conservation by corporate interests are deep. Recently, Adams (2017) has analysed the pragmatic reasons behind this alliance, terming it ‘sleeping with the enemy’ and a ‘Faustian bargain’, that is sold as promoting the mythical Green and growing economy. There is, then, much to concern environmentalists about the role of environmentalism today and whether it can help or will hinder the achievement of a more just, ethical and equitable future.

In this issue of Environmental Values the state and direction of the environmental movement are at the fore. The extent to which conformity to current institutions and their values is regarded as pragmatic is the topic addressed by D’Amato et al. They contrast such pragmatism with the need for revolutionary change and consider which will achieve social ecological transformation. That ‘business as usual’ might no longer be an option leaves open what that implies for the existing political economy (from high-tech competitive corporate growth to low-tech cooperative community degrowth). However, as mentioned above, the hegemonic approach is techno-market optimism with the promise of preserving and  protecting the current capital accumulating economic system.

Productivist rhetoric is dominant in government circles and provides an imaginary that can fit with liberal, neoliberal, social democratic welfarist, socialist and centrally planned political systems. While some things must change the utopian vision of a ‘sustainable growth economy’ will not be surrendered.

The sustainable development agenda, from Norwegian premier Gro Bruntland onwards, has seen no conflict between achieving social and ecological goals and maintaining the growth economy. The United Nations has spent decades pushing various brands of ‘sustainable development’ as economic growth, with the Green Economy its latest incarnation (Spash, 2012). The basic aim is to make capital accumulation resilient, whether in the West or East, under democracy or despotism, whether state or corporate owned and run. How then should the environmentally concerned address this hegemony?

D’Amato et al. provide a new classification of the debate based upon qualitative interviews and a focus group with twenty young researchers working in the area of social ecological transformation. They  contrast perceptions of the role of research as extending from promoting a simple form of pragmatism through to radical change based on strong value commitments. The mode of social change regarded as necessary is described as extending from a gradual evolution to a radical revolution. The concept of the Green Economy was classified by respondents as falling within the pragmatic and evolutionary. The  majority (60%) of respondents themselves held the pragmatic revolutionary position, followed by those classified as radical revolutionary (25%) and pragmatic evolutionary (15%). Thus, while 85% of these young researchers felt revolutionary social change was necessary, 75% believed research should be  pragmatic. While qualified by this being a small convenience sample, the findings do indicate the   potential prevalence of new environmental pragmatism and supports previous work indicating that this  is a wider phenomenon amongst researchers (Spash and Ryan, 2012). More generally, D’Amato et al.’s work raises some serious questions over the general direction of environmental research and how far researchers are prepared to make their work conform to hegemonic values, norms and practices, including those they in principle oppose.

Yet, those who stick to their principles are often described as fundamentalists or uncompromising radicals who deny democratic process. Amongst environmentalists, animal activists have typically been painted as such extremists with their claims based on contentious rights based arguments. In some (supposed) democracies they are even regarded and treated as terrorists. Parry raises the issue of how animal activists should operate within an idealised deliberative democracy and what they could then legitimately justify doing to further their cause. The arguments for and against the use of different campaigning tactics are raised with specific attention given to the example of using video footage showing animal suffering. Such tactics are described in terms of creating a moral shock. Can this be legitimate in a democracy?

Parry makes the case that deliberative democracy offers a justification for representing animals in decision making, but that this does not require appeals to claims about moral worth. Instead existing democratic political principles and institutions are invoked. Three principles are then given, namely that deliberative democracy should be inclusive, authentic and consequential. Parry’s article evaluates animal activism on these grounds.

Inclusion refers to the right of representation in a decision on the basis of having interests that are subject to being affected by that decision. Political theorists have criticised animal rights activists for using undemocractic/deliberative approaches, which they claim are unjustified because these activists are just another group of humans seeking to promote their own interests. Such theorists believe animal activism should be undertaken through ‘normal’ democratic processes. However, as Parry points out, this is a conversion of human to non-human relations into a human to human relationship. Central to the politics of non-human Nature is the representation of silent voices (O’Neill, 2001). How the non-human get a voice in the human world is the central question here.

One aspect of the problem is the tension between attribution of value on the basis of possessing human-like qualities and possessing value despite clearly being non-human like (see for example Coyne, 2017; Vetlesen, 2015). The value basis of interests is then a core concern. Contra Parry, the application of deliberative democratic principles does not then seem to avoid the need for adopting a value basis, nor the need for moral reasoning. Notions of value are employed both in arguments for moral standing and rights of political representation.

A common approach in determining such attributions is to appeal to sentience and the ability for non- humans to suffer pain like humans. One reason is the search for generalisable and common interests, which are regarded as constituting authentic deliberation. Here there is an implicit appeal to Kantian moral criteria for establishing a valid moral argument, so once again contention over moral positions appear unavoidable.

Parry’s second concept, authentic deliberation, aims to encapsulate the desired qualities of democratic deliberation, namely: truthfulness, mutual respect, non-coercive persuasion, constructively seeking acceptable outcomes, reflexivity and prioritisation of generalisable interests. Parry then explores how far different tactics of animal activists match such qualities, and the same is undertaken for the third concept, that requires deliberative democratic criteria be consequential. The latter entails identification of discernible impacts of tactics on decisions, where the consequences are evaluated at a systemic level (i.e. taking into account various aspects of repercussions). Put more crudely this is an assessment of ends justifying means.

The question Parry debates is the extent to which the tactics of animal activists are non-democratic and yet still might be justified. Two tactics classified as non-democratic are imposing costs on others and the rhetorical exaggeration of moral disagreement. The former covers the making of an action (unwanted by activists) financially more costly for the actor, but is also extended by Parry to include imposing psychological costs on such actors. The latter concerns highlighting moral differences to emphasise what is deemed unethical. Such tactics are problematic for deliberative democrats – being termed exaggeration’ and ‘rhetoric’ – because of their commitment to political process as a consensus-seeking compromise. As Parry notes, in passing, there are those arguing that the worth of democracy lies in allowing for contestation over values, and that would involve the recognition of differences held as moral principles rather than seeking compromise and reasons to justify why everyone make trade-offs. A possibly related issue (not addressed) is the apparent contradiction involved in evaluating a social movement that emphasises deontology, community responsibility and duties on the basis of consequences and individual action.

Parry concludes that some of the non-democratic tactics of animal activists may have a role, but should be employed with reflection and moderation. In reaching this conclusion some aspects are only briefly mentioned, but seem central to any justification for radical action within the social reality in which we live today. Perhaps most important are the inequity in power relationships in society and the undemocratic state of the institutions empowered by the idea of a neoliberal economy. Such things as corporate power, greed and the capital accumulating economy lie behind the prevalence of threats to the nonhuman world. The associated institutions perpetuate and legitimise a range of practices against the interests of both non-human and human animals. In the struggles of indigenous communities, who are on the frontline of the extractivist economy and its accumulation by dispossession and land grabbing, there are few signs of legitimate democracy let alone the deliberative democratic ideal. How to live up to the ideals of deliberative democracy, in seeking to right some wrongs, seems of lesser relevance than asking how and by what means can the transformation of such an undemocratic system be achieved? Related to this is the question: what are the legitimate grounds for the institutionally powerless to fight institutionalised power?

Quist and Rinne are concerned with the challenges that disenfranchised groups face in building shared agendas and expressing themselves in their struggles to protect the environment and their ways of life. Their particular context is the conflict between different forms of resource exploitation and specifically fisheries versus oil extraction. They present a case study from Mexico that investigates media (two regional newspapers) representation of the conflict over access to the sea after Pemex, the eleventh largest oil corporation in the world, was empowered by the Mexican State to create marine exclusion zones. They reveal how the media operates with implicit rules of newsworthiness that play to the dominant moral discourses promoted by political and economic elites. In addition, they expose how this has played up divisions within the fisher community (e.g., between licence holders and other fishers working for them or independently).

The central concept in their case study is ‘patrimony’, or regarding natural resources as an intergenerational heritage that creates a community understanding and sense of common purpose. Under patrimony the community is typically the nation state, with patrimony operating as national heritage, but the study identifies how the concept is also applied at the fisher community level by its leaders. However, rather than being empowered, the fishers appear to be captured by the discourse of patrimony, while their own discourse, expressing ecological values that include their way of life, is excluded. Fisher leaders are shown to adopt the patrimony discourse against the interests of the wider fisher community, even to the extent that the prospect of fishers becoming oil workers is considered. Oil is judged superior in patrimonial value and for the national collective compared to the value of fishing for the local community. In this discourse, there is no questioning of the oil industries right to exploit the resource. There is a clear underlying productivist logic that excludes environmental concerns and narrowly frames the social as national.

How natural resource extraction issues are framed by the media is also the concern of Davies et al. Their particular case study is Greenland, where the population of 57,000 live in the twelfth largest country by land area. That 90 per cent of the people claim Inuit ethnicity adds to the distinct character of the society, as does having 80 per cent of the country under ice. In this last respect, climate change has been presented by some as an opportunity for opening-up territory for resource extraction. Indeed, this forms one of the major discourses revealed by Davies et al. in their analysis of 1000 English language media articles about Greenland. The potential for extracting oil, gas and rare Earth metals to supply the fossil fuel economy and its high-tech industries means climate change is not denied but accepted as an actual phenomenon by corporate fossil fuel and resource extracting interests. Rather than being a problem, climate change is seen as an opportunity. The media being reported here seems clearly focused on serving the speculations of corporations, bankers and financiers over where to make money. Such media coverage regards risk purely in financial terms of returns on investment (not strong uncertainty over climate change), and on the same basis the potential for oil spills due to new extraction is addressed as a risk to corporate investors’ returns, not the environment.

Other aspects of the media coverage over extracting Greenland’s resources relate to the geo-politics of a small Inuit led country facing the likes of China and the European Union, and multi-national corporations. The vulnerability of Inuit culture is also raised, including the potential impact on the relatively small existing national population being swamped by incoming labour. Yet, somewhat paralleling the case of Mexico, coverage also regards investment in resource extraction as a necessity for ‘development’ that promises jobs and the eradication of social problems through material wealth.

The idea of wilderness, so antithetical to advocates of the anthropocene (Baskin, 2015), appears in the media in both its positive form as pristine and untouched, as well as its negative form of waste land. The absence of human use is bemoaned by the latter as resources going to waste, while for the former this is where the environmental value lies. However, what is interesting in the reported media coverage presented by Davies et al. is how human–nature interactions are so easily turned into, and exclusively discussed as, human to human value relationships (e.g. human induced climate change having consequences for humans). Nature then has no voice in this media coverage.

Therein lies the failure of the environmental movement in its pragmatic neoliberalism. That the mainstream media is obsessed by framing its reportage in terms of financial and economic consequences is hardly a secret (see Chalmers, 2012). What is less readily admitted is the extent to which ENGOs have done likewise and so lost their connection to the non-human world that environmentalism aimed to represent in the first place. In the appeasement of presumed state and corporate economic interests, the language of environmental values is commonly reformulated to actually deny the existence of value in nature, non-human to non-human value and even the importance of human to non-human relationships. There is only the human-to-human relationship and associated values, and clearly some humans are more equal than others.

