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How Circular is the Circular Economy?

Low-tech Magazine

November 3, 2018

By Kris De Decker

The circular economy – the newest magical word in the sustainable development vocabulary – promises economic growth without destruction or waste. However, the concept only focuses on a small part of total resource use and does not take into account the laws of thermodynamics.

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Illustration: Diego Marmolejo.

Introducing the Circular Economy

The circular economy has become, for many governments, institutions, companies, and environmental organisations, one of the main components of a plan to lower carbon emissions. In the circular economy, resources would be continually re-used, meaning that there would be no more mining activity or waste production. The stress is on recycling, made possible by designing products so that they can easily be taken apart.

Attention is also paid to developing an “alternative consumer culture”. In the circular economy, we would no longer own products, but would loan them. For example, a customer could pay not for lighting devices but for light, while the company remains the owner of the lighting devices and pays the electricity bill. A product thus becomes a service, which is believed to encourage businesses to improve the lifespan and recyclability of their products.

The circular economy is presented as an alternative to the “linear economy” – a term that was coined by the proponents of circularity, and which refers to the fact that industrial societies turn valuable resources into waste. However, while there’s no doubt that the current industrial model is unsustainable, the question is how different to so-called circular economy would be.

Several scientific studies (see references) describe the concept as an “idealised vision”, a “mix of various ideas from different domains”, or a “vague idea based on pseudo-scientific concepts”. There’s three main points of criticism, which we discuss below.

Too Complex to Recycle

The first dent in the credibility of the circular economy is the fact that the recycling process of modern products is far from 100% efficient. A circular economy is nothing new. In the middle ages, old clothes were turned into paper, food waste was fed to chickens or pigs, and new buildings were made from the remains of old buildings. The difference between then and now is the resources used.

Before industrialisation, almost everything was made from materials that were either decomposable – like wood, reeds, or hemp – or easy to recycle or re-use – like iron and bricks. Modern products are composed of a much wider diversity of (new) materials, which are mostly not decomposable and are also not easily recycled.

For example, a recent study of the modular Fairphone 2 – a smartphone designed to be recyclable and have a longer lifespan – shows that the use of synthetic materials, microchips, and batteries makes closing the circle impossible. Only 30% of the materials used in the Fairphone 2 can be recuperated. A study of LED lights had a similar result.

The large-scale use of synthetic materials, microchips, and batteries makes closing the circle impossible.

The more complex a product, the more steps and processes it takes to recycle. In each step of this process, resources and energy are lost. Furthermore, in the case of electronic products, the production process itself is much more resource-intensive than the extraction of the raw materials, meaning that recycling the end product can only recuperate a fraction of the input. And while some plastics are indeed being recycled, this process only produces inferior materials (“downcycling”) that enter the waste stream soon afterwards.

The low efficiency of the recycling process is, on its own, enough to take the ground from under the concept of the circular economy: the loss of resources during the recycling process always needs to be compensated with more over-extraction of the planet’s resources. Recycling processes will improve, but recycling is always a trade-off between maximum material recovery and minimum energy use. And that brings us to the next point.

How to Recycle Energy Sources?

The second dent in the credibility of the circular economy is the fact that 20% of total resources used worldwide are fossil fuels. More than 98% of that is burnt as a source of energy and can’t be re-used or recycled. At best, the excess heat from, for example, the generation of electricity, can be used to replace other heat sources.

As energy is transferred or transformed, its quality diminishes (second law of thermodynamics). For example, it’s impossible to operate one car or one power plant with the excess heat from another. Consequently, there will always be a need to mine new fossil fuels. Besides, recycling materials also requires energy, both through the recycling process and the transportation of recycled and to-be-recycled materials.

To this, the supporters of the circular economy have a response: we will shift to 100% renewable energy. But this doesn’t make the circle round: to build and maintain renewable energy plants and accompanied infrastructures, we also need resources (both energy and materials). What’s more, technology to harvest and store renewable energy relies on difficult-to-recycle materials. That’s why solar panels, wind turbines and lithium-ion batteries are not recycled, but landfilled or incinerated.

Input Exceeds Output

The third dent in the credibility of the circular economy is the biggest: the global resource use – both energetic and material – keeps increasing year by year. The use of resources grew by 1400% in the last century: from 7 gigatonnes (Gt) in 1900 to 62 Gt in 2005 and 78 Gt in 2010. That’s an average growth of about 3% per year – more than double the rate of population growth.

