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Nature is Priceless, Which is Why Turning it into ‘Natural Capital’ is Wrong

The Conversation

September 21 2016

by Bram Büscher and Robert Fletcher

 

Natural capital a dangerous illusion that masks the way capitalist growth undermines conservation itself. Shutterstock
An increasingly popular line of argument is that, by turning nature into capital, it is possible to reconcile a capitalist growth economy with conservation. In this way, proponents assert, conservation can be expressed in a language that economists, policy-makers and CEOs understand.

But this strategy is not just self-defeating. It is a dangerous illusion that masks the way capitalist growth undermines conservation itself.

The concept of natural capital is hot. Over the past decade a growing network of actors and organisations has banded around promotion of this concept as the key to the future of sustainable development. At the recent World Conservation Congress, natural capital was front and centre, with a launch celebration of the Natural Capital Protocol and announcement of yet another new coalition to develop private finance for conservation.

These, and many other initiatives, describe natural capital in simple terms as the nature, water, or the air that we live with on a daily basis. The Natural Capital Forum, for example, says the concept refers to

the food we eat, the water we drink and the plant materials we use for fuel, building materials and medicines.

This example – and indeed most others are premised on the fundamental assumption that “natural capital” can become the basis for a sustainable economy.

Clearly, things are not this simple, as even many proponents of these initiatives acknowledge. What’s worse is that the two main assumptions in this agenda (nature can become capital and provide services, and this could be the basis for a sustainable economy) are based on fundamental fallacies. They will not reverse the negative effects of our global growth-economy. They will in fact make them worse.

What “capital” really means

The fact that the food we eat and the water we drink apparently need to be labeled “natural capital” only becomes meaningful in the context of capitalist growth. In this context everything should, in principle, become “capital”.

It is therefore vital to be clear on what “capital” really means. In daily conversations and some economic theory, the term is frequently defined as a “stock” or as “assets”. More accurate, however, is to see capital as a process, a dynamic. It is about investing money (or value) in order to make more money (or value). In short, capital is “value in motion”.

Capital in a capitalist economy is therefore never invested for the sake of it. The aim is to extract more money or value than had been invested. Otherwise it would not be capital.

It follows that the move from “nature” to “natural capital” is not an innocent change in terminology, another word for the same thing. Rather, it constitutes a fundamental reconceptualisation and revaluation of nature. Natural capital is about putting nature to work for capitalist growth – euphemistically referred to as green growth.

The move from nature to natural capital is problematic because it assumes that different forms of capital – human, financial, natural – can be made equivalent and exchanged. In practice – and despite proponents’s insistence to the contrary – this means that everything must potentially be expressed through a common, quantitative unit: money. But complex, qualitative, heterogeneous natures, as these same proponents acknowledge, can never adequately be represented in quantitative, homogenous money-units.

And even if we try, there is an untenable tension between the limitlessness of money (we can always generate more money) and the limits of natural capital (we cannot exchange evermore money-capital into natural capital, for all eternity).

Natural capital is therefore inherently anti-ecological and has little to do with giving value to nature, or rendering this value visible. It is the exploitation of nature to inject more value, and seeming legitimacy, into a faltering capitalist growth economy.

Natural capital is inherently anti-ecological and has little to do with giving value to nature. Shutterstock

Failing capital markets

Another assumption is that natural capital can form the basis for a sustainable society. In practice, however, it has become clear that investing in natural capital is not all that attractive for most companies, investment firms or even governments. So, even if a price tag has been put on nature – which can never adequately capture its total value – recent research shows that markets for natural capital and ecosystem services are mostly failing. In practice they are usually not even markets at all. Rather, they are subsidies in disguise.

Further, actual private investments in natural capital are negligible compared to investments in unsustainable economic activities. This is because these are much more profitable, and hence a much better form of capital or “value in motion”.

When Ecuador, for example, asked government and private actors to invest in conservation of the Yasuni protected area, the promised investments stayed far below what was hoped for. Actual donations were much lower still. As a result, the country is now allowing companies to drill for oil in the park.

The common argument made by proponents of natural capital, namely that it helps to make the value of nature visible, is therefore deeply flawed. The value of nature is perfectly visible to investors. They know that destroying it is far more profitable than saving it.

Destruction for protection?

An even more fundamental point is that destruction of nature is increasingly becoming the basis for the conservation of nature. Programmes built on natural capital are usually geared towards offsetting the destruction of nature, which becomes the main source of the money needed for investing in conservation. In the logic of natural capital, investments in unsustainable economic activities are therefore “compensated” by equal investments in sustainable activities.

This practice, which in theory should lead to no net loss of – or better yet, net positive impact on – nature and biodiversity, leads to an untenable contradiction. It means that nature can only be conserved if it is first destroyed.

But as indicated above, this is still mostly a virtual problem since actual investments in conserving natural capital have remained insignificant. Even worse, companies generally invest much more in strong lobbies to keep environmental regulation to an absolute minimum. If they really believed that conservation would be profitable, there would be little incentive to pursue this lobbying any more.

From quantity of growth to quality of life

The conclusion is clear: natural capital is no practical or realistic solution to integrate nature into the economy or make its values visible. It is a dangerous illusion that will not only worsen but also legitimate the environmental crisis. And while some probably really believe in its potential, most of those at the helm of the current economic system must see on a daily basis that natural capital is illusory.

But by participating in it, they also know that more fundamental questions about the logic of our economy and who benefits from it are not asked. And hence they do not have to provide any answers.

But we do have to ask these questions: should we not start weaning ourselves off an economy predicated on an unsustainable quantitative growth-fetish? Should we not build an economy focused on people, nature and equality rather than one based on putting forth money only to ultimately make more money? Most especially, should we not build an economy focused on quality of life rather than quantity of growth?

With some imagination, the answers are not only straightforward but also practical, logical and truly sustainable.

 

[Bram Büscher: Professor of Geography, Environmental Management and Energy Studies, University of Johannesburg; Research Associate, Stellenbosch University; Professor of Sociology of Development and Change, Wageningen University]

[Robert Fletcher: Associate Professor, Sociology of Development and Change, Wageningen University]

 

The Resolution Copper Land Grab: How Environmental NGOs Expand Green Capitalism

Desert Water Grab

January 28, 2017

 

kareiva_pes_small

People were outraged at the way the Resolution Copper Mining (RCM) finally achieved their land exchange in Arizona. It was the underhanded way Senator John McCain got the legislation passed that fueled the anger, but what many are not aware of is that the swap may not have been possible without the efforts of certain environmental groups. Conservation efforts functioned as currency for Resolution’s access to land, so the land grab could also be called a green grab. Green grabs are taking place in Arizona and beyond, especially around water. The Resolution Copper land exchange provides us with a way to understand the utility of the partnerships corporations forge to gain access to coveted resources.

The land swap is not yet a done deal. An appraisal to determine the equivalence of the parcels to be exchanged is due to be completed this year, according to the Arizona Daily Sun.

“It’s a big ripoff,” Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club said in an interview last year. “The American public is getting chump change in return for this ecological treasure. The lands that are offered aren’t comparable.”

McCain’s website tells a different story:

Under the bill, the Resolution Copper company would give the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management about 5,500 acres of land identified by the Department of the Interior as ‘important’ for conservation, including property near the San Pedro River, an important migratory bird corridor and wetland habitat for endangered species. In exchange for these lands, Resolution Copper would receive about 2,400 acres of Forest Service land for the exploration and development of our nation’s top copper asset.

While the Sierra Club does not back up the claims about how important the lands are for conservation, a few other organizations did. Arguably, the land exchange may not have been possible without the help of some of these big, more corporate-friendly environmental organizations like The Nature Conservancy and Audubon Arizona, who were involved in affirming, and even contributing to the value of the land to be exchanged for Resolution’s intended mine site. This is something Rio Tinto (majority owner of RCM) had learned from in partnering with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Utah and Madagascar to arrange access to land a few years before. Multinational mining companies, Rio Tinto in particular, in partnership with NGOs, have been networking to improve the reputation and legitimacy of global mining activities since the ‘90s.

It’s clear that the quantity of land is disproportionate in the exchange. The acreage offered up to the feds for the trade (see map) is more than double Resolution’s desired area. However, McCain needed to sneak the exchange through in the National Defense Authorization Act to get it passed because the status and importance of the Chi’chil Bildagoteel/Oak Flat area resulted in nearly a decade of failed attempts to get the land exchange accepted prior to December 2014. Clearly, the conservation claims never swayed those with strong opposition to the mine, but they do count for something.

The appraiser is required to use nationally recognized standards to come up with the value of the parcels. But not only does Resolution actually have a voice in who gets the job to appraise the properties, the Uniform Appraisal Standards for Federal Land Acquisitions’ directive is that the appraiser determine only a market value (defined within the document) for the land. This does not seem to take into consideration the cultural, spiritual, historical, and environmental values such as those attributed by opponents of the mining in the Oak Flat/Apache Leap area.

Monetarily, while Rio Tinto spent “more than $18 million buying up” the parcels to exchange, the land to which Resolution Copper gained access could be worth around 7,000 times more – over $130 billion based on copper prices as of early 2015, as a former Florida Representative pointed out in The Nation. Copper prices had fallen, but the current price is back up to near where it was then. There are many other factors to enter into the equation, however. One is that Resolution Copper has directed hundreds of thousands of dollars towards the conservation activities that may have increased the value, even if not the market value, of the exchange lands.

While the promise of jobs seems to play a bigger role in Resolution Copper’s narrative, the exchange may have been unacceptable without the purportedly valuable conservation land tracts. And now that the legislation passed, whether it is truly an equitable exchange or not is irrelevant in some ways because if the appraisal sees those lands as insufficiently valuable, RCM will just have to add more land or cash to the deal.

Yet, the conservation values of the parcels offered up by RCM were necessary, and thusly emphasized, for public and federal acceptance. In addition to meeting the equal value requirement, land exchanges are required to serve the public interest, which includes “protection of fish and wildlife habitats, cultural resources, watersheds, and wilderness and aesthetic values,” and the Forest Service gets the final say.

Some of these NGOs have consulted with Rio Tinto to contribute to an accounting method to rate the quality of land, using something they call “quality hectares” as a metric based on various values such as biodiversity to frame as offsets the land parcels they intended to “donate“.

resolution-copper-offset-chart

Although the factors, which some refer to as “ecosystem services,” used for this type of valuation, are currently considered nonmarket values not likely to be used in the appraisal, they clearly were important to RCM in determining the value of their land parcels. “Ecosystem services” is an increasingly popular economic construct used to refer to the benefits ecosystems provide to humans.

It doesn’t seem coincidental that law firm Perkins Coie, who has worked for Resolution Copper, wrote a paper in which they made the following argument:

Over the longer term—and to the extent that appropriate methodology is developed and adopted—the BLM could also use the requirement that it obtain fair market value for use of public lands to ensure consideration of ecosystem services in determining land values and rentals.

