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Green Economy, Red Herring

2012

by Clive Spash

revolt4

“We see the goals of Rio+20, the ‘Green Economy’ and its premise that the world can only ‘save’ nature by commodifying its life-giving and life-sustaining capacities as a continuation of the colonialism that indigenous peoples and our Mother Earth have faced and resisted for 520 years.”
Photo: EPA/MARCELO SAYAO


This year sees Rio plus 20 years and much activity especially from United Nations (UN) related institutions to push forward various agendas which the environmentally concerned might welcome. The financial and banking crisis signals for many the tip of the iceberg of reality into which modern industrial economies must inevitably run. Growth of material and energy throughput is then doomed to sink. However, the reports and rhetoric prepared for Rio have little to do with attempts to revive the anti-growth and limits to growth discourse under de-growth or décroissance (a topic explored in a special issue of Environmental Values next year). No, the thrust of the argument being put on the agenda is that re-establishing growth as fast as possible is good, if not essential and unquestionable, but it should be a bit greener. We might venture to ask why this is deemed an adequate response to biophysical limits, increasing social inequity and general systems failure?

At the base of the international response is a dispute over ‘what is the problem?’ in the first place. If you are amongst the top few per cent of the worlds’ population who own the vast majority of its wealth and run its business interests then there is no problem. A financial crisis is just another opportunity to make money by switching assets (e.g., out of dollars or Euros and into gold) and then switching back when the time is ripe. War, famine and environmental disasters are all opportunities for the business men and women with the right goods and services in the right place at the right time. One man’s poverty is another man’s cheap labour and source of cost-efficient profit making. This line of thinking is what we now see being expressed far and wide as necessary to address environmental problems from climate change (Stern 2006) to biodiversity (TEEB2010) using newly created financial instruments (Spash 2010a; 2011).

The approach has been nicely encapsulated in the UN’s promotion of the ‘Green Economy’ with a more than 600 page report released last December. A UNEP policy brief aimed at informing Rio 2012 provides a succinct explanation of what this means:

In the transition to a Green Economy, policymakers should ensure that the full range of goods and services provided by ecosystems, including those which are currently non-monetised, are fully integrated in decision making and public policy. […] Placing a value on ecosystem services through mechanisms that facilitate investment in ecosystems will at the same time benefit local people and the private sector who are rewarded for good environmental stewardship. (UNEP 2011: 3)

Faith is required, namely faith in market mechanisms and the ability of technical experts to first value the environment and then capture those values with market institutions and private property rights. Yet the message is simultaneously intertwined with expressions of concern for the poor, the seriousness of environmentalproblems and the need for change. We are told that, the Green Economy ‘is a new development path that is based on sustainability principles and ecological economics’ (UNEP 2011: 2). The model is of course not new but involves rapid deployment of a growth stimulus package which is now Green because it will use ‘economic models for wealth creation, to focus increasingly on the value of ecosystem goods and services and natural capital’ (UNEP 2011: 7). ‘Compared with previous development paths, the uniqueness of a Green Economy is that it can directly turn natural capital into economic value whilst maintaining it, and conduct total cost accounting’ (UNEP 2011: 8). As if the smell of herring were not strong enough to lose the environmental trail, we are also informed that the aim is for ‘a common language of comprehensive ecosystem valuation’. The environment neatly slips off the agenda and is replaced by growth, jobs, capital investment and wealth accumulation. The environmentalists, conservation biologists and ecologists can be replaced by accountants.

Industrialisation and the spread of markets and consumerism was long ago recognised as corrosive of social and individual values. In this issue, Cannavò (2012) shows this concern formed an integral part of Jeffersonian Republicanism and the writings of Thoreau. The struggle for a more meaningful life which is environmentally benign is both a personal and community challenge. Thoreau’s ideal appears as a halfway house between living in towns to toil for needless luxuries and realising personal integrity and moral virtue from living in wild lands. What the Green Economy lacks is the essential reconnection with Nature that would put humans in context as members of a larger community of organisms. This divergence from conquering Nature is one that separates Thoreau from Jefferson, the environmentalist from the developer. The aim of Thoreau is to tread lightly on the planet while gaining basic requirements for personal flourishing, as exemplified by his experiment growing beans within a semi-wild natural setting. The point is rather different from maximising production while hoping to avoid destroying the basic systems upon which we depend.

