Beware the Rio + 20 Green Economy Initiative

I was just on a listening conference call with Anil Naidoo, of The Blue Water Project who warned that:

Big banks such as Deutschebank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, the World Economic Forum, and many other powerful corporations and interests are pushing policies that will increase the access of corporations to the earth’s resources at the expense of people and the environment. These policies would negatively impact current efforts to promote the rights of communities over their own resources and to stop land grabs, big dams, water markets, extractives, false climate solutions and other corporate grabs – across the broad spectrum of natural resource and global economy issues. LINK.

During the call a 2009  document from Friends of the Earth’s Michelle Chan was recomended as very relevant regarding the upcoming RIO + 20 Earth Conference.  Naidoo also mentioned that ‘the humn right to water’ has been so far removed from the Rio +20 working document for discussion. Chan was questioning that the carbon trading model could become a new derivatives market:

“Should we really create a new $2 trillion market when we haven’t yet finished the job of revamping and testing new financial regulation?” she asks. Chan says that, given their recent history, the banks’ ability to turn climate change into a new commodities market should be curbed…LINK

The danger is a ‘Financialisation of Nature’, brought in under the Trojan Horse of The Green Economy, a phrase which draws no criticism, and ‘must be good’ because it has the word Green in it. The Tragedy of The Commons is the argument used by advocates of the Green Economy, as a way of justifying the privatisation of natural resources.

The explanation was simple. The fenced area was private property, subdivided into five portions. Each year the owners moved their animals to a new section. Fallow periods of four years gave the pastures time to recover from the grazing. The owners did this because they had an incentive to take care of their land. But no one owned the land outside the ranch. It was open to nomads and their herds. Though knowing nothing of Karl Marx, the herdsmen followed his famous advice of 1875: “To each according to his needs.” Their needs were uncontrolled and grew with the increase in the number of animals. But supply was governed by nature and decreased drastically during the drought of the early 1970s. The herds exceeded the natural “carrying capacity” of their environment, soil was compacted and eroded, and “weedy” plants, unfit for cattle consumption, replaced good plants. Many cattle died, and so did humans.

The rational explanation for such ruin was given more than 170 years ago. In 1832 William Forster Lloyd, a political economist at Oxford University, looking at the recurring devastation of common (i.e., not privately owned) pastures in England, asked: “Why are the cattle on a common so puny and stunted? Why is the common itself so bare-worn, and cropped so differently from the adjoining inclosures?”

Lloyd’s answer assumed that each human exploiter of the common was guided by self-interest. At the point when the carrying capacity of the commons was fully reached, a herdsman might ask himself, “Should I add another animal to my herd?” Because the herdsman owned his animals, the gain of so doing would come solely to him. But the loss incurred by overloading the pasture would be “commonized” among all the herdsmen. Because the privatized gain would exceed his share of the commonized loss, a self-seeking herdsman would add another animal to his herd. And another. And reasoning in the same way, so would all the other herdsmen. Ultimately, the common property would be ruined. LINK.

I see paralels between the Green Economy Agenda and the shift from The Washington Consensus to The Post Washington Consensus (PWC),  in that the justification is the same –  what we did was working but we didn’t do it enough – structural adjustment didnt work because there was not enough liberalisation and market allocation. In the same way the environment is degraded because there is too much government intervention. Also both The Green Economy and the PWC used a certain type of language that sounded like concessions were being made to the critics of the Washington Consensus (an admission that it didn’t work), while actually working to deepen the neoliberal agenda. Christophe Aguiton writes:

In the 1980s, faced with a crisis of profitability, capitalism launched a massive offensive against workers and peoples, seeking to increase profits by expanding markets and reducing costs through trade and financial liberalization, flexibilisation of labour and privatization of the state sector. This massive ‘structural adjustment’ became known as the Washington Consensus.

Today, faced with an even more complex and deeper crisis, capitalism is launching a fresh attack that combines the old austerity measures of the Washington Consensus — as we are witnessing in Europe – with an offensive to create new sources of profit and growth through the “Green Economy” agenda. Although capitalism has always been based on the exploitation of labour and nature, this latest phase of capitalist expansion seeks to exploit and profit by putting a price value on the essential life-giving capacities of nature.

The Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit of 1992 institutionalized important bases for international cooperation on sustainable development, such as polluter pays, common but differentiated responsibilities and the precautionary principle. But Rio also institutionalized the concept of “sustainable development” based on unlimited “growth”. In 1992, the Rio Conventions acknowledged for the first time the rights of Indigenous communities and their central contributions to the preservation of biodiversity.  But, in the same documents, the industrialized countries and corporations were guaranteed intellectual property rights to the seeds and genetic resources they stole throughout centuries of colonial domination.

Twenty years later, in 2012, the plunder continues. The “Green Economy” agenda is an attempt to expand the reach of finance capital and integrate into the market all that remains of nature. It aims to do this by putting a monetary “value” or a “price” on biomass, biodiversity and the functions of the ecosystems – such as storing carbon, pollinating crops, or filtering water — in order to integrate these “services” as tradable units in the financial market.

The “Green Economy” considers it essential to put a price on the free services that plants, animals and ecosystems offer to humanity in the name of “conserving” biodiversity, water purification, pollination of plants, the protection of coral reefs and regulation of the climate. For the “Green Economy,” it is necessary to identify the specific functions of ecosystems and biodiversity and assign them a monetary value, evaluate their current status, set a limit after which they will cease to provide services, and concretize in economic terms the cost of their conservation in order to develop a market for each particular environmental service. For the “Green Economy,” the instruments of the market are powerful tools for managing the “economic invisibility of nature.”

The main targets of the “Green Economy” are the developing countries, where there is the richest biodiversity. The zero draft even acknowledges that a new round of “structural adjustments” will be necessary: “developing countries are facing great challenges in eradicating poverty and sustaining growth, and a transition to a green economy will require structural adjustments which may involve additional costs to their economies…”.LINK.

Pehaps it is worth remembering leading mainstream economist and World Bank Economist Lawrence Summers’ candid remarks about the right to a clean environment being something which the poor should not necessarily have access to, because market allocation should only ‘give’ access to a clean environment to people who make the ‘decision’ to invest in living in a clean environment, Jim Valette of Counterpunch wrote out the contents of Summers’ memo in 1999:


“DATE: December 12, 1991 “TO: Distribution “FR: Lawrence H. Summers “Subject: GEP

“‘Dirty’ Industries: Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Less Developed Countries]? I can think of three reasons:

“1) The measurements of the costs of health impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.

“2) The costs of pollution are likely to be non-linear as the initial increments of pollution probably have very low cost. I’ve always though that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City. Only the lamentable facts that so much pollution is generated by non-tradable industries (transport, electrical generation) and that the unit transport costs of solid waste are so high prevent world welfare enhancing trade in air pollution and waste.

“3) The demand for a clean environment for aesthetic and health reasons is likely to have very high income elasticity. The concern over an agent that causes a one in a million change in the odds of prostrate cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostrate cancer than in a country where under 5 mortality is is 200 per thousand. Also, much of the concern over industrial atmosphere discharge is about visibility impairing particulates. These discharges may have very little direct health impact. Clearly trade in goods that embody aesthetic pollution concerns could be welfare enhancing. While production is mobile the consumption of pretty air is a non-tradable.

“The problem with the arguments against all of these proposals for more pollution in LDCs (intrinsic rights to certain goods, moral reasons, social concerns, lack of adequate markets, etc.) could be turned around and used more or less effectively against every Bank proposal for liberalization.”

…His 1991 memo can be considered a working thesis behind this decade’s dominant global economic policies. LINK.

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Water and Inequality

Water and Inequality

“People, as they become wealthier, tend to use more water. Studies by the Environmental Protection Agency put average American household water consumption at about 100 to 150 gallons per day per person, by far the highest in the world. Compare that to an average of 74 gallons in Europe, just 35 gallons by the Swiss and 23 gallons by the Chinese. Africans use just 17 gallons. Now, think of all the double-head showers being installed in tony condos throughout China and India.”

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