Both the Forest Service and the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) have attributed legitimacy to recognizing ecosystem services within policy. Multinational mining companies (especially Rio Tinto) and the involved NGOs have been major players on a global scale in market valuation of ecosystem services as well as ways to profit from them.

Valuation of ecosystem services, even if incorporated into the appraisal process, would likely benefit RCM. Even while “cultural,” and more rarely, “spiritual” ecosystem services can be incorporated into the value of land tracts, the fact that the Oak Flat area is not part of a reservation and is not officially recognized as sacred or culturally important works against those who have a connection with the land such as the San Carlos Apache and others.

RCM and certain NGOs’ preferred approach to environmental problems is through market-based “solutions”, which result in transferring resources into private hands. While this is a land grab, the conservation aspect is significant. RCM will gain ownership of the Oak Flat area (unless stopped) by using as currency the parcels obtained and cultivated as conservation projects. The land swap could therefore be considered a green grab. The book (and article) entitled Green Grabbing defines the process as “the appropriation of land and resources for environmental ends” where “‘Appropriation’ implies the transfer of ownership, use rights and control over resources that were once publicly or privately owned – or not even the subject of ownership – from the poor (or everyone including the poor) into the hands of the powerful.”

Why does all this matter? Aside from having more understanding about why this land exchange is not justified, we can learn from how some NGOs partner with private interests to engage in more green grabbing. The Nature Conservancy facilitates the sale of water offsets to companies such as Coca Cola, for example, based on conservation projects in Arizona. They are also supporting the efforts of big housing developments to legitimize construction where aquifers and the rivers like the San Pedro are at risk. Since Rio Tinto has been so central to the development of payments for ecosystem services programs such as offsets, the early stages of this Resolution Copper land exchange effort may have been the foray of the concept of ecosystem services into Arizona.

San Pedro River and Conflicts of Interest

Although the land exchange involved properties in various areas of Arizona, the one in the San Pedro River basin, the 7B Ranch, is the most relevant here, partly because early legislative support for the exchange related to this river. It is also the largest parcel offered by RCM.

Water conservation at the San Pedro River was made central to the land exchange idea when Rick Renzi, US Congressman from Arizona at the time, drew Resolution Copper into a scandal. Renzi was convicted in 2013 of conspiring with the owner of a piece of land in the San Pedro River basin, “to extort and bribe individuals seeking a federal land exchange…” A combination of his connections with Fort Huachuca, an army installation  near the San Pedro, and his desire to have Resolution Copper purchase his friend’s property in the area caused Renzi to assert in 2005, according to Wall Street Journal, that his support of the land exchange

…would hinge in part on whether it helped fulfill a goal to cut water consumption along the San Pedro River… participants in the deal say. Fort Huachuca, a big U.S. Army base nearby, was under court order to cut water consumption, and it had been seeking help to retire farmland near the river. Mr. Renzi has longstanding ties to the base, the economic engine of the area… Resolution proposed buying and handing over to the government thousands of acres of bird and wildlife habitat along the banks of the San Pedro, which would further the water-conservation goal.

Due to the high price, Resolution Copper did not buy this property, but the land was sold to someone else. A different parcel in the San Pedro River basin became part of the exchange, a choice likely influenced by the water conservation needs of Ft. Huachuca, as emphasized by Renzi.

Renzi’s father was a retired army general who had served at Ft. Huachuca and his company (one of the congressman’s top campaign donors) has had major contracts with Ft. Huachuca. In 2003, Renzi had proposed “an amendment to the defense authorization bill, [that] would exempt Ft. Huachuca from responsibility for maintaining water levels in the San Pedro River as called for in an agreement made last year with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.” Backed by McCain, it passed in November that year, despite media pointing to the conflict of interest.

Dropping groundwater levels have directly impacted the San Pedro base flow. Ft. Huachuca has faced multiple lawsuits for their impact on the riparian environment due to their groundwater pumping.

McCain has shown that he has invested as well in the fate of Ft. Huachuca in relation to the river. His relationship with Renzi likely had a lot to do with it, but he’s continued his support of the fort in recent years. The state of the San Pedro River makes at least an image of water conservation important to the land exchange even with Renzi’s interests out of the picture.

Various partnerships have developed to address, or more likely greenwash the fort’s impact on the environment. The Department of Defense and Ft. Huachuca had already been working with The Nature Conservancy since at least 1998. Significantly, one of the more recent projects is the Upper San Pedro Partnership (USPP) also involving Audubon Arizona. This came out Renzi’s legislative amendment in 2003 which shifted responsibility for water use away from the fort and onto this broader coalition of the USPP.

Shaping the land swap was a combination of these NGOs’ relationships with Ft. Huachuca specifically around the San Pedro River Basin, and Rio Tinto’s relationships with these NGOs through Rio Tinto’s Kennecott Copper mine in Utah where they partnered with NGOs like The Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society in the late ‘90s on a wetland offset program required due to the pollution of mining tailings.

Partnerships and Payments

Of course it makes sense that environmental groups be consulted about ecologically important issues. There’s a difference, however, between consultation and granting green credentials to mining companies for dubious conservation efforts when they’ll do more damage in the long run. Taken into consideration, additionally, should be the NGOs’ actions and the financial relationship between NGOs and corporations.

One role NGOs play is in acquiescing to the claim that there is no alternative to a particular mine or other development. Then somehow their pragmatism produces “win-win solutions” to supposedly mitigate mines’ damage (this is giving them the undeserved benefit of the doubt about their own financial interests in partnering with corporations). The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Arizona Audubon, even while denying that they took a position on the land exchange, played integral roles in confirming and even generating some of the value of the various parcels RCM obtained and worked to glorify.

An International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) report described one way NGOs supported RCM (see chart above):

In consultation with conservation specialists, especially the Arizona Audubon Society, RCM rated the conservation value of the parcels in terms of ecosystem condition and priority for conservation in Arizona. In doing so, RCM was able to take a semi-quantitative approach using Rio Tinto’s quality hectares method, to determine whether the parcels represented equivalent or better conservation benefits than the government land.

According to Rio Tinto,

Quality Hectares are Rio Tinto’s current metric for tracking progress towards the [Net Positive Impact (NPI)] target at the global and site levels. A wide range of biodiversity values, including threatened species, rare habitats or non-timber forest products, may be expressed in terms of their quantity and quality.

It could be argued that RCM bought access to the copper ore in Oak Flat by funding NGOs’ conservation attribution of value to the land that RCM had accumulated. NGOs acted as consultants in choosing land parcels and quantifying their value, managed some of those parcels, wrote letters confirming their value, and thereby contributed to legitimizing the exchange.

Rio Tinto/Resolution Copper started funding Arizona Audubon Society in 2003. The mining subsidiary began lobbying for a land exchange in 2005 and in the same year contracted with TNC to manage the land parcel owned by BHP Billiton called the 7B Ranch.

The 7B Ranch was the piece of land in the San Pedro River basin that ultimately became part of the land exchange. Copper companies in Arizona have purchased land not only for mining, but BHP Billiton already owned some land near the San Pedro River prior to the idea for the land exchange, likely for the water rights.

The Superior Sun reported,

Resolution purchased 7B from BHP in 2007 with the intention of including it in an eventual land exchange… David Salisbury, Resolution Copper CEO, said that the company spoke to organizations such as Arizona Audubon and The Nature Conservancy to determine conservation targets that a number of agencies might be interested in…

Although Audubon hasn’t taken a position on the proposed land exchange, they have been on record since 2005 saying that 7B is an ecologically important piece of property…

With the plan in place, Resolution and its conservation partners hope to make 7B a ready-to-use asset for the [Department of the Interior] and the public.

The Tucson Sentinel reported in 2011, “7B Ranch, which contains one of oldest mesquite forests in Arizona, lies near the fragile San Pedro River. In 2007, Resolution Copper agreed to pay The Nature Conservancy $45,000 a year to manage the property.” They also noted the, “$250,000 in grants and donations that Resolution Copper and Rio Tinto have given to the Audubon Arizona since 2003.” Their coverage stated that the Sonoran Institute (SI) was also involved in identifying parcels that would be of value in the exchange.

RCM also supported SI for at least two years (2007 and 2008) and hired SI’s Dave Richins after, as The New Times revealed, he’d been doing work for RCM for a while prior to official employment. Luther Propst of SI authored an opinion column in the Arizona Republic in 2010 in favor of the Resolution Copper mine.

News outlets such as the Tucson Citizen reported in 2005 that, “the Audubon Society, the Nature Conservancy and the Sonoran Institute have all sent [Bruno Hegner, Resolution’s general manager] letters of support.” The Tucson Sentinel wrote that “Leaders of Audubon Arizona and The Nature Conservancy have said they neither support nor oppose the overall plan. But each group has formally attested to the conservation value of the Appleton-Whittell and 7B Ranch parcels, something that Resolution Copper has noted prominently in letters and testimony to Congress.” In 2011, 2012 and 2013, the Arizona chapter of TNC sent letters to legislators reiterating their neutrality on the legislation, but elaborating on the value of the 7B Ranch property. Audubon Arizona had been managing the Appleton-Whittell ranch since the 1980’s. Notably, other Arizona-based Audubon groups (Maricopa and Tucson) have been openly opposed to the mine.

Resolution Copper partnered with Audubon Arizona, TNC, Birdlife International, along with the Salt River Project and others on the Lower San Pedro and Queen Creek Project, described by Birdlife International:

A two-year programme (2006–2007) undertook the development of a bird conservation strategy… It assisted in the provision of detailed biodiversity assessments of the land exchange parcel on the Lower San Pedro River for Resolution Copper Company and with the establishment of baseline data for the mine’s operational biodiversity action planning.

Thanks to the project, the Lower San Pedro River, from “The Narrows” north to the confluence with the Gila River, has been surveyed, nominated and recognised as a state [Important Bird Area (IBA)]. During 2006–2007, existing and newly collected data were compiled and submitted to the Arizona IBA Science Committee, in support of the IBA nomination of the Lower San Pedro River, and the nomination was accepted.

Birdlife International, which Rio Tinto has been working with since 2001 is described as “a global alliance of conservation organisations working together for the world’s birds and people.” One of Birdlife’s main partners is the Audubon Society, a group with which they’ve had overlapping board members.

It is not so difficult to imagine that an “environmental” group, such as Birdlife or TNC would accommodate a mining project considering TNC participated in drilling oil on a property they were supposed to have retired from oil production. Kierán Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity said that TNC “has shown over and over again its willingness to take corporate money in return for stealing, destroying, or polluting indigenous and poor human communities.” TNC has partnered with many of the most notorious corporations like Exxon, BP, Dow Chemical, and Monsanto along with Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton. Birdlife had also partnered with BP, which may have been a factor in Rio Tinto partnering with the NGO in 2001.