The links between human social and environmental relationships are too easily neglected in favour of the simplistic splitting of the world into us and them, man and nature, culture and wilderness, economy and environment. As Matthews (2012) explains, the ontological human-animal distinction has been employed at various points in time to designate women, children, indigenous peoples, and ‘others’, as non-human. This serves to justify violence and oppression. Nature as object for economic exploitation falls within this same frame. Matthews calls for us to deconstruct how we think and conduct our lives so that we might feel, think and act differently.

The complexity of meanings of Nature is too easily brushed aside by calls for comprehensive total cost accounting. Ioris (2012) refers to the technobureaucratic rationality of monetisation and water pricing as removing the plurality of meanings associated with the allocation, use and conservation ofwater. Environmental economics is described as having subverted other values. He recognises a sentient ecology in which knowledge emerges out of feelings, sensitivities and skills developed through long experiences in particular environments. This bears a striking resemblance to Thoreau, and also attacks strong social constructivism as implying human cognition outside the world of Nature. At the same time Ioris argues for the values of water being generated from a perpetual interplay between individuals, their social groupings, and the multiple forms of socio-ecological interaction. Water takes on different meanings for different people. He concludes that systems of valuation are intensely politicised, involving struggles between groups. Thus, no single value dominates but multiple systems of values overlap and meaning is constantly reconstructed in relation to material, symbolic and discursive practices.

That the conceptualisation of reality is subject to contestation and change is exemplified by Van Assche, Bell and Teampau (2012). They argue that knowledge and power are intertwined. An imposed scientific discourse for environmental protection is shown to have in part alienated Romanians in the swamps of the Danube delta. The lack of trust in outside authorities creates a dismissive attitude to the value of wildlife and ecosystem protection. When this mixes with the personal experience of working directly in the swamplands and traditional and cultural values, the result can be confused and self-contradictory discourses. The same birds are at one moment described as beautiful and the next as ugly, while socio-economic problems are blamed on particular species that are derided as needing extermination because they compete with humans. The recent privatisation of common resources (fish and reed) that local people once depended upon did no more to help than earlier development plans and fish farms of the Soviet era. Both economic models have identical core features of growth and exploitation with an imposed technocentric value frame that fails to relate to local people.

Rejecting a single correct discourse challenges the traditional approach of science and claims to truth based upon objectivity. Western governments are increasingly aware of the potential for open scientific debate to undermine policy positions, which they claim are scientific, factually based and objective. Muzzling government scientists to prevent them talking to the media is now openly practised in Canada (Ghosh 2012) and was my personal experience in Australia (Spash 2010b). Contrary to the claims of the Green Economy, protection of the environment is in opposition to traditional economic interests and therefore the discourse must be controlled. Once again a series of dichotomies are employed to support a black-and-white, us-and-them mentality in which rhetoric replaces reason. Such a conflict is discussed by Robins (2012) for the case of genetically modified crops in Australia. The problem goes beyond one of different discourses and values and exposes changing reality through technology. The result is to remove whole ways of life and relationships to Nature.

A core of concern running through the papers in this issue relates to the metaphysical (ontological) questions of what exists, what are the primary entities of concern, what are their most general features and relationships? The ontological understanding of the world we inhabit appears challenged in a changing social and economic system that is undergoing crisis. One tendency, as seen in some of the papers, is to move from the realisation that knowledge is created in contested social and political contexts to assuming that all reality is a social construction. From there it is a small step to claiming all positions are equally valid. However, this seems to confuse ontology with epistemology. The distinction is between what exists and how we form knowledge about the world and what then is the meaning of truly knowing something.

The environmental movement has long depended upon scientific investigation, empirical evidence and the acceptance of a biophysical reality. At the same time the social context and community aspects of valuing and relating to the world are accepted and seen as important, from Thoreau’s good life to the social norms preventing littering, as investigated by Torgler, García-Valiñas and Macintyre (2012). The vision for the future must, then, combine social ecological and economic understanding – but not in some simplistic unifying language of a Green Economy, nor through denying basic realities.