Issues of power, inclusion and representation in the environmental movement also concern the paper by Fenney, but from a different perspective. The argument is made that the disabled are subject to both oppression (disablism) and also the assumption of a non-disabled norm as valid and desirable (ableism). Evidence from interviews with disabled people in the UK is presented to illustrate the issues. In particular, Fenney highlights discourses on cycling and self-sufficiency as problematic. The former is criticised as specifically focussed on the able bodied, while the latter is seen as promoting a form of independence that is unavailable to many disabled people. Both are then loosely associated by Fenney with a neoliberal agenda in environmentalism.

The broader concern raised by Fenney is where in the environmental movement’s vision of the future will the disabled find themselves, how will their voice achieve inclusion and their concerns over social justice be met? Implicitly, alternative systems and their conceptualisations of freedom underlie this discussion. The modern (neo)liberal model of ‘freedom’ might be characterised as the individual holding others at a distance with dependency on high technology, machines, biotech and chemicals. The environmental movement has traditionally rejected this in preference for a low technology world based on community and explicitly recognising interdependence, where labour substitutes for capital. There are clearly many questions left unanswered by the environmental movement concerning diverging visions of the future, including the absence of implications for the disabled. However, environmentalism, especially eco-feminism, has strongly advocated a caring society in which issues of dependency and interdependency are made explicit, rather than hidden by production chains, technology and patriarchy.

In addition, the case made by Fenny does not establish any necessary link between environmentalism and abelism/disablism. For example, why does cycling need to be regarded as so exclusionary? Whether two, three, four or more wheeled there are many forms of locomotion that can be powered by humans singly or in numbers and be inclusive of different (dis)abilities as well as passengers. Perhaps the UK remains unfamiliar with the variety of machines available, but the idea that recommending cycling need necessarily be problematic and discriminatory appears to be in part based upon a limited conception of the options. The structural limits in the current infrastructure that favour cars also affects the imagination of what is possible and creates dependencies. That cars are part of our environmental problems is indisputable.

I take Fenny’s point as being that too little thought is given to the implications of getting rid of cars in terms of the implications for disabled people who have lives currently dependent upon cars. Their concerns need to be voiced and addressed when cars are targeted or bikes promoted, but such polices should alsonot simply be equated with discrimination per se.

Fenny notes that there is a growing (physically and mentally) disabled population and states that it is already approximately one-fifth of the UK population. Clearly the able do become the disabled as population ages, and there is an element of denial of this basic fact in Western society with its emphasis on health and beauty as youth. While Fenny presents the case for why transformation to environmental futures is inadequately addressing the issue, there is also a more general problem for the environmental movement here.

Social ecological transformation is discussed as requiring major systemic change, and for many that means changing away from modernist utopias (Spash, 2015b). The scale of change required in removing fossil fuels from the economy is far-reaching and involves major distributive impacts. All those with dependencies on the structures of modernity, its technologies, energy and material intensive devices are vulnerable. The environmental movement needs to seriously consider and address the implications rather than pretending everything can be substituted and energy transition will be straightforward. Environmental policy is no more a win-win than any other policy; different polices change winners and losers. For the environmental movement, some specific groups, practices and ways of life are deliberately the target of change because they are deemed exploitative, unjust and unethical. Societal change is an inherently value laden and political issue.

Currently major societal change occurs through undemocratic imposition of technology and infrastructure at the behest of minority interests, while the majority are just along for the ride, whether they like it or not. The rise of nationalism accompanied by militarisation and securitisation justifies exploitation of others who must be outcompeted in the fight for resources to maintain national and corporate economic growth. The depoliticising pragmatism of the environmental movement means loss of both direction and voice. The central issue, which was the reason for an environmental movement in the first place, is: how can different people live together and find meaning in their lives without engaging in the environmental degradation and mistreatment of others, both human and non-human, that is central to the currently dominant economic system?

Download the paper:

2017 Spash Env_Nationalism_Corporate_Capitalism EV_24_4

References

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The Dark Side of Clean Energy in Mexico

CIP Americas Program

January 29, 2016

By Santiago Navarro F. and Renata Bessi

 

Companies and governments have used a rhetoric of  “clean development” to continue exponential economic growth, with megaprojects and so-called clean technologies. International mechanisms, such as the Clean Development Mechanism for developing countries (CDM) promote this strategy. However, there are contrary positions, especially in the geographical areas where these projects considered alternative are developed.

In southern Mexico the generation of clean energy in the form of giant wind energy projects has divided communities.  Opposing positions claim indigenous and peasant ancestral lands are being dispossessed and that the projects have important negative impacts on the ecosystem that are being overlooked.

Loaded with a series of questions, this reporting team travelled to one of the largest wind farms in the world, built in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in southern Mexico, a region that is home to the indigenous Huaves, Mixes, Zapotec, Zoque and Chontales. In this area least 21 wind farms have been installed in the last 21 years, comprising the Tehuantepec Isthmus Wind Corridor. Developers have plans to build 28 parks for clean energy generation in the region

 

Celestino Bortolo Teran is an Indigenous Zapotec whose land has been surrounded by the company Gas Natural Fenosa’s wind farm. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

ISTHMUS OF TEHUANTEPEC EPICENTER OF CLEAN ENERGY

A palm hat worn down by time covers the face of Celestino Bortolo Teran, a sixty-year-old indigenous Zapotec man. He walks behind his ox team as they open furrows in the earth. A seventeen-year-old youth trails behind, sowing white, red, and black corn, a ritual of ancient knowledge shared between local people and the earth. Neither of the two notices the sound of our car as we arrive, “because of the wind turbines,” says Teran. Just fifty meters away, a wind farm has been installed by the Spanish company Natural Gas Fenosa. It will generate, at least for the next three decades, what governments and energy companies have declared clean energy.

Along with this farm, twenty others have been set up forming what has come to be known as the Wind Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, located in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.  The Corridor occupies a surface area of 17,867.8 hectares across which 1,608 wind turbines have been installed. The Secretary of Tourism and Economic Development of Oaxaca (STDEO) claims that they will collectively generate 2,267.43 MW.

The Tehuantepec Isthmus stretches just two hundred kilometers from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean, making it the third narrowest strip of land connecting the Americas after the isthmuses in Nicaragua and Panama. Mountains converge here to create a geological tunnel that funnels extremely high-speed winds between the two oceans. Energy investors have set their sights on the region since the government of Oaxaca claimed that the region is capable of producing 10,000 MW of wind energy in an area of 100,000 hectares.

Isthmus of Tehuantepec, 200 kilometers of land connected with the Atlantic and Pacific. The arrow marks the direction of the wind.

“Before, I could hear all the animals living in the areas. Through their songs and sounds, I knew when it was going to rain or when it was the best time to plant. Now though, it seems the animals have left due to the wind turbines,” Teran told us, with sadness and rage in his voice. Teran does not know if the claims that the turbines, are generating alternative energy to help to reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of large corporations and industrialized countries are true or not. The project was built in accordance with the Clean Development Mechanism (MDL) as defined in the Kyoto Protocol. The main objective is to prevent global temperatures from rising 2°C before 2100, according to the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), better known as the COP 21, held in Paris, France Nov. 30-Dec. 11, 2015. “I don’t know what climate change is and I don’t know about the COP. I only know that our ancestral lands are being covered by these turbines,” “I don’t know what climate change is and I don’t know about the COP. I only know that our ancestral lands are being covered by these turbines,” said Teran.

At the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992, participating countries passed the UNFCCC in response to climate change. With this accord, states set out to maintain their GHG emissions at the levels reached in 1990. At the Third Conference of Parties (COP 3), held in Japan in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was approved by industrialized countries with the aim of reducing national emissions to an average of five percent below the 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. In order to help reduce the costs of this reduction, three “flexibility mechanisms” were designed: Emission trading, Joint Implementation (JI), and the aforementioned Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under which a large number of the wind farms in the Tehuantepec Isthmus have been constructed.

According to the Kyoto Protocol, these mechanisms are meant to permit industrialized countries and private companies to offset their emissions by developing clean energy projects in other parts of the world where it is more economically viable and then include these reductions in their national quotas. Joint Implementation targets projects in Eastern European countries, many formerly members of the Soviet Union, while the CDM is only applicable to developing countries that were not given a GHG emission limit under the Kyoto Protocol.  The second period of engagement of the Protocol is 2013-2020. In this period, countries in the European Union (excluding Iceland) have agreed to a collective emission reduction of twenty percent with respect to 1990 emission levels.

“The investment of polluting companies and countries in CDM projects and carbon credits is a form of speculation that has turned pollution into a business”Biologist and coastal ecology and fishery sciences professor and researcher Patricia Mora, of the Interdisciplinary Research Center for Integral Regional Development of Oaxaca (CIIDIR Oaxaca) based at the Instituto Politécnico Nacional, affirms that many studies show that as temperatures continue to increase, “The investment of polluting companies and countries in CDM projects and carbon credits is a form of speculation that has turned pollution into a business”.

The secretary general of the UNFCCC, Christiana Figueres, speaking in Berlin on the national plans published by 146 countries to combat climate change last October, that if the international community does not take urgent action, global temperatures will rise four or five degrees Celsius by 2100 according to estimates of the International Energy Agency.

The Clean Energy Extraction and Energy Transition Financing Law states that Mexico will install technology to generate 25,000 MW of clean energy by 2024. “Mexico has an obligation to limit the electrical energy generated by fossil fuels to sixty-five percent (from the current eighty percent) by 2024,” the law states.

Here, I have everything – milk, corn, fruits, vegetables. It is all a product of my work and produced naturally.Teran continues sowing his corn as we ask him about the benefits he’s gained from the Wind Corridor. A bit irritated, he responds, “They have not provided me or anyone in my family a job, and I don’t want anything to do with these companies or the government. I just want them to leave me in peace on my land, to let me live as I did beforehand. Here, I have everything – milk, corn, fruits, vegetables. It is all a product of my work and produced naturally. Here, I have everything – milk, corn, fruits, vegetables. It is all a product of my work and produced naturally. We don’t use any agrochemicals.”

Wind farms for sale

Most wind turbines are stained with lubricants in the blades and in the engine. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F)

Most wind turbines are stained with lubricants in the blades and in the engine. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

WIND FARMS FOR SALE

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) published an atlas in 2004 that mapped wind potential in the state of Oaxaca, with the goal of accelerating the use of wind energy technologies in the state.

“This wind resource atlas is an example of collaboration between Mexico and the United States, besides being an important element of the Mexican strategy to ensure availability of the necessary information and to define specific renewable energy projects, as well as tools to access financing and development support. The goal in creating this wind atlas and other assessments of renewable resources is to ensure that communities of Oaxaca in the end receive social and economic benefits of renewable energy,” explains the document.

The mapping confirms that the Isthmus is the region with the largest wind potential, with winds up to 60 km /h. “This region of the Isthmus provides an excellent wind resource, especially the regions of La Mata, La Venta and La Ventosa”, the Atlas concludes.

