Archives

Tagged ‘Robert Costanza‘

Quelo, Greta & the Neoliberal Doctrine of Multiple Truth

The Pedant

January 22, 2020

 

 

 

For public consumption. December 6, 2019. Greta Thunberg arrives at COP25 in Madrid.

 

Inside COP25, Dec 11, 2019. No public consumption required. David Shukman, BBC, Twitter: “As we wait for Greta Thunberg it’s quite striking how many delegates have not turned up for this session.”

 

*Translated from Italian to English via Google Translator.

Introduction by author:

I propose below, slightly edited, a long article by the friend Pier Paolo Dal Monte appeared a few days ago on the blog Frontiere . The analysis – so far unique in its kind, except for my oversights – has the advantage of placing the latest emergence of the “climate” in the broader methodological framework dictated by the productive and social models that today dominate without alternatives, highlighting the contradictions and omissions from the ongoing debate a true mirror of the crisis of those models and the violence destined to ensue.

Except for a few details (for example on the feasibility of relegating the capitalist model to minor activities, or on the function of ” denial ” which I would distinguish more clearly from the gatekeeping activity , while both serving the same purposes) I deeply share the thesis presented and greetings in the work by Pier Paolo a very successful attempt to unravel and document the “red thread” often perceived in the articles and comments of this blog.


Superstructure and underlying

 

“There is a big crisis”, Quelo would say , that sort of parodic crasis of saint and telepreacher that was interpreted by Corrado Guzzanti.

The crisis, is the “disturbing guest” of our times, always accompanies any present, with an up and coming of many crises: The economy, Lecology, Lademography, Lemigrations, Lapoverty, Lepidemias, Inflation, Ladeflazione … a pressing of crisis that it reduces the poor human beings like so many punched boxers who, unable to react, receive all the blows that the media pour on their poor minds.

Obviously, we cannot now speak of all the crises brought to the fore by the inexhaustible cornucopia of the media; we will therefore concentrate on only one of them which, periodically (and now, also, overwhelmingly), is brought to the attention of public opinion, that is what is called “climate crisis” or “global warming” whatever you want .

This time, to create dismay in the victims of media mythology about this “ghost who wanders the world”, a scientist with an icy and slightly abstruse language was not used, not a politician imbued with Al Gore, or a Hollywood actor on a leash (which, you never know, could have been photographed driving a Lamborghini or on board a private jet). No, none of this. This time the screenwriters of the crisis creation units outdid themselves and pulled an ideal person out of the cylinder to excite the infantilized postmodern masses: a poor overdeveloped and autistic (albeit low-grade) girl who claims to perceive (it is not known with as sense organ) the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere (which is calculated in parts per million). In conclusion,

Hats off to the screenwriters: with such scarce ingredients, they managed to create a world-wide media delicacy, which gave rise to a “movement” of equal scope, the so-called Friday for Future (in short, a long weekend), spontaneous as can be the ease shown by those who try to cross a border with a suitcase of cocaine in the trunk. And so a new form of “Hurry up!” Has been created with a global reach, a cosmic “external bond”, a state of planetary exception to which to subordinate the policies of what was once called “the west”.

In truth, this “emergency” is not as emerging as the directors of today’s inclement weather would have us believe, since the phenomenon has been studied since the 1950s, when we began to talk about the impact of increasing CO2 on anthropogenic base [1] . The phenomenon became known to world public opinion in 1988, at a hearing at the United States Congress by James Hansen, climatologist of Columbia University, who raised an alarm about the risk of global warming due, in fact, to the increase in “greenhouse gases”. In the same year the IPCC was established by the UN. This alarm was quickly followed by the “denial” response of the giants of the energy industry (to which various product sectors joined), who created a study center, the Global Climate Coalition (1989-2001), [2] with the task to refute and contrast the conclusions of the IPCC, thus adopting the typical neoliberal strategy (this too will be elucidated later) of putting “science against science”. After the dissolution of the GCC, the baton was passed on to other entities, including the Heartland Institute .