Societal, economic and environmental crises are unified as the result of an old but common deception that growth is good, more is better and there can be more for everyone. In the Green Economy the poor are promised environmental riches, recycled materials and renewable energy can be exploited without environmental impact, and technology always finds a substitute for what runs out. All things can be made compatible by ignoring the basic contradiction between ever-expanding human activity and a finite world. The illusion grows thinner every day, but in Rio expect to see people wearing green tinted spectacles and waving smoked fish at each other.

 

[Clive Spash I am an economist who writes, researches and teaches on public policy with an emphasis on economic and environmental interactions. My main interests are interdisciplinary research on human behaviour, environmental values and the transformation of the world political economy to a more socially and environmentally just system.]

 

References

Cannavò, P. 2012. ‘The half-cultivated citizen: Thoreau at the nexus of republicanism and environmentalism’. Environmental Values 21(2): 101–124.

Ghosh, P. 2012. ‘Canadian government is “muzzling its scientists”’. Retrieved 22 February 2012, 2012, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-16861468.

Ioris, A.A.R. 2012. ‘The positioned construction of water values: pluralism, positionality and praxis’. Environmental Values 21(2): 143–162.

Matthews, J. 2012. ‘Compassion, geography and the question of the animal’. Environmental Values 21(2): 125–142.

Robins, R. 2012. ‘The controversy over GM canola in Australia as an ontological politics’. Environmental Values 21(2): 185–208.

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

Spash, C.L. 2010b. ‘Censoring science in research officially’. Environmental Values 19(2): 141–146.

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

Stern, N. 2006. Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change. London, UK Government Economic Service.

TEEB 2010. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity: Mainstreaming the Economics of Nature: A Synthesis of the Approach, Conclusions and Recommendations of TEEB. Bonn, UNEP.

Torgler, B., M. García-Valiñas and A. Macintyre. 2012. ‘Justifiability of littering: an empirical investigation’. Environmental Values 21(2): 209–231.

UNEP 2011. ‘Restoring the natural foundation to sustain a Green Economy: A centurylong journey for ecosystem management’. International Ecosystem Management Partnership (IEMP) Policy Brief. Nairobi, UNEP: 30.

Van Aasche, K., S. Bell and P. Teampau. 2012. ‘Traumatic natures of the swamp: concepts of nature in the Romanian Danube Delta’. Environmental Values 21(2): 163–183.

 

 

David Suzuki: A Figure of Left-liberalism — At Its Breaking Point

Image by ‘Mad Love’

Overcoming Doom with Dr. David Suzuki

by Andrew Loewen

The Paltry Sapien

June 25, 2012

Canadians love David Suzuki, and rightly so.

The span of Suzuki’s lifework — from biologist to public broadcaster and environmentalist — testifies to a pivotal paradox of our time. Namely, that the emergence of modern environmentalism and expanding environmental consciousness has coincided exactly with the latticework expansion and penetration of industrial capitalism (and the hollowing of democratic mechanisms). So it is that 20 years after his daughter Severn, then age 12, addressed the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, Dr. Suze says such policy conferences are “doomed.” There’s been no progress. In fact, it’s only gotten worse. There can be no more avoiding the issue: humanity needs a whole new economic system.

Interestingly, Suzuki was recently forced to resign from the board of The David Suzuki Foundation, fearing that his outspokenness (his propensity for saying things that are true) would jeopardize the Foundation’s charitable status (what with the Harper Cons’ full-scale war on environmental and social justice organizations).

In this interview with Amy Goodman (video below) following the inevitable fiasco of the Rio+20 Summit (billed as the largest UN conference in history), Suzuki stands as a figure of left-liberalism — or social democracy — at its breaking point. The technocratic market-oriented efforts to combat greenhouse gas emissions such as Europe’s carbon trading scheme, sometimes touted by Suzuki and pragmatists of his ilk, have been revealed not as practical ameliorative steps, but terrible scams. And the vacuous but eloquent Harvard men like Barack Obama celebrated by liberal NGO do-gooders, have, of course, sold them down the river. To be blunt: for all the wisdom and rationality of his science, Suzuki’s Third-Wayist politics, like that of the mainstream environmental movement at large, have been an unmitigated failure if truly combating climate change is the benchmark.