The first project was developed at La Venta in 1994. The first project of its kind in Latin America, it was named “La Venta I”. Later followed La Venta II and La Venta III. The first two are operated by the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) and the latter by the Spanish company ACCIONA.

The researchers say they will not share specific maps related to the respective areas of wind potential, due to the confidentiality required in possible contracts signed between companies and the government of Mexico. A decade later, with the arrival of more wind parks in the region, it has become clear that the majority of these sites are located on the shores of Lago Superior.

Map of the wind resource assessment conducted by USAID
Energy Map
To further promote the development of wind energy in Mexico and the possibility of export,  USAID released another document in 2009 called “Study of Export Potential Wind Energy of Mexico to the United States”. This document confirms that the greatest potential for wind energy is concentrated in the states of Oaxaca (2,600 MW) and Baja California (1,400 MW). In August 2015 the government of Mexico officially announced that the wind farm “Energía Sierra Juárez” Baja California, the first wind project between Mexico and the United States, will export energy to California. And they are waiting for an interconnection to export the energy produced in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.“This mapping is only one part of a series of mega-projects that are designed for this area. Not only is it wind energy, but also oil and gas, mining, and infrastructure for the transport of goods. Therefore, this wind mapping is only a pretext to map the full potential of this whole geostrategic area, which functions as a type of catalog to offer it to businesses,” says biologist Mora.The wind corridor was designed under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), signed in 1994 by Mexico, the United States and Canada. NAFTA implementation began with the international agreement called Plan Puebla Panama (PPP), now remade into Proyecto Mesoamerica. The project’s main objective is to create favorable conditions for the flow of goods, oil, minerals and energy, which was necessary, according to the official document of the PPP, for “the creation of roads, paths, steps, bridges, railways, pipelines , aqueducts, power lines, ports, airports and telecommunications. “The president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, recently announced the creation of three special economic zones in the south of the country, including the Interoceanic Corridor of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, “in order to generate new poles of industrial development and diminish the economic and social backwardness of these regions,” the report said.

“Clean energy is part of this context. It’s part of the continuity of the exponential economic growth of capital, it is not something alternative to it. It’s another link that is painted green,” Mora states.

THE COSTS OF CLEAN ENERGY

There is currently no established wind farm that respects biodiversity. (Photo: Renata Bessi)
There is currently no established wind farm that respects biodiversity. (Photo: Renata Bessi)

The dominant development model in the production of electricity from wind power in the Tehuantepec Isthmus, is presented as a  formula in which  everyone wins – the government, developers and industry. It’s a self-supply model, in which a private developer of wind power generates energy production contracts for a wide portfolio of industrial customers (Coca-Cola, CEMEX, Wal-Mart, Bimbo, for example) for a certain period. In this way, companies can obtain energy prices lower than the market for the  long-term and they also enjoy the financial benefits of carbon trading, which allows them to continue polluting and, to speculate on the sale of pollution permits to other companies. Developers can also access financing schemes for “green” projects through organizations like the Inter-American Development Bank and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the UN.The communities are also presented as winners in these projects for the development of self-sufficiency and the income they receive from the lease of their land. But two decades after the first wind farms were installed,  what benefits gains have these Clean Development Mechanism projects left to the peasant and indigenous communities?

¿Why the resistance?

In response to constant harassment and persecution, the Alvaro Obregon community created a community police force called “Binni Guiapa Guidxi” In November of 2012, the consortium Mareña Renovables set out to build the largest wind farm in Latin America in the Barra de Santa Teresa, in San Dionisio del Mar, Oaxaca. The Barra is a strip of land between two  lagoon that later connects to the sea in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Here the indigenous community of binniza (Zapotec) and ikojts (Huave), together with the community of Alvaro Obregon, opposed and blocked all access to this strip of land. In response, the State sent about 500 troops from the state police to unblock access, acting with extreme violence. The Indians resisted until the government suspended construction of the wind park. In response to constant harassment and persecution,the Alvaro Obregon community created a community police force called “Binni Guiapa Guidxi” on February 9, 2013.

Also in  February 2013, the situation in Alvaro Obregon–the only access to the Barra Santa Teresa–became tense. Police established a checkpoint  at the entrance of the community. Two Americans spoke with the commander of the local police. One of them was Andrew Chapman, a member of the management team of the company Mareña Renovables.

Bar Santa Teresa

Three researchers, Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer, both of Rice University, and Edith Barrera of Universidad del Mar, who were in the region studying the resistance against the company, approached Chapman. He explained his work in the area to the researchers: “My job is to open dialogue and listen (…) We have this project, which I really think is good for the planet, good for the region and good for the people here” .

The director was clearly displeased at the opposition from the community to the wind project. “One cannot but be amazed at the beauty of this place. And then you see how people live. And I’m not just trying to impose my American values here, but I don’t think that bad health care is a good thing, I don’t think that poor education is a good thing … So we can channel resources to these communities to improve services. Imagine where they could be here in five or ten years. They can still continue fishing in the lakes (…) “, the researchers cite Chapman as saying in their text, “The Margins of the Wind State: Autonomy and Development of Renewable Energy in Southern Mexico”.

Chapman questioned the suggestions of the police to not enter the community for lack of security. “I find it frustrating and sad, and the consequence is that the investor group I represent is sitting in their offices and can put their money here, or they can put their money somewhere else. I don’t need these problems. I’m not really in the business of saving the world, I’m in business to make money for my trust, and I have to do it under low risk. “

Since 2013 what was known as Mareña Renovables has changed its name and form several times. The Spanish energy company, called the Preneal group, that signed exploration contracts and obtained the permits from the state government, sold the rights to the project (which at that time were two separate projects) for $89 million to FEMSA, a subsidiary of Coca-Cola, and Macquarie Group, the largest investment bank in Australia. These companies quickly merged the two projects and sold part of their stake to Mitsubishi Corporation and the Dutch pension fund PGGM, signing at the same time a power purchase agreement with FEMSA-Heineken for 20 years.

They also sought to speculate with the reduction  of 825,707 tons of carbon dioxide a year, equivalent to the emissions of 161,903 cars.

Under the pretext of reducing global warming they come to our territories to control our forests, mountains, our sacred places and our water.“Mother Earth is sick. The disease is global warming, caused by the owners of money. They believe that money can buy life. They want to profit with the same disease that they have caused to Mother Earth. Under the pretext of reducing global warming they come to our territories to control our forests, mountains, our sacred places and our water. They are causing devastation in our social fabric,” said Carlos Sanchez, Zapotec Indian who participated in the resistance against the installation of wind farm in Barra Santa Teresa Park and the installation of a park by Gas Natural Fenosa in Juchitan de Zaragoza.

Juchitán-Oaxaca-Zapotec-Indian-resistance-to-building-one-of-largest-wind-farms-in-Latin-America-despite-death-threats-from-paramilitary-groups-paid-by-companies-Photo-Santiago-Navarro-F.

Juchitán Oaxaca: Zapotec Indians show solidarity with resistance to building one of the largest wind farms in Latin America, despite death threats from paramilitary groups paid by companies and protected by the government. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

Sanchez is also founder and member of the community radio Totopo, created to report on megaprojects in the region of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. During an intermission of his radio programming, we threw a question at Sanchez about what the Zapotec people know about the CDM. “It is a discourse between businessmen. They are labels exchanged between companies to justify their pollution and they don’t explain anything to indigenous peoples,” he replied.

“Could we, with our forests, also sell carbon credits, bypassing these companies? Who will buy? It is no coincidence that only those who understand these mechanisms are the only ones who benefit as employers and the state. It is a farce that is presented as very nice and green.”

Sanchez continues, “We do not even benefit from the energy produced. Instead, the energy is more expensive for ordinary consumers. While the transnational corporations that are supplied with this clean energy are paying prices that make you laugh. If you walk by the communities you will notice what the clean development they have brought consists of, and I challenge one of the owners of the companies to actually live in the midst of these turbines. They live in their mansions. “

The Environmental and Social Management, published by the IDB in November 2011, noted the possibility of short-term “economic dislocation” of the population because of the interruption of fishing during the construction phase of the Marena Renovables park. But the long-term impacts of the presence of the park on the local population engaged in fishing were not mentioned.

Following demonstrations by indigenous peoples, on May 8, 2013, the Oaxaca State Secretary of Tourism, José Zorrilla Diego, announced the cancellation of the proposed Renewable Mareña project in the Barra de Santa Teresa. Shortly after the announcement of the cancellation, the state government said the project would continue in other areas of the Isthmus.

THE UNDERESTIMATED ENVIRONMENTAL, SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC IMPACTS

After the resistance in Barra Santa Teresa in 2013, the Zapotec community of Carlos Sanchez, in the city of Juchitan de Zaragoza, received the news that a park would be installed on their land. Despite resistance from the community, the Spanish company Gas Natural Fenosa installed the Biío Hioxo park (“strong wind” in the Zapotec language). With 117 wind turbines, the company estimates that they will prevent the emission of 400,000 tons of CO2 annually.

The environmental impact study conducted by the URS Corporation Mexico in 2008, contracted by the company Gas Natural Fenosa, testifies that the development of the wind farm “in this area of Oaxaca state is a clear example of sustainable development” and that “the project is environmentally viable because it uses renewable resources and does not generates significant impacts on the environment.”

The study finds no significant impacts on wildlife; the biggest impact and one that will be given the necessary attention, according to the report, is the risk of birds colliding with the turbines. Regarding flora, the same study found that the removal of vegetation would also have no significant impact.

Local communities and environmentalists report that in fact wildlife is being affected. The regions of Barra Santa Teresa, in Alvaro Obregon, and Playa San Vicente in Juchitan de Zaragoza are particularly special because of the close interaction of the species inhabiting these ecosystems. “That is where the border of several closely related ecosystems are, of water and land, called ‘ecotones’. What happens to them separately affects the dynamics in a way that threatens the very existence of all the ecosystems as a whole “, biologist Patricia Mora states.

The biologist analyzes two levels of impacts at different phases of the Project. The first is the direct impact. When installing the project they have to “dismantle”, that is, remove the vegetation. This implies destruction of plants, as sessile organisms – those that don’t have a body to serve as a foot or support. There are also slow displacements of animals and organisms, including reptiles, mammals, birds, amphibians, insects, arachnids, fungi, viruses etc.

Generally, we only consider the macro, that is, the larger organisms, and not the tiny microscopic organisms. Yet often that’s where there’s the most damage. Many micro-organisms have yet to be identified and interestingly enough, these organisms are really what keep the ecosystems living and in balance. In many Mexican ecosystems, there are only a few of these species documented, which means that one cannot quantify their precise function or the actual damage. Many endemic, native species are in some degree of danger that is recognized on national and international lists.

After completing the construction phase, indirect impact continues. Ecosystems are disrupted and fragmented and therefore there is a greater likelihood of their disappearance, due to changing land use and climate change.

“These are considered very fragile ecosystems. Due to the geographical location, we are talking about  semi-arid zones where the water cycle is vital. These ecosystems act as moisture retainers and their disappearance drastically changes the soil’s moisture capacity. As the vegetation disappears these will become totally uninhabited deserts, because solar radiation changes the dynamics of the soil and it doesn’t allow new vegetation”, Mora says.