From Greenwashing to Green Markets

Mines have pock-marked the earth, poisoned the land, water, and living beings, displaced communities, and left other destruction in their wake. One of the most notorious mining conflicts forced Rio Tinto to shut down their mine on Bougainville Island of Papua New Guinea in 1989 due to an uprising largely in response to the environmental damage caused by the mine. A lawsuit was filed against Rio Tinto over “racial discrimination and environmental harm, as well as genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity,” arising from the mine and the military response as part of the decade-long civil war instigated by the company. Throughout the 1990’s major tailings containments collapsed each year around the world. Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton have both faced various strikes over working conditions. It’s no wonder they had to fix their reputation in order to do business.

While the Bougainville civil war was still raging, a study that Rio Tinto conducted in 1996 showed that the mining companies could benefit from addressing concern for biodiversity as part of their medium-to long-term business strategy. This may have played a part in the Rio Tinto chairman’s launch of the Global Mining Initiative (GMI) with nine of the largest global mining corporations in 1999. “The drivers for GMI were clear recognition that mining companies had problems of access to land, and access to markets, and cost of capital. The fundamental underlying reason was the reputation of the industry,” said Dr. John Groom, of mining company Anglo American.

Sarah Benabou writes that in 2000,

the GMI started a process of consultation and research known as the Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development (MMSD) project to determine the fundamental orientations that would shape the future of the industry. This project led to the creation of the [The International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM)] in 2002. A few months later, at the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development, the ICMM and the [International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)] started a joint dialogue on mining and biodiversity ‘to provide a platform for communities, corporations, NGOs and governments to engage in a dialogue to seek the best balance between the protection of important ecosystems and the social and economic importance of mining’ (IUCN 2003: 1).

Benabou’s Making up for lost nature? A critical review of the international development of voluntary biodiversity offsets also describes how mining companies and NGOs at an IUCN/ICMM jointly-organized workshop in 2003 could draw upon each others’ experiences regarding ways to apply a biodiversity offset approach even if it couldn’t be “transposed term-for-term” in other situations. IUCN is one of the oldest and biggest environmental NGOs.

The relationship with Birdlife, initiated by Rio Tinto in 2001 was an early venture into partnerships with such NGOs. According to Rio Tinto, “the partnership has enabled both organisations to deliver outcomes that neither could have achieved as effectively when working alone.”

It would be a mistake to frame this simply as examples of greenwashing in attempt to solve mining companies’ public relations problems and access to land. In the context of the earth’s welfare and diminishing finite resources, the extractive industry and their partners have developed market-based tools like offsets to create new financial strategies. “In this zeitgeist of crisis capitalism, the environmental crisis itself has become a major new frontier of value creation and capitalist accumulation,” writes Sian Sullivan, Professor of Environment and Culture in the UK. The commodification and financialization of so-called natural capital and ecosystem services are central to this process.

19-ecoservices_balancedThe concept of ecosystem services originates with some in the field of Ecological Economics who argued that if destructive practices are unavoidable, then corporations should pay for the damage they have done (or will do) to that which we take for granted but can’t live without: the environment. Yet, if companies compensate for their externalities, a whole host of other problems arise with pricing, quantifying, simplifying and appropriating natural resources.

The introduction to Nature, Inc. spells it out: “Capitalism now endeavors to accumulate not merely in spite of but rather precisely through the negation of its own negative impacts on both physical environments and the people who inhabit them, proposing itself as the solution to the very problems it creates.” Similarly, co-editor of Nature, Inc., Bram Büscher posited elsewhere, “To believe that nature can be conserved by increasing the intensity, reach and depth of capital circulation is arguably one of the biggest contradictions of our times.”

IUCN, along with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), was involved in the early 1990’s in advancing the concept of ecosystem services, aka environmental services, beginning with their Global Biodiversity Strategy. This was a predecessor to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) completed in 2005, to which IUCN and UNEP also contributed. MA has been considered a game-changer in the way it endeavored to apply a monetary value to ecosystem services; the wide variety of beneficial (to humans) functions deriving from ecosystems, like carbon sequestration and water purification.

One of the biggest payments for ecosystem services (PES) program currently is REDD or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (the latest version is called REDD+) which Tom B. K. Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network said could lead to “the biggest land grab of all time.” REDD is a project of IUCN, supported by Rio Tinto (including in its early development). Rio Tinto claims that REDD+ allows them to offset their carbon footprint. The Nature Conservancy, and Birdlife International are proponents of REDD+.

REDD and the carbon trade in general have meant further financialization of nature, involving hedge funds, derivatives, and “a new generation of ‘commercial conservation asset managers’ required to broker these exchanges and revenues,” according to Sian Sullivan. “Conservation investing experienced dramatic growth after 2013, as total committed private capital climbed 62% in just two years from $5.1B to $8.2B,” reported Ecosystem Marketplace recently.

NGOs and negotiations have enabled and structured “new green market opportunities and practices as they orchestrate the social and political relations among various state and non-state actors through which the mechanisms, incentives and legitimating conditions for green grabs are established,” as is argued in Enclosing the global commons: the convention on biological diversity and green grabbing.

Experts from the big NGOs are called upon to design, implement, and/or verify such mechanisms as offsets. While carbon offsets are the most notoriously dubious, mining companies are involved in a variety of other offsets, both voluntary and regulatory.

Buying, Banking, Trading Offsets

In Utah, a land tract Kennecott wanted for storage of their tailings (materials left over from processing of mined substance) was designated as wetlands, which are regulated. So according to a case report put out by The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB),

Kennecott was thus required by U.S. law to offset, or mitigate, the loss of wetlands by the creation of an agreed number and value of habitat units… In 1996, Kennecott Utah Copper Company undertook the cleanup and construction of the 1,011 ha Inland Sea Shorebird Reserve (ISSR) in conjunction with a project to expand its tailings storage.

utah-kennecott-mine

Kennecott Utah Copper Mine (Rio Tinto)

In addition to the required wetlands offset, Rio Tinto established a “bank” of restored surplus habitat land which, as TEEB explained, referencing an unpublished study, “could be used to offset future impacts on wetlands (584 ha) adjacent to the mitigation site… Credits from the bank can be used by Kennecott or sold to others for wetlands mitigation in accordance with the terms of the Bank Agreement with the US government.” Banking converts wetland habitat properties into assets. Rio Tinto wrote in 2011 that they have, “successfully developed and then sold wetland credits” as part of the ISSR.

Essentially, companies can profit from ostensibly going above and beyond their responsibilities (or having a “net positive impact”) for mitigating the damage they cause through mining. In many cases, profit-driven wetlands banking has been shown to result in a net loss, however.

TNC and National Audubon Society were involved in developing this wetland mitigation plan. The ISSR also became an IBA in 2004 and is part of BirdLife International’s IBA Program.

BirdLife International also endorsed Rio Tinto’s activities across the world in Madagascar. Rio Tinto owns 80% of the QMM (QIT Madagascar Minerals) ilmenite (titanium dioxide) mine in Southeastern Madagascar which started mining in 2005. The mining activities “will remove more than half of a particular type of unique coastal forest.” BirdLife described the benefits of a project implemented by a BirdLife affiliate and supported by Rio Tinto:

The direct payments [for conservation] project aims to strengthen the conservation of Tsitongambarika’s unique and threatened biodiversity, enhance water security for QMM’s mining operations… and maintain ecosystem services essential for regional development.

Rio Tinto is partnered with this affiliate in a biodiversity offset program. Note that other than biodiversity, the benefits of the project are for the mine and/or “regional development” but are subsumed into conservation as well. The biodiversity offsets involve “the financing of, or provision of land for, biodiversity conservation outside of mining zones,” explains PhD candidate in Anthropology, Caroline Seagle. The idea is that aspects of biodiversity are exchangeable (or fungible) with others, so damage to this particular type of forest can be made up for elsewhere.

For aspects of ecosystems to be treated as fungible commodities, their uniqueness and complexity needs to be erased for the sake of market exchange. This “offset ideology” is “premised upon the monetization of nature and market rationality,” writes Seagle, in “Inverting the impacts: Mining, conservation and sustainability claims near the Rio Tinto/QMM ilmenite mine in Southeast Madagascar” (for a similar more accessible version, see “The mining-conservation nexus“).

“Through the paradigm of conservation finance and payments for environmental services (PES), the ‘offset ideology’ is less mitigatory and more compensatory – making up for local damage through land allocation or financial support of nature conservation,” criticizes Seagle.

Similar to Rio Tinto’s wetland banking, these mechanisms are not only intended to compensate for damage, but to create revenue. IUCN wrote in 2011 of Rio Tinto’s further steps in Madagascar to gain from conservation:

Rio Tinto is using established relationships with its biodiversity partners and specifically its relationship with IUCN to explore how ecosystem services can be accurately valued and the implications for corporate risks and opportunities.

For companies like Rio Tinto, robust methods of valuing ecosystem services and the development of well functioning markets for ecosystem services could provide an opportunity to use large non-operational land holdings to create new income streams for Rio Tinto and for local stakeholders and communities, through the sale of ecosystem service credits.

Biodiversity offsets became a primary tool to make headway into areas they wanted to mine. An IUCN document reiterated,

[For some] Multinational companies, whose operations have an impact on biodiversity and for whom license to operate – both formal concessions from governments and social license from communities – are key to business success. Their view of biodiversity offsets is that best practice on biodiversity – possibly including offsets, whether mandatory or voluntary – is important to access land, maintain reputation… and the avoidance of interference and disruption from NGOs and local communities.

The wetlands offsets in Utah and the biodiversity offsets in Madagascar are just two experiences the mining companies could learn from leading up to the Arizona land exchange. While Rio Tinto was mandated to buy wetlands offsets for their Kennecott Utah mine, in the Arizona case, RCM had to do a land exchange to access the Forest Service land, and there seem to be no other mandatory mitigatory steps required of RCM. But they did use ecosystem services to attribute value to the conservation lands, which seemed to have some utility for them.

The land exchange was framed in terms of offsets because it of its purported mitigatory function. In his testimony before the U.S. Senate Sub-Committee on Forests and Public Lands, the President of Resolution stated in 2009, “we believe the exceptional quality and quantity of the non-federal lands that will be conveyed into Federal ownership more than off-set any expected surface impacts to the lands acquired by Resolution Copper” (my emphasis).

The ICMM featured the Arizona land exchange in a 2010 Mining and Biodiversity case studies report, framing it as an offset as well:

Given Rio Tinto’s commitment to a net positive impact to biodiversity, the land exchange presents a unique opportunity to exceed the requirements of trading land of equivalent economic value by ensuring that the land parcels offered in the trade are also of equivalent or greater value for the conservation of biodiversity and provision of environmental services – a biodiversity offset (my emphasis).

The chart from this report (see above) shows the various parcels in Arizona Rio Tinto offered up as “offsets,” along with the their quality valuation, based on consultation with Audubon Arizona and other NGOs.

Again, the biodiversity and environmental services would likely not be accounted for in the official appraisal. However, Resolution’s claim of these voluntary offsets may have contributed to an attempt to prove that the swap is in the public interest.