Growth makes a circular economy impossible, even if all raw materials were recycled and all recycling was 100% efficient. The amount of used material that can be recycled will always be smaller than the material needed for growth. To compensate for that, we have to continuously extract more resources.

Growth makes a circular economy impossible, even if all raw materials were recycled and all recycling was 100% efficient.

The difference between demand and supply is bigger than you might think. If we look at the whole life cycle of resources, then it becomes clear that proponents for a circular economy only focus on a very small part of the whole system, and thereby misunderstand the way it operates.

Accumulation of Resources

A considerable segment of all resources – about a third of the total – are neither recycled, nor incinerated or dumped: they are accumulated in buildings, infrastructure, and consumer goods. In 2005, 62 Gt of resources were used globally. After subtracting energy sources (fossil fuels and biomass) and waste from the mining sector, the remaining 30 Gt were used to make material goods. Of these, 4 Gt was used to make products that last for less than one year (disposable products).

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Illustration: Diego Marmolejo.

The other 26 Gt was accumulated in buildings, infrastructure, and consumer goods that last for more than a year. In the same year, 9 Gt of all surplus resources were disposed of, meaning that the “stocks” of material capital grew by 17 Gt in 2005. In comparison: the total waste that could be recycled in 2005 was only 13 Gt (4 Gt disposable products and 9 Gt surplus resources), of which only a third (4 Gt) can be effectively recycled.

About a third of all resources are neither recycled, nor incinerated or dumped: they are accumulated in buildings, infrastructure, and consumer goods.

Only 9 Gt is then put in a landfill, incinerated, or dumped – and it is this 9 Gt that the circular economy focuses on. But even if that was all recycled, and if the recycling processes were 100% efficient, the circle would still not be closed: 63 Gt in raw materials and 30 Gt in material products would still be needed.

As long as we keep accumulating raw materials, the closing of the material life cycle remains an illusion, even for materials that are, in principle, recyclable. For example, recycled metals can only supply 36% of the yearly demand for new metal, even if metal has relatively high recycling capacity, at about 70%. We still use more raw materials in the system than can be made available through recycling – and so there are simply not enough recyclable raw materials to put a stop to the continuously expanding extractive economy.

The True Face of the Circular Economy

A more responsible use of resources is of course an excellent idea. But to achieve that, recycling and re-use alone aren’t enough. Since 71% of all resources cannot be recycled or re-used (44% of which are energy sources and 27% of which are added to existing stocks), you can only really get better numbers by reducing total use.

A circular economy would therefore demand that we use less fossil fuels (which isn’t the same as using more renewable energy), and that we accumulate less raw materials in commodities. Most importantly, we need to make less stuff: fewer cars, fewer microchips, fewer buildings. This would result in a double profit: we would need less resources, while the supply of discarded materials available for re-use and recycling would keep growing for many years to come.

It seems unlikely that the proponents of the circular economy would accept these additional conditions. The concept of the circular economy is intended to align sustainability with economic growth – in other words, more cars, more microchips, more buildings. For example, the European Union states that the circular economy will “foster sustainable economic growth”.

Even the limited goals of the circular economy – total recycling of a fraction of resources – demands an extra condition that proponents probably won’t agree with: that everything is once again made with wood and simple metals, without using synthetic materials, semi-conductors, lithium-ion batteries or composite materials.

 


References:

Haas, Willi, et al. “How circular is the global economy?: An assessment of material flows, waste production, and recycling in the European Union and the world in 2005.” Journal of Industrial Ecology 19.5 (2015): 765-777.

Murray, Alan, Keith Skene, and Kathryn Haynes. “The circular economy: An interdisciplinary exploration of the concept and application in a global context.” Journal of Business Ethics 140.3 (2017): 369-380.

Gregson, Nicky, et al. “Interrogating the circular economy: the moral economy of resource recovery in the EU.” Economy and Society 44.2 (2015): 218-243.

Krausmann, Fridolin, et al. “Global socioeconomic material stocks rise 23-fold over the 20th century and require half of annual resource use.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2017): 201613773.

Korhonen, Jouni, Antero Honkasalo, and Jyri Seppälä. “Circular economy: the concept and its limitations.” Ecological economics 143 (2018): 37-46.