The biologist questions the way the environmental impact studies are done. “Usually there are ‘agreements’ behind closed doors, between consulting or research centers and government offices, prior to the studies. Standard templates  are used, where information is copied, sometimes poorly copied; where lies or half-truths are told. The focus on specific aspects of the project deviates, but it apparently meets the ‘requirements’ on paper.  I know this because I’ve worked with the consultants who develop such projects. Additionally, many of the projects in operation today do not even have an environmental impact study,” says the biologist.

But there is no consideration for the chain of production.Mora argues that, in order to consider a clean energy project it would have to meet rigorous environmental impact studies that consider the entire chain of energy production. “It is true that the wind is clean,” says the researcher. But there is no consideration for the chain of production. They have to consider the types of metals using a single generator. For example, the steel is usually mined in open pit mines; there they use water, energy, and ecosystems were also devastated. Oil was used for the smelter and transportation. The same applies to the lubricants used. The life of each turbine that is 20 to 30 years is added and then must be replaced with new ones.

Missing accompanying studies

Environmental impact studies were not mandatory until recently, and much less those studies that analyze continued impact  after construction. As for social impact, there  simply are no studies. An indigenous man, Teran,  lives within 50 meters of the Biío Hioxo turbines of Natural Fenosa Gas. He is one of the few peasants who did not agree to lease their land for the installation of wind turbines.

We do not know what awaits the next generation of children to be born. I’ve never seen this in my life“After the park came, I noticed that the animals changed. An example is with the first generation of calves. They were born with a deformity in the navel. A type of hernia hanging up to 50 centimeters long and some of them did not survive,” says Teran. “I sincerely wish that committed scholars would come to investigate these effects on animals because the second generation comes next year in 2016. We do not know what awaits the next generation of children to be born. I’ve never seen this in my life,” adds Teran.

The farmer tells about declining rainfall and increased thunderstorms. “It rains a lot less and thelightning strikes the turbines or the trees. It is dangerous to remain in the middle of the park when these storms come, “ says Teran. He adds that the well water used for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene, which is a few meters from the turbines, “is no longer the same water. There is a distinct taste that irritates the skin.”

Roberto Martinez, a local fisherman, tells us that traditionally migratory birds came there to drink at Cienegas, where there was water in abundance. “I think the birds are shifting their migration path because they no longer come as before.”

The  environmental impact study foresaw effects on the birds. “The fauna directly affected during the operation phase of the Project are the mortality of birds and bats caused by collisions with wind turbines, by habitat fragmentation and the noise”, says  the study.

In the same park, Carlos Sanchez says, “We know that companies have found veins of water and are closing them off with the foundations of the projects. They’re  using a special liquid to slow the flow of water, we do not know exactly what kind of substance it is.”

Not so clean energy

To set the turbines hundreds of tons of cement that interrupt the water flows are used. “It is worth mentioning that they are using the cement company CEMEX, which also has a wind farm in the Isthmus,” Mora notes.

Park EURUS wind turbines

The population of La Venta, where the first wind farm was built, was literally surrounded by turbines. Under the argument of increasing self-sufficiency,  another wind park called Eurus was built in 2009, and later auctioned off with capital of the Spanish company Acciona and the transnational construction materials company CEMEX.

CEMEX can be seen as a role model of the (MDL) CDM. The company has been listed as a clean and responsible company and has registered several projects under the mechanism. In its 2013 report CEMEX boasts of expanding their projects with the CDM model. “Six new initiatives were registered as (MDL) CDM in 2013, which include four alternative fuel projects in Mexico and Panama and two wind farms located in Mexico, among those Eurus and Ventika.”

In 2015 the Eurus wind farm won the prize awarded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB Infrastructure 360 °) in the category of “Impact on Population and Leadership,” which recognizes outstanding sustainability practices in infrastructure investments in Latin America and Caribbean.

In February 2015, community activists and social organizations of Venta denounced that, “about 150 wind turbines of the wind farm Eurus and Oaxaca III, owned by Acciona, have spilt oil on the blades and main coil, which has polluted the subsoil and water, and the farmers and ranchers who have ranches surrounding the place,”  defenders of the Earth and Sea asserted. Both wind farms have 1500 MW turbines, which need 400 liters of synthetic oil, while the 800 MW turbines only require 200 liters of oil per turbine per year.

Continuity resistance

The company Natural Gas Fenosa has anounced it will use a gate to prevent access of peasants and indigenous to the enclosed polygon of the wind farm. Only employees and local residents and workers would have access. “That would prevent fishermen’s access to the sea and the hunters’ access to the Lago Superior hunting areas,” explains Zapotec indigenous Faustina Martinez Lopez, who lives in the area. Also in this area there are seven sacred sites for indigenous peoples.

Women in resistance by the construction of the wind farm on the bar Santa Teresa

Local resistance began with the complaint of a farmer on the community radio Totopo, which transmits in the native Zapotec language as many do not communicate in Spanish. “Other farmers, fishermen and indigenous people heard that complaint and began approaching the radio. There began a process of organization. This is when the Juchiteco Peoples Assembly  (APPJ) was founded,” recalls Sanchez. “It was when the community organized to resist and prevent the enclosure of wind turbines. A barricade was built to block access to Playa Vicente (Lago Superior), where the polygon began. The barricade remained for two months. But the company began using police and hit men and death threats to evict,” says Sanchez.

One of the worst clashes between the community and the police happened when a group of us went for a tour in the location where the company had already begun their work. Women and children remained at the barricade. 25 vans and cars arrived and violently pressured them to leave the barricade. “Quickly the sisters called us by phone and we mobilized the community through Radio Totopo and a battle broke out,” said Sanchez, who later was ambushed and beaten by a group of subjects.

In the end, the company finished construction of its wind turbines without fences, keeping the polygon open to hunters and fishermen.

Justice

In 2013 the APPJ filed an agricultural  injunction against the company Gas Natural Fenosa for not having conducted a free and informed  prior consultation, as required by the International Labour Organization. “The company will initiate the second phase of the project, and the judge has yet to issue a judgment. They said they would send an anthropological expert to evaluate whether these lands are where our ancestors lived. Only in this way, the injunction will continue. There are studies and testimonies that have been here since long before the formation of the Mexican State. We are a Zapotec Indian village, an ancient people, we retain our language, our traditions, it is offensive that the judge would even say that. He should not even be considered Mexican, because he does not know the history of the people of Mexico,” said Sanchez.

VIOLATED SACRED LANDS

Carlos Sanchez walks slowly with downcast eyes, mapping each centimeter he steps on the sand of Playa Vicente, in the Lago Superior. The seaside landscape painted with pelicans and herons flying above the fishermen, contrasts sharply with the line of wind turbines. Sanchez seeks traces of his ancestors to share with the reporting team. “There are so many traces around these territories that it’s possible to find pieces on the surface,” he says.

Vestiges buried on the shores of the beach San Vicente

The Isthmus of Tehuantepec has been occupied by different cultural and linguistic groups from more than 3, 500 years ago, by speakers of Mixe and Zoque languages. It is very likely that large and stable populations existed around1200 BC. “This indicates the amount of time that these communities have been associated with the environment, creating knowledge and transforming it in such a way that one can say that the natural environment of the Isthmus is a cultural construct, and that culture is a construct that has a close relationship with the nature of the geographical area in question, “explains Alfredo Saynes, Faculty of Sciences of the UNAM.

Sanchez steps forward, stops suddenly and points to two objects on the sand. Once up close, you can see two clay pots buried with just part revealed on the surface. “When the tide is low we can  see several vestiges of ancient temples, such as these,” he tells us.

According to archaeologist Agustín Andrade Cuautle, of the National Institute of Archaeology and History, the state of Oaxaca has the largest number of registered archaeological sites in Mexico. Of the 4,000 registered throughout Oaxaca, 100 are in the Isthmus.

Land of refuge – The land where the wind estate company Gas Natural Fenosa is installed is suitable for agriculture thanks to the river water of Los Perros. The Los Perros River through these lands and floods them throughout the rainy season. “The environmental impact study states that this is eroded land, which has only garbage and flies, but it’s not true. These lands have given life to the Zapotec civilization of this region, precisely because of its fertility, “Sanchez shares.

The Istmeños are the last real Zapotecs after the Aztecs converted the Zapotecs in the north into their subjects, assimilating them culturally and linguistically. Throughout their history they resisted several attempts of domination, even fought against the invasion of the French, when they tried to colonize Mexico. To date they are recognized as people who resist and struggle.

In each of their sacred sites that are within the wind polygon -Santa Cruz Paso Cnu, Santa Cruz Guelaxada ‘, Santa Cruz Chigue’ze’, Santa Cruz Guelabe’ne ‘Guiiguidxita Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz Guuzebenda–there are the tombs of Zapotec Indians who participated in the Mexican revolution of 1910, which allowed them to keep their land in their hands.

Santa Cruz sacred site MAY 12

Historically, this town had already taken up arms, since the independence of Mexico until the Mexican Revolution in order to defend their territory. When the government sent troops, the village would empty everything in order to not leave any food for them. They took their chickens, animals and took refuge in these very same sacred places. “This area provided protection to the people, for being fertile. And there the resistance survived. These places have served as protection in many moments of our history. That is why an attack on these parks are an attack against us,” says Faustina López Martínez.

According to Sánchez, part of the site called Guelabe’ne ‘was destroyed because of the wind park. “They filled it with stones to build a road.” In addition, the paths of two other sites were also affected. “The road to Santa Cruz Chigue ‘ze’ was cut by a road in the wind energy business. The road to Santa Cruz Guelabe’ne ‘was completely destroyed, the pilgrimage can only pass coming in other ways. “

“The roads are critical to our rituals,” said Faustina. As each year, the community makes a pilgrimage to their holy sites. “They conducted no impact study for our sites,” she adds.

HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS AND PERSECUTIONS

The radio station has suffered several attempts to close it down, with raids by police federal and Navy.Community organization against the wind farm in the Barra de Santa Teresa was the first major resistance against the ways in which these companies are developing their projects on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Sanchez reports that, not coincidentally, it is in this period that the companies began hiring hit men, with the backing of the state.“We see gunmen escorted to the state police. The community is so small, so we know who they are. Because of the threats we began to receive three companions had to leave the community. Some of us have been persecuted with absurd lawsuits, accusing us of kidnapping, attacks on the roads, and damage to other people’s private property. They began to detain people involved in the movement. We have received threats by phone. The radio station has suffered several attempts to close it down, with raids by police federal and Navy. They have now another sign mounted above ours to interfere,” says Sanchez.Sanchez reports that since 2013 he does not go to public places. His mobility is restricted to the community. “We were offered the protection mechanism of the Ministry of Interior. But we have realized that the task of protection has been given to the state police, the same people who attacked us. I didn’t know whether they have come to protect me or arrest me. So I rejected this protection mechanism and started a small personal protection protocol, “says Sanchez. APPJ members filed a complaint in court and still have not received averdict. “The state supports the wind companies,” Sanchez concludes.The Committee for the Integral Defense of Human Rights Gobixha (CódigoDH) Oaxaca demanded the immediate intervention of the federal and state governments to stop the wave of violence against supporters of the Popular Assembly of the People of Juchitan (APPJ) who have been victims of threats , harassment, persecution and attacks, including the murder of one of its members. This followed the conflict rooted in the construction of the Bii Hioxo wind farm, according to the Committee. But there was no response.The company Gas Natural Fenosa rejects the accusations, ensuring that: “While certain groups have filed several allegations regarding violations of human rights of communities affected by the project, Gas Natural Fenosa says they are unfounded, that they lack objective justification, and are incompatible with the commitments made by the company’s Human Rights Policy. “

 

NEW STRATEGY, NEW PARK, OLD PROBLEMS

It did not take long for the government’s promise made in 2013 to relocate the project from the Barra de  Santa Teresa to another zone in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec to take shape. In 2014, the company Mareña Renovables, now called Eolica del Sur (Southern Wind), found a new place to develop clean energy and contribute to the goals of reducing greenhouse gases, in the Lago Superior.