Conservation Value

“The American public is getting ripped off,” Silver said. “The only land that is of value is the research center’s because it hasn’t been overgrazed, but it’s of no value to the general public because it wouldn’t be open to them, unlike Oak Flat that offers recreational opportunities to the public and is of cultural value to Native Americans,” Silver said.

Many, like Robin Silver, co-founder of the Center of Biological Diversity, as quoted by the Arizona Daily Sun disagree with TNC and Audubon Arizona’s opinions of the exchange parcels. Several environmental groups opposed to the mine detailed the damage the RCM would cause, as well as the poor quality of the exchange sites in their Scoping Comments for the Resolution Copper Mine DEIS.

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“The San Pedro is not free-flowing at the 7B Ranch,” Witzeman wrote.

Bob Witzeman, an environmentalist who spent several of his final years fighting against the Resolution Copper mine, commented that the 7B Ranch owned by BHP Billiton was likely purchased for its water rights and “is under no duress for need of protection… There is no danger of mining here, or developing homes here, because it is in a flood plain.”

In earning credit for offsets, protecting a site only counts for something if the site is under threat. This is called additionality. Some states and institutions require additionality as part of offset programs. The “counterfactual,” or what otherwise would have happened without a conservation project such as an offset program, is often difficult to ascertain. As far as the land exchange in Arizona goes, not only do many of the parcels seem of poor quality, especially compared to Oak Flat, it’s likely that there was no imminent threat to the largest parcel, 7B Ranch, nor the Appleton-Whittell parcel which was converted into a research facility in 1968.

This is not to say that conservation efforts are for naught (though there’s evidence that many of the projects, especially when profit-driven are not even effective), or that there is any legal weight to this point, but this needs to be considered. For example, regarding the 7B Ranch, Witzeman wrote, “BHP does own another riverside parcel with riparian habitat. BHP does plan to develop homes in that area, some 35,000 units. As of this time, they have made no commitment to protect this riparian habitat.” The land was still being preserved in 2013 (I was unable to find anything more recent) but the reason given that the real estate development plan didn’t come to fruition was the economic downturn in 2007.

This brings up another problem with offset programs called leakage. “Leakage occurs when environmentally destructive activities… are shifted from the places targeted for conservation to other sites,” explains Kathleen McAfee in Green economy and carbon markets for conservation and development: A critical view. Just one relevant example of leakage is when TNC purchased 500 acres along the San Pedro to retire it from agricultural irrigation only to have the seller begin irrigating a nearby 500 acre plot soon after.

Resolution’s protection of the 7B Ranch at the expense of nearby land can be shown in the case when the Sunzia transmission line project was in the planning stages, and two of the potential routes could have impacted the conservation value of the 7B Ranch. Resolution Copper sent a letter opposing those routes. The Final Environmental Impact Statement shows a somewhat different but nearby route as the BLM preferred alternative. RCM did not comment on other routes that would also affect the region. This not only shows that conservation is only important when it benefits the company, but it also points to another issue that comes up when profit factors into conservation. Scarcity, caused by development, increases the value of conservation products (such as offsets), thereby incentivizing conservation, but also more development.

Sian Sullivan argues that conservation banking is development-dependent. “Indeed, development that produces transformation of habitats is required for conservation credits to attain the prices that will encourage establishment of conservation banks and bankers, thereby generating trade in conservation credits as a funding strategy for conservation management.”

Seagle pointed out that as part of a strategy of sustainability in Madagascar – though applicable in other cases – Rio Tinto is paradoxically creating scarcity of biodiversity while claiming to save it.

Here and Now

The Nature Conservancy’s legitimization of development is not isolated to Resolution Copper, even in Arizona. Water is particularly vulnerable to green grabbing, as water is integral to ecosystem services as well as a necessary resource for industry. Aside from the partnerships with Ft. Huachuca noted above, TNC is also working with Castle & Cooke’s housing development called Tribute in Sierra Vista, as well as El Dorado Holdings’ Vigneto Villages housing development in Bensen, the latter involving a “mitigation parcel” as an offset. Both could be serious threats to the San Pedro and nearby aquifers, and require proof of assured water supplies.

A major threat to aquifers and other surface water in Arizona relates to what’s happening with the Central Arizona Project (CAP) water Arizona has come to depend on (though destructive). Arizona is taking voluntary Colorado River water reductions to delay an official shortage declaration triggered by Lake Mead’s water level. Water officials have been meeting with various leaders in different sectors to arrange voluntary cuts, with a plan to compensate water users (this may involve more market-based “solutions”) for 400,000 AF per year. Resolution Copper has secured a portion of Arizona’s stored water in the form of storage credits, which brings up more issues regarding recovery. RCM expects to also be able to access large quantities of CAP water, but this allocation is in a low priority category, and therefore is subject to cuts. Farmers, tribes, and others are subject to having to forego their share of CAP water, essentially to secure water for the mine (and other mining operations and water bottling, etc). As CAP reductions go into effect, stress on other sources of surface and ground water will increase.

What may be most troubling to readers is that an NGO has been selling water offsets based on watershed restoration projects, to companies like Coca Cola and Intel Corp. While they continue to use massive amounts of water, companies’ “water footprints” are allegedly reduced by voluntarily buying Water Restoration Certificates (WRC) from Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF). WRCs supposedly help restore a watershed in partnership with local landowners and big environmental groups like TNC. BEF also sells carbon offsets.

One such project involving TNC and BEF (supported by Walmart heirs’ Walton Family Foundation) is the relatively new Verde River Exchange Water Offset Program. Reading media coverage on this project, you wouldn’t gather that this is part of TNC’s efforts in developing water markets across the globe. Their 2016 report called Water Share: Using water markets and impact investment to drive sustainability says a lot more, revealing that their hypothetical model involves reallocating (selling or leasing) the majority of the “conserved” water from farming (that would otherwise contribute to the aquifer or river but is considered “lost”) to another sector in order to raise revenue to compensate farmers and to profit investors. These small-scale pilot projects may have much bigger implications in the future.

A few recently published papers (funded by the Walton Family Foundation) apply monetary value to and promote payments for ecosystem services of the Colorado River Basin, and suggest unbundling water rights to create a water market in the Western US. Water-marketing may be central to addressing the main obstacle to finalizing a Lower Colorado River basin Drought Contingency Plan – California’s Salton Sea. Arizona aims to resolve remaining tribal water rights claims on the state’s terms and facilitate water marketing. A major US/Mexico water agreement makes water marketing central to multiple aspects of the current and future versions. The Bureau of Reclamation has become involved in water marketing, and things may become even worse under Trump’s administration.

It is concerning that seemingly necessary feel-good projects in water conservation will actually serve capitalism. But there is no denying that there are many examples of this across the world. NGO/corporate partnerships have served to contribute to learning experiences, provide green credentials for mining companies and other development to influence media and decision-makers, and create new mechanisms for access to resources and financial gain.

Standing Rock water protectors’ efforts were evoked in an article on the Ecosystem Marketplace website in which the author declared that 2016 was a year for learning the value of water. The article promoted market-based mechanisms like those developed by TNC. The real lesson to be learned is not that the value of water should be translated into market terms, but instead many have learned that resource appropriation (when not invisible) is backed up by state violence or the threat of it. Those who physically obstruct the Resolution Copper mine, or in any other case, in protest may be treated similarly to the water protectors fighting against DAPL.

 

See an accompanying page on the San Pedro River for more on that.

Obama to Open Post-presidency Office in World Wildlife Fund Headquarters

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The “Natural Capital Project” partners
“The implementation of payment for ecosystem services,” Morningstar observes, “will create the most spectacular opportunities that the financial sector has ever witnessed.” This new mechanism for generating profits for the wealthy, she says, represents “the commodification of most everything sacred,” and “the privatization and objectification of all biodiversity and living things that are immeasurable, above and beyond monetary measure”—a mechanism that, “will be unparalleled, irreversible and inescapable.”— May 6, 2016, Jay Taber, Earth Economics
Could Obama’s move into WWF headquarters also signal what could be an acceleration of the implementation of payments for ecosystems services (also referred to as the “new economy”, “natural capital”, the financialization of nature, The Next System, etc.) by the world’s most powerful institutions and states? Consider the White House memorandum, October 7, 2015: Incorporating Natural Infrastructure and Ecosystem Services in Federal Decision-Making:
“That is why, today, the Administration is issuing a memorandum directing all Federal agencies to incorporate the value of natural, or “green,” infrastructure and ecosystem services into Federal planning and decision making. The memorandum directs agencies to develop and institutionalize policies that promote consideration of ecosystem services, where appropriate and practicable, in planning, investment, and regulatory contexts.”
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The Washington Post

December 12, 2016

Don’t Put a Price Tag on Nature

Take Part

March 11, 2016

by Richard Conniff 

 

The ‘ecosystem services’ idea devalues the natural world by trying to monetize it.

(Photo: Lena Trindade/Brazil Photos/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Not too long ago, Mexican free-tailed bats seemed like a perfect example of how conservationists could use the “ecosystem services” idea to save the natural world. These bats feed on insect pests in the Southwestern United States, and researchers have calculated that they provide a benefit to cotton farmers that was at one point worth about $24 million a year.

It would, of course, have taken a miracle worker to get the farmers to pay for a service they had always gotten for free. But before that could happen, technology and market forces intervened: BT cotton, a strain of cotton genetically modified to produce the insecticide BT, came on the market. The BT took over the job of controlling insect pests on cotton farms, and suddenly the free-tailed bats were like buggy-whip makers in the automotive age or newspaper reporters today. The value of their services plummeted by 80 percent.

Cases like this have led a lot of biologists to wonder, as the title of a recent article in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution put it, “Have Ecosystem Services Been Oversold?” These critics increasingly question the validity of the entire ecosystem services movement on practical and moral grounds. They ask, among other things: What happens when technological and market forces make the services a species provides, and thus the species itself, seem worthless? Is it even right to monetize and in some cases privatize nature, the ultimate public good?

The questions are worth asking because the ecosystem services idea is a movement, beloved by many conservation organizations, and the subject so far of more than 15,000 peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals. Schemes to pay for ecosystem services, such as REDD, are also a big deal in global financial markets. You might think REDD is a brand of apple ale with really stupid television advertising. But it’s an international program, arguably overhyped, called Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation.

The idea behind REDD is twofold: Forests sequester carbon, harbor biodiversity, and otherwise provide ecosystem services. So why not get corporations, governments, and others to pay to protect those services, if only to offset their own carbon emissions or earn public relations bonus points? Thus Norway, a leader in the movement, has pledged $3 billion under REDD schemes to protect threatened tropical forests in Brazil, Indonesia, and other countries. This is serious money being put to work to protect natural resources, so you can understand why conservation groups might love the idea.

But much as was the case with the free-tailed bats, “there are no markets for many of the goods and services that ecosystems provide,” Jonathan Silvertown, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Edinburgh, points out in the “Oversold” article. The solution for ecosystem services proponents, he writes, has typically been to “invent a market” like the REDD scheme for carbon credits. Or they “pretend there is a market” and ask people how they would value ecosystem services in hypothetical situations. But “make-believe markets” are highly likely to fail when people are otherwise, he writes.