Fellner, Johann, et al. “Present potentials and limitations of a circular economy with respect to primary raw material demand.” Journal of Industrial Ecology 21.3 (2017): 494-496.

Reuter, Markus A., Antoinette van Schaik, and Miquel Ballester. “Limits of the Circular Economy: Fairphone Modular Design Pushing the Limits.” 2018

Reuter, M. A., and A. Van Schaik. “Product-Centric Simulation-based design for recycling: case of LED lamp recycling.” Journal of Sustainable Metallurgy 1.1 (2015): 4-28.

Reuter, Markus A., Antoinette van Schaik, and Johannes Gediga. “Simulation-based design for resource efficiency of metal production and recycling systems: Cases-copper production and recycling, e-waste (LED lamps) and nickel pig iron.” The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment 20.5 (2015): 671-693.

[Kris De Decker is the creator and author of “Low-tech Magazine”, a blog that is published in English, Dutch and Spanish. Low-tech Magazine refuses to assume that every problem has a high-tech solution. (Since 2007).]

Nature is Being Renamed ‘Natural Capital’ – But is it Really the Planet that Will Profit?

The Conversation

September 13, 2016

by Sian Sullivan

 

China’s Jiangxi mountains: now just an asset? Shutterstock

The four-yearly World Conservation Congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has just taken place in Hawai’i. The congress is the largest global meeting on nature’s conservation. This year a controversial motion was debated regarding incorporating the language and mechanisms of “natural capital” into IUCN policy.

But what is “natural capital”? And why use it to refer to “nature”?

Motion 63 on “Natural Capital”, adopted at the congress, proposes the development of a “natural capital charter” as a framework “for the application of natural capital approaches and mechanisms”. In “noting that concepts and language of natural capital are becoming widespread within conservation circles and IUCN”, the motion reflects IUCN’s adoption of “a substantial policy position” on natural capital. Eleven programmed sessions scheduled for the congress included “natural capital” in the title. Many are associated with the recent launch of the global Natural Capital Protocol, which brings together business leaders to create a world where business both enhances and conserves nature.

At least one congress session discussed possible “unforeseen impacts of natural capital on broader issues of equitability, ethics, values, rights and social justice”. This draws on widespreadconcerns around the metaphor that nature-is-as-capital-is. Critics worry about the emphasis on economic, as opposed to ecological, language and models, and a corresponding marginalisation of non-economic values that elicit care for the natural world.

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Naming nature … but at what cost? Shutterstock

Naturalising ‘natural capital’

The use of “natural capital” as a noun is becoming increasingly normalised in environmental governance. Recent natural capital initiatives include the World Forum on Natural Capital, described as “the world’s leading natural capital event”, the Natural Capital Declaration, which commits the financial sector to mainstreaming “natural capital considerations” into all financial products and services, and the Natural Capital Financing Facility, a financial instrument of the European Investment Bank and the European Commission that aims “to prove to the market and to potential investors the attractiveness of biodiversity and climate adaptation operations in order to promote sustainable investments from the private sector”.

All these initiatives share the UK Natural Capital Committee’s view that “natural capital” consists of “our natural assets including forests, rivers, land, minerals and oceans”. People used to talk about “nature” or “the natural environment” – now they speak of “natural capital”.

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Growing profits. Shutterstock

So what does the word “capital” do to “nature” when they are linked? And should nature be seen in terms of capital at all? One controversial aspect, backed by IUCN’s Business and Biodiversity Programme, is receiving particular attention. This is the possibility of securing debt-based conservation finance from major institutions and the super-super-rich based on the value of income generated from so-called natural capital assets conserved in situ.

Capitalising natures

At the IUCN’s conservation congress a Coalition for Private Investment in Conservation was launched. Led by financial services company Credit Suisse, and backed by the IUCN and the World Wide Fund for Nature, the coalition builds on a series of recent reports proposing capitalising conservation in exactly this way.

In 2016, and following a 2014 report, Credit Suisse and collaborators published two documents outlining proposals for debt-based, return-seeking conservation finance. The most recent is called Levering Ecosystems: A Business-focused Perspective on how Debt Supports Investment in Ecosystem Services. In this, the CEO of Credit Suisse states that not only is saving ecosystems affordable, but it is also profitable, if turned “into an asset treasured by the mainstream investment market”.