In 2016, the project foresees the installation of 132 wind turbines of 3 MW each in an area of 5,332 hectares, avoiding the emission of 879,000 tons of greenhouse gases per year, according to the company.

An independent report released by researchers from different fields and universities – UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico), UCCS (Union of Scientists Committed to Society), UAM (Metropolitan Autonomous University) and ENAH (National School of Anthropology and History), points out various inconsistencies in the environmental impact study submitted by the company and approved by the Secretariat of Environmental and Natural Resources (SEMANART).

The first contradiction regards the company that made the study. The company responsible is Especialistas Ambientales (Environmental Specialists). According to the Constitutive Act of the company, the founding partner is the engineer Rodolfo Lacy Tamayo, current Undersecretary of Planning and Environmental Policy of the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources. “Based on the above, we have a concern regarding the independence and objectivity in both the development of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) as well as the approval” states the report.

The document warned that there are many inconsistencies with respect to Baja Espinoza Forest (Selva Baja Espinosa), which is to be cleared for the construction of this project, since the study did not produce a map of land use and vegetation at the scale of the polygon. Evaluating the information available on the MIA’s own field research, “our analysis shows that the developer intends to cut 100% of the tree surface without proposing any measure of compensation.”

San Vicente Beach

“This is particularly worrying because the polygon project affects the Biological Corridor in Oaxaca in the Isthmus-Chimalapas Region, which in turn is part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. According to CONABIO, the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor in Mexico was established with the purpose of coordinating policies for the conservation and sustainable management of resources in priority areas in the southeastern region of the country  regarding conservation of biodiversity. (…) The Selva Baja Espinoza forms a biological corridor connecting the Priority Marine Regions: Continental Shelf Gulf of Tehuantepec, and Upper and Lower Laguna; and Terrestrial Priority Regions: Northern Sierras of Oaxaca Mixe and Zoque-La Selva Sepultura “says the document.

According to Eduardo Centeno, director of the Eolica del Sur  company, the MIA was submitted in accordance with Mexican law and contains mitigation measures and preventive measures for the environment, including reforestation. “One benefit is that [by means of reforestation programs and mitigation] it will enable environmental surveillance and protection of archaeological sites that would not exist if the project were not done”, he explains.

Another concern of communities relates to water pollution in the lagoon and ocean as a result of the oil that will drain on the beaches, estimated at 300 liters per windmill. According to Mora, Genoveva Bernal of Semarnat, the institution responsible for approving the MIA, says the park will not affect Lago Superior at 3.9 km. She notes that the ministry does not guarantee, “that it will not affect, like it has done to other parks in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the groundwater of the region.”

Alejandro Castaneira, professor and researcher at the ENAH, who participated in writing the Report, says the SEMANART authorized an environmental impact study that was wrongly produced. “It is  announced that parks are generating clean energy. Are we going to use clean energy to produce Coca-Cola and Lays Chips while poverty continues?” asks Castaneira.

Participatory process?

After the events of 2013, Eolica del Sur and the State convened for the first free, prior and informed consultation, under Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) for indigenous peoples, 22 years since the arrival of the first wind farm in the time Isthmus of Tehuantepec. This consultation began in November 2014 and was completed in July 2015, and is regarded as a essential element for the project to become effective. The federal and state government as well as the company claim that the consultation fulfilled its role, which justifies the project since most of the participants approved. On the other hand, there is enormous pressure for the cancellation of the consultation because of the irregularities denounced during the Consultation and, since they were not taken into account they limited the  assembly and thus the presence of those affected.

At a press conference, Bettina Cruz Velázquez, a member of the Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Defense of Land and Territory, said that the consultation was carried out after local and federal permits and approvals of land use had already been given by authorities and claimed this shows the federal government’s decision to strip Binni Záa (Zapotec) of its territory. “The consultation is a simulation, the ground was already prepared to start the operations of the company and they also play with the ignorance of communities in regards to this. They do not respect international standards,” says Cruz Velasquez.

A petition for relief was filed for the 1,166 indigenous  binni’zaa, in order to protect indigenous rights and defend their  territory against the wind project. On September 30, the Seventh District Judge of Salina Cruz, Isaiah Corona Coronado accepted the injunction against the construction and operation of the megaproject Eolica del Sur in its territory and issued an order to suspend all licenses, permits, goods, approvals, licenses and land use changes granted by federal and local authorities, until the final judgment is issued.

According to the lawyer Ricardo Lagines Gasca, adviser to the community, the company is affected by the petition as a third party. But those who are really being sued are municipal authorities, Energy Regulatory Commission, the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources, the City of Juchitan, and the National Institute of Anthropology and History, which stated that the area would be free of any effects against archaeological pieces or remains.

“The state allows these projects one the one hand, allowing all the state and federal agencies to expedite permits. Yet indigenous peoples are not aware of these legal proceedings, so that they can actually participate in decisions and not simply be consulted after the decision was already taken. The whole Isthmus territory has been divided between companies based on the lack of awareness of the peasant and indigenous communities who live here, “says Garza.

Even with the temporary cancellation of the park, the governor of Oaxaca, Gabino Cue, in his report released in November, states the project installation as a given and as a result of the consultation. “In collaboration with the Federal Government, the State Government managed to confirm one of the most important investments in Latin America in the field of wind power generation, worth a billion dollars, in the upcoming construction of the wind farm with the company Eolica del Sur, which will generate 396 MW, “ says the document.

Informed consultation?

Independent consultant Isaac Portugal Rosas was invited by the organizers of the Consultation to describe the operation of the energy system in the country. During his presentation, he explained with technical details how energy circulates throughout the national network. In answering a question he himself posed: Why is the energy generated in the parks not necessarily used here in the communities where it is produced?, he responded. “Energy is not like any good, like an orange, for example, that can be sold anywhere one wishes. There is a system, the National Power Control Center dedicated to balance the entire national energy system, because it can not be stored. This center facilitates the distribution of energy which is released into the national system at all times. We have no way to verify that the energy produced here is used by a company in Monterrey, for example, “he explains.

What seems like a technical explanation on behalf of the consultant, who appears as independent, reveals that the wind energy produced in the isthmus has specific destination – consumption for companies – even before they begin to generate.

According to the Commission for Dialogue with Indigenous Peoples of Mexico, of the federal Ministry of Government, in a  document titled Wind Energy in Mexico: a social perspective on the value of the land, states that unequal access to electricity is produced from wind energy because of international financial institutions, developed countries and multinational wind companies that fund and define the general guidelines that orient wind power projects on a large scale in Mexico. Their interests are guided more by the pursuit of profit in the short term, rather than to solve environmental problems.

“It was an `uninformed´ consultation. The company and the government stated what they wanted. What we heard there is not very reliable,”says Sanchez.

COMMON LANDS: AN OBSTACLE FOR COMPANIES

“As children we took advantage of the wind that exists in our land to move small pinwheels much like the wind turbines. We also found ways that would allow the wind to move something small. All rustic. Now you can do it with technology on a large scale,”says Juan Regalado, Zapotec Indian, from Union Hidalgo village of Juchitan, where the wind company Demex came in 2011.” The damage these businesses are doing the social fabric of our communities is not right” said Regalado referring to the park installed in his community, which does not even have an environmental impact study.

One of the major impacts is the conflict generated over land where the wind resource is located. The distribution of land after the revolution in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, is marked by a series of conflicts and changes in legislation. “The legal status of the lands of Juchitan to this day has not been clarified, which prevents clarity regarding how much it is, where communal land is located, and who regulates the sale of ejido. This situation is now aggravated by the change in land use for the installation of wind farms, “says the NGO DH Code.

According to Regalado, there is no doubt that wind turbines are on their communal lands. “There is a 1964 presidential decree where the titles to the common goods were confirmed. What is certain is that there are no private lands,” he explains.

According to him, the company’s interest is to deal with smallholdings because this way they make direct contact with a single person. “In communal lands, deals are made with the villagers. Not only the possessor of land must see advantages, but all the people of the community, because we are all affected,” he explains.

Based on the decree of 1964, Regalado and 16 others Hidalgo Union filed a lawsuit in the Agrarian Court requesting the cancellation of their contracts with the company. The legal question is whether the land is communal or private. If they are found to be communal, the contracts are automatically dissolved.

“The last judge we had of the Agrarian Court of the District of Tuxtepec said the contracts must be canceled, because they are within communal lands. But to support this decision, he decided he needed a survey by us and the company. Our expert argued that our land is within the communal estate of Juchitan, using the decree of 1964. The company hired an expert, who missed the deadline and could not answer. So they contracted a second expert, who missed the first deadline and are now expected to be late in the second, which still must be done this year, “Regalado said.

The Agrarian Court also consulted the Oaxaca Agrarian Office and the National Agrarian Registry, confirming that these lands are communal.

It is not surprising that Juchitan has this conformation. This is characteristic of the state of Oaxaca. According to the Ministry of Agrarian Development, 78% of the land in Oaxaca is collectively owned—shared ejidos, or indigenous communal lands.

“The aim is to cancel the contract with the company. It will be a precedent for other communities in the Isthmus. The sad thing is that the company, realizing that they will lose in court, has been looking to each of us individually to finish the contracts offering some money. It is a political issue, the group is strengthened and we are convinced that it is the Court that must rule that annulment with their respective damages to the company, “said Regalado.

Recurrent practices – The Commission for Dialogue with Indigenous Peoples of Mexico said that opponents to wind farms generally have said that the contracts do not provide clear information on the rights that owners have to lease their land.

“The contracts do not establish a clear distinction between productive farms and vacant land [which would generate different payments], and lack clauses regarding the renovation of payments. This is understood as the co-optation of community representatives, with simulation of ejido assemblies with signatures of dead people and others that do not appear in the ejido census to expedite the signing of contracts and individual negotiations between owners and companies, in order to exclude ejido assemblies to the processes of decision making,” says the document.