In the second half of the 90s the issue of global warming was the subject of growing attention by the media, which intensified in the early years of the new century, suffering a sudden halt on the occasion of the financial crisis of 2007/2008 and the consequent economic recession. Ubi major, minor cessat and, in the capitalist system, the major is always tied to economic issues; of course this does not mean that the other problems are not considered tout court – after all, despite what Fukuyama’s simpleton asserted, the story is not over – but that should raise some questions as to why such a crucial issue, such as global warming, should only pop up periodically. And, mind you, we do not make it a question of merit, or whether there is a climatic emergency or not, but, always and only, a question of method : an emergency should always be such, i.e. compelling and improachable, whatever are the concurrent economic or political conditions. If, on the other hand, this emergency takes on an “intermittent” character, the suspicion arises that, coeteris paribus (that is, by not questioning its veracity), the main purpose of this periodic appearance is, once again, to direct the attention of the masses towards the direction desired by those who control the system (the famous “powerful of the earth” intimidated by the girl who perceives the increase in CO2).

The existence of serious environmental problems [3] (not only climatic) has been reported since the 1960s , and it has been the beginning of the next decade that economic activity has been colored with an “ecological” nuance, turning it green (color that was fine with everything, before the notorious Paduan populists took it), the so-called “green washing”, which is also defined, with a more elegant phrase, “sustainable development”, an ineffable oxymoron that has the advantage of playing a lot well and not mean anything, since the two terms of the phrase are not characterized by precise definitions. “Development” presupposes a téloslos , an end to turn to, while “sustainable” requires a term of comparison: sustainable for whom? For what? Compared to what? Like? And so on.

In the absence of these clarifications, only an epitomic motto of the politically correct remains which testifies to the wonderful ability of capitalism to transform everything, even apparently negative factors, such as pollution and the crisis of the biosphere, into new market niches: in this incessant mimetic and reifying work has managed to create even a study discipline called “Ecological Economics” (complete with a dedicated magazine) inspired by the studies of Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen [4] (and, subsequently by Hermann Daly) who tried to highlight the incompatibility of the thermodynamic parameters with the economic ones. Like all good intentions, these studies have done nothing but pave the ways of hell leading, on the one hand, to the search for a monetary value of the “ecosystem services” (Robert Costanza) and, on the other, as was said , in the creation of new market niches surreptitiously called “bio”, “green”, “eco”, or whatever you want.

All these “washing” operations have the purpose, not only of creating new commercial niches and of transforming the remaining parts of the world into goods and markets; but also that of diverting attention from the real theme, that which inevitably leads to all the particular problems affecting capitalism, that is, the conceptual and unavoidably factual immeasurability between economic parameters and the physical world which, as Marx is well understood, resides in the primacy of the exchange value over the use value (or, before him, Aristotle when he distinguished between oikonomia and crematistics). Since the foundation of capitalism rests on the exponential accumulation of monetary means (capital), which is virtually infinite, but which must manifest itself, necessarily, in an environment that has a quantity of matter that is given, it is easy to understand how this fact may come to cause some problems.

The epistemic cage of neoliberalism

Starting from these premises, we can now talk about how the above issues are inserted in the epistemic framework that characterizes today’s capitalism, whose shape has been shaped by what has been called “neoliberalism”. As Philip Mirowski [5] (and partly also Michel Foucault, though not so explicitly [6] ) has documented, the core of neoliberal thought is not as economic as epistemological and has historically gone to connote it as a real “Collective of thought”, as Dietrich Plehwe asserted [7] (inspired by the writings of Ludwik Fleck which described the scientific enterprise as formed by “a community of people who mutually exchange ideas or maintain an intellectual interaction”). [8] Therefore it does not make much sense to consider (as many do), this phenomenon as an economic orientation or, even less, to explain it with the obsolete categories of political thought of the last century (political right, conservatism, liberalism, etc.).

This misunderstanding largely explains the failure of the movements that criticize and try to contrast the current physiognomy of capitalism (which is called “liberalism” or “neoliberalism”), [9] in which the promises that seemed implicit in the “glorious thirty years” of the post-war period were not kept, when a progressive future of well-being and equality for all seemed inevitable (at least in the countries of the so-called advanced capitalism). Not only did none of this come true, but a sort of stationary state in which previous conquests had consolidated was not maintained either. Conversely, throughout the western world, there has been a progressive decrease in well-being which is leading to the disappearance of the middle class, a reduction in services and an ever greater polarization of wealth.