But make-believe markets are highly likely to fail when people are otherwise relentlessly focused on nickel-and-dime realities. The market mentality also degrades nature by attempting to turn it into a commodity. “People are not allowed to sell their organs or their children,” Silvertown writes, citing the 2012 book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. “These have intrinsic value that is beyond price.” That’s true of species and habitats too.

The attempt to sell nature went spectacularly wrong for the government of British Prime Minister David Cameron. When he came to power in 2010, he pushed to sell off the roughly 1,000 square miles of forest that until then had been owned and protected by the national Forestry Commission. The ecosystem services idea seemed to offer the new government a bright, shiny “technocratic rationale for the deployment of its natural capital,” Silvertown writes, with the added likelihood of putting bright, shiny millions into government coffers.

Some conservation groups went along, “taking the view that it is regulation” of the forests “and not ownership that matters.” But Cameron, a conservative, was slashing regulations at the same time. The response from the British public was furious. It turned out that no amount of money could make up for what it perceived as the loss of its forests, and no amount of monetizing could capture the value of simply being able to walk in the woods. Cameron quickly backed down, with one government source describing the whole idea as “a cock-up,” or what Americans might call a FUBAR: “We just did not think.”

So, let’s think. Where does all this leave the ecosystem services idea? Trying to “unbundle” all the things we get from the natural world and put a price on them cheapens nature, and it cheapens us. The people who first developed the idea in the mid-20th century meant that conservation could benefit from showing people how their lives depend, in all sorts of unseen ways, on the natural world: Intact wetlands save downstream cities from flooding, coastal marshes serve as nursing grounds for offshore fisheries, and that air you breathe? Yes, it’s an ecosystem service, provided by healthy forests and obscure ocean microorganisms.

This is the only sense in which the ecosystem services idea deserves to live—as a constant reminder of how utterly we all depend on the priceless blessings of the natural world.

 

 

[Richard Conniff is the author of House of Lost Worlds: Dinosaurs, Dynasties, and the Story of Life on Earth, and other books.]

Rainbow Sparkle Ponies

Culture of Imbeciles

February 9, 2016

by Jay Taber

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When it comes to political con artists like Bill Gates, Bill McKibben and Ricken Patel, two of the obstacles to Ponzi scheme pattern recognition by The Climateers are illiteracy and immaturity. Illiteracy obscures the fact that over-the-rainbow puffery (like the exaggerations exhorted by the financial elite at COP21) is doomed to come crashing to earth–like all pyramid schemes do; immaturity allows the gullible to be hoodwinked into believing that somehow this time it will turn out differently. Inevitably, though, there comes a day of reckoning, and while the illiterate and immature desperately want to believe that rainbow sparkle ponies will be in their Christmas stockings this year — even though they’ve always received a lump of coal in the past — many are prepared to enthusiastically offer themselves as prey to the next fraud that comes along.

 

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[Jay Thomas Taber is an associate scholar of the Center for World Indigenous Studies, a correspondent to Forum for Global Exchange, and a contributing editor of Fourth World Journal. Since 1994, he has served as communications director at Public Good Project, a volunteer network of researchers, analysts and journalists engaged in defending democracy. As a consultant, he has assisted indigenous peoples in the European Court of Human Rights and at the United Nations. Email: tbarj [at] yahoo.com Website:www.jaytaber.com]

The DeKlein of Logic. The Art of Conflation

The Art of Annihilation

The following is an excerpt from Part thirteen of the Divestment Investigative Report Series [Further Reading]: Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VIIPart VIIIPart IXPart XPart XIPart XIIPart XIII

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Chrysanthemums (translit. Khrizantemy; 1914): a “conflation of art, performance, and death”  [Source]  

 

With the 350.org divestment movement and Klein at the helm, in addition to its in partnership The Guardian (who has also partnered with Klein personally outside of 350.org) and endorsement from the UN, 350.org et al have a position in the media to create mobilizations on cue, simply by calling out on its army of divestment students, now global in scope. On the This Changes Everything website it should be noted that within Klein’s bio, 350.org continues to be referred to as a global grassroots movement. Disregarding the fact that 1Sky (which merged with 350 in 2011) was an incubator project of the Rockefeller Foundation; it is still an NGO whose annual incomes exceeds millions; and rewards staff with six-figure salaries. Due to its now global size (not to mention its oligarchic origins), 350.org is very far removed from the true concept of grass roots. The word disingenuous, in regard to this claim, is an immense understatement.

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conflation
verb from ‘conflate’
occurs when the identities of two or more individuals, concepts, or places,
sharing some characteristics of one another, seem to be a single identity
— the differences appear to become lost.

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2007: “Former President Bill Clinton and musician Bono appear on stage during ‘Giving – Live At The Apollo’ presented by the MTV and Clinton Global Initiative at the Apollo Theater on September 29, 2007 in New York City.”

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2008: “U2 singer Bono speaks with Al Gore during the opening session of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) on Sep. 24, 2008, in New York City. Gore attended the fourth annual meeting of the CGI, a gathering of politicians celebrities, philanthropists and business leaders to discuss pressing global issues.” (Spencer Platt / Getty Images)

In the October 12, 2007, CNN article The Bono-ization of Activism, Klein (rightly) criticizes the “Bono-ization” of the protest movement:

“…the new style of anti-poverty campaigning, where celebrities talk directly with government and business leaders on behalf of a continent (such as Africa) is another form of “noblesse oblige” where the rich and powerful club together to ‘give something back.’ “They are saying we don’t even need government anymore, it’s the replacement of nation states with corporate rule — this Billionaires Club, including Bill Clinton that gets together to give a little something back.”

And yet, eight years later, Klein has fully immersed herself in this same (yet even more powerful) “Billionaires Club”, having replaced nation states with corporate rule. If anyone could be characterized as embracing “another form of ‘noblesse oblige’” it is Klein, the 350.org NGO she serves, and the climate cartel they run with—inclusive of Wall Street.

In 2007, Bill McKibben launched the national ‘Step It Up’ campaign (Clinton Global Initiative Commitment 2007) targeting members of the U.S. congress to be ‘real leaders’ on climate change. Presidential candidates including Senators Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton attended Step It Up events and issued statements of support for 1Sky’s goals. Step it Up then morphed into 1Sky. 1Sky was an incubator project of the Foundation at its inception. [Further reading: Rockefellers’ 1Sky Unveils the New 350.org | More $ – More Delusion] At the 2007 Clinton Global Initiative, then President Clinton announced the 1Sky campaign. [Video, September 29, 2007: 1Sky at Clinton Global Initiative published by Step It Up][Clinton Foundation Press Release, Sept 27, 2007: “Working with partners 1Sky will raise $50 million to advocate for a simple set of goals and policy proposals to improve the federal government’s policies on climate change.”]

Four years (2011) after voicing very strong criticisms of the anti-poverty campaign’s engagement with Bill Clinton, a campaign that coincided with the 2007 Step It Up and 1Sky alliances with the Clinton Foundation, Klein would choose to serve on the 350.org board of directors as it officially merged with 1Sky.”

Klein: “What’s complicated about the space that Bono and Geldof (Bob Geldof, founder of Live Aid) are occupying is that it’s inside and outside at the same time — there’s no difference. What’s significant about the Seattle movement (the WTO protests in 1999 and 2000) is that it’s less the tactics but the fact that it identifies that there are real power differences, winners and losers in this economic model.”

In similar fashion, the space that 350.org and the NPIC “are occupying is that it’s inside and outside at the same time – they are part and parcel of the same elite power structures Klein criticizes. There’s no difference.” Like Bono’s Live Aid that Klein condemned, the divestment campaign, that Klein actively promotes, deliberately avoids the fact that “there are real power differences, winners and losers in this economic model.” (i.e. the divestment model)

“Klein believes when celebrities such as Bono engage in talks with world leaders at forums such as Davos they are legitimizing the structures in place, and the inequalities that arise from these structures, rather than promoting any radical change; “The story of globalization is the story of inequality. What’s been lost in the Bono-ization is ability to change these power structures. There are still the winners and losers, people who are locked in to the power structures and those locked out.” [The Bono-ization of Activism]

The official Road to Paris website cites Klein is one of the top twenty influential women in respect to this year’s “Road to Paris, United Nations, Conference of the Parties” (with McKibben being cited as one of the top influential men). Like Bono lending legitimacy to Davos, Klein’s and McKibben’s luminary (and manufactured) status is being fully utilized in the same fashion: legitimizing the structures in place, and the inequalities that arise from these structures. While Klein spoke to Bono’s legitimizing of globalization and inequality, 350’s partnership with the United Nations is stealth marketing that serves to whitewash the United Nations pivotal role as part of the finance/credit cartel subverting state sovereignty and undermining Indigenous autonomy. [Absence of the Sacred]

Failure to publicly expose and condemn the third pillar of the new economy, that of the commodification of nature via implementation of ecosystem services accounting, not only legitimizes the current power structures in place, but expands and insulates them beyond reproach. The inequalities that arise from this one single, and most critical, false solution (of many) not only legitimizes inequalities, it guarantees the finish line for the ongoing genocide of the world’s Indigenous peoples—nothing less than total annihilation. The NPIC, as the third pillar of contemporary imperialism, [3] which Klein has submerged herself in, ensures current power structures are not only kept intact, but strengthened and insulated.

Of course, this is not the first time 350.org has taken to subverting state sovereignty and undermined Indigenous autonomy.

“Bono’s Red initiative is emblematic of this new Pro-Logo age. He announced a new branded product range at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland last year called Product Red. American Express, Converse, Armani and Gap were initial partners, joined later by Apple and Motorola. The corporations sell Red branded products, with a percentage of profits going to Bono approved causes. In this Pro-Logo world there is an irony of consuming to end poverty. Perhaps an even bigger irony: through initiatives like the Red card, consumer culture and branding is buying a stake in anti-globalization and alleviating poverty movement.”

The global divestment campaign (as was the Stop the KeystoneXL! campaign) is emblematic of the increasingly sophisticated, 21st century Pro-Logo age. Today, Bono’s 2008 branded product range promoting his ‘Product Red’, has been replaced in the public realm, with the divestment campaign’s ‘Fossil Fuel Free’ Funds and portfolios (while in the background, hedge funds and private investments comprise the portfolios of the ultra wealthy). Responsible Endowments Coalition, Energy Action Coalition, Sierra Student Coalition, As You Sow, Better Future Project, Better Future Project (financed by Wallace Global Fund) and Ceres were initial partners, joined later by the Guardian and the United Nations. In this “capitalism vs the climate” world, there is a strengthening/expanding of capital markets to counteract capitalism. Perhaps an even bigger irony: through initiatives like the global divestment campaign, investment (which furthers consumption/consumer culture) and branding is buying a stake in the anti-capitalist and environmental movements.