CLEAN ENERGY: THE REPRODUCTION OF INEQUALITY

According to documents from the Commission for Dialogue with the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico, international experience has shown that remuneration paid by energy companies erecting wind farms on leased lands oscillates between one and five percent of the gross income of the energy produced by the turbines. According to the European Association of Wind Energy, land rental there represents 3.9 percent of total costs. “However, the case of Mexico is drastically different if you take into account the much lower value compared to international standards: here, remuneration is between .025 and 1.53% [of gross income].”

In Europe, the value of land rental for wind farms far exceeds that which landholders can expect from other forms of land usage. The document highlights the case of Spain, where returns on land in Galicia, for example, go from 90,000 Euros for wind farms, 18,000 Euros for common land forestry, 4,500 Euros for woodland areas with high wind potential and 6,000 Euros for livestock areas.

According to the Tepeyac Human Rights Center, in the case of the energy company Fenosa Renovables’ contract with farmer Anastasio Toledo of Juchitán, it is stated that during the first phase of development, the construction of the wind park, they will begin paying him 150 pesos annually (9 Euros) per hectare. Payment for the installation of a wind turbine slides from 8,000 and 18,000 pesos (454 and 1,022 Euros) and afterwards a small percentage is added from the energy generated during the period.

“Because there is no organization that regulates the value of land in Mexico, energy companies pay landowners far less than the actual value, which can provoke tension in communities in which wind farms are set up,” states the human rights organization. “It is necessary to establish the laws and regulations which will define the range of value and the protocol for rights disputes when projects are set up on communal lands. This will help to protect the interests of indigenous communities,” the Commission for Dialogue with the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico claims.

Who benefits from clean energy? The criteria that have been used to justify the implementation of wind parks in Mexico as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel energy production, are insufficient to determine the benefits, risks and broader implications of wind energy production, the Commission for Dialogue with the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico upholds. “The criteria ignore or underestimate the complexity and cognitivist and ethical uncertainty of the risks and impacts created by wind parks on a large scale. They cannot be seen as a viable energy alternative if they continue to reproduce and deepen socioeconomic and environmental inequalities between countries and between social groups within individual countries.”

 

In collaboration with Armando Carmona

 

Renata Bessi is a freelance journalist and contributor the Americas Program and Desinformémonos. She has published articles in Brazilian media: The Trecheiro newspaper magazine, Página 22, Repórter Brasil, Rede Brasil Atual, Brasil de Fato, Outras Palavras.]

[Santiago Navarro is an economist, a freelance journalist, photographer and contributor to the Americas Program, Desinformémonos and  SubVersiones.]

WWF Mines The Green Gold Rush To The Amazon: Making $60 billion From Fear

WWF Mines The Green Gold Rush To The Amazon: Making $60 billion From Fear

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–>Amaazon+tumucumaque WWF Mines The Green Gold Rush To The Amazon:  Making $60 billion From FearAppearing in the Booker column (and on Watts up with that?) is an account of how the “conservation” group WWF hopes to turn Amazonian trees into billions of dollars, all in the name of saving the planet. The background briefing on which Booker relied is posted below, detailing how the rainforests are to become a monstrous cash-making machine, writes Richard North:

The Amazon – a “green gold-rush”

The WWF and other green campaign groups talking up the destruction of the Amazon rainforests are among those who stand to make billions of dollars from the scare. This “green gold-rush” involves taking control of huge tracts of rainforest supposedly to stop them being chopped down, and selling carbon credits gained from carbon dioxide emissions they claim will be “saved”.

Backed by a $30 million grant from the World Bank, the WWF has already partnered in a pilot scheme to manage 20 million acres in Brazil. If their plans get the go-ahead in Mexico at the end of the year, the forests will be worth over $60 billion in “carbon credits”, paid for by consumers in “rich” countries through their electricity bills and in increased prices for goods and services.
The prospect of a billion-dollar windfall explains the sharp reaction to the “Amazongate” scandal, in which the IPCC falsely claimed that up to 40 percent of the rainforest could be at risk from even a slight drop in rainfall.

Here, the IPCC was caught out again making unsubstantiated claims based on a WWF report. But unlike the “Glaciergate” affair where its claim that Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035 was conceded to be an “error”, the IPCC stood firm on its Amazon claim, stating that the assertion was “correct”. What makes the difference is that there is no serious money locked into melting glaciers. Amazonian trees, however, are potentially worth billions.

In standing its ground, the IPCC was strongly supported by the WWF, and by Daniel Nepstad, a senior scientist from the US Woods Hole Research Centre. Relying on an assiduously fostered reputation as a leading expert on the effects of climate change in the Amazon rainforests, Nepstad – who works closely with the WWF – posted on the Centre’s website a personal statement endorsing “the correctness of the IPCC’s statement”. Bizarrely, his own research failed in any way to substantiate the claim.

The carbon trading agenda

Behind this very public defence lies a network of financial interests, not least on the board of the Woods Hole Research Centre, which counts several former and current equity fund managers responsible for billions of dollars-worth of private investments. The board is chaired by Lawrence Huntington – formerly of Fiduciary Trust International. Members include Joseph Robinson of MidMark Capital and Joshua Goldberg of Altamont Capital Partners, massively wealthy investment funds.

And at the centre of the advocacy for the development of “financial instruments” which it is hoped will generate billions in income is Nepstad himself (pictured below).

Nepstad+01 WWF Mines The Green Gold Rush To The Amazon: Making $60  billion From FearIn 2007, Nepstad, who is the highest-paid Woods Hole staff member (although not the most senior) with a salary package of over $175,000, published a paper asserting that if the droughts of the last decade continued into the future, approximately 55 percent of the forests of the Amazon would be “cleared, logged, damaged by drought or burned over the next 20 years.” Emerging carbon market incentives, he claimed, could help prevent deforestation.

The Woods Hole interest had earlier been declared in March 2006 when Richard Houghton, a senior scientist and deputy director of the centre sent a memorandum to the secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) on developing a scheme called “Reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries” (REDD). “Carbon credits represent the largest potential flow of revenue in support of sustainable development in tropical forest regions,” he then stated.

REDD had, in fact, been a long time coming. The basis of a system had been set up by the 1997 Kyoto climate treaty, known as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), administered by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Through this, third world countries which reduced CO2 emissions could turn their savings into “carbon credits” which could be sold to industries in developed countries.

Crucially, the CDM only applied to energy production and some industrial processes, and did not extend to forests. After intensive lobbying, though – and despite considerable European scepticism – in 2001, the parties to the Kyoto Protocol officially approved the use of plantations for generating carbon credits.

The EU, however, decided not to allow these credits to be swapped in its emissions trading system, drastically reducing their potential value. The concept was further weakened by the considerable difficulty in proving how much carbon biomass projects actually saved over their brief and uncertain lifetimes. Estimates varied ten-fold, which damaged the credibility of the emerging voluntary market in carbon “offsets”, which were being used to test the concept of forest-generated carbon credits.

world bank WWF Mines The Green Gold Rush To The Amazon: Making $60  billion From FearNevertheless, many industrial plantation companies were still hoping for the scheme to be fully developed so that they could sell carbon credits to top up their finances. And in that aspiration they had powerful champions, the World Bank in Washington (pictured), Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy and, especially, WWF.

Their mechanism to bring forests fully into the CDM was REDD, which first appeared as an agenda item in December 2005, at the 11th session of the Conference of Parties to the Climate Change Convention (COP 11) in Montréal. Two years later, at COP 13 in Bali, it had become “the big new idea to save the planet from runaway climate change.”

The scheme was to comprise two parts. First, there is a set-up fund to create “reserves” or “protected areas” (PAs), where deforestation would be prevented (This fund has already been set up and is currently worth $4.5 billion, made up from donations from Norway, France and four other countries). Secondly, the CDM kicks in. Each ton of carbon dioxide “saved” in the protected areas becomes a carbon credit, sold to industrialists in the developed world to allow them to continue emitting CO2. By this means, the funds come rolling in.

Thus, REDD had become a vehicle for building a billion-dollar global fund to take control of hundreds of millions of acres of rainforest throughout the world, a giant cash machine.

Amazon Region Protected Areas Project (ARPA)

Amazon+expeditumu WWF Mines The Green Gold Rush To The Amazon:  Making $60 billion From FearLong before REDD had become a formal proposal, WWF had been heavily engaged in Brazil, campaigning to save the rainforests. But a major turning point was reached when, in 1998, Brazilian President Cardoso endorsed a WWF “Forests for Life” programme goal of protecting at least 10 percent of all of the country’s forest types as a national priority.

However, at the same time, the country was in an economic crisis and the government was scaling back environmental funding, even refusing foreign donations of $25 million pledged to support environmental measures. This gave WWF the opportunity for its coup, a chance to set up what was to become a pilot scheme for REDD. With the World Bank, Brazilian government agencies and environmental specialists, it set up a task force to develop its plan.

At that time, there was a loose-knit under-funded network of national parks, poorly administered by federal and state governments. Driven by WWF, the idea was to establish a massive extension to the system, not under the direct control of the Brazilian authorities but of the NGOs themselves. This “take over” was to become the Amazon Region Protected Areas Project (ARPA).

To finance its plan, the WWF then obtained $18 million seed funding from the San Francisco-based Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. This was topped up with $15 million from the German government, paid through the state-owned KfW Entwicklungsbank. Then its Brazilian partner, FUNBIO (The Brazilian Biodiversity Fund) – an NGO which had been started in 1996 with a $20 million grant from the Global Environment Facility – contributed $18 million, donated by the Brazilian government.

Fronting FUNBIO, the WWF then orchestrated a formal application for a grant from its partner, the World Bank. Predictably, in 2002, the Bank donated $30 million from public funds. It also arranged for its small grants division, the GEF to donate $500,000 to a trust fund to help maintain the areas.

Amazon tumucumaque 1 23655 WWF Mines The Green Gold Rush To The  Amazon: Making $60 billion From FearThe funding was sufficient to set up 20 million acres of new protected areas (10 million of “strict protection” PAs and 10 million of sustainable use). ARPA had become a reality. Announced in August 2002, it included what was to become the world’s largest reserve, the Tumucumaque Mountains National Park – consisting of 9,500,000 acres of pristine rainforest.

Situated in the extreme north of the country, bordering French Guiana (see map, right: area in green), this vast park had no roads leading in or out, almost no accessibility by air, rivers that have yet to be navigated and virtually no human inhabitants. Access is by river or helicopter. And so difficult is the terrain that a WWF expedition to the northern boundary took three weeks. At least four people returned with medical problems: two with infected feet and two with malaria.

The very remoteness of this region underlines a central point. There was virtually no risk of deforestation or commercial exploitation. Although there had been some mining in the area, even the WWF was forced to concede that the damage was “smaller than predicted.”

Then, as the WWF itself admits, the bulk of the deforestation is taking place in south and southeast, with some coastal areas and a band in the centre along the main river, where water transport is possible. As to the Tumucumaque park, the WWF assessed the risk of deforestation as “nil”- in common with most of the other ARPA strict protection areas (see maps below – click to enlarge).

Amazon+deforestation+threat WWF Mines The Green Gold Rush To The  Amazon: Making $60 billion From Fear

Amazon+deforest WWF Mines The Green Gold Rush To The Amazon:  Making $60 billion From Fear
The Plan develops

Nevertheless, by the end of 2006, WWF had the bulk of its areas established, which cleared the way for the next stage of its plan. In April 2007, it and the World Bank formalised their already very close association with the launch of a Global Forest Alliance.