Most of the criticisms have limited themselves to considering the current state of our world-form as a kind of benign disease in an otherwise healthy organism whose therapy would consist of a sort of restoration of the status quo ante (confusing the means with the end), a sort of irenic rebalancing to be obtained thanks to a restoration of effective market regulations, to an economy that returns under the control of the States, in which the primacy of manufacturing over finance is reaffirmed (the myth of the “real economy”: another chimera made up of immeasurable domains but, above all, that “forgives debtors” (Greece, poor countries, etc.). This lack of analysis has meant that movements mentioned above, were lulled into the illusion that it was enough to stage protests that “arise from below” against the “cruel and distorted state of the world”, [10] to hope to effectively combat the status quo. On the other hand, what has happened in the realm of reality is that almost all these protest movements (from the no global movement to the various colored revolutions) have proved, over time, skilled maskirovka who have kept their discontent and obstacles under control more and more possibility of contrasting the system.

It is difficult for those who are driven by the idea of “changing the world” to believe that the “spontaneity” of such protests is, in reality, the staging of a script written by others, a product ready to be put on the market of ideas. But the world created by the neoliberal collective of thought works just like this: it was able to create an all-encompassing epistemology that permeates contemporary culture with a heap of multiple truths, all equally “true”, which are able to cover all possible alternatives: from conformism to nonconformism, from reaction to revolution, from system to antisystem. A kaleidoscopic and protean regime in which a real and sensible criticism of the status quo has no basis on which to base itself (difficult to fight against something that does not have a defined form, being able to take all forms). When the world is represented, in every aspect, with a distorted image, it is almost impossible to perceive this reversal: as in the Platonic cave, viewers are led to believe that the images projected on the walls correspond to the real world.

We will not address this topic in its entirety, but we will focus only on the problem of global warming, so that it can constitute an exemplary paradigm of the aforementioned manipulation.

The neoliberal utopia and global warming

As we have said, the neo-liberal collective of thought has been able to build an entire paraphernalia of epistemic and political proposals which, in fact, have occupied the whole space of possible alternatives. Of course we are not talking about the banal and false center-right / center-left dialectic, democrats / republicans, conservatives / laborers who, however, invades the whole parliamentary space of liberal democracies. No, we are talking about a much more widespread and pervasive occupation (obliteration, when this is not possible) of all forms of thought and action, even outside the “politicized politics”, which it has managed to pack, with the complicity of the beautiful souls of progressivism of all shapes and all ages, not only, create an all-inclusive catalog of “political” proposals, capable of covering the entire range of demand from the public, with short, medium and long-term objectives .

To fully understand this operation it is good to take a small step back and briefly explain a crucial point of neoliberal epistemology. It has always rejected the false dichotomy of the state- owned laissez faire classics versus the market as antithetical devices. Unlike the latter, the neoliberals do not consider the market a place of allocation of goods (material or immaterial), but an information processor, the most effective and efficient processor known, much better than any human entity (individual or collective). [11]

Secondly – also unlike classical liberal thought and its modern offshoots – neoliberal ideology advocates a strong state which, however, does not have as its main (and not even secondary, in truth) task to control the animal spirits of the market, but that of controlling himself , or, as Marx would say, acting as a “bourgeois business committee” whose purpose is to promote, safeguard and extend the areas of the market. To carry out this supreme task, the state must operate with all its prerogatives (including that of the monopoly of force) to build a sort of market totalitarianism (a telos potentially infinite) through an ever more extensive and widespread commodification of the existing.

Also with regard to global warming (which is ecological / thermodynamic in nature), we can note the difference in approach between neoliberal and classical liberals. For the latter, the problems of the biosphere are symptoms of market malfunction (market failure), the solution of which should lie in attributing a fair price to externalities (pollution, etc.), resources and so-called ecosystem services (approach of the Ecological Economics). For neoliberals, however, this type of problem is bound to arise inevitably due to the inextricable complexity of the interactions between society and the biosphere, to understand which human knowledge is inadequate. In reality, neoliberal thinking adopts this epistemological panoply in an entirely opportunistic way, using the complexity pro domo sua : since we cannot rely on human knowledge to understand and predict this multifaceted and becoming reality, there is a need for a sort of deus ex machina, of a little devil by Maxwell, of a rhetorical fiction passed off as truth: an idealized image of a perfect market, a spontaneous authorizing officer of the spontaneous order and a supreme processor of information, the motionless (but, in fact, mobile) engine to which it is addressed the task of finding solutions to any problem. Since, however, this “spontaneous” order is not given in political systems – and we would miss more! – all the strength of a strong state is needed which, with its empire, can spontaneously spontaneously what is not spontaneous (hence also the fiction of the “free” market).