Thus we might see in Suzuki’s forced shift from “charitable” to political “status” a long overdue turn in the right (read: left) direction. That is, while a forced play, Suzuki’s resignation is connected to a broader recognition, however painful, that the “practical” liberal  approach of addressing humanity’s challenges by getting all the smartest wonks together at a conference is worse than fantasy — it’s a catastrophe. There are vested interests, the world is riven by relations of power, and the shape of our future will be determined by the relentless and exterminatory logic of commodification. That is, unless more people, like Suzuki, wake up from their liberal dreaming, and get serious.

I could go on about the content of Suzuki’s remarks in this interview, which continue to express the contortions of someone with conventional political assumptions struggling to reckon with the impossibility of marrying capitalism to environmental sustainability. Some of the old euphemisms and evasions persist. Not yet a full apostate, Dr. Suzuki still cannot get his lips to form that lone little word, like YHWH, which liberals dare not say without qualification: capitalism. But a break has been made. At root, says Canada’s most trusted public figure, the problem we face is not corrupt politicians, oil companies, or denialists. It’s an economic system we must break up with. And I commend Suzuki for beginning to say what those on the far left have been saying for generations.

Rejecting Rio+20 & Other Cocktail Parties

Published on March 28, 2012

Republished June 28, 2012

by Gregory Vickrey

During the COP17 spectacle (17th Conference of Parties, the UN summit on Climate Change) in Durban, South Africa, in December 2011, La Via Campesina, the International Peasants Movement, issued a statement declaring certain actions be taken and conditions be met in order to prevent, forestall, or otherwise derail climate catastrophe. Because several of the actions do not appear to be copacetic with scientific reality, we endeavored to contact the organization, and sent the following email on December 7:

Dear Boa Monjane:

 

I write to you today with grave concerns about your recently publicized statement at COP17, and hope this will bring a fruitful dialogue.

 

Your statement exclaims a set of solutions seeking to limit “further” temperature rise to 1 degree. Given that the planet is currently up .8 by all relevant calculations, your statement leads a reader to believe you are seeking a ceiling at 1.8. If so, this is an incredibly dangerous number to stand behind, given the mathematical reality that we are, at a minimum, locked into 1.8 due to inertia, hydrates, and other feedback mechanisms. If not, and your statement purports an argument that we can and should stay below 1.0 total, it is an unachievable dream and must be clarified as such.

 

Returning to 1.8 and the best case reality of that number, it is only achievable with immediate and irreversible 100% reductions, yet your statement calls for a minimum of 50% to achieve your solution set. I believe it is irresponsible to promote 50% as a solution to climate crisis when anything less than 100% locks us into the scientific reality of inertia and systems betrayal through feedback mechanisms. It also comes nowhere close to making 1.8 – where we are already committed assuming 100% emissions reduction today – achievable, even with an unlikely assumption that methane hydrates are completely negated by nature.

 

I would very much like to understand why you claim 50% is part of the solution.

 

Another point of contention is your stated reliance on capitalism in the developed world for various funding mechanisms. It should be well understood that reliance upon any functional component of industrial capitalism for mitigation, adaptation, and reparation for any length of time lends credence to the mechanism, perpetuates it, and demands the growth of it, ironically, as the world condition grows more dire. Making statements where the world utilizes the very economic machinery responsible for the planet being on the brink of collapse in order to prevent the collapse is more than troubling. It is criminal.

 

Do you really believe the patriarchal industrial north has the means, the motive, and the benefit of planetary reality to stem the tide through finance? Many of us in developed countries know what it means to call for, and succeed in getting, 100% reductions. It means the end of nearly all we know, save maybe the planet. Those of us who understand the demands of Mother Earth in that context also recognize more people must rise up and fight for 100% all over the globe. Will La Via Campesina do so?

I very much look forward to your responses and the ensuing dialogue. I have cced my dear colleague and friend based in Canada, Cory Morningstar.

 

We received no response. On January 5, Cory Morningstar again sought feedback from the Via Campesina representative. No response. And now we are at the eve of Rio+20, where most of the same players will convene and further deteriorate any reasonable chance we have, as civil society, to stem the tide of climate change. As expected, the usual troop of NGOs will attend, claiming to speak for all of us while clamoring for cozy seats and sharp cocktails amongst the global elite. La Via Campesina will be there, too.