By combining forces and “working with partners in government, civil society, and the business sector,” said the WWF, “Alliance partners leverage support and results to reverse the process of forest loss and degradation.” The World Bank, for its part, was to provide a $250 million start-up fund which it called the “avoided deforestation” project.

Apart from the Amazon, a prime target was one million hectares of classified “conservation forest” in West Papua, New Guinea, where tribes were complaining of evictions from their traditional lands. The WWF was already negotiating with the Indonesian government to set up a management scheme.

Woodwell WWF Mines The Green Gold Rush To The Amazon: Making $60  billion From FearMeanwhile, Woods Hole Research Centre had been at work. Representing itself to the world as a scientific institute, it is in fact an advocacy group from the same wellspring as WWF. Its founder, George M Woodwell (pictured), is a former chairman of the board of trustees and currently a member of the National Council of the WWF. He thus shares its values and objectives.

Woodwell is also a founding trustee of the World Resources Institute, another advocacy group. It is currently chaired by James A Harmon, Chairman of the investment group Harmon & Co and a director of Questar Corporation, an integrated natural gas exploration, distribution and pipeline company. He is also senior advisor to the Rothschild Group. Additionally, the Institute counts as a board member Al Gore, chairman of Generation Investment Management, a company with strong interests in carbon trading.

Funded heavily by the Moore foundation, to the tune of over $7 million, and working in partnership with the WWF on the Tumucumaque project, in May 2008 Woods Hole Research Centre, alongside the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil, came up with the “Holy Grail”, a methodology for calculating the carbon “savings” from managing rainforests.

With this, they estimated that areas protected by the ARPA programme would save 5.1 gigatons of CO2 emissions by 2050. Based on the UNFCCC valuation for a ton of CO2 at $12.50, that equated to over $60 billion-worth of carbon credits. This “finding” was presented that month to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, meeting in Bonn and the work was also adopted by the World Bank.

The WWF campaign

WWF+logo WWF Mines The Green Gold Rush To The Amazon: Making $60  billion From FearWith this essential piece in place, the WWF then started an intensive lobbying campaign. Working with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), it produced a report to argue that: “The new generation of carbon funds must address the need for a sustained reduction in carbon emissions … “.

Crucially, it complained that forest projects were “not yet recognised under the Clean Development Mechanism” The agenda was clear. WWF and its allies wanted a new treaty, to be agreed by the then forthcoming Copenhagen climate summit, to include forests in the CDM.

To that effect, WWF released a detailed policy checklist for delegates, setting out “legal and regulatory requirements to stimulate REDD activities”. Its proposal for carbon credits, tied in with a US “cap and trade” system, could provide revenues of up to $4-$5 billion per year for REDD activities.

Ramping up the publicity, it then argued that: “Aggressive action to reduce (and ultimately halt) emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) must be part of any serious policy to address the climate crisis…”. Without REDD, WWF averred, “keeping global average surface temperature increase below 2°C will likely be impossible.”

To support the case, it mobilised its allies, pulling together a raft of Brazilian NGOs with Greenpeace, Conservation International, and Friends of the Earth to launch “the National Pact to Acknowledge the Value of the Forest and to End Amazon Deforestation.”

It also set up the WWF Forest Carbon Network Initiative again arguing that carbon finance would play a critical role in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. As such, it declared, the development of carbon finance mechanisms had “emerged” as a major part of WWF’s conservation finance portfolio.

Simultaneously, it launched an Amazon Fund, inviting sponsorship contributions of $50 to preserve one acre of Amazonian rainforest for 20 years, using the opportunity to argue for placing a price on carbon through a cap-and-trade programme. By this means, it said, “keeping forests intact becomes economically valuable. Climate policy can then help realize this value for countries and communities that choose to protect forests.” Halving global emissions from deforestation could produce $3.7 trillion in net benefits to the global economy, it claimed.

Then, to lock in its preferred option, WWF launched a spirited campaign against biofuels, funding a study which argued that preventing deforestation was better for “biodiversity and climate” than clearing virgin forest and planting energy crops such as oil-palm plantations.

In the run-up to the Copenhagen summit, it was now Nepstad’s turn to increase the pressure. As lead author of an article in the prestigious Science journal, he argued for the REDD mechanism, “payments for tropical forest carbon credits under a U.S. cap-and-trade system” and the need to raise $7 to $18 billion to stop forest clearance. One of his co-authors, Frank Merry, gave his address as the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, while another had his as the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington.

Opposition to REDD

Amazon+REDD WWF Mines The Green Gold Rush To The Amazon: Making  $60 billion From FearMeanwhile, the programme was not without its critics. A small, UK-based charity, the Forest Peoples Programme expressed concern that some conservation schemes to establish wilderness reserves also denied forest-dwellers’ rights. Cut off from their ancestral territories, it said, forest peoples face poverty, the erosion of their customary institutions, loss of identity and cultural collapse.

Campaigner Chris Lang, founder of “REDD Monitor“, saw the scheme as a new way of “breathing life into the scam of carbon trading”. REDD could involve the biggest ever transfer of control over forests – to international carbon financiers and polluting companies, he said.

By September 2009, Scientific American was retailing the fears of Marcus Colchester of the Forest Peoples Programme. “We see a risk that the prospect of getting a lot of money for biodiversity could lead to indigenous peoples’ concerns falling by the wayside,” he said. Tom Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network was concerned that increasing the financial value of forests could lead to “the biggest land grab of all time.”

Expectations that things would be any different because the schemes are run by conservation groups do not appear to be fulfilled. An account of a scheme run by WWF partner, The Nature Conservancy, on Brazil’s Atlantic Coast at Guaraqueçaba, details massive “injustices”, the NGO trampling over the rights of local people.

Financed with $18 million by General Motors, Chevron and American Electric Power, this organisation – with the familiar mix of financiers on its board – created three reserves covering a total of 20,235 hectares. The commercial tie-up was seen as exposing REDD simply as a means to help polluting corporations to “offset” their emissions, without leading to any overall drop in CO2 emissions. The NGOs were simply the “front” organisations, the acceptable public face.

tribes WWF Mines The Green Gold Rush To The Amazon: Making $60  billion From Fear
Other writers see REDD as “Tribal Peoples Versus Carbon Cowboys”, arguing that the scheme will bring indigenous peoples “massive disruption and little benefit.” Jonathan Mazower, of Survival International, notes that where outsiders place monetary value on land where indigenous people live, they “always almost suffer”. His organisation has produced a report condemning the whole system.

Reinforcing the concern, the International Forum of Indigenous Peoples on Climate Change stated: “REDD will increase the violation of our human rights, our rights to our lands, territories and resources, steal our land, cause forced evictions, prevent access and threaten indigenous agriculture practices, destroy biodiversity and culture diversity and cause social conflicts.”

When it came to the Copenhagen summit, no final agreement was reached on a climate treaty. But, much to the relief of WWF and its allies, elements of REDD – now known as “REDD+” were agreed. And, for the critics of the scheme, it looked as if their worst fears had been realised. In the small print of the proposal, there had been an explicit reference to the need to safeguard indigenous peoples. But, when it came to the actual Copenhagen accord, there was no mention of rights or safeguards at all. Yet this will go forward for final agreement at Mexico at end of the year.

Eco-imperialism

Coke WWF WWF Mines The Green Gold Rush To The Amazon: Making $60  billion From FearAs a “conservation” group, the WWF is seen by many as having an unhealthily close relationship with big business. In 2007, for instance, it entered into a partnership with the drinks giant Coca-Cola, taking a fee of $20 million as part of an agreement to tackle its “water footprint”.

It incurred the ire of The Ecologist and other environmental groups for supporting actions of the Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS), which it co-founded in 2004. This grouping comprises producers, finance, trade & industry representatives, NGOs, certification bodies and universities.

Members range from Monsanto, Syngenta, Cargill, Bunge to Unilever, Shell, BP, Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, WWF and producers such as Gruppo André Maggi – the world’s largest soybean producer based in Brazil.

Despite its concern for deforestation – in which soya growing is heavily implicated – WWF endorsed an RTRS criterion that could allow “responsible” soy to be grown on land that was deforested as recently as May 2009. And soy can still be labelled “responsible” when harvested from lands deforested after May 2009 if the producer could demonstrate that it was not prime forest or an area of High Conservation Value, or land belonging to local peoples.

On the ground, freelance writer Glenda Freeman, a native of New Zealand/Aotearoa, describes WWF activities as “Green Imperialism“, labelling this giant, corporate organisation a “BINGO” (Big International Non-governmental Organisation). She complains that WWF intervention keeps native populations “idle and dependent” while creating the problem it hoped to solve.

Anonymous authors of a publication entitled, “People Against Foreign NGO Neocolonialism” – a group of dissident environmentalists – state that foreign conservation conglomerates “whitewash effort to please donors so that the big bucks will keep flowing.” They contradict claims that these groups have had any real conservation impact.

Speaking of efforts in Papua New Guinea (PNG), they assert that, “With the help of willing donors such as AUS-AID, UNDP, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Moore Foundation, any possibility of achieving lasting conservation of PNG’s biodiversity is being destroyed in the here and now… The international conservation NGOs in PNG are proving to be a model of how not to do either conservation or development”.

Organisations such as WWF, Conservation International and The Nature Conservancy are accused of having caused “the atrophy of what would have been a natural evolution of a truly indigenous conservation movement.” Corporate, hierarchical models of conservation based upon outside foreign experts – often with little in-country knowledge or concern – threaten the world’s rainforest as surely as logging, agriculture, etc.

And in a commentary that could have been written with the Tumucumaque Mountains National Park in mind, they note that uninhabited forests that are impossible to log or destroy in any other way are pointed out, without the hint of a snicker, as being “forests we have saved” by these neocolonialist NGOs.

Lines are drawn on the map to show the new conservation areas. Yes, the big boys say they’re achieving a lot of conservation in PNG and they’ve got the maps to prove it. It’s all a whitewash effort to please donors so that the big bucks will keep flowing.

Amazon+soya WWF Mines The Green Gold Rush To The Amazon: Making  $60 billion From FearWriters Lim Soomin and Dr. Steven Shirley, of Keimyung International College, Daegu, Republic of Korea, are equally critical. Within Brazil, they say, the WWF’s efforts have created concern from both business and political groups that want to integrate the massive potential of the Amazon into the country’s economy through dam building, mining projects, highways, ports, logging and agricultural exports.

Running counter to these domestic plans, they write, are international efforts promoted by the WWF and other NGOs that seek to restrict Brazil’s business and industry from utilizing the natural resources. Essentially, these groups are seeking to ban Brazilians from using what is Brazil’s unless a foreign government or bureaucracy gives permission.

Meanwhile, the campaigning group Friends of Peoples Close to Nature complained of the World Bank’s “lies and deception with WWF”, noting in particular that “projects to promote new markets in carbon have despoiled landscapes and ruined livelihoods.”