“What they’ve tapped into is a market niche. There’s nothing that’s inherently wrong with these initiatives except when they make radical claims that it’s going to end poverty. There’s a long history of radical consumption — what’s pretty unbelievable about this (the Red Label) is that they say it’s revolutionary and it’s going to replace other forms of politics.” [The Bono-ization of Activism]

What the divestment campaign has tapped into is a market niche. While the future will bear witness that there is /was everything inherently wrong with the divestment (dis)course, the framing that the campaign is in service to the fight against climate change, is more than insulting. Remix: There’s a long history of “radical” consumption — what’s pretty unbelievable about this current version (the divestment campaign) is that they say it’s revolutionary and it’s going to replace other forms of politics.

In the 2007 article, Klein argued that Bono’s supporters believed he was being constructive because his camp was engaging with power, which she disagreed with. Yet eight years later Klein has aligned herself with some of the most powerful oligarchs and institutions in the world.

Toward the end of the 2007 article, the author quotes an unidentified activist who stated charity concerts were a way to recorporate the issue. The parallels are striking, for who could disagree that the divestment campaign does perform the exact same function— “a way to recorporate the issue”?

In a single quote that serves to be most prophetic, the unidentified activist added: “It changes nothing.”

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Kiki de Montparnasse, Man Ray (Radnitzky, Emmanuel)

Klein’s partnership with the Guardian newspaper, her placating of 350.org’s foundation funding, her chosen decision to remain silent on warmonger NGOs such as 350.org’s strategic partner Avaaz (in large part responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands in Libya [4], which they seek to be repeated in Syria), her silence on the NPIC undermining of vulnerable states at COP15 (with Greenpeace, 350 and Avaaz being the first signatories of TckTckTck), her acceptance of 350’s undermining of a sovereign state and the world’s Indigenous peoples, her scant, almost non-existent references to the military-industrial complex in relation to its massive (and exempted) contribution to both climate change and ecological devastation (case in point, consider The US Air Force (USAF) is the single largest consumer of jet fuel in the world. The avoidance of this subject is even more unconscionable considering US President Barack Obama is one of the most (if not the most) militarily aggressive US presidents in history, authorizing various airstrikes and military operations in at least seven Muslim countries ); her silence on industrialized factory framing (livestock stats), and her failure to disclose the relation between 350’s KXL campaign and Buffett’s 21st century oil by rail dynasty, etc. — all demonstrate Klein’s own “noblesse oblige”.

Klein’s most glaring “noblesse oblige” is the exclusion of ecosystem services accounting in her international best seller, This Changes Everything. The promotional description reads: “The really inconvenient truth is that it’s not about carbon—it’s about capitalism.” The solution is delivered in the next line: “The convenient truth is that we can seize this existential crisis to transform our failed system and build something radically better.” The elites are indeed seizing this existential crisis to transform our failed system—it’s the financialization of the Earth’s commons referred to as “valuing ecosystem services”.

Consider that in a 505 page book written on climate and capitalism not a single chapter, or even a single page explores the most pathological intent of the 21st century. One is tempted to conclude that investigative journalist Klein has simply over-looked another critical issue pertaining to the climate. Or perhaps Klein simply has no knowledge of this scheme. However, the word financialization does garner one vital mention—buried in the acknowledgements: “Two years ago, Rajiv and I were joined by Alexandra Tempus, another exceptional and diligent journalist and researcher. Alexandra quickly mastered her own roster of topics, from post–Superstorm Sandy disaster capitalism to financialization of nature to the opaque world of green group and foundation funding to climate impacts on fertility. She developed important new contacts, uncovered new and shocking facts, and always shared her thoughtful analysis.” (The single reference to ecosystems services within the book is found within one sentence on p 34: “Nor have the various attempts to soft-pedal climate action as compatible with market logic (carbon trading, carbon offsets, monetizing nature’s “services”) fooled these true believers one bit.”)

Further consider that in an Earth Island Institute “Conversation” with Naomi Klein (Fall, 2013) Klein is asked a direct question on monetizing ecosystem services. Interviewer to Klein: “It’s interesting because even as some of the Big Green groups have gotten enamored of the ideas of ecosystem services and natural capital, there’s this counter-narrative coming from the Global South and Indigenous communities. It’s almost like a dialectic.” Klein’s response is not only incoherent, she evades the question altogether:

Klein:

“That’s the counternarrative, and those are the alternative worldviews that are emerging at this moment. The other thing that is happening … I don’t know what to call it. It’s maybe a reformation movement, a grassroots rebellion. There’s something going on in the [environmental] movement in the US and Canada, and I think certainly in the UK. What I call the “astronaut’s eye worldview” – which has governed the Big Green environmental movement for so long – and by that I mean just looking down at Earth from above. I think it’s sort of time to let go of the icon of the globe, because it places us above it and I think it has allowed us to see nature in this really abstracted way and sort of move pieces, like pieces on a chessboard, and really loose touch with the Earth. You know, it’s like the planet instead of the Earth.

 

And I think where that really came to a head was over fracking. The head offices of the Sierra Club and the NRDC and the EDF all decided this was a “bridge fuel.” We’ve done the math and we’re going to come out in favor of this thing. And then they faced big pushbacks from their membership, most of all at the Sierra Club. And they all had to modify their position somewhat. It was the grassroots going, “Wait a minute, what kind of environmentalism is it that isn’t concerned about water, that isn’t concerned about industrialization of rural landscapes – what has environmentalism become?” And so we see this grassroots, place-based resistance in the movements against the Keystone XL pipeline and the Northern Gateway pipeline, the huge anti-fracking movement. And they are the ones winning victories, right?

 

I think the Big Green groups are becoming deeply irrelevant. Some get a lot of money from corporations and rich donors and foundations, but their whole model is in crisis.”

Noblesse oblige indeed.

Klein’s contributions have not threatened capitalism; rather her efforts are utilized to not only protect it, but strengthen it.

Perhaps the icing on the cake that is the Rockefeller and Clinton 350.org/1Sky project, is as follows: Participation in the Clinton Global Initiative is by invitation only. The membership fee is $20,000 ($19,000 tax deductible) per year. 2014 annual meeting sponsors include HSBC, Barclays, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, The Coca-Cola Company, Ford Foundation, Monsanto, Proctor and Gamble, The Rockefeller Foundation, Blackstone, Deutsche Bank, Dow, Exxon Mobil, and others. Clinton Global Initiative University includes McKibben’s Middlebury College within its network (“These 70 schools have pledged more than $800,000 to support CGI U 2015 student commitment-makers.”) Thus, it is of little surprise to find that in December of 2014, Global CEO cites both McKibben and Klein as those within the top ten list of  “inspirational CSR leaders”  as voted by their readers.

Identified in the 2007 Clinton Global Initiative membership along with princes, baronesses, heads of states, and CEOs are none other than:

  • Mindy Lubber, President of Ceres, (In 2013, Morgan Stanley created the Institute for Sustainable Investing Lubber serves on the Institute’s Advisory Board, which is chaired by Morgan Stanley’s Chairman and CEO James Gorman) (Stern Citi Leadership & Ethics Distinguished Fellow)
  • Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation (Chair/president of Greenpeace and TckTckTck a.k.a. GCCA, International Advisory Council for 350.org and SumofUs)
  • Billy Parish Coordinator, Co-Founder, Energy Action Coalition, (1Sky Board of Directors)
  • Betsy Taylor, Chair 1Sky Campaign (Ceres Board of Directors, Greenpeace Board of Directors President of Breakthrough Strategies and Solutions,SumofUs Advisory Board)
  • Lynne Twist, Trustee The John E. Fetzer Institute (Pachamama Alliance founder)
  • Timothy Wirth President United Nations Foundation (Next System Initial Signatory)

 

 

“Who will be the Bill Gates of ecosystem services?” Read the full article: The Increasing Vogue for Capitalist-Friendly Climate Discourse

 

[3] “Accordingly, a nonprofit-corporate complex (based in international non-governmental organizations, NGOs) dominating an array of social services, many of which were performed by the state in the past, emerged as the third pillar of the triangular structure of contemporary imperialism during the 1980s. It represents a kind of “Third Way” on the part of capital that privatizes state functions and occupies key strategic points within civil society (co-opting social movements) while seemingly outside the realm of private capital—thereby enabling an acceleration of privatization and reinforcing the hegemony of monopoly-finance capital globally.” [Source]

[4] 500,000 dead, 30,000 in terrorist-run prisons, 2.5 million exiled, tens of thousands of refugees.

 

[Cory Morningstar is an independent investigative journalist, writer and environmental activist, focusing on global ecological collapse and political analysis of the non-profit industrial complex. She resides in Canada. Her recent writings can be found on Wrong Kind of Green, The Art of Annihilation, Counterpunch, Political Context, Canadians for Action on Climate Change and Countercurrents. Her writing has also been published by Bolivia Rising and Cambio, the official newspaper of the Plurinational State of Bolivia. You can follow her on twitter @elleprovocateur]

AT A GLANCE: Why the Oligarchs Have United in Pushing the Divestment Campaign

Wall Street Globe

 

The following is an excerpt from McKibben’s Divestment Tour – Brought to You by Wall Street [Part XIII of an Investigative Report] [The Increasing Vogue for Capitalist-Friendly Climate Discourse]

 

At a Glance:

  • The economic models of the 20th century are now hitting the limits of what is possible

 

  • Ecosystem services/payment for ecosystem services: assigning nature’s resources as monetary assets visible in national accounts and economic strategies is the key to growth in the twenty-first century

 

  • The most vital pillar (of 3) as identified under “new economy” is the valuing and mainstreaming nature’s services (biodiversity) into national and international accounts

 

  • Financial markets and business will be assigned as the new “stewards of ‘national natural capital”

 

  • Global growth has become stagnant as identified by global institutions such as McKinsey: Can long-term global growth be saved? (January 2015, McKinsey and Company)

 

  • The IMF and World Bank Group, identify a reduction in the growth of the global economy as a primary risk to the world. October 10, 2014

 

  • The “greening of economies” as recognized by the UN, is not a reduction in global economic growth, rather, it is considered a new engine of growth.”

 

  • Changing the capitalist system is not to be considered (Generation Investment)

 

  • Financial markets and business, based on their role as stewards of ‘national natural capital’”

 

  • The three key dates are 2015 (international agreement), 2020 (sustainable capitalism and ecosystem services accounting in place) and 2050 (the Earth’s ecosystems and biodiversity to be fully commodified)

 

  • The mainstreaming of “sustainable capitalism” is to be in place by 2020 (Generation Investment)

 

  • Economists have been “preparing to include a value for ‘natural capital’ in Britain’s GDP calculations by 2020”

 

  • The ideologies/concept behind the commodification of the commons began in earnest at least 25 years ago and likely far earlier than that

 

  • $60-70 trillion over the next decade-and-a-half is required for planned mega-infrastructure projects [Source]

 

  • The biggest market is for carbon, with the world market growing from $11 billion in 2005 and being forecast to reach $3.1 trillion dollars in 2020, with $1 trillion of that value relating to the USA.