Fourth World Eye | Public Relations Puppets

Beautiful Children

Mar 20, 2012 by Jay Taber

Source: Center for World Indigenous Studies

In Poznan, Poland in 2008, the UN excluded indigenous nations delegates from participating in climate change talks, insinuating that only UN member states are legitimate governing authorities. The motivation for the United Nations exclusionary policy on indigenous peoples participation was that the UN was meeting to hatch a new scheme for transnational corporations and investment banks to control the world: it was called REDD, a Ponzi scheme for carbon-market trading that would make the Wall Street heists of today look like chicken feed. Indigenous nations sent delegates to protest this life-threatening fraud by the UN and its agencies like the IMF, World Bank, and WTO. Civil society groups spoke in support of the indigenous peoples, UN officials closed them out, and the world never knew.

In the runup to the 2009 UN conference on climate change in Copenhagen, I wrote about the news ruse perpetrated by the UN to undermine the Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change. True to their past practices, they repeated this trickery with an added twist, stating indigenous peoples could only participate through UN-recognized non-governmental organizations.

This privileged participatory posture of the UN was repeated in 2010 in Cancun, where the Indigenous Caucus spokesman Tom Goldtooth had his credentials revoked for calling the conference a trade show for promoting false solutions. Goldtooth and others were ejected by the UN for drawing media attention to the fact that a major agenda item of the international discussion in Cancun, as in Copenhagen, was to silence indigenous peoples. I later wrote about the NGO ambassadors of greed fronting for the UN scheme, noting commentary by Goldtooth that he had never witnessed the intensity of deception as unleashed by the UN in Copenhagen and Cancun.

Now, in the runup to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012, the UN has preselected indigenous representation — already compromised by bribery from UN agencies and transnational corporations — as those that will be permitted to participate. As cheerleaders funded by such entities as Ford Foundation, these supplicants amount to little more than public relations puppets.

RIO+20 | Indigenous Leaders in Brazil and Abya Yala Shut Out of RIO+20 Process by United Nations and Elite NGOs

RIO+20 | Statement from Indigenous Peoples of Brazil Opposing Interference and Disrespect by States, the United Nations and Corporate Indigenous NGOs

WKOG Editor: At Rio+20 an unethical, corrupt and unfortunate reality continues to unfold. The reality is that of an escalating, internal Indigenous power game which has now reared its ugly head once again at the Rio+20 conference. An existing Indigenous elitist UN group, comprised/inclusive of acquiescent NGOs, has grabbed control over the funding and “official organizing powers”, thus isolating the Indigenous peoples who refuse to bow down to corporate interests and sell out their people. This funding is used in part, to fly in selected Indigenous representatives who NGOs (i.e. Tebtebba) have trained upfront to support REDD, the false solution of a false solution vehemently opposed by ethical Indigenous groups around the globe. Adding further insult to injury, the people being pushed out are those under a national umbrella; indigenous organizations from Brazil – the country hosting the summit.

This is an urgent issue and yet it has been met with resounding silence on International NGO organizing environmental list-servs.

Victoria Tauli Corpus is the Executive Director of Tebtebba (Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy and Research Education). Corpus is also is a board-member of Conservation International. Both Corpus and the NGO she oversees, that of Tebtebba, work closely with the United Nations (UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues) and have been instrumental in pushing the false solution of REDD forward.

Recently, a contact group on SBSTA REDD Plus was co-chaired by Peter Graham and Victoria Tauli Corpus, producing the SBSTA REDD Plus TEXT.

From Feb 2002 to present Corpus has been a Member of National Selection Committee of the Ford Foundation who has invested heavily in advancing the REDD agenda.

As well, Corpus is a board member of the pre-COP15 corporate creation TckTckTck. TckTckTck was  initiated by the United Nations working with one of the largest marketing agencies in the world (Havas), while partnering with many of the most powerful corporations on the planet, in a united effort to “to make it become a movement that consumers, advertisers and the media would use and exploit.”

On March 20,2012 there will be an event at the UN organized by Tebtebba, the Indigenous elite NGO who works closely with the United Nations. This NGO has been instrumental in pushing the false solution of REDD forward. This NGO has chosen an individual that works for  the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Brazil, to be the lead organizer for the indigenous at Rio +20. This Individual clearly represents the government first and foremost, not the Indigenous Peoples of Brazil.

Although an objection letter (Charter of Porto Alegre – see below) is very clear, the response from the UN, the NGOs, and the elite circle of Indigenous “politicians” is that of absolute silence.

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