A giant international corporation

eco imperialism WWF Mines The Green Gold Rush To The Amazon:  Making $60 billion From FearIn the introduction to the book Eco-Imperialism: Green power, Black death by Paul Driessen, we read of the “ideological environmental movement.”

This, we are told, imposes the views of mostly wealthy, comfortable Americans and Europeans on mostly poor, desperate Africans, Asians and Latin Americans. It violates these people’s most basic human rights, denying them economic opportunities, the chance for better lives, the right to rid their countries of diseases that were vanquished long ago in Europe and the United States.

Worst of all, in league with the European Union, United Nations and other bureaucracies, the movement stifles vigorous, responsible debate over energy, pesticides and biotechnology. It prevents needy nations from using the very technologies that developed countries employed to become rich, comfortable and free of disease. And it sends millions of infants, children, men and women to early graves every year.

This ideological environmental movement, we are thus informed, is a powerful $4 billion-a-year US industry, an $8 billion-a-year international gorilla. And WWF is one of the major players. Like the profit-making international corporations it so freely criticises – into which it has crawled into bed, taking their money – the WWF itself is a massive international corporation,. Its declared income for 2008 was €447 million, including €107.7 million for its international arm.

This enables it to finance a massive publicity effort, giving it privileged access to the media, and to governments and international agencies – from which it draws much of its funding.

Ranged against this corporate giant is a disparate, ill-funded range of individuals and groups, with only a small fraction of its resources. Inevitably, the voice of WWF is heard loudest, drowning out complaints and concerns.

That much also applies to its field activities. Where, as is so often, it is operating in remote areas, there is rarely an independent voice or observer capable of recording what precisely happens. Much of what we know of WWF’s activities, therefore, comes from WWF itself, inevitably spun in its own favour.

A self-serving industry

carter WWF Mines The Green Gold Rush To The Amazon: Making $60  billion From FearThe greatest criticism, however, is that the organisation is manifestly self-serving. Certainly, no one can argue that WWF is not personally rewarding for some of its officers. The current CEO of the US branch, Carter S Roberts (pictured left), is paid “compensation” of $439,327.

Before joining WWF he spent 15 years at The Nature Conservancy. Earlier in his career, he led marketing and management teams at Gillette, Procter and Gamble and at Dun and Bradstreet, where he advised companies including RJR/Nabisco and Coca-Cola. The associations reinforce the impression of a small clique dominating the environmental charity “industry” and the closeness between that industry and the commercial corporates.

As to the Amazon venture, this perhaps is the clearest example of the self-serving ethos, best illustrated by comparison with what an effective conservation programme might seek to achieve.

In this, it is widely recognised that the greatest pressure on the forests is through clearance to make way for agriculture, including soya, sugar growing for ethanol production, and cattle ranching. In fact, according to Greenpeace, cattle ranching currently accounts for 80 percent of forest clearance (see map below).

Amazon+cattle WWF Mines The Green Gold Rush To The Amazon: Making  $60 billion From FearHowever, as WWF has acknowledged, the bulk of this clearance is in the south and east. And, as Greenpeace reports, the maximum pressure is in the southernmost state of Mato Grosso. On the other hand, there is no cattle ranching in the extreme north and west, where the bulk of the WWF protected areas are situated, and neither is the land suitable for soya or sugar cane growing.

It follows, therefore, that for an “avoided deforestation” project to have most effect, it should be located in areas where the forest is most at risk – i.e., in the south or east, and especially in the Mato Grosso. To locate projects in the uninhabited north, or the sparsely inhabited, inaccessible west, cannot be considered a high priority.

Furthermore, as is pointed out in a report from the Albert-Ludwigs-University Freiburg, for maximum carbon sequestration, the most effective option is reforestation of deforested areas. This is also the best conservation and biodiversity option.

As to a finance system based wholly or largely on carbon credits, there were “considerable risks for perverse incentives regarding these objectives.” Firstly, the potentially huge number of credits that would become available if the entire global forest mass was included in the CDM would crash the carbon price. This would give CO2 producers a “get out of jail free” card, reducing their incentive to adopt carbon reduction technologies by allowing them to acquire cheap credits and maintain a “business as usual” profile.

Secondly, a simplistic, market-based system such as CDM would not discriminate between priority areas, which tend to be problematic, and the “low hanging fruit”. This is recognised by the Freiburg report – which was commissioned by Greenpeace – where reference is made to “leakage”, the displacement of emissions, rather than any absolute reduction.

Such nuanced arguments, with other reservations set out in further reports, seem to be absent from the WWF case. While Greenpeace opposes the universal adoption of the CDM mechanism, and proposes focusing on priority areas, WWF persists in making shrill demands for unrestricted carbon trading. Without this, it says, “keeping global average surface temperature increase below 2°C will likely be impossible.”

A human-centric approach

Amazon+survival WWF Mines The Green Gold Rush To The Amazon:  Making $60 billion From FearIn contrast to the wildlife-centric approach of the WWF, and the environmental activism of Greenpeace, the World Rainforest Movement (WRM) and organisations such as Survival International, take a human-centric approach.

Securing the land rights of indigenous people, and rigorously enforcing them, they argue, is the best way of preventing damaging exploitation of the forests. And, as Survival International illustrates, environmental degradation and human rights abuses often go hand-in-hand.

Other issues, such as illegal logging, are primarily matters for law enforcement. While NGOs have proved of considerable value in pointing out lapses in enforcement – and worse – as well as reporting illegal activities to the authorities, establishment of extremely expensive protected areas is hardly necessary for such functions to be performed. The revenue-generating potential of monitoring activities, however, is very low.

In it for the money

Taken at face value, and certainly at the valuation placed upon its enterprise by WWF, setting up protected areas in the Amazon rainforests is wholly benign. From a robust, climate-sceptic stance, however, attempting to lock carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere is a waste of time and effort. On the other hand, even if the entire climate change agenda is accepted unreservedly, the enterprise still fails to pass muster – on numerous counts.

In the first instance, the ARPA project is extraordinarily expensive. The $80 million spent is more than ten times the entire income of a charity such as Survival International. Arguably, with considerably less funds, it achieves a great deal more than this exercise.

Secondly, even if the enterprise could be considered good value in isolation, it would be very hard to argue that the areas chosen – in the context of the damage being done elsewhere – represent the main or even an important priority. The resource expended, undoubtedly, could achieve more in other areas.

Thirdly, the reserves are a high maintenance exercise and are not economically viable. They require a constant flow of funds from external sources – thus generating the need for the carbon trading scheme. A less ambitious – or more pragmatic – scheme which achieved less than perfection but which was economically self-sustaining, would achieve more overall. Such a model, though, does not seem to have been considered.

Amazon+smoke WWF Mines The Green Gold Rush To The Amazon: Making  $60 billion From FearFourthly, the projects seem to have been set up in anticipation of the need for continued external funding, essentially creating a demand for financial scheme that would otherwise have no justification. Effectively, one could see the ARPA scheme as a Trojan Horse for trading in forest carbon.

Fifth, the actual amount of carbon saved would be minimal, and only a fraction of what could be saved if other options were taken up, such as reforestation.

Sixth, the trading in forest carbon would destabilise the CDM, crashing the carbon price and obviate the need for industrial CO2 producers to invest in “clean” technologies. Longer-term, it would reduce the amount of finance available for forest preservation and restitution, as funds were diverted to harvesting “low hanging fruit”.

Seventh, the programme is an interference in the internal affairs of host nations, distorting national priorities and absolving – or even preventing – those nations developing environmental protection schemes attuned to their own specific needs. It also risks damaging the rights of indigenous peoples, and creating dependency cultures.

In terms of climate change mitigation, conservation or any similar aspect, therefore, there is nothing to commend this WWF strategy. It is wholly malign. From the WWF stance, however, there are many advantages.

Firstly, the scheme would generate significant income for the pioneer, which happens to be WWF. It also generates funds for donor countries, either directly or indirectly by subsidising environmental programmes which would otherwise have to be tax-funded. This ensures cordial relations between the NGO and the governments on which they rely for access and permission to operate.

Secondly, it is a high-profile activity with a strong “feel-good” quotient which is likely to be attractive to private and corporate donors. It allows the claim that “we are saving the forests” – and the planet.

The effect of this, incidentally, can be seen in the report of KFW Entwicklungsbank, which cites project manager Jens Ochtrop. He says: “There is practically no more illegal felling of trees, planting of soybean fields or grazing of cattle in the ARPA areas. The protection by ARPA also affects land speculators and illegal tree fellers. They keep away”.

But then, in the inaccessible Tumucumaque Mountains National Park and other strict protection areas, there was no illegal felling of trees, planting of soybean fields or grazing of cattle. One could make a similar case for the success of a wild elephant eradication scheme in Croydon High Street or Brooklyn.

Amazon+tumac WWF Mines The Green Gold Rush To The Amazon: Making  $60 billion From FearThirdly, the activity is politically “safe”. It avoids confrontation with vested interests in the host country, which might then provoke a political backlash and curtailment of (revenue-generating) activities. It also positions the organisation away from the areas of highest degradation and thus absolves WWF from having to intervene – or report abuse – which might upset actual or potential corporate sponsors and allies.

Fourth, carbon trading itself presents a very valuable income stream for investment and finance houses, which are well-represented on the boards of environmental charity allies and donor foundations. All of these can be relied upon to provide generous support for future activities, funded in part from carbon trading.

Fifth, forest credits available in significant numbers would reduce overall the costs of emitting CO2 for many industrial enterprises and eliminate the need for expensive CO2 reduction technology – and many of these industrial enterprises are generous funders of the environmental movement.

Chris Land, again puts some this in perspective, noting that the Indonesian government is fond of REDD, “not least because it hopes to gain millions of dollars worth of funding through REDD.”

Amazon+cattle2 WWF Mines The Green Gold Rush To The Amazon: Making  $60 billion From FearHe also notes that countries in the north are keen to fund REDD in Indonesia, not least because it allows them to greenwash continued oil extraction. Norway’s StatoilHydro, he says, is developing oil projects in Indonesia. Meanwhile, Norway’s Ambassador to Indonesia, Eivind Homme can claim that, “Norway is financing the UN REDD program, one of the pilot projects on climate change, in Indonesia.”

That identifies a final element. The scheme allows national governments to be seen to be “doing something” on climate change, while avoiding excessive burdens on their industries, on which they rely for taxation and employment. Governments are increasingly important financiers of environmental NGOs, and will tend to favour those who support their agendas.

Putting this all together, one does not need a public admission from WWF to assert – with great confidence – that the motivation behind its current Amazon schemes is money. Similar motivation can be seen in other environmental groups, including the Woods Hole Research Centre.

Above all, to keep the money flowing, there must be continued alarums about “climate change” and its impact on rainforests. Without global warming, of course, there would still be pressure on the forests from logging, from agricultural encroachment and other land use. But it would be difficult to sustain such a large cash flow from dealing with these problems, or legitimise intervention in what would then be the internal affairs of host nations.

Climate change – à la WWF – therefore, affords both cash and an excuse to intervene. If it didn’t actually exist, it would surely have to be invented.

As reported by RN

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