 

  • A steady flow of new investment firms are expanding to exploit the emerging eco-systems market

 

  • Financing (of renewable energy) must double by 2020 and double again to $1 trillion by 2030: the quadrupling investment from its current state is the stated goal

 

Metropolis Heart

Metropolis, Germany, 1927. Directed by Fritz Lang. “In the year 2026, society in the great city of Metropolis is ruthlessly divided into two groups. The idle rich live in towers high in the sky, their playthings powered by great machines deep underground, where the workers live and toil….”

From Part XI: 2 Degrees of Credendum | In Summary, Divestment as symbolism:

  • The Do the Math tour, as the precursor to the global Divestment campaign, established and reinforced the false premise that the world retains a “carbon budget” that enables us to safely keep burning for decades to come

 

  • Like 1Sky/350, the campaign is top-down, not grassroots up as presented. Not only has this global “movement” been sanctioned by the elites, it has been developed in consultation with Wall Street and financed from inception by the world’s most powerful oligarchs and institutions

 

  • The campaign successfully invokes a certain naiveté and innocence due to the said premise (a moral divestment imperative) of the campaign

 

  • It provides a moral alibi and evokes illusions of white saviour/moral superiority of those that divest/divest-invest while the very people divesting are those that comprise the 1% creating 50% of all global GHG emissions (anyone who can afford to board an airplane). Shuffling their investments does not change this fact or alleviate/absolve one’s role in accelerating climate change and ecological destruction

 

  • Protesting fossil fuels cannot and will not have any effect on fossil fuel consumption, production or destruction without legitimately and radically addressing Annex 1 consumption, economic growth under the capitalist system, human population (specifically in Annex 1 nations), the military industrial complex and industrial factory farming

 

  • The chosen campaign of divestment rather than the boycott of fossil fuels in combination with proposed sanctions on fossil fuel corporations demonstrates the insincerity of the campaign and its true intentions as sought (and developed) by its funders

 

  • Divestment effectively constructs the moral acceptance of “green” consumption. The global divestment campaign confirms that the “market” can be and is the solution

 

  • The campaign constructs and further reinforces the falsehood that there is no need to change either the economic system (beyond reforming capitalism) or dismantle the power structures that comprise it; nor is it necessary to address the underlying values, worldviews, classism, racism, colonialism and imperialism that are driving this physical and psychic

 

  • It diverts attention away from the proliferation of private investments, hedge funds and privatization – key mechanisms in the “new economy.”

 

  • It provides a critical discourse to divert attention away from the most critical issue of the 21st century: the commodification of the commons (in similar fashion to how the Stop the KeystoneXL! campaign was instrumental in enabling Buffett’s rail dynasty, only far more critical in significance)

 

  • It builds on the 21st century corporate pathology “Who Cares Wins,” whereby “kindness is becoming the nation’s newest currency.” The pathology behind this intent is the corporate capture of “millennials” by manipulation via branding, advertising and social media

 

  • Direct contact with “millennials” in colleges and universities around the world invokes pre-determined and pre-approved ideologies as sought after/controlled by hegemony while building loyalties: future NGO “members” / supporters, future “prosumers,” future “investors.”

 

  • The campaign draws attention to the statistic that “just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made emissions” while making no mention that a mere 1% of people are creating 50% of all the global GHG emissions – the very people that comprise their target audience

 

  • Although highlighting the fact that “just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made emissions” is critical, this information is being conveyed and utilized only to implement the financialization of nature

 

  • The campaign stigmatizes fossil fuel investments which, by default, protect the 1% creating 50% of the global GHG emissions from similar stigmatization

 

  • Success is measured by the number of institutions divesting-investing, and “shares/likes” on social media, ignoring the fact that divestment does nothing to reduce emissions as the world burns

 

  • The divestment campaign presents a capitalist solution to climate change, presenting, repackaging and marketing the very problem as our new solution. Thus, the global power structures that oppress us are effectively and strategically insulated from potential outside threats

Clive Spash, 2008:

There is, of course, something contradictory in calculating a price for some­thing you do not wish to trade. Perhaps realising this, one ecological advocate of ecosystems valuation has tried to claim that: ‘Valuing ecosystem services is not identical to commodifying them for trade in private markets.’ (Costanza, 2006: 749). That there is no commoditisation, or market-like exchange, implicit in ecosystem services valuation is plainly wrong. As the NRC report states: ‘The use of a dollar metric for quantifying values is based on the assumption that individuals are willing to trade the ecological service being valued for more of other goods and services represented by the metric (more dollars).’ This requires converting ecosystems functions into goods and services, and is clearly identical in approach to a model for trading commodities in a market. [Source]

Akin to those of privilege pretending their screen addicted children are actually gifted computer geniuses, such are the lies we tell ourselves in order to believe in a system whereby we “benefit” at the expense of others and the destruction of nature.

COP15 FLASHBACK: The Dead End of Climate Justice

Counterpunch

January 8, 2010

by Tim Simons and Ali Tonak

COP15--Angry-Mermaid-awar-019

(From L) Paul de Clerck (Friends of the Earth International), Dorothy Guerrero (Focus on the Global South) and  Naomi Klein announces the winner of the Angry Mermaid award on December 15, 2009 at COP15. Monsanto received 37% of the votes ahead of Royal Dutch Shell 18% and the American Petroleum Institute 14%.

Six years later, in 2016, Klein serves as the Rockefeller financed 350.org’s most valuable asset. Although Klein awarded Monsanto the “Angry Mermaid” award in 2009, consider 350.org founded TckTckTck (GCCA) with partner WWF (and 18 other NGOs) prior to COP15 where the TckTckTck alliance dominated the international conference grossly undermining small nations such as Bolivia. WWF’s alliance with Monsanto is extensively documented. [Photograph: Olivier Morin/guardian.co.uk]

+++

On the occasion of its ten-year anniversary, the antiglobalization movement has been brought out of its slumber. This is to be expected, as anniversaries and nostalgia often trump the here and now in political action. What is troublesome, though, is not the celebration of a historical moment but the attempted resurrection of this movement, known by some as the Global Justice Movement, under the banner of Climate Justice.

If only regenerating the zeitgeist of a radical moment was as simple as substituting ‘Climate’ for ‘Global’; if only movements appeared with such eas! In fact, this strategy, pursued to its fullest extent in Copenhagen during the UN COP15 Climate Change Summit, is proving more damaging than useful to those of us who are, and have been for the past decade, actively antagonistic to capitalism and its overarching global structures. Here, we will attempt to illustrate some of the problematic aspects of the troubled rebranding of a praxis particular to a decade past. Namely, we will address the following: the financialization of nature and the indirect reliance on markets and monetary solutions as catalysts for structural change, the obfuscation of internal class antagonisms within states of the Global South in favor of simplistic North-South dichotomies, and the pacification of militant action resulting from an alliance forged with transnational NGOs and reformist environmental groups who have been given minimal access to the halls of power in exchange for their successful policing of the movement.

Many of these problematic aspects of the movement’s rebranding became apparent in Copenhagen during the main, high-profile intellectual event that was organized by Climate Justice Action (CJA) on December 14 . CJA is a new alliance formed among (but of course not limited to) some of the Climate Camp activists from the UK, parts of the Interventionist Left from Germany, non-violent civil disobedience activists from the US and the Negrist Disobbedienti from Italy.

The event, which took place in the “freetown” of Christiania, consisted of the usual suspects: Naomi Klein, Michael Hardt, and CJA spokesperson Tadzio Mueller, and it was MCed by non-violent activist guru Lisa Fithian. In their shared political analysis, all of the speakers emphasized the rebirth of the anti-globalization movement. But an uncomfortable contradiction was overarching: while the speakers sought to underscore the continuity with the decade past, they also presented this summit as different, in that those who came to protest were to be one with a summit of world nations and accredited NGOs, instead of presenting a radical critique and alternative force.

Ecology as Economy and Nature as Investment Capital

“What’s important about the discourse that is so powerful, coming from the Global South right now, about climate debt, is that we know that economic debt is a tool of domination and enforcement. It is how our governments impose their neoliberal capitalist policies around the world, so for the Global South to come to the table and say, ‘Wait a minute, we are the creditors and you are the debtors, you owe us a huge debt’ creates an equalizing dynamic in the negotiations.”

Let’s look at this contemporary notion of debt, highlighted by Naomi Klein as the principal avenue of struggle for the emerging climate justice movement. A decade ago, the issue of debt incurred through loans taken out from the IMF and World Bank was an integral part of the antiglobalization movement’s analysis and demand to “Drop the Debt.” Now, some of that era’s more prominent organizers and thinkers are presenting something deemed analogous and termed ‘climate debt’. The claim is simple: most of the greenhouse gases have historically been produced by wealthier industrial nations and since those in the Global South will feel most of its devastating environmental effects, those countries that created the problem owe the latter some amount of monetary reparations.

The idea of climate debt, however, poses two large problems.

First, while “Drop the Debt!” was one of the slogans of the antiglobalization movement, the analysis behind it was much more developed. Within the movement everyone recognized debt as a tool of capital for implementing neoliberal structural adjustment programs. Under pressure from piling debt, governments were forced to accept privatization programs and severe austerity regimes that further exposed local economies to the ravages of transnational capital. The idea was that by eliminating this debt, one would not only stop privatization (or at least its primary enabling mechanism) but also open up political space for local social movements to take advantage of. Yet something serious is overlooked in this rhetorical transfer of the concept of debt from the era of globalization to that of climate change. Contemporary demands for reparations justified by the notion of climate debt open a dangerous door to increased green capitalist investment in the Global South. This stands in contrast to the antiglobalization movement’s attempts to limit transnational capital’s advances in these same areas of the world through the elimination of neoliberal debt.

The recent emergence of a highly lucrative market formed around climate, and around carbon in particular cannot be overlooked when we attempt to understand the implications of climate reparations demands. While carbon exchanges are the most blatant form of this emerging green capitalist paradigm, value is being reassigned within many existing commodity markets based on their supposed impact on the climate. Everything from energy to agriculture, from cleaning products to electronics, and especially everything within the biosphere, is being incorporated into this regime of climate markets. One can only imagine the immense possibilities for speculation and financialization in these markets as the green bubble continues to grow.

The foreign aid and investment (i.e. development) that will flow into countries of the Global South as a result of climate debt reparations will have the effect of directly subsidizing those who seek to profit off of and monopolize these emerging climate markets. At the Klimaforum, the alternative forum designed to counter the UN summit, numerous panels presented the material effects that would result from a COP15 agreement. In one session on climate change and agricultural policies in Africa, members of the Africa Biodiversity Network outlined how governments on the continent were enclosing communally owned land, labeling it marginal and selling it to companies under Clean Development Mechanisms (CDMs) for biofuel cultivation. CDMs were one of the Kyoto Protocol’s arrangements for attracting foreign investment into the Global South under the guise of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. These sorts of green capitalist projects will continue to proliferate across the globe in conjunction with aid given under the logic of climate debt and will help to initiate a new round of capitalist development and accumulation, displacing more people in the Global South and leading to detrimental impacts on ecosystems worldwide.