At this point, the strategy appears somewhat circular: since we cannot rely on political decisions to tackle complex problems (of which climate change is certainly part), given that the cognitive ability of decision makers is fallacious by definition, then it is decision-makers need to take a step backwards, abdicating their task and entrusting to the market [12] with a political decision! – the task of deciding which are the best solutions. But sometimes the problem is rather reluctant to be channeled casually into market mechanisms, and that of global warming is certainly part of this category. In these cases, the strategy will have to follow a more complex plan and be unraveled according to various successive stages. Here we can identify a strategy composed of different stages characterized by different strategies of manipulation of public opinion: from the promotion of scientific “denialism” to the creation of phenomena such as Greta Thunberg or Friday for Future All sides of the same coin: the “neoliberal response” to climate changes. [13]

a) Scientific “denial”

The first stage generally consists of taking time to work out the next stages. In cases like this, the most effective technique is to instill doubt in public opinion that this type of problem is not related to the economic model of today’s society (overconsumption, pollution, overexploitation of the biosphere, etc.), in a nutshell: that the market is never guilty (in this regard it is useful to point out that, for example, in the countries of the Soviet bloc the ecological problems were much more serious, etc.).

The purpose of what has been called scientific “denial”, promoted mainly by the Global Climate Coalition and then by the Heartland Foundation, to which we have already mentioned, was to control public opinion which, alarmed by the problem of global warming could have put pressure on governments to face it with political decisions, or, as we said, to take time to develop appropriate solutions to bring the issue back into the market. The “denialist” solution, albeit of a temporary nature, had the advantage of being quickly deployable and cheap and of diverting the public’s attention from the appropriate arguments.

The strategy of the “neoliberal collective of thought” has it that the first response to a political challenge must always be epistemological: [14] it is necessary to question what constitutes the topic of this challenge, in this case, to deny the problem and delay indefinitely with sterile diatribes regarding merit (that is, whether or not there is global warming on an anthropogenic basis). The “market of ideas” must always be sprayed with doubt so that, as an effective herbicide, it can only develop the desired plants (ideas). This technique, described by the historian Robert Proctor under the name of , [15] has proved very effective over time.

Neoliberal doctrine formally defends anyone’s right to uphold any foolishness with equal right (the “wisdom of the masses”) [16] because, ultimately, the realm in which truth is established is always the market. The latter, however, is never free as he is passed off, but is controlled by those to whom it is convenient that he is passed off as free (and certainly not by that group of experts who represents “official science”). In fact, the neoliberal doctrine coincides perfectly with that of Quelo: “the answer is within you, and yet it is sbajata [unless it coincides with ours]”. [17]

This first stage, however, is far from sufficient to channel the problem into market mechanisms, therefore it is necessary to elaborate the subsequent stages making sure that they unfold through a product offer that is able to cover the entire spectrum of the “question “of” solutions”. It is also necessary that each of these implies the creation of a profit and, possibly, that extends the sphere of the market to areas never touched before.

b) The marketing of CO2 and accumulation by expropriation

After this first agnotological stage, the market has to enter at some point. In this case, market action unfolds along two main lines: the first is constituted by monetization and the consequent financialisation of ecosystem services, that is, by the creation of CO2 emission permits; the second, from what David Harvey called “accumulation by expropriation”.

The establishment of emission permit markets constituted a clever strategy to build a new commodity and financial sector, but also to convince political actors that the answer to the problem of climate change, that is, the decrease in the emission of greenhouse gases were to compete with markets instead of governments: something that should have been political was marketed . Of course, this “solution” did not lead to any result, for what was the stated purpose: in fact it did not prevent the emission of a single CO2 molecule. [18] On the other hand, this was certainly not the real purpose, which vice versa, was to use the excuse of global warming to create a new financial instrument out of thin air, a virtual commodity that commoditizes a physical data, moreover virtualized, a new derivative from enter the great forge of finance by providing operators with an additional speculative tool to be transformed into real currency.

The other arm of the medium-term strategy was that of accumulation by expropriation, which deserves a few words of explanation:

Marx’s description of “primitive accumulation” includes phenomena such as the commodification and privatization of the land and the expulsion from it of the peasant population; the conversion of various forms of collective property into private property; the commodification of the workforce and the elimination of alternatives to it; colonial or neocolonial appropriation processes of natural goods and resources; monetization of trade and taxation of land; slave trade; usury; public debt and the credit system. [19]

One might think that these types of accumulation are a legacy of the past, of the times of nascent capitalism and of those in which it began to assert itself in an ever more extensive and widespread manner.

