Its all in the economics

Monday, 6th October 2008 at 21:32 UTC Leave a comment

Having just started a new job (which actually happens to be an old job, but hey), its unlikely posting will be regular for any length of time, but I’ve been playing with the idea of this post for sometime. In part, it was inspired by a comment made by Jonathan Neale during a Climate and Trade Unions session at the European Social Forum, in which he thanked environmentalists for raising the issue to its current level in public conciousness, but then talked of the need to move away from the Climate as an environmental issue.

It is enormously important that we seek to understand Climate Science, for its inevitable that it shall, to some extent, affect our lives in a very direct way. In a way its a bit like Medical Science; it affects us, so its a good idea to at least understand some basic facts, even if they’re heavily simplified. But by seeking to understand our climate and the grave danger of irreversible damage that it is undergoing, we can easily lose sight of inevitable struggle between different solutions to the problem.

It is of enormous credit to those who have raised the issue tirelessly that it now seems almost an inevitability that there will be a solution to climate change. But the real question we are therefore left with is the form this solution will take. And to deal with this, we need not simply be experts in Climate Science, we need to get to grips with the economics.

There are many in power for whom the viewpoint that says “we’re all in the same boat, rich and poor alike, and a solution must be found to our collective problem”. But the fact is, Climate Change poses only a fraction of the threat to the richest that it does to the poorest. Where dozens might die in Europe, thousands will die Africa. In a sense, this idea of being in one boat is therefore an illusion that assumes that the ideal solution is ideal for everyone. This really couldn’t be further from the case.

A solution could easily be proposed that, whilst reflective of the scientific reality facing us, is simply too hard to stomach. Yet there is a real risk that some initiatives that we would otherwise not consider endorsing might be placed on the table. And as we’ve seen, some proposals on the table won’t even solve the problem in the first place, let alone reflect the interests of the general populous. We must not allow the pretext of Climate Change to be used to invoke even greater injustices than those that Climate Change is already exacerbating.

Indeed, the proposed Carbon Credit market could result in exactly that: a situation whereby, unable to get credits, the poorest cannot afford to develop (or rather, pull itself up from underdevelopment) due to the expense of credits, nor can they get hold of technology that allows them to do so without polluting, because they can’t afford that technology, nor would they wish to become slaves to the spare parts and servicing regimes that Western corporations will gladly impose (this servicing market being the aim of the EU free-trade strategy for renewable technologies), and so the end result is that, not only do we see the poor suffer once, because their crops are more likely to fail, and other well-rehearsed arguments, but a second time because the policy which seeks to protect them from the hell of Climate Chaos is rigged against them.

All sorts of things could happen as a result of Climate Change. ID Cards could be imposed because more people will try and migrate to Europe, so we need a clear way for the police to distinguish between those who are legal and those who are not. In fact a real answer to Climate Change would deal with that problem in a far more humane way, acknowledging the fact that large swathes of Africa will require evacuating over the next few decades, rather than condemning them to certain death trapped in overcrowding, famine and hellish heat on the south side of the Mediterranean.

But ultimately, it is in the economics of a climate solution that a situation arises where we must decide whether we want a climate solution at any cost or some kind of “Climate Justice”, a new phase of the Global Justice movement that looks to create justice through, rather than despite, the rush to solve the climate crises. Above all, it must be a movement that is prepared to seriously question any proposed solution, and that doesn’t allow the scale of the problem to overshadow the human cost of the solution.

As the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change begins to draw its current phase of work to a close, through its conferences in Poznan this December and Copenhagen, December 2009, a renewed effort is needed. If the replacement for the Kyoto protocol is to bring any kind of justice, then any slanting of the economics (for that is the shape of solution being proposed) of the agenda in the direction of the world’s richest must be strongly resisted.

Once upon a time it was a fight to get Climate Change onto the agenda, because it was seen as “not in the interest of business” for it to be there. Now it is seen as a new Gold Mine of opportunities, from the ludicrously stupid, like Ocean Seeding, to the downright nightmarish (any number of policies that are proposed which at any other time would be questioned as fascist), to the straight-forward reincarnation of the classic free-market solution to everything: removing all tarrifs and trade barriers on renewable technology, so that Africa can benefit from our technology, and we can ensure Africa keeps transferring its wealth (what little is left) to Europe.

In Climate Change, business is beginning to recognise new openings for accumulation (despite the fact that accumulation caused this mess), and new possibilities for things to trade in, such as the market in soon to be much sought after Carbon Credits that are now worth $60 to $70 billion and will, under at least one estimation, reach $2 trillion annually by 2020. Indeed, who should be re-branding themselves as the administrators of the solution to this problem, but the World Bank, yet again trying to reinvent itself as the good guys; we should not allow ourselves to be fooled, surely we know better than to trust this discredited institution? In fact, all these interests (World Bank, Corporate, WTO, EU) are completely at odds with the interests of the general populace of the planet; they are unjust, and so we must resist them, instead calling for another solution that is economically just as well as capable of solving the problem (for whether credits will ever allow the solving of the initial problem is now much debated).

We must ensure a just end to Climate Change as much as we must seek a working solution. CO2 levels, and income differentials, must both cease to increase if we as humanity are to leave this century with a more just global society than we entered it with. And this must start with the agreement at Copenhagen, and to this end, there must be a movement against an unjust deal and in favour of a solution. It must seek the opinions of the indigenous and marginalised, and must help them make themselves, and ourselves, heard, through questioning the legitimacy of a process which has yielded nothing tangible, and through demanding a Just Solution to the problem.

To this end, Climate Activism must no longer be about saving the planet, but instead be about questioning those who claim a solution that will hand more power and wealth to those already most empowered and most likely to be least affected. It must cease to argue over the science, whilst learning from and acknowleging the huge contribution of scientists and environmentalists, and instead argue over the economics of the situation we find ourselves in. And it must be prepared to do that both in our communities, and on the streets of Copenhagen.


Entry filed under: Activism, Climate Change, Development, Economics, Environment, Immigration, Participation, Politics, Science.

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