Second and perhaps more importantly, “Climate Debt” perpetuates a system that assigns economic and financial value to the biosphere, ecosystems and in this case a molecule of CO2 (which, in reductionist science, readily translates into degrees Celsius). “Climate Debt” is indeed an “equalizing dynamic”, as it infects relations between the Global North and South with the same logic of commodification that is central to those markets on which carbon is traded upon. In Copenhagen, that speculation on the value of CO2 preoccupied governments, NGOs, corporations and many of the activists organizing the protests. Advertisements for the windmill company Vestas dominated the metro line in Copenhagen leading to the Bella Center. After asserting that the time for action is now, they read “We must find a price for CO2”. Everyone from Vestas to the Sudanese government to large NGOs agree on this fundamental principle: that the destruction of nature and its consequences for humans can be remedied through financial markets and trade deals and that monetary value can be assigned to ecosystems. This continued path towards further commodification of nature and climate debt-driven capitalist development runs entirely antithetical to the antiglobalization movement that placed at its heart the conviction that “the world is not for sale!”

The Inside in the Outside

One of the banners and chants that took place during the CJA-organized Reclaim Power demonstration on December 16 was “Whose summit? Our Summit!”. This confused paradigm was omnipresent in the first transnational rendezvous of the Climate Justice Movement. Klein depicted her vision of the street movements’ relationship to those in power during her speech in Christiania as follows:

“It’s nothing like Seattle, there are government delegations that are thinking about joining you. If this turns into a riot, it’s gonna be a riot. We know this story. I’m not saying it’s not an interesting story, but it is what it is. It’s only one story. It will turn into that. So I understand the question about how do we take care of each other but I disagree that that means fighting the cops. Never in my life have I ever said that before. [Laughs]. I have never condemned peoples’ tactics. I understand the rage. I don’t do this, I’m doing it now. Because I believe something very, very important is going on, a lot of courage is being shown inside that center. And people need the support.”

The concept that those in the streets outside of the summit are supposed to be part of the same political force as the NGOs and governments who have been given a seat at the table of summit negotiations was the main determining factor for the tenor of the actions in Copenhagen. The bureaucratization of the antiglobalization movement (or its remnants), with the increased involvement from NGOs and governments, has been a process that manifested itself in World Social Forums and Make Poverty History rallies. Yet in Copenhagen, NGOs were much more than a distracting sideshow. They formed a constricting force that blunted militant action and softened radical analysis through paternalism and assumed representation of whole continents.

 

 

In Copenhagen, the movement was asked by these newly empowered managers of popular resistance to focus solely on supporting actors within the UN framework, primarily leaders of the Global South and NGOs, against others participating in the summit, mainly countries of the Global North. Nothing summarizes this orientation better than the embarrassingly disempowering Greenpeace slogans “Blah Blah Blah, Act Now!” and “Leaders Act!” Addressing politicians rather than ordinary people, the attitude embodied in these slogans is one of relegating the respectable force of almost 100,000 protesters to the role of merely nudging politicians to act in the desired direction, rather than encouraging people to act themselves. This is the logic of lobbying. No display of autonomous, revolutionary potential. Instead, the emphasis is on a mass display of obedient petitioning. One could have just filled out Greenpeace membership forms at home to the same effect.

A big impetus in forging an alliance with NGOs lay in the activists’ undoubtedly genuine desire to be in solidarity with the Global South. But the unfortunate outcome is that a whole hemisphere has been equated with a handful of NGO bureaucrats and allied government leaders who do not necessarily have the same interests as the members of the underclasses in the countries that they claim to represent. In meeting after meeting in Copenhagen where actions were to be planned around the COP15 summit, the presence of NGOs who work in the Global South was equated with the presence of the whole of the Global South itself. Even more disturbing was the fact that most of this rhetoric was advanced by white activists speaking for NGOs, which they posed as speaking on behalf of the Global South.

Klein is correct in this respect: Copenhagen really was nothing like Seattle. The most promising elements of the praxis presented by the antiglobalization movement emphasized the internal class antagonisms within all nation-states and the necessity of building militant resistance to local capitalist elites worldwide. Institutions such as the WTO and trade agreements such as NAFTA were understood as parts of a transnational scheme aimed at freeing local elites and financial capital from the confines of specific nation-states so as to enable a more thorough pillaging of workers and ecosystems across the globe. Ten years ago, resistance to transnational capital went hand in hand with resistance to corrupt governments North and South that were enabling the process of neoliberal globalization. Its important to note that critical voices such as Evo Morales have been added to the chorus of world leaders since then. However, the movement’s current focus on climate negotiations facilitated by the UN is missing a nuanced global class analysis. It instead falls back on a simplistic North-South dichotomy that mistakes working with state and NGO bureaucrats from the Global South for real solidarity with grassroots social movements struggling in the most exploited and oppressed areas of the world.

Enforced Homogeneity of Tactics

Aligning the movement with those working inside the COP15 summit not only had an effect on the politics in the streets but also a serious effect on the tactics of the actions. The relationship of the movement to the summit was one of the main points of discussion about a year ago while Climate Justice Action was being formed. NGOs who were part of the COP15 process argued against taking an oppositional stance towards the summit in its entirety, therefore disqualifying a strategy such as a full shutdown of the summit. The so-called inside/outside strategy arose from this process, and the main action, where people from the inside and the outside would meet in a parking lot outside of the summit for an alternative People’s Assembly, was planned to highlight the supposed political unity of those participating in the COP15 process and those who manifested a radical presence in the streets.

Having made promises to delegates inside the Bella Center on behalf of the movement, Naomi Klein asserted that “Anybody who escalates is not with us,” clearly indicating her allegiances. Rather than reentering the debate about the validity of ‘escalating’ tactics in general, arguing whether or not they are appropriate for this situation in particular, or attempting to figure out a way in which different tactics can operate in concert, the movement in Copenhagen was presented with oppressive paternalism disguised as a tactical preference for non-violence.

The antiglobalization movement attempted to surpass the eternal and dichotomizing debate about violence vs. non-violence by recognizing the validity of a diversity of tactics. But in Copenhagen, a move was made on the part of representatives from Climate Justice Action to shut down any discussion of militant tactics, using the excuse of the presence of people (conflated with NGOs) from the Global South. Demonstrators were told that any escalation would put these people in danger and possibly have them banned from traveling back to Europe in the future. With any discussion of confrontational and militant resistance successfully marginalized, the thousands of protesters who arrived in Copenhagen were left with demonstrations dictated by the needs and desires of those participating in and corroborating the summit.

Alongside the accreditation lines that stretched around the summit, UN banners proclaimed “Raise Your Voice,” signifying an invitation to participate for those willing to submit to the logic of NGO representation. As we continue to question the significance of NGO involvement and their belief that they are able to influence global decision-making processes, such as the COP15 summit, we must emphasize that these so-called participatory processes are in fact ones of recuperative pacification. In Copenhagen, like never before, this pacification was not only confined to the summit but was successfully extended outward into the demonstrations via movement leaders aligned with NGOs and governments given a seat at the table of negotiations. Those who came to pose a radical alternative to the COP15 in the streets found their energy hijacked by a logic that prioritized attempts to influence the failing summit, leaving street actions uninspired, muffled and constantly waiting for the promised breakthroughs inside the Bella Center that never materialized.

NGO anger mounted when a secondary pass was implemented to enter the summit during the finalfour days, when presidents and prime ministers were due to arrive. Lost in confusion, those demonstrating on the outside were first told that their role was to assist the NGOs on the inside and then were told that they were there to combat the exclusion of the NGOs from the summit. This demand not to be excluded from the summit became the focal politic of the CJA action on December 16. Although termed Reclaim Power, this action actually reinforced the summit, demanding “voices of the excluded to be heard.” This demand contradicted the fact that a great section of the Bella Center actually resembled an NGO Green Fair for the majority of the summit. It is clear that exclusionary participation is a structural part of the UN process and while a handful of NGOs were “kicked out” of the summit after signing on to Reclaim Power, NGO participation was primarily limited due to the simple fact that three times as many delegates were registered than the Bella Center could accommodate.

In the end, the display of inside/outside unity that the main action on the 16th attempted to manifest was a complete failure and never materialized. The insistence on strict non-violence prevented any successful attempt on the perimeter fence from the outside while on the inside the majority of the NGO representatives who had planned on joining the People’s Assembly were quickly dissuaded by the threat of arrest. The oppressive insistence by CJA leaders that all energy must be devoted to supporting those on the inside who could successfully influence the outcome of the summit resulted in little to no gains as the talks sputtered into irreconcilable antagonisms and no legally binding agreement at the summit’s close. An important opportunity to launch a militant movement with the potential to challenge the very foundations of global ecological collapse was successfully undermined leaving many demoralized and confused.

Looking Forward: The Real Enemy

As we grapple with these many disturbing trends that have arisen as primary tendencies defining the climate justice movement, we have no intention of further fetishizing the antiglobalization movement and glossing over its many shortcomings. Many of the tendencies we critique here were also apparent at that time. What is important to take away from comparisons between these two historical moments is that those in leadership positions within the contemporary movement that manifested in Copenhagen have learned all the wrong lessons from the past. They have discarded the most promising elements of the antiglobalization struggles: the total rejection of all market and commodity-based solutions, the focus on building grassroots resistance to the capitalist elites of all nation-states, and an understanding that diversity of tactics is a strength of our movements that needs to be encouraged.

The problematic tendencies outlined above led to a disempowering and ineffective mobilization in Copenhagen.Looking back, it is clear that those of us who traveled to the Copenhagen protests made great analytical and tactical mistakes. If climate change and global ecological collapse are indeed the largest threats facing our world today, then the most important front in this struggle must be against green capitalism. Attempting to influence the impotent and stumbling UN COP15 negotiations is a dead end and waste of energy when capital is quickly reorganizing to take advantage of the ‘green revolution’ and use it as a means of sustaining profits and solidifying its hegemony into the future.

Instead of focusing on the clearly bankrupt and stumbling summit happening at the Bella Center, we should have confronted the hyper-green capitalism of Hopenhagen, the massive effort of companies such as Siemens, Coca-Cola, Toyota and Vattenfall to greenwash their image and the other representations of this market ideology within the city center. In the future, our focus must be on destroying this reorganized and rebranded form of capitalism that is successfully manipulating concerns over climate change to continue its uninterrupted exploitation of people and the planet for the sake of accumulation. At our next rendezvous we also need to seriously consider if the NGO/non-profit industrial complex has become a hindrance rather than a contribution to our efforts and thus a parasite that must be neutralized before it can undermine future resistance.

 

[Tim Simons and Ali Tonak can be reached at: anticlimaticgroup@gmail.com]