For this purpose both legal and illegal methods are adopted […] Among the legal means include the privatization of what were once considered common property resources (such as water and education), the use of the power of expropriation for public utility, the widespread use of acquisitions, mergers and so on that lead to the splitting of company activities, or, for example, the evasion of social security and health obligations through bankruptcy procedures. The capital losses suffered by many during the recent crisis can be considered a form of expropriation that could give rise to further accumulation, since speculators today buy undervalued assets with the aim of reselling them when the market improves, making a profit.[20]

One of the most subtle forms of accumulation by expropriation is to surreptitiously drain public money, or directly from the pockets of citizens, to generate a private profit through ad hoc taxation , or to oblige the population to consume through the imposition decreed by the power of the State.

An example of the first type of practice is, without a doubt, that of renewable energy production plants (wind, photovoltaic, hydroelectric etc.) which are cases in which the energy produced is remunerated at a price higher than the market price (otherwise not would be economically viable). In this case, the surcharge is paid by general taxation or by an additional outlay in the electricity supply tariffs. Except for the small production (in terms of MW / h) of the plants for family use, most of the electricity generation from these sources comes from large plants for which the investment is supported by large investors, generally financial companies . [21]This is a case in which the State operates as a perfect market agent: instead of promoting, with direct action, the much-vaunted “energy transition”, it promotes a system in which the profits of financial companies are borne by citizens through an increase in energy costs or through general taxation.

Another example of this type of accumulation, even if a little more indirect, is that of vehicles used for road transport. In this case, the State intervenes by changing the regulations that regulate the emissions of vehicles (especially those of CO2) and by inhibiting circulation for those vehicles that do not respect the imposed parameters. This marketing technique conducted through the force of the law currently forces users to change vehicles through a sort of programmed obsolescence de jure, and opens the way to new market niches (electric vehicles, hybrids, etc.). Obviously, this is another trick to force citizens to pay money in a certain sense forced, without any benefit as regards CO2 emissions as such, if we consider that the production process of a car, is responsible for a production of CO2 that is, on average, higher than that which the same car will produce in its cycle of use (probably, from this point of view, it would be more ecological to keep the same car for a few decades, but this does not help the market). [22]

Of course, to impose this vision on the population without too many accidents (which, for example, has not succeeded in France), [23] it is necessary to prepare public opinion with massive moralizing campaigns, such as the one for which they are using the girl who intimidates those “powerful of the earth” who have everything to gain from the creation of new market niches. However, the inexhaustible cornucopia of ideas of the collective of neoliberal thought does not end here, but is always launched towards new horizons.

c) Geoengineering and other neoliberal dystopias

Given that the emissions permit system and the myriad of renewable energy systems are now outdated solutions, even if they served the purpose very well, which was to extend the dominance of the market or extract money from the pockets of the population and governments , it is time to overcome these relics of the past with the long-term neoliberal solution: geoengineering. Here we come to the very core of the Doctrine, which postulates that entrepreneurial ingenuity, if left free to manifest its drives of “creative destruction”, may be able to find market solutions to solve any problem. Ideas cannot be left unproductive. When there is a possibility, they should be included in the political discourse and pursued by all means. It is therefore time to open incredible new opportunities (!) To transform parts of the globe into goods and markets that no one thought could have had this destiny – and this destination. Geoengineering represents the futuristic and science fiction face of neoliberalism and, together with the delusions of genetic engineering and artificial intelligence, its most dystopian face.

“Geoengineering” is a sort of collective definition that identifies a wide range of large-scale manipulations aimed at modifying the climate of the earth, to “correct” climate change. It includes “solutions” such as the artificial increase of the planet’s albedo through various types of “management” of solar radiation (through the diffusion of reflective particles in the stratosphere, the installation of mirrors in the space orbit or the covering of deserts with reflective material); the increase in the sequestration of CO2 by the oceans through the stimulation of the growth of phytoplankton (fertilization of the oceans with nutrients, mixing of the layers) or of the mainland (burial of plant residues; introduction of genetically modified organisms, or, again, the extraction and confinement of CO2 directly to the point of emission). This sort of delusional ideation has rather close connections with the “collective of neoliberal thought” as several institutions that are its direct emanation, such as the American Enterprise Institute, Ii Cato Institute, the Hoover Institution and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, deal with active in the promotion of geoengineering. The academic temple of neoliberalism itself, the Chicago School of Economics, has publicly supported this delusion the Hoover Institution and the Competititive Enterprise Institute are very active in promoting geoengineering. The academic temple of neoliberalism itself, the Chicago School of Economics, has publicly supported this delusion the Hoover Institution and the Competitive Enterprise Institute are very active in promoting geoengineering. The academic temple of neoliberalism itself, the Chicago School of Economics, has publicly supported this delusion[24] .