The report proposes a number of mechanisms whereby “businesses can utilise debt as a tool to restore, rehabilitate, and conserve the environment while creating financial value”. The idea is that as “environmental footprints move closer to being recognised as assets and liabilities by companies, debt can be used to fund specific investments in ecosystems that lead to net-positive financial outcomes”. Debt-based financing – for example, through tradeable securities such as bonds – is framed as attractive in part because interest received by investors is “usually tax-deductible”.

The Levering Ecosystems report followed quickly from Conservation Finance: From Niche to Mainstream, steered by a small group including the director of IUCN’s Global Business and Biodiversity Programme. This report estimated the investment potential for conservation finance to be roughly US$200-400 billion by 2020.

Of course, investors loaning finance to projects associated with conservation also expect market-rate returns to compensate for investments considered to conserve, restore or rehabilitate ecosystems.

In the documents above, financial returns are projected as coming in part from new markets in payments for ecosystem services and sales of carbon credits. These new markets will supply the potentially monetisable “dividends” of conserved and restored habitats as “standing natural capitals”. Investor risk is proposed to be reduced through mobilising these assets, as well as the “land or usage rights” from which they derive, as underlying collateral.

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Two redrawn graphs representing the design of debt-based conservation finance, as per Credit Suisse reports in 2014 and 2016.

The graphs above present two schematic diagrams redrawn from the Credit Suisse texts to indicate how these flows of financial value may be leveraged from areas capitalised as investable natural capital. The models are based in part on expectations that recent United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change support for international carbon compensation mechanisms will release new long-term sources of public funding to “balance anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases”, thereby boosting possibilities for financial flows from forest carbon.

Such financialising moves, nascent and clunky as they are, may yet have significant implications if applied to countries in the global south with remaining high levels of “standing natural capital”. Caution is needed regarding the possibility that forest-rich but least developed countries may become indebted to ultra high-net-worth investors who access returns on their investments from new income streams arising from conserved tropical natures in these countries.

What’s in a name?

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Pandas: sending a powerful message. Shutterstock

In 1986, the central secretariat of the WWF decided to change the name of the organisation from the World Wildlife Fund to the World Wide Fund for Nature. The thinking was that an emphasis on “wildlife”, borne of a concern for endangered species, no longer reflected the organisation’s scope of work for the conservation of the diversity of life on earth. It was considered that overall the organisation would be better served by the term “nature”. In other words, it seems that naming and framing “nature” matters.

Given the conversations and debates at IUCN’s World Conservation Congress, it seems important to ask: how exactly does the conservation of natural capital equate with the conservation of nature? Do these terms in fact invoke different things? If they do, then it is worth clarifying whether the conservation of natural capital is always good for the conservation of nature. If they don’t, then it remains worth querying why exactly “nature” needs to be renamed as “natural capital”.

 

 

[Sian Sullivan is Professor of Environment and Culture, Bath Spa University.]

This Changes Nothing: The Paris Agreement to Ignore Reality

Globalizations, 2016
Vol. 13, No. 6, 928–933,

 

The following is an excerpt from the paper This Changes Nothing: The Paris Agreement to Ignore Reality authored by Clive L. Spash, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business, Vienna, Austria

 

“The Paris Agreement signifies commitment to sustained industrial growth, risk management over disaster prevention, and future inventions and technology as saviour. The primary commitment of the international community is to maintain the current social and economic system. The result is denial that tackling GHG emissions is incompatible with sustained economic growth. The reality is that Nation States and international corporations are engaged in an unremitting and ongoing expansion of fossil fuel energy exploration, extraction and combustion, and the construction of related infrastructure for production and consumption. The targets and promises of the Paris Agreement bear no relationship to biophysical or social and economic reality.”

 

The Paris Agreement follows suit and claims that: ‘Accelerating, encouraging and enabling innovation is critical for an effective, long-term global response to climate change and promoting change does not require new technology which, even when successful, takes decades to move from invention to innovation to implementation. That time frame is a luxury that has already been squandered by decades of inaction and fossil fuel expansion. The reduction of GHGs is necessary immediately using existing appropriate (not high) technology, changing infrastructure, systemic transformation and control of demand.

Therein lies the problem with the Paris Agreement; it is a fantasy which lacks any actual plan of how to achieve the targets for emissions reductions. There are no mentions of GHG sources, not a single comment on fossil fuel use, nothing about how to stop the expansion of fracking, shale oil or explorations for oil and gas in the Arctic and Antarctic. Similarly, there are no means for enforcement. Article 15 on implementation and compliance establishes an expert committee that will be ‘non-adversarial and non-punitive’, which means that it has no teeth and can do nothing about non-compliance. Then, there is Article 28, which offers the withdrawal option without any sanctions. Everyone seems to have already conveniently forgotten how Canada backed out of the Kyoto Protocol in order to frack on a massive and environmentally catastrophic industrial scale.

What is the point of trusting the governments who sign up to this agreement with one hand while investing ever more in fossil fuel extraction, combustion and consumption with the other? These are the same governments who know the world already has proven fossil fuel reserves that exceed the amount that can be combusted by at least three times,[3] for an even chance of achieving 2C, but continue exploring for more. They are the same governments promoting 7 per cent growth rates and the proliferation of industrialisation and modern energy infrastructure including advanced fossil fuel technology (UN Resolution A/RES/70/1). So, they give us promises of 1.5C while constructing infrastructure and supporting production processes requiring massive fossil fuel expansion in an economic system built on mass conspicuous consumption and a throwaway fashion culture.

The divorce of economic and energy policy from the targets of Article 2 can only be seen as either total cynicism or total delusion on the part of the negotiators applauding in Paris. Perhaps they are all highly trained in the Orwellian art of doublethink. In any case, the aspirational targets bear no relationship at all to the reality of what governments, and their business partners, are actually doing today,[4] or the other treaties the same governments are simultaneously signing. The economic system is already committed to continue exploiting resources as fast as possible in the race for ever-increasing material and energy throughput. Just look at the European Community’s Horizon 20:20 goals and their promotion of growth and competition and the ongoing push for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Apparently, economic growth is the priority to be protected and promoted above all else.

The contradiction at the heart of the Paris Agreement is actually unsurprising because the powerful lobbying for growth as the solution to climate change has for some time been orchestrated by corporate business and financiers using the rhetoric of a green economy. As I have noted elsewhere (Spash, 2014), this has involved the combination of arguments for growth alleviating poverty with the necessity of environmental risk management, and ‘green’ technology promoted through trillions of dollars being directed towards ‘entrepreneurs’ (i.e. multinational corporations), to create a ‘new economy’. Technology and innovation are key to this position with its neo-Austrian economics and ‘free market’ rhetoric. Climate change policy must be crafted accordingly to serve the capital accumulating growth economy, and so the latter becomes the solution to (not the cause of) the former.

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Unfortunately, many environmental non-governmental organisations have bought into this illogical reasoning and justify their support as being pragmatic. Neoliberal language is rife across their reports and policy recommendations and their adoption of natural capital, ecosystems services, offsetting and market trading. These new environmental pragmatists believe, without justification, that the financialisation of Nature will help prevent its destruction. Thus, environmentalists promote carbon emissions trading but pay little attention to its dangers and failures (Spash, 2010). For example, Nat Keohane of the Environmental Defence Fund has noted on their website how they pushed in the corridors of Paris for ‘an opening for markets’. The right-wing government of New Zealand, leading an 18-country lobby, also had its negotiators pushing for the same international carbon markets. However, you will not find emissions trading, markets, cap and trade or offsets, mentioned in the doublespeak of the Agreement, but rather the term ‘internationally transferred mitigation outcomes’ (clause 108 and Article 6), something Keohane applauds.

Doublespeak and wording that is strategically ambiguous is the high point of international diplomacy in the Paris Agreement. This is what made the Agreement possible and why it is so meaningless. Do not look for the words oil, natural gas, coal or fracking because they do not merit even one single mention. Nor indeed is there anything about addressing the sources of human GHG emissions, or the structures that promote them. Consider something as fundamental as energy use. The one sentence that mentions energy appears in the preamble and merely acknowledges the need to promote ‘sustainable energy in developing countries, in particular in Africa’.

What the Paris Agreement tells is a bizarrely unreal story. Apparently, the cause of climate change is not fossil fuel combustion or energy sources but inadequate technology and the solution is sustainable development (i.e. economic growth and industrialisation) and poverty alleviation. As far as the current production and consumption systems are concerned, little needs to change. There are no elites consuming the vast majority of the world’s resources, no multinational corporations or fossil fuel industry needing to be controlled, no capital accumulating competitive systems promoting trade and fighting over resources and emitting vast amounts of GHGs through military expenditure and wars, and no governments expanding fossil fuel use and dependency.

The unreality of this document is only matched by the unreality of the praise given to it by the media and others. This is a sign of how much strategic ambiguity and doublespeak have now become an accepted way for international politics to be conducted and reported. People can even applaud stating that the whole UNFCCC has failed for over 20 years and the planet is headed well beyond 2C. The rhetorical flourish of successful agreement is meant to hide a total lack of substance. The Paris Agreement is at heart a document that consists of independent unilateral unenforceable targets but is being sold as a multi-lateral consensus with firm commitments.

In the final analysis, a simple test of the effectiveness of the Paris Agreement would have been a dramatic drop in the share price of the fossil fuel industry, which is loaded with toxic assets.

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That is, a serious agreement would have written-off all the fossil fuel reserves that cannot be burnt without heading way beyond the already exceed 2C target. This would have revealed the financial balance sheets that are bankrupt. Nothing happened to the stock market because the Paris Agreement is perceived by the fossil fuel industry, and financial markets, as no threat to business as usual, and possibly it is even a great opportunity for new financial instruments and ongoing economic exploitation of the planet, with trillions to come to the energy industry in subsidies for innovation and technology development.

In reality, the Paris Agreement is a compilation of nationally determined intended contradictions. The UNFCCC Secretariat advanced no plan of action and its latest Agreement is totally divorced from the operations of the current economic and political systems. Human-induced climate change can now conveniently slip off the political and media agenda until the time comes for the next major cop-out due in 2023 when a ‘stock-taking’ exercise is scheduled. By then few, if any, of the politicians responsible for this farce are likely to be in office, and neither they nor the bureaucrats and negotiators who have celebrated this great success will ever be held accountable. An acceleration of climate change impacts seems to be the only thing that will now alter the complacency of the global community.

 

Download the full paper: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/14747731.2016.1161119

 

[3] The excess of three times is based upon large conservative estimates of the available remaining budget, namely 1400 Gt of CO2, under a 50% chance of achieving 28C (Raupach et al., 2014, p. 874). IPCC (2013) calculations are much lower, but even these have been criticised as neither up-to-date (referencing 2011) nor adequately taking into account non-energy emissions which reduce the amount left for fossil fuels. Doing so leads Anderson (2015) to estimate the remaining budget for energy emissions over the period 2015–2100, at about 650 Gt of CO2 for a ‘likely’ (66%) chance of staying below 28C. On this basis, the excess of reserves is over 6 times the available budget. Going down to 1.58C and/or increasing the chance of achieving the target increase(s) the excess even further.
[4] The commitments already made to exploiting new fossil fuel sources by 2012 were estimated as leading to the release of 300 Gt CO2 equivalent between 2012 and 2050 (Meindertsma & Blok, 2012). This is being added to the existing excess of unburnable stocks for the 28C target (McGlade & Ekins, 2015); see also previous note.

 

[Professor Clive L. Spash holds the Chair of Public Policy & Governance at WU in Vienna and is Editor-in-Chief of Environmental Values. He has conducted research on climate change economics and policy for over 25 years and his work in the area includes the book Greenhouse economics: Value and ethics as well as numerous articles. His critique of carbon trading was the subject of attempted censorship while he was a senior civil servant at the CSIRO in Australia. More information can be found at www.clivespash.org.]

The Dangers of Rebranding Prostitution as ‘Sex Work’

June 7, 2016

by Kate Banyard

 

In an extract from her new book, Pimp State, activist Kat Banyard argues that prostitution is sexual exploitation. Decriminalising this industry only legitimises the abuse of women.

‘Using the term “sex work” as if it was an adequate and appropriate shorthand serves a deeply political goal. ‘
‘Using the term “sex work” as if it was an adequate and appropriate shorthand serves a deeply political goal. ‘ Photograph: Paul Popper/Popperfoto/Getty Images

False Hope: The Core Strategy of 350

April 27, 2016

By Jay Taber

 

Hope 1

 

Bomb train protest events are good. They help to remind people of the looming threat. Some of the participants might even get involved in politics, where decisions are made. Good for them.

That said, while taking selfies and holding placards is good clean fun that builds camaraderie, it is not the same as getting involved in electing authentic leaders and fighting government corruption. That takes a lot of hard work and sustained commitment over years, even decades.

Hope 2

So protests are a good start, but the point of protest is to do the research, education, and organizing that lead to effective community action and changes in public policy. Symbolic protests that generate delusional expectations, however, are in the long run disempowering. When unrealistic demands go nowhere, protestors become frustrated, cynical, and disheartened.

Social movement entrepreneurs, i.e. 350, know this. Indeed, organizing designer protests and vanity arrests, while making unrealistic demands, is the MO of 350. While disempowering of its followers, it appeals to these pious poseurs by making them feel righteous and forceful, while not asking them to make any real sacrifices. Endless protests and other staged 350 events also dissipate the energy of its followers, leaving them worn out before the real work begins.

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The half-truth of the need to stop oil trains sets up 350 followers for the whole lie, i.e. “an end to fossil fuel development and an immediate transition to a renewable energy” that is absolutely infeasible—unless everyone is willing to stop driving cars, flying on planes, and heating their homes, while simultaneously growing all their own food and building their own housing from baked-mud bricks. For Wall Street NGOs, the nature of campaigns is to undermine movements.

The half-truth—whole lie strategy of 350, that promotes magical thinking like ending all fossil fuels is actually a textbook case of psychological warfare. As the core strategy of 350, the false hope of fossil-free renewable energy is complemented by the magical thinking of the end times of capitalism. This popular disinformation, drilled into the minds of 350 followers ad infinitum, is the core of 350 psywar that is essential to the privatization strategy of the financial elite.

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You can see it in play with the false hope message that ‘capitalism is dying’. Really? It’s flourishing like never before. Just look at all the executive pay raises and people evicted by greedy slumlords driving up rents with venture capital used for gentrification. A pervasive term from those that flog false hope is ‘late-stage capitalism’, distorting the fact that capitalism is in its prime–stronger than ever. Another phrase false hope agent provocateurs use about this fantasy is that capitalism is now ‘winding itself down from system-level harms’, as though it wasn’t turbo-charged on total control of government institutions and rolling in stolen U.S. Treasury funds.

Remaking Capitalism Tweet

One of the magical ideas false hope promotes is that capitalism is dying because there is ‘no more profit to extract’. Jesus, where do they come up with this stuff? Capitalists are profiting hand-over-fist on everything from food to water to housing to medicine to energy with no end in sight. Do they think false hope followers aren’t paying rent and utility bills, or having to choose between food and medicine on their meager paychecks or social security benefits?

Lastly, the false hope pipe dream of ‘thriving prospects for all’ while we ‘live in harmony’ after the death of capitalism makes me wonder if they are smoking crack. Of course, they are not; they are preying on the misery of those who are desperate or gullible enough to fall for the core message of false hope, in order for their Wall Street paymasters to plunder what little we have left.

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[Jay Thomas Taber is an associate scholar of the Center for World Indigenous Studies 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 defending democracy. As a consultant, he has assisted Indigenous peoples in the European Court of Human Rights and at the United Nations.]

Sakej Ward – Decolonizing the Colonizer

Real News Media

January 13 , 2016

In this speech, Sakej Ward talks about decolonization in relationship to the original people of the land you are living in. He argues that a central aspect of any process of change requires the correct identification of the terms we use to describe ourselves. Ward seeks to dispel the illusions and resulting mistaken relationships that arise from using common labels of Canadians such as “guests”, “newcomers”, “brothers”, or “settlers” that suggest a passivity or undeserved level of innocence. Incorrect labels lead to incorrect relationships.

Ward argues that all of these labels mask the true nature of Canadians; they are occupiers upon indigenous homelands. The labels guests, partners, brothers and newcomers are all pacifist revisionist ways of incorrectly re-constructing the relationship. It starts by ignoring 500 years of genocidal atrocities and refuses to hold Canadians to account for their injustices. The label settler is too historically and politically sterile. Canadians are truly occupiers on our homelands. They need to acknowledge and take responsibility for the colonial crimes that they inherited, they benefit from and continue to impose today if any kind of reconciliation is to occur.

Ward concludes by arguing that European descendants need to trace back their own roots in their own homelands and overcome the trauma and destruction caused by the imperial Roman system that colonized them.

 

[Sakej (James Ward) belongs to the wolf clan. He is Mi’kmaw (Mi’kmaq Nation) from the community of Esgenoopetitj (Burnt Church First Nation, New Brunswick). He is the father of nine children, four grandchildren and a caregiver for one. He resides in Shxw’owhamel First Nation with his wife Melody Andrews and their children.]