Of course, these projects are only lysergic hallucinations brought to an institutionally recognized level : see under the heading: “says Lascienza”. But this amazing science, in these cases, can only assert hypotheses that have no chance of being tested experimentally. There is no way of verifying the hypothesized assumptions ex ante , let alone unwanted effects. Here the laboratory is made up of the whole world and the ex post could be a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions . But evidently these considerations do not have the power to scratch the adamantine determination of our apprentice sorcerers burned by the sacred fire of Prometheus. Ça va sans direthat these amazing proposals would act only on the effects and certainly not on the causes of the problem. On the other hand, acting on the causes would mean questioning the bases on which capitalism itself rests while according to the neoliberal epistème. If capitalism has caused problems, the solution is: more capitalism!

So, geoengineering solutions bring enormous advantages according to neoliberal criteria, because they do not limit consolidated markets (never let less Hallo Kitty or cheeseburgers be produced in the world, or that indoor skiing can no longer be done in Dubai! ), but expands market areas towards new horizons: nothing less than the privatization of the atmosphere and climate. Because, if it was not understood, the purpose is this, as well as putting the planet hostage of some private entities (those that develop patent-protected “solutions”), [25] so that they can profit from something that, magically , it can become a commodity with a few strokes of the pen, with the excuse of a global “hurry up!” because “the next generations ask us”.

***

This closes the circle. In the amazing world of Quelo and Greta, teknè is politicized through yet another circular reasoning, because the problems are too complex to be addressed with solutions that are not technical (the answer is within you, and yet it is sbajata), until completely obliterate the space of politics other than that of a mere “bourgeois business committee”. Because there is no alternative to the truths of a science that has become dogma and of a society that has abandoned any dogma that is not that of the market order, that according to which the “providence that governs the world” acts with an invisible hand so that the mystery of creation can be manifested.

The same science has abandoned any epistemic function to become a mere management paradigm and has no greater meaning, as far as knowledge of the world is concerned, than the rules of the Monopoly have. The order of the market remained the only praxis that guides human actions and the only tealos , autotelic and perpetually progressive, to which the gaze of what we once used to call civilization turns.

 


  1. The most relevant studies were conducted by Hans Suess, Gilbert Plass, Roger Revelle and Charles Keeling.
  2. United States Chamber of Commerce. Source: K. Brill, “Your meeting with members of the Global Climate Coalition”, United States Department of State, 2001.
  3. At least since the release of Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring (1962).
  4. In turn influenced by the studies of Frederick Soddy.
  5. In P. Mirowski, Never let a serious crisis go to waste , Verso, London-New York, 2013; P. Mirowski, D. Plehwe, The Road from Monte Pelerin , Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2009.
  6. In M. Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics. Lectures at the Collège de France 1978–79 , Palgrave McMillan, Basingstoke, 2008.
  7. In P. Mirowski, D. Plehwe, cit., P. 4 ff .; 417 ff.
  8. In L. Fleck, The Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact , University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1979.
  9. Linguistic residue of the sterile diatribe between Benedetto Croce and Luigi Einaudi, which dates back to the late 1920s.
  10. In P. Mirowski, Never let a serious crisis go to waste , cit., Cap. 6.
  11. In P. Mirowski, “Naturalizing the market on the road to revisionism: Bruce Caldwell’s Hayek’s challenge and the challenge of Hayek interpretation”, in Journal of Institutional Economics , 2007.
  12. Which also includes the science that has proven its success in the “market of ideas”, which is also spontaneous as the drug dealer at the aforementioned customs.
  13. In P. Mirowski, Never let a serious crisis go to waste , cit.
  14. Ibid.
  15. In RN Proctor, L. Schiebinger, Agnotology. The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance , Stanford University Press, 2008.
  16. See FA Hayek, “The use of knowledge in society”, in American Economic Review , XXXV, No. 4, September 1945, pp. 519-30.
  17. “First and foremost, neoliberalism masquerades as a radically populist philosophy, which begins with a set of philosophical theses about knowledge and its relationship to society. It seems to be a radical leveling philosophy, denigrating expertise and elite pretensions to hard-won knowledge, instead praising the “wisdom of crowds.” It appeals to the vanity of every self-absorbed narcissist, who would be glad to ridicule intellectuals as ” professional secondhand dealers in ideas. “In Hayekian language, it elevates a” cosmos “—a supposed spontaneous order that no one has intentionally designed or structured — over a” taxis “—rationally constructed orders designed to achieve intentional ends. But the second, and linked lesson, is that neoliberals are simultaneously elitists: they do not in fact practice what they preach. When it comes to actually organizing something, almost anything, from a Wiki to the Mont Pèlerin Society, suddenly the cosmos collapses to a taxis. In Wikipedia, what looks like a libertarian paradise is in fact a thinly disguised totalitarian hierarchy “(in P. Mirowski, D. Plehwe,The Road from Monte Pelerin , cit., Pp. 425-426).
  18. The estimate is from the research office of the Swiss bank UBS, in a customer report of November 2011 (see https://www.thegwpf.com/europes-287-billion-carbon-waste-ubs-report).
  19. In D. Harvey, “The ‘new’ imperialism: accumulation by dispossession”, in Socialist Register , No. 40, p. 74.
  20. In D. Harvey, L’enigma del Capitale , Feltrinelli, Milan, 2011, pp. 60-61.
  21. Typically based abroad, if we refer to Italy or even to the so-called developing countries.
  22. See S. Kagawa, K. Hubacek, K. Nansai, M. Kataoka, S. Managi, S. Suh, Y. Kudoh, “Better cars or older cars ?: Assessing CO2 emission reduction potential of passenger vehicle replacement programs”, in Global Environmental Change , Volume 23, Issue 6, December 2013, pp. 1807-1818; M. Messagie, “Life Cycle Analysis of the Climate Impact of Electric Vehicles”, in Transport and environment , 2014; H. Helms, M. Pehnt, U. Lambrecht, A. Liebich, “Electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid energy efficiency and life cycle emissions”, 18th International Symposium Transport and Air Pollution, 2010.
  23. Recall that the factor that triggered the revolt of the Jaunes vests was precisely the tightening of the parameters for vehicle emissions. Of course, these mainly concerned vehicles of a certain age, which are those that guaranteed the mobility of the poorest population (in the presence of concomitant dismantling of public transport networks in the vicinity).
  24. See P. Mirowski, Never let a serious crisis go to waste, cit.
  25. See D. Cressy, “Geoengineering Experiment Canceled Amid Patent Row”, in Nature , No. 15, May 2012; M. Specter, “The Climate Fixers”, in The New Yorker , May, 2012.

 

The Orginal article in Italian can be accessed here.

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

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

January 3, 2020

By Michael Swifte

 

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

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

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

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

3 Moments

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

Context: Rights of Nature

People's Agreement of Cochabamba

People’s Agreement of Cochabamba

 

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

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

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

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

Context: Natural Capital

May 15, 1997

May 15, 1997

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012

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

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

2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017

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

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

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

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

2020

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

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

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

Robert Costanza and NENA 2017

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

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

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

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

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

You can view Costanza’s slide presentation here:

The Reforms Needed to Build an Ecological Economy

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

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

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

Image: [Source] [Source] [Source]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

No Contest

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

 

Notes:

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

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

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

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

2.‘Tropical Rain Forests: Bolivia’

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

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

3.‘A Challenge to Conservationists’ By Mac Chapin

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

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

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

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

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

[]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

NPIC: The Advocacy of the Neoliberalisation of Nature

Re-establishing an Ecological Discourse in the Policy Debate over How to Value Ecosystems and Biodiversity

Research paper:

Received 21 March 2012
Received in revised form
20 April 2015
Accepted 22 April 2015
Available online 28 May 2015

by Clive L. Spash and Iulie Aslaksen

 

“Most recently international support has been given for an experimental accountancy approach which shifts uneasily from physical measurement into monetary valuation, where apparently all the world’s assets (whether human, natural or social) are to be conceptualised as capital to be made commensurable and traded-off one for the other as necessary (United Nations, 2013). In the world of the mainstream economists and accountants, everything has a price and nothing is sacrosanct or inviolable.”

BBC 10 answer

Above: October 8, 2016, BBC: “Can you cost the Earth? Play our fund game and find out. Play to find out the financial value of nature

EXCERPT:

“This [the general conflict over development and values as ecologist and conservation biologists adopt a new environmental pragmatism] is exemplified by the Nature Conservancy in the USA which, under its director, ecologist, Peter Kareiva, advocates widespread use of biodiversity offsets in “development by design, done with the importance of nature to thriving economies foremost in mind” (Kareiva et al., 2012). In this framing, conservation should not pursue the protection of biodiversity for its own sake, but rather as instrumental to providing economic benefits. Traditional conservation is painted as the enemy of the poor. “In the developing world, efforts to constrain growth and protect forests from agriculture are unfair, if not unethical…” (Kareiva et al., 2012). A moral righteousness is evident in the necessity of poverty alleviation achieved through a very particular form of economic ‘development’. The recommendation is that: “Instead of scolding capitalism, conservationists should partner with corporations in a sciencebased effort to integrate the value of nature’s benefits into their operations and cultures.” (Kareiva et al., 2012). Such strong rhetoric in favour of traditional economic growth via resource extractivism, under a capital accumulating corporate imperialism, firmly places Nature and human labour in the role of resources to be exploited by the best available technology. The advocacy of the neoliberalisation of Nature, as a conservation strategy, is indicative of the increasing dominance of a narrow economic discourse (Arsel and Büscher, 2012).

As part of this trend, the arguments of environmental economists have come to the fore in conservation. Their position is that markets can work well to allocate resources efficiently, but that all costs and benefits must be taken into account. This means calculating social and environmental costs and internalising the resulting values within the institutions of the market place. That there are unpriced objects in the world is then the central problem that must be corrected by calculating hypothetical market (shadow) prices. This is meant to allow optimal resource management decisions to be taken on the basis of a comprehensive understanding of the financial consequences of all possible actions. Environmental management then becomes a form of accountancy.

Ecologists and conservation biologist have for some time been engaging in the realm of economic discourse both in terms of the subject matter, its language and concepts (e.g., Daily et al., 2000). Increasingly, Nature has become capital, ecosystem structure and functions have become goods and services, and what was valued in its own right requiring protection has become instrumental for providing consumers with utility. Simple money numbers, ideally large and aggregated (e.g., Balmford et al., 2002; Costanza et al., 1997), are seen as using the economic language of business and politics. The UNEP, European Commission and branches of various governments (German, Norwegian, Swedish, Japanese) have supported a major international initiative to establish a dominant monetary value discourse under the title of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), with the central aim of “mainstreaming the economics of Nature” (TEEB, 2010). Most recently international support has been given for an experimental accountancy approach which shifts uneasily from physical measurement into monetary valuation, where apparently all the world’s assets (whether human, natural or social) are to be conceptualised as capital to be made commensurable and traded-off one for the other as necessary (United Nations, 2013). In the world of the mainstream economists and accountants, everything has a price and nothing is sacrosanct or inviolable.

More than this, biodiversity values can be ‘captured’ by developing new financial instruments which represent units of biodiversity that can be traded and bought to offset the impacts of development (UNEP Finance Initiative, 2010). As Sullivan (2012 p.9) states: “Monetisation here is the process whereby something can be converted into money, and thus behave as a commodity that can be exchanged for a monetary payment. A key strategy [in promoting monetisation] is the recent discursive shift towards the use of language that brings ecology into the domains of economics and accountancy.” We might well ask why natural scientists are prepared to effectively drop their own language in favour of this economic and finance discourse? This has little to do with a traditional scientific understanding of biodiversity or ecosystems or indeed the discourse of ecology that helped establish the modern environmental movement….

This mainstream economic approach to the environment is essentially predicated on the mistaken belief that all choices are trade-offs between competing human preferences (Holland, 2002; Spash, 2008b). Preferences are taken to be what determines peoples’ demand and willingness to pay, and those preferences cannot and should not be questioned because people are assumed the best judge of their own interests (as noted by Easterlin, 2003). Allowance might be made for better informing people, but this should somehow avoid forming preferences, otherwise individuals would be unable to make independent choices and the implicit liberal political foundations of economics would crumble. The application of this approach to the environment reduces complex ethical questions such as whether elephants, tigers, bees or phytoplankton should have a place on the planet to a matter of personal preferences. Once all choices are made analogous to consumer desires or wants then optimal species extinction (as discussed, for example, by Swanson, 1994), becomes little different from choosing between flavours of ice cream (see Sagoff, 2004). You just need some basic product information, a means of payment and an institution that delivers the product when you pay.”

Read the full paper:

2015 Spash_Aslaksen Ecological_discourse JEM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: