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Found 4 results

  1. I often hear people saying that overpopulation is the main problem to our environmental and ecological problems. Some people even claim that it's responsible for global warming. I also agreed with this idea before. But after reading more about the subject over the years I have changed my mind. The rich countries in the "North", i.e. the West, have a "rapidly decreasing" population which is "expected to decline over the next forty years." Developing countries such as India, China and most of Africa on the other hand is where we will see future population numbers increasing. And yes. It seems so easy to blame countries with an overwhelming rising population for being responsible for wrecking our planet, climate and environment. Because surely more people must mean more pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Right? Not really. The West is responsible for about 80% of the worlds CO2 increase. An average person living in Great Britain will in only 11 days emit as much CO2 as an average person in Bangladesh will during a whole year. And just a single power plant in West Yorkshire in Great Britain will produce more CO2 every year than all the 139 million people combined living in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique. As Fred Pearce from the Yale Environment 360 blog notes, only a small portion of the world's people are using most of the planets resources as well as producing the most of the greenhouse gases. And those are living in the West: "The world's population quadrupled to six billion people during the 20th century. It is still rising and may reach 9 billion by 2050. Yet for at least the past century, rising per-capita incomes have outstripped the rising head count several times over. And while incomes don't translate precisely into increased resource use and pollution, the correlation is distressingly strong. [...]By almost any measure, a small proportion of the world's people take the majority of the world's resources and produce the majority of its pollution. Take carbon dioxide emissions - a measure of our impact on climate but also a surrogate for fossil fuel consumption. Stephen Pacala, director of the Princeton Environment Institute, calculates that the world's richest half-billion people - that's about 7 percent of the global population - are responsible for 50 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. Meanwhile the poorest 50 percent are responsible for just 7 percent of emissions." According to Pearce overpopulation in the developing countries is not the problem. Instead the increasing overconsumption among the planets 7% richest people and countries is to be blamed. And he is not alone in claiming this. George Monbiot, Europe's leading green commentator, also agrees with this viewpoint. As Monbiot notes in a recent published article on the Guardian: "As one the graphs King displayed demonstrated, and as the UN and independent scientists predict, the world's population is expected to peak at around 9 billion by 2060 and then to decline to around 8.5 billion by 2100. Of course the bisophere can ill-afford to carry these numbers, and they will load an extra 40 or 50% of pressure onto every environmental constraint. It's an issue, in other words. But the issue? Until the recession struck, the global rate of economic growth was 3.8%. The world's governments hope and pray that we'll be back on this track as soon as possible. Population, of course, is one of the components of economic growth, but the global population growth rate is currently 1.2%. It's responsible, in other words, for one-third of normal economic growth. The rest is supplied by rising consumption. Consumption, on this measure, bears twice as much responsibility for pressure on resources and ecosystems as population growth." Let's take a look at the ecological footprint between developing countries and developed countries in the West. An ecological footprint is the estimate on how much land is required to provide you and me with food and other resources as well as cleaning up our pollution. The global average ecological footprint is 2.7 hectares per person. Sweden, my own country, has an ecological footprint of 5.1 hectares. The UK is on 5.3. Australia has 7.8 and Canada has an average of 7.1 hectares. The United Arab Emirates and the United States of America are on the top spot with an ecological footprint of 9.5 and 9.4. Developing countries such as China only has an ecological footprint of 2.1 hectares while India is on 0.9. And most countries in Africa are around or below 1.0 hectares. Pearce gives even more examples of unfair consumption between the rich and poor countries: "Americans gobble up more than 120 kilograms of meat a year per person, compared to just 6 kilos in India, for instance." "Just five countries are likely to produce most of the world's population growth in the coming decades: India, China, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Ethiopia. The carbon emissions of one American today are equivalent to those of around four Chinese, 20 Indians, 30 Pakistanis, 40 Nigerians, or 250 Ethiopians." "A woman in rural Ethiopia can have ten children and her family will still do less damage, and consume fewer resources, than the family of the average soccer mom in Minnesota or Munich. In the unlikely event that her ten children live to adulthood and have ten children of their own, the entire clan of more than a hundred will still be emitting less carbon dioxide than you or I." Just like Monbiot and Pearce claims overpopulation is not the problem. Even if we were to get a zero population growth around the world it wouldn't help us against the climate crisis. Instead the overconsumption among the rich few in the world is the main problem which we must deal with. Climate Progress writes: "To avoid catastrophic global warming impacts, the rich countries need to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80% to 90% by mid-century. The developing countries (not including China) mostly must slow emissions growth, peak by mid-century, then decline - while ending the vast majority of deforestation by 2020. China must peak its emissions by 2020 and then reduce after that, first slowly, then quickly by mid-century." Overpopulation is only seen as a major problem because it's the only thing we in the West can blame the developing countries for.
  2. What is equality and development? And what kind of influence has the environment on both of these relations? For me, environmentalism has always been about caring about the well-state and equality of everyone and everything. Al Gore said, during the annual World Economic Forum Meeting in 2008, that you can't solve climate change or poverty in the developing world "without dealing with the other": "Earlier this year, Bono and I spoke about the intersection between the extreme poverty in the developing world - especially in Africa - and the climate crisis. It is impossible to solve one of these issues without dealing with the other (Gore, 2008)". So if we are to solve the equality in the world, our uneven development and environmental problems we just can't work on one of them. They are all connected and thus we have to deal with all of them at once. The future is in the past Could we really call today's capitalist system based on a never-ending and unsustainable consumption as development? Why does one count the consumption of our nature as an income, as something free to use whenever and how we feel for it? The current global development is uneven, lacks equality and comes with a heavy environmental price. And as we today face a climate and ecological crisis beyond our wildest dreams we can see that the crisis and our problems have roots not just in our modern industrial and fossil burning society, but also in ancient Rome and in our colonial history. You know how the old saying goes: "it was better before". But was it? Just as John Bellamy Foster writes in The Vulnerable Planet "many of our fundamental ecological problems date back to preindustrial times." The early civilizations were largely made up of agriculture economies and so they were vulnerable to ecological collapse from the degradation of soil. The Sumerian, Indus valley, Greek, Phoenician, Mayan and Roman societies all failed, as historical and archaeological evidence shows, in part to ecological factors (Foster, 1999: 36-37). The Romans made huge impacts on their surrounding environment, which can still be seen today. Examples are deforestation, depletion of natural resources, loss of wildlife and pollution from cities and industries. Abandoned olive presses from the Roman Empire can be found in North Africa - where once trees and olives flourished there is now just deserts. The Roman smelting industries polluted the surrounding environments and poisoned its workers with lead, mercury and arsenic. Studies of the Greenland ice cap even show dramatic increases of lead in the atmosphere during the Roman era. Donald Hughes notes in Rethinking Environmental History, that the awful health and environmental conditions must have "favoured" the plague and helped it spread across the Mediterranean (Hughes, 2007: 27, 33, 35-37). The collapse of the old civilizations can be seen as examples of what is happening today. You can think of the current world as a bigger and more advanced version of the Roman or Mayan empires. The environmental problems we face today is a mixture of old and new problems such as toxic and radioactive waste into waterways, deforestation in light of increased palm oil farming, dead seabed's due to increased discharge of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous, species extinction on a much larger scale etc. Instead of just destroying local areas of the planet we are now in the business of global destruction. The early civilizations lacked proper understanding of economic and environmental policies, but we have that knowledge. And as our future is decided on our actions in the past we must not follow in the same direction as older and failed civilizations have. I wouldn't blame technology for our ecological problems. And I don't believe that if we reject our modern world we can reach ecological harmony. The root to our problem lies in our social systems, and so we need to basically reformulate and reorganize our society in order for a more sustainable and ecological friendly world to emerge (Foster, 1999: 35-36). The rise of the North Economies and development are in the end "constrained by ecological conditions". As deforestation, "agriculture intensification" and other environmental problems contributed to the fall of the Roman and Greek civilizations even the people in ancient Rome made this connection (Hughes, 2007: 4, 12). But something that earlier was confined to more local areas of the world have due to globalization become global problems. As Clive Ponting shows, the uneven development and global problems we face today comes from our colonial history and the rise of Europe, which "drastically affected a whole range of ecosystems" and "reshaped the relationships between different regions" (Ponting, 1991: 194). The rise and expansion of Europe created, what we today call the Third World or Global South, and literally forced the world into a single system and world economy dominated by the "North". European powers such as Portugal, Spain and Great Britain created colonies and plantations around the world so that they could grow crops for their "luxury market" and for industrial needs during the 15th and the 18th century. These were crops, such as sugar cane and tobacco, which for some reason could not be grown in Europe. This was either because the climate was not suitable or they missed cheap labour, mainly in form of slaves, convicts or indentured servants (Ponting, 1991: 194-195, 198 also Foster 1999). The territories under colonial ruling, in the Canary Islands, Cuba, Peru, Australia, Brazil, Hawaii etc, were exploited and used just to benefit the home economy. The crops were only a selected few and were mainly grown on huge plantations owned and managed by Europeans which took up the best lands and displaced local farmers to smaller and less fertile grounds. The Europeans in control was only a tiny fraction of the total population and wanted others to do the manual work as they regarded the job done on the plantations as "degrading". These "others" were usually slaves from places like Africa (Ponting, 1991: 196). When slavery later was abolished in the 19th century the colonial powers used cheap indentured labour from countries such as India and China (Ponting, 1991: 196, 199). Different laws and taxes were also introduced by the Europeans, such as the agrarian land law introduced in Indonesia by the Dutch in 1870, which gave them complete control of all unused land (Ponting, 1991: 201), and the British hut and poll taxes in East Africa (Ponting, 1991: 203). These different taxes and laws resulted in that the local farmers had to work and grow the colonials "cash crops" to earn money. Or it created a similar "peculiar mixed system that was neither a true plantation nor a smallholding" where the farmers growing the crop "were neither slaves, as on islands such as Jamaica, nor landless labours as in Puerto Rico" but still forced to grow an particular crop for the Europeans (Ponting, 1991: 201). Also, import duties were introduced to pay for the costs for goods to Africans, but goods intended for the European farmers in Africa where exempted. By 1930 the African economy had been transformed and integrated into the international economy controlled by the white Europeans and increasingly the Americans (Ponting, 1991: 204). The legacy of imperialism Even after the countries previously under colonial rule achieved political independence and sovereignty not much changed. They were, and still are, under the influence of the Western world, their former colonial rulers. The plantations are still there and a majority of them still produced one single crop or resource. But now they were managed by large multinational corporations and companies such as the Firestone Rubber Company, who owned a 127,000 acres large plantation in Liberia, and the United Fruit Company (Ponting, 1991: 206, 212). It did not matter if the companies were disposed of the land and plantations they previously had owned or by being nationalised. The multinational corporations still dominated the processing and manufacturing of the raw commodities. And due to the overwhelming financial and economic powers the western countries had gained the trade was still in their favour. For example, the companies leave out many of the countries from the more profitable parts by not building any smelters or processing plants. Instead they export the raw commodities to their own home market where the final product can be worth many times more when it's been refined. Another example is that the "North" around mid-1950 put a tax on already processed timber which meant that the Third World countries must export wood that hasn't been processed and then import back value-added boards and papers (Ponting, 1991: 214, 216, 218). In the beginning of the twentieth century Europe and the US had managed to transform former self-sufficient countries in the Third World to countries where the development took the form of providing raw resources and growing a selected few crops, or in some cases just a single crop, for other countries. In one word: monoculture. This in turn brought with it environmental damages to the soil, deforestation and a loss of biodiversity as the crop growing was produced over huge areas. Every year the production of export crops from the Third World grew by three-and-a-half percent while the actual food production for the home market grew much slower than the actual rise in population. This meant that the countries had to import a majority of the food needed. Cuba, Fiji and Tahiti are good examples of this. By 1950 the growing of sugar crops took up 60% of all farmland and consisted of up to 75% of the countries export in Cuba. Because of this Cuba had to import over half of its food. In Fiji during the early 1980's the sugar was over 80% of all exports while it only employed 20% of the population. And in Tahiti during the 1950's 75% of the farmland was used to grow crops that were only meant for export (Ponting, 1991: 212-214). James O'Connor argues that the "uncontrolled expansion of monoculture" in Third World countries is the result of uneven development. Brazil and sugar production in the 16th and 17th century, as an example, pushed the country into "deep poverty", which it has never really recovered from. An example of the devastating effects on the environment uneven development "under the aegis of colonialism and of mindless economic expansion", as O'Connor puts it, has brought forth was the vast deforestation around the world during the 19th and 20th century (O'Connor, 1989: 4-5). It is worth noting that Japan was never colonized by the "North" and thus the country was able to be ranked among the other advanced capitalistic states by 1890 (Foster, 1999: 89, 91). So the former colonial powers have created a world and economic system where the countries in the Third World are bound and intertwined to supply the "North" with crops and other raw commodities (Tabb, 2007: 33). Twenty percent of the total food grown in the world goes from the Third World to the developed and industrialised countries while only 12% goes in the opposite direction. The "South" still exports more food than it imports, even during major periods of hunger and starvation. For example in the famine of 1876-1877 in India wheat was still being exported to the Great Britain (Ponting, 1991: 214). Ponting says that the "North" became developed and received their high material and living standard on the expense of the poor people in the Third World via economic and environmental exploitation with poverty and human suffering as a result (Ponting, 1991: 222-223). O'Connor says that the worst environmental and human disasters "as a rule occur in the Third World" and that the victims "are typically the rural poor", but also the "oppressed minorities and poor in the First World", i.e. the West (O'Connor, 1989: 2).And when it comes to climate change it is, unfortunately, the ones that are the least responsible for the climate crisis, primarily the poor people in the Third World, who are the most vulnerable and will be affected the worst from the devastating effects a changing climate will bring (McMichael, 2008: 15). After the former colonial rulers had left during the end of the 18th and early 19th century and the countries gained independence they did not just face economical or environmental problems but also more deadly ones such as genocides and wars over resources. The norm for many new countries and their leaders after they had gained independence was complete control of the army and the power to intimidate and bully its own people. An example of this is Rwanda. There the Belgians had ruled the country by giving the native minority of Tutsi chief's superior status and control over the Hutus, a large native group in the country. After the Belgians left the country in 1962 Tutsi dictators were left to rule, which in turn led to the killing of hundreds of thousands of people in the Rwandan genocide in 1994 (Tabb, 2007: 33). William K. Tabb argues that these dictators and other ruthless leaders are fuelled by easily extracted resources and that this resource extraction still in today's world continues to "spur extremes of violence and war". A study by Jeffrey Sachs and Andrew Warner in 1997 shows that the higher a country depends on the export of their natural resources slows down the countries growth and that it "significantly and substantially increases the risk of conflict" and civil wars (quoted in Tabb, 2007: 33). The struggle over oil And here is where the oil comes in. In today's world traditional wars where you normally fight for a specific land area are very rare. Instead civil wars over resources have become the standard. Countries rich on oil such as Nigeria, Gabon, Sudan, Congo and Chad have a long history of military dictatorship and coups which have resulted in starvation, diseases and the death of millions of people and the destruction of the local environment. In Angola, for example, millions of people have died in the civil war that was started because of the "wholesale looting" of the countries oil reserve and natural recourses (Tabb, 2007: 34-35). The huge sums of money generated from the valuable resources was sent to banks overseas and almost never found its way to the people of Angola. Today imperialism has taken the form of global organisations such as the World Bank, IMF and the WTO. And as Tabb points out that in these troubled areas where you can find precious resources you will find foreign corporations and the World Bank ready to work with the local leaders for their share of the cut. Global Witness reports that even though Congo Brazzaville is the fourth largest oil producer in Africa it has a debt of over $6.4 billion. This huge debt is a consequence of the "influence peddling and bribery" of the former French state company Elf Aquitaine (cited in Tabb, 2007: 34-35, 40). In the past countries and their governments would be directly involved in these troubled areas. But today they have to some extent been replaced by global organisations and corporations. When it comes to the Iraq war and occupation many corporations and organisations besides the US army is involved. One example is Blackwater Worldwide, a private military company which has played a substantial role as a contractor for the US government in Iraq. As peak oil (also called Hubbert's peak) comes closer and world oil demands and prices soar - the demand grew by 1.5% in 2002, 1.9% in 2003 and 3.7% in 2004 (Tabb, 2007: 39) - the former "Anglo-American petroleum dominance" in the world is loosing ground to state-controlled producers such as Kuwait Petroleum, Abu Dhabi National Oil, Saudi Aramco and Sonatrach, but also from Western oil producers such as StatoilHydro. These state-controlled companies holds "at least half of the world's proven" reserves and a quarter of current oil production. Instead of investing into alternative and renewable energy sources to combat the high energy costs and becoming energy independent USA and Great Britain have panicked and is using "force to reassert dominance" via "state terror and coercion" in Afghanistan and Iraq. Unfortunately these occupations and resource wars have failed and instead of creating stable governments it has resulted in more terrorism, the alienation of the rest of the world and an increasing cost of oil (Tabb, 2007: 38-40). But it is not just in the Middle East there is an energy struggle going on. Latin America currently supplies more oil to the US than the Middle East does (Davis, 2004: 2). And Third World countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia, both oil rich nations, have in recent years tried to stand up against the North's energy and political influence. Venezuela and its democratically elected leader Hugo Chavez has increased the nations stake in major energy projects from 40% to 60% in the countries oil company Petroleos de Venezuela. Norway's share in StatoilHydro is for example about 62% (Wikipedia.org). And instead of going the same path as Congo Brazzaville, Hugo Chavez has used the money generated from his country's oil to raise his people's living standard. The President of Bolivia, Evo Morales have nationalised the countries energy industry, similar to what is happening in Venezuela. For this Evo Morales have gained support back home with an approval rating of 80%. This can be compared to George Bush's own 33% approval rating back home in USA. For this, both Morales and Chavez have been criticized by the "North" for their "weak commitment to democracy" (Tabb, 2007: 39-40). In Columbia leftwing ELN guerrillas are threatening the oilfields and pipelines operated by the US-based company Occidental Petroleum. That is why Special Forces, the CIA and private security contractors from the US is currently involved in an "an ongoing reign of terror" called "Operation Red Moon" in the Arauca province. T. Christian Miller, reporting in the Los Angeles Times, says that the consequence has been that "mass arrests of politicians and union leaders have become common. Refugees fleeing combat have streamed into local cities. And killings have soared as right-wing paramilitaries have targeted leftwing critics" (quoted in Davis, 2004: 2). And in the Straits of Malacca, a narrow passage of East Asia's oil supply, the Malaysian foreign minister have complained that USA is "exaggerating the threat of terrorist piracy" to justify deploying military forces there (Davis, 2004: 2). Climate change Because our development and "global market infrastructure" is based almost solely on the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, the earth is warming up and our climate is changing. And as we stand in front of the biggest environmental crisis ever, namely man-made climate change, our efforts on slowing down the devastating effects can scuttle because of our worlds uneven development. James Lovelock, known for proposing the Gaia hypothesis, has said that he believes that climate change is now irreversible. He predicts that the major part of the humans, more than six billion people, will get wiped out of the face of the earth due to wars, starvation, epidemics and chaos during the rest of the century due to the effects of a changing climate. Lovelock estimates that by year 2100 there will only be around 500 millions people left who struggles to survive on the few remaining liveable places on earth: Scandinavia, Canada and Iceland (Goodell, 2007). Lovelock writes that: "Gaia, the living Earth, is old and not as strong as she was two billion years ago. She struggles to keep the Earth cool enough for her myriad forms of life against the ineluctable increase of the sun's heat. But to add to her difficulties, one of those forms of life, humans, disputatious tribal animals with dreams of conquest even of other planets, has tried to rule the Earth for their own benefit alone. With breathtaking insolence they have taken the stores of carbon that Gaia buried to keep oxygen at its proper level and burnt them. In so doing they have usurped Gaia's authority and thwarted her obligation to keep the planet fit for life; they thought only of their own comfort and convenience. (quoted in Lovelock, 2006: 146)" Gore says that our "overdependence" on fossil fuels and our weak policies on climate change show what can happen "when reason is replaced by the influence of wealth and power" (Gore, 2007: 191). Since the "market" has become one with development, McMichael argues, we have responded to this climate crisis by framing "solutions to climate change in market terms". This, McMichael warns, results in "commodification of the ecological commons through green market solutions such as carbon trading, emission offsets, and biofuels, to sustain, rather than question, current trajectories of accumulation and consumption". McMichael says that because the world is already now warming up much faster than what the IPCC's "conservative" numbers estimated and that the world's resources are finite and "deeply unequal", the idea of the green growth is an "oxymoron". McMichael argues that the fog of "promises of market prosperity" has covered the effects and impacts of development on our climate, "let alone be recognized for the catastrophe that it already is", warning that it "will remain so long as market solutions prevail". The world is slowly realising this. The 2007/2008 Human Development Report says that "climate change is the defining human development issue of our generation". And the eight Conference of Parties (COP8) of the UNFCCC in Dehli declared that "climate change is a serious risk to poverty reduction and threatens to undo decades of development efforts" (McMichael, 2008: 1-2). When it comes to responsibility for the current climate crisis the world is just as uneven and unequal. The "North", i.e. the West, is responsible for about 80% of the worlds CO2 increase. An average person living in Great Britain will in only 11 days emit as much CO2 as an average person in Bangladesh will during a whole year. And just a single power plant in West Yorkshire in Great Britain will produce more CO2 every year than all the 139 million people combined living in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique (McMichael, 2008: 2). But still, in light of these unequal differences USA demands that they won't lower their emissions before the Third World countries does. And this is exactly why the current climate talks aren't getting anywhere. The old colonial past and today's imperialism in the shape of the World Bank, IMF and the WTO (Tabb, 2007: 40) has created a rift between the "North" and the "South" and their relationships today. Or as George Monbiot puts it: "Rich countries once used gunboats to seize food. Now they use trade deals" (The Guardian, Tuesday August 26 2008). This rift takes the form in expression of criticisms such as the comment from the Argentinean President Kirchner who said that "the North should meet its "˜environmental debts' just as it demands the "South" meet its "˜financial debts'". Or Brazil's President Lula who said in February 2007 that "the wealthy countries are very smart, approving protocols, holding big speeches on the need to avoid deforestation, but they already deforested everything" (Philip McMichael, 2008: 3-4). You can say that the "de-localization" of crop growing to countries in the Third World with low wages and a weak environmental system was done to conserve the environment in Europe (McMichael, 2005: 284). An example of how the "North" has been able to get away easily from their climate and ecological responsibilities is Kyoto's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), a part of something that Philip McMichael calls "market environmentalism". CDM encourages Western countries to meet their very own reduction targets, not by reducing their CO2 emitting sources back home, but by investing in cheap solutions in the "South" (McMichael, 2008: 6, 16). The European Union agreed on a new climate deal during the end days of the 2008 United Nations Climate Change Conference in PoznaÅ„, which was held during December 1-12. The EU promised that they will cut their emissions with 20% by 2020. But the actual emission cuts could end up being as little as 4% by 2020 (Black, BBC News, 2008). That is because of special exemptions for dirty industries in Europe as well as allowing cheap emission cuts overseas to be counted to the EU total (WWF, 2008). These emission cuts done overseas will make it easier for us in the "North" to reduce "˜our' emissions but harder for the developing countries in the "South" to reduce theirs. Monbiot calls this "carbon colonialism, in which Europe picks the low-hanging fruit in developing countries, leaving them with much tougher choices later on" (The Guardian, Friday 12 December 2008). Roberts and Parks argue (quoted in McMichael, 2008: 3) that "when powerful states disregard weaker states' position in the international division of labor in areas where they possess structural power, they run a high risk of weaker states "˜reciprocating' in policy areas where they possess more bargaining leverage. The issue of global climate change - which itself is characterized by tremendous inequality in vulnerability, responsibility, and mitigation - can therefore not be viewed, analyzed, or responded to in isolation from the larger crisis of global inequality." Robert and Parks also list three points from where this "rift" and "mistrust" comes from: 1) Wasteful Western consumption, 2) A state's ability for environmental reforms is a function of the state's position in the international scene of labour, and 3) The West's approach to more sustainable and environmental issues will hinder the "South" from their economic development. John Rapley argues that we in the West must "probably have to bear the expense of environmental adjustment", because if we don't the countries in the Third World will continue to take advantage of cheap and CO2 polluting technologies. If we don't manage to get away from this rift between "North" and "South", developed and underdeveloped, we will never be able to agree on any lasting climate policies that will be powerful enough to combat climate change and its devastating effects (McMichael, 2008: 3-5). What development and for whom? In the beginning I asked if we really could call our current capitalistic system for development. But, what should be developed and for whom? McMichael lists two different forms of development: food security through the global market, and its alternative: food sovereignty. The privatization of food security through the global market was constructed in 1986-1994 during the Uruguay Round, a forerunner to the WTO's agreement on Agriculture in 1995. This agreement means that nations no longer have the right to independent and sustainable food within its borders. Instead of letting the producers and consumers manage and decide over the food system it puts corporations and the demands of the global market in control of it. McMichael calls this the corporate food regime, and says that the only benefactors of this "political construct" are about 15% the world's population. Food sovereignty is an alternative way to reach food security. The concept of this idea was put forward by Via Campesina, an international movement of mainly farmers, during the World Food Summit in 1996. Simply put: food sovereignty lets people and nations decide and define their own food and agriculture production. Food sovereignty does not rule out trade, instead it creates a more sustainable and self reliant trade between nations (McMichael, 2004: 277-278 and McMichael, 2005: 269-270, 281, 290-291). Capitalism destroys and divides As we know, capitalism is all about profit. The higher the profit is, the higher the growth rate will in theory be, which in turn leads to a higher rate of depletion of various recourses which ultimately leads to a higher rate of pollution (O'Connor, 1989: 11). At the end of capitalism there is environmental destruction. An example on what kind of effects capitalism can have is the current financial crisis in the auto industry. The auto giants, such as GM, Ford and Chrysler, have for years in their race for short-sighted economic gains resisted and done everything in their powers to stop stronger compulsory MPG and CO2 emission standards. They have even denied climate change and their promises that they could cut their greenhouse gases voluntarily have all failed. As a result the average car sold in the US today is less efficient than the Model T Ford from 1908 (The Guardian, Tuesday 7 October 2008). Why? Because as Henry Ford II once explained: "minicars make miniprofits". And like John Z. DeLorean, former GM executive, have said: "When we should have been planning switches to smaller, more fuel-efficient, lighter cars in the late 1960s in response to a growing demand in the marketplace, GM management refused because "˜we make more money on big cars' "(quoted in Foster, 1999: 124). And with help from the US government, Standard Oil and Firestone Tire these auto companies deliberately dismantled earlier mass transportation system in the US during the 1930s to the 1950s. During most of the twentieth century the US government decreased funding for public transportation while they wastefully poured money into highways in an effort to increase the corporate profits that comes with private motoring. While this was happening the auto companies bought up electric streetcar lines and converted them to busses. This is today known as "the Great American streetcar scandal", "General Motors streetcar conspiracy" or "the National City Lines conspiracy" (Wikipedia.org). Between 1936 and 1955 the number of electric streetcar lines had dropped from around 40000 to 5000 in the US as a result. GM also used it's nearly monopolistic control over the bus and locomotive market to make sure that public transportation kept loosing ground to private motoring. And so with devastating effects for the environment, but also in a technology sense, USA today have to rely on private motoring for 90% of all ground transportation of goods and people, which is more than any other country in the world. One can't defend these actions by claiming they did not know about the effects. Bradford Snell, a U.S. government attorney, once stated in a famous report to a US Senate committee that: "motor vehicle travel is possibly the most inefficient method of transportation devised by modern man" (Foster, 1999: 114-116, 124). John Bellamy Foster argues that capitalism has had "overwhelmingly negative results" for our planet (Foster, 1999: 32). For example, the commercial trade, i.e. capitalism, in fur has led to the destruction of entire ecosystem and an enormous and never before seen slaughter of wildlife. Some of the animals worst affected by the fur-trade during the 16th and 17th century was beavers, martens, seals, bears, raccoons etc. Between 1797 and 1803 on the island of Mas Afuera in the Juan Fernandez Islands, off the coast off Chile, over 3 million seals were killed for their fur. In the early 19th century six million southern fur seals were clubbed to death resulting in the nearly extinction of fur seals in the Atlantic and Indian Ocean (Foster, 1999: 42-43). Capitalism doesn't just result in environmental destruction and resource depletion but it also divides people. A fine example of this is the memorandum from Lawrence Summers. On December 12, 1991, Lawrence Summers, the chief economist for the World Bank, wrote an internal memo that was leaked to the British publication the Economist on February 8, 1992. In it he says that the World Bank should be "encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Less Developed Countries]", and that "the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable". He also writes that "the demand for a clean environment for aesthetic and health reasons is likely to have very high income elasticity" (quoted in Foster, 2002: 60-61). In fewer words: Summers says that people in the Third World are worth less than people in the North, and thus they could be exploited more by the capitalistic world system. But it's not just in the Third World that capitalism takes the form as environmental racism. In Los Angeles over 70% of African Americans and 50% of Latinos live in areas with the highest amount of air pollution. This can be compared to the 34% of white people living in the same areas (Foster, 1999: 138). Karl Marx came up with the term "metabolic rift" to explain the rift capitalism have created between social systems and natural systems. This rift, he claimed, led to ecological crisis and the exploitation of the environment. As people moved into cities they lost the contact with nature, and thus they became less likely to consider what the best for the environment was, and how their actions and decisions affected it (McMichael, 2008: 11 and Foster, 1999: 63-64). Marx also noted that as the income for the workers in the cities increased companies (capitalists) searched for cheaper workers outside of the city (Moore, 2000: 136-137). Today when half of the world's people live in cities this is happening on a much larger and more global scale. More people than ever have lost the direct contact with nature (Satterthwaite, in the Guardian 2007). And instead of companies and corporations looking for cheaper workers in the countryside they now look outside the nation's borders, mainly in Third World countries. When it comes to climate change McMichael says that the "only sound solution" is by basically reformulating the generally accepted perspective of development. But he warns that resistance, for what science says needs to be done to tackle the climate crisis, will come from "corporate interests", "politicians with short-time horizons" but also from strong talks "of neo-liberalism that represents market solutions as commonsense" (McMichael, 2008: 14). He concludes that the "de-carbonization of the material economy will require substantial de-commodification to establish sustainable development, which in turn means the development subject would no longer be the high-mass consumer, but a politically-mobilized social and ecological steward". And that this time the goal for the "North" is not just to supply and "secure" its home markets with valuable raw materials and other commodities. Now it's also about supplying the Third World with "environmental repair or caretaker services" to be able to lessen the damages and problems that the system itself has created (McMichael, 2008: 16-17). Immanuel Wallerstein says that he is "relentlessly pessimistic" on how sustainable development could be possible under capitalism (Hornborg, 2007: 22-23). He also says that we are "in the middle of a transition" away from capitalism to something else. But what that is and if it will be better or worse he do not know. "The outcome will be decided by the political activity of everyone now and in the next twenty-five to fifty years", he writes (Wallerstein, 2007: 384-385). Hopefully. Another world is possible. Further reading Ponting, Clive (1991). "Creating the Third World," in A Green History of the World. New York: St. Martin's Press, 194-223. O'Connor, James (1989). "Uneven and Combined Development and Ecological Crisis: A Theoretical Introduction," Race & Class Hornborg, Alf (2007). "Introduction: Environmental History as Political Ecology," in Hornborg, et al., Rethinking Environmental History McMichael, Philip (forthcoming 2009). "Contemporary Contradictions of the Global Development Project: Geopolitics, Global Ecology and the "˜Development Climate," Third World Quarterly. McMichael, Philip (2005). "Global Development and the Corporate Food Regime," Research in Rural Sociology and Development Tabb, William K. (2007). "Resource Wars," Monthly Review 58(8) Wallerstein, Immanuel (2007), "The Ecology and the Economy: What Is Rational?" Foster, Bellamy, John (1999). "The Vulnerable Planet" Foster, Bellamy, John (2002) "Ecology Against Capitalism" Gore, Al (2007), "The Assault on Reason" Lovelock, James (2006), "The Revenge of Gaia" Al Gore, "A set back" (August 13, 2008) George Monbiot, The Guardian, (Tuesday August 26 2008) George Monbiot, The Guardian, (Friday 12 December 2008) George Monbiot, The Guardian, (Tuesday 7 October 2008) David Satterthwaite, The Guardian, (Wednesday January 17 2007) StatoilHydro, Wikipedia "The Great American streetcar scandal", Wikipedia Richard Black, BBC News, Earth Watch, (12 December 2008) WWF, (12 December 2008) Jeff Goodell, RollingStone (1 November 2007)
  3. The 15th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP15) in Copenhagen, which many have said was our last chance to take action against "the greatest threat the world has ever faced", ended in a failure. For over 15 years delegates and politicians from around the world have discussed, debated and negotiated the questions of dealing with man-made climate change in various COP (Conference of the Parties) summits. So why haven't they made any real progress yet? That is a big question that covers a whole range of topics and issues that I won't go into. Instead I will try to focus on the actual politics and tactics used at the COP summits. I will try to see if uneven development and inequality plays any part in how the actual negotiations plays out, how the delegates attending perceive climate justice and fairness, and if all this combined somehow sabotages the efforts to secure a climate deal. At the major United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992 more than 100 world leaders met to address the question of global climate change. At the end of the conference 187 nations signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) treaty. Without any "tough details" the agreement said nations should "protect the climate system"¦on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities." World leaders managed to get a consensus and reach an agreement but they still had disagreements on what kind of responsibilities nations had under the UNFCCC treaty. The "common but differentiated" phrase seems to have resulted in various different interpretations between the "North" and the "South". The poor developing nations were, compared to the North, very precise in their interpretation of the phrase and called for the rich developed nations to take the lead in the emission reductions. They also wanted the North to help developing nations in their environmental efforts by transferring large amounts of economic and technologic assistance from the North to the South. The North on the other hand interpreted the phrase a bit differently. According to the UNFCC treaty $625 billion was needed every year for a sustainable development to take place in the developing nations. Around 20% of the money would be paid by below-market loans to the South. But the developed nations never fulfilled their promise of economic and technologic assistance to the South. In the end they paid less than 20% of the $625 billion. In 1995, three years after the Rio Earth Summit, the first COP conference took place in Berlin, Germany. Here the so called "Berlin Mandate" declared that the developed nations in the North should reduce their emissions first while the developing nations would join in later on. Two years later in 1997 at the COP3 conference in Kyoto, Japan, the US president Bill Clinton actually signed the famous Kyoto Protocol, which called for binding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. But the protocol was never ratified by the USA because of the US senate which voted unanimously in favor for the Byrd-Hagel Resolution. Once passed the Byrd-Hagel Resolution successfully blocked any climate treaty that was, in their words, "unfair". Because the Kyoto protocol did not require the developing nations to do any emissions cuts the US senate felt it was "unfair" and refused to ratify it. And it is now, with the Kyoto protocol, that you can start to clearly see the different positions and opinions the North and the South, rich and poor, developed and developing nations have on what climate justice actually is. Developing nations didn't want to accept any scheduled emission reduction targets for the future. Any mention by the North that the developing nations should in some way slow down their development and economic growth by limiting their greenhouse gas emissions was met with an "openly hostile negotiating environment" from the South. The Brazilian ambassador Luis Felipe Lampreia stated during the COP3 conference that: "We cannot accept limitations that interfere with our economic development." And the lead negotiator from China said: "In the developed world only two people ride in a car, and yet you want us to give up riding on a bus". The developed nations are responsible for about 80% of the worlds CO2 emissions. One person in Bangladesh will during a whole year emit as much CO2 emissions as one average person living the UK will in only 11 days. A single power plant in Great Britain will produce more CO2 emissions, every year, than all 139 million people living in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique combined. It is also clear that developing nations are much more vulnerable to the effects a changing climate brings such as droughts, rising tides, floods and tropical storms than rich and developed nations are. And nine Chinese and eighteen Indians release as much greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere as one average American does. The USA is alone responsible for over 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but only around 4% of the world's total population lives in the USA. A whopping 136 developing nations are on the other hand together responsible for 24% of global emissions. But the former US President George H. W. Bush once notoriously stated that "the American lifestyle is not open to negotiation". His son, George W. Bush later dismissed the Kyoto protocol completely by claiming that the treaty "would cause serious harm to the US economy" and that it is "an unfair and ineffective means of addressing global climate change concerns". Even in light of these clearly uneven numbers the North's perception of climate justice seems to be to disregard any kinds of historical responsibilities or economical differences, the very same issues that the South thinks are the basis of climate justice. And these rather different perceptions on climate justice between the rich and poor nations help fuel an deteriorating negotiating atmosphere. When it comes to the negotiations during these summits, like the COP15 this past December, the income differences between developing and developed nations plays a big role in creating a hostile negotiating environment for the delegates. It is also one of the more direct examples on how inequality can dampen cooperation on climate change. Attending these yearly COP summits obviously costs money. Nations need to be able to pay for their delegate's salaries and accommodations. Other costs involves scientists, lawyers, translators, economists and consultants that can help the nations delegation in the actual negotiations, with their draft proposals, legal argumentation as well as being able to offer counterarguments and proposals to the demands of other nations. "The reason why many poor small countries are hardly represented in negotiations that concern them directly, writes Robert Wade, is that they cannot afford the cost of hotels, offices, and salaries in places like Washington DC and Geneva, which must be paid not in PPP [purchasing power parity] dollars but in hard currency bought with their own currency at market exchange rates (quoted in J.T. & Parks, 2006: 15)." Unfortunately many of the less developed nations (LDCs) cannot afford all this and most of the time they will have to go without this much needed help. Just a little side note to show how just bad these things can get: At a seminar in the aftermaths of COP15, at the Lund University in Sweden, a CPS student from Bangladesh told us about how he had, at a visit to the Bella center (where the climate talks were being held), walked into the delegation from Bangladesh. And after a short chat with them he ended up helping the delegation with translations at the big UN summit. The delegates also need to attend all the formal and informal meetings during the climate summit. And these can be many and scheduled to take place at the same time. If you have several delegates you can easily divide up the work and focus on certain issues, read every single document and draft texts. That's why the more delegates you can send the better. Studies have shown that there is a great difference between the numbers of delegates developed and developing nations are sending to these COP summits. For example: To COP6, in the Netherlands, the USA sent 99 delegates and the European Commission sent 76 delegates. Many developing nations such as African and small island states were lucky if they could even afford to scramble together a delegation consisting of one to three delegates. Recent studies and experiences at COP10 in 2004 confirm and back this up. During COP6 the chairs decided to split up the negotiations into smaller groups, subgroups and even subsubgroups so that they could easier cover all the climate related issues in an easier manner. Sure, this move can in an equal and perfect world make the debates and meetings flow much smoother. But with the current inequality between developed and developing nations it can make things worse. As you can imagine this decision gave a huge advantage and "agenda-setting power" to the developed nations who had been able to send many more delegates to the COP summit than the poorer nations had. Another problematic side effect of not being able to send enough people to the climate summits is that the developing nations delegates often gets "buried" in documents and papers. This of course leads to the delegation losing its strength and energy. In the last hours of the summit they could then be presented with a document or proposal to a treaty which is already done and beyond alteration and forced to accept or reject it in an unrealistic short period of time. The developed nations use this to get a tactical advantage of the developing nations. They can offer a document at the last hour and pressure everyone to sign it. If the developing countries don't accept it they are later labeled by the developing nations as the "bad guy" and the ones responsible for wrecking the climate talks (Huffington Post, 2009). At COP6, for example, "commitments were imposed by muscular chairmanship, or gaveled through without reaction from negotiators exhausted to the point of sleep," Ashton and Wang claim. But this approach does not always succeed as can be seen by the walkout by G77 delegates in 2003 at the Cancun trade negotiations, or from the failure of the COP6 summit where China and the G77 group felt marginalized by the developed nations. Or from the walkout by African nations at the latest COP15 summit in Copenhagen. The nasty behind-the-back tactics and behaviors used in the past by developing nations were also present at the latest COP. During the first week of the COP15 summit in Copenhagen a potential final agreement, called the "Danish text", was leaked to the Guardian. The draft text was apparently worked out by developed nations such as the UK, US and Denmark and planned to be adapted by nations during the final week of the summit. The draft agreement made the developing countries "furious" as it would give even more powers to the rich nations, weakening UN's future role as well as abandon the Kyoto protocol. Many NGOs, commentators and political leaders have criticized these COP summits and the tactics being used as unfair and even undemocratic. At the end of COP15 the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for example called the summit "undemocratic". Raman Mehta from Action Aid India said this in a statement, in light of the "Danish text", that: "The global community trusted the Danish government to host a fair and transparent process but they have betrayed that trust. Most importantly, they are betraying those who are disproportionately impacted by climate change and whose voices are not being heard. This unfair behaviour strikes a blow to all efforts to achieve justice and equity in the climate change negotiations process (quoted from Friends of the Earth, 2009)." George Monbiot's verdict on the COP15 summit wasn't much better. He called it "stupid" and labeled the organizers and attendees of the summit as incompetent: "This was the chaotic, disastrous denouement of a chaotic and disastrous summit. The event has been attended by historic levels of incompetence. Delegates arriving from the tropics spent 10 hours queueing in sub-zero temperatures without shelter, food or drink, let alone any explanation or announcement, before being turned away. Some people fainted from exposure; it's surprising that no one died. The process of negotiation was just as obtuse: there was no evidence here of the innovative methods of dispute resolution developed recently by mediators and coaches, just the same old pig-headed wrestling." One also need to keep in mind that local environmental problems such as preventing soil erosion, providing clean drinking water, treating sewage and slowing down the spread of deserts are for most developing nations a much more critical and pressing issue than the more global ones. For developed nations the more global environmental issues such as climate change, ozone depletion and habitat loss are higher up on their priority list. This means that the developing nations need to put more effort into pursuing the South that the global issues should be a higher priority for them. At the same time many delegates and policy makers from the less developed nations fear that the nations in the core of the world system, which I explained earlier, might just use the climate and environmental concerns to cover up their real agenda: keeping the periphery nations underdeveloped. After being literally forced to accept trade-related, intellectual and property-rights laws and agreements that gives an advantage to the North many South policy makers and even academics hold this opinion of mistrust. And this is a reason to why there is such a big "climate of mistrust" at the COP negotiations. The North has almost constantly failed to keep their promises of financial aid, technological transfer, ignored many of the ecological problems in the South and used tactics to marginalize the South at negotiations. So it's not really that hard to understand that any suggestions from the North that the South should limit their development, for the good of global environmental issues, are met with a dismissive response from the developing nations. Final Thoughts So the lack of power and the extreme poverty and underdevelopment among many of the developing nations leaves them vulnerable in negotiations with the North. It's more expensive for developing nations to purchase environmental technology and knowledge as they have to be paid with real cash and not credits or loans from the North. This makes it hard for them to perform any kinds of meaningful emission reductions or take part in the COP summits on equal terms. The wealthy developed nations believe that climate justice is when an agreement involves all parties, both developed and developing nations. Because, they argue, the non-Annex I nations will in a near future increase their emissions with so much that they must be included in a climate treaty. The poorer developing nations on the other hand perceive this in another manner. The climate crisis is a result from the rich North's excessive consumption. And so they argue they also have the right, just like the North, to build and develop their economy using cheap fossil fuels. The ozone layer crisis during the 1980's is a good example of how the world can come together to combat global environmental issues. The negotiations back then was just as hard and complex as the climate talks are today. During the negotiations a Chinese delegate said that: "The call for modernization is so irresistible that China will continue to produce these ozone depleting chemicals," unless, of course they and other developing nations received financial compensation for their efforts. India was equally tough in their negotiations and their environment minister said in a statement that: "We didn't destroy the layer. You did. I'm saying that you [the West] have the capability and the money to restore what you have destroyed" (Do you recognize the style of the statements back then to the ones in today's climate debate?). In the end the North agreed to give financial aid to the developing nations so that they could afford to take proper actions and protect the ozone layer. But the current climate change negotiations are taking place in an even tougher "climate of mistrust" between the rich and poor. This mistrust is based on decades of Western promises not kept in global environmental and economic matters. To get rid of this suspicion and mistrust that is sabotaging efforts to secure a climate deal the North needs to understand their historical responsibility in this matter. As well as taking social and economic issues into account when negotiating about climate targets. The North could do this by offering a new and fairer global environmental and development treaty that clearly shows their commitments in this issue. "They could do this by providing greater "environmental space" to late developers, supplying meaningful sums of environmental assistance, funding aid for adaption and dealing with local environmental issues as well as global issues like climate change, and by identifying and investing in win-win technologies and sectors that both address local environmental issues and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (quoted in J.T. & Parks, 2006: 217)." Basically the North needs to stop treating the weaker nations in the South as "second-class citizens" and work on rebuilding the South's trust. Until they do we won't get a fair, ambitious and binding climate deal (Or a planet with a habitable biosphere!). Further reading: Roberts, J.T. & Parks, B.C. (2006). "A Climate of Injustice: Global Inequality, North-South Politics, and Climate Policy" Hornborg, A., J.R. McNeill & J. Martinez-Alier, red. (2007)."Rethinking Environmental History: World-System History and Global Environmental Change" Age of Stupid, "UK Priemier: Message from the President of the Maldives" (2009) The Guardian, "Low targets, goals dropped: Copenhagen ends in failure" (2009) United Nations Earth Summit+5 The Huffington Post, Pablo Erick Solón Romero Oroza, "Climate Headed for Crash Landing" (2009) Goodman, Amy, "The Climate Divide: Dispute Between Rich and Poor Nations Widens at UN Copenhagen Summit" (2009) Monbiot, George, "Copenhagen negotiators bicker and filibuster while the biosphere burns" (2009) Democracy Now, "Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on How to Tackle Climate Change" (2009) The Guardian, "Copenhagen climate summit in disarray after 'Danish text' leak" (2009) Friends of the Earth International, "danish government slammed for bias and secrecy in role as president of un climate conference" (2009)
  4. China is number one, in greenhouse gas emissions that is. A report from the University of California says that Chinas greenhouse gas emissions have been "underestimated" and that the country probably took the number one position from USA in 2006-2007. According to the research "unchecked future growth will dwarf any emissions cuts made by rich nations under the Kyoto Protocol." Dr Auffhammer, lead researcher, said in an interview with BBC that: "Our figures for emissions growth are truly shocking. But there is no sense pointing a finger at the Chinese. They are trying to pull people out of poverty and they clearly need help. The only solution is for a massive transfer of technology and wealth from the West." And he is of course correct. A large part of the western industries have moved to China and other development and low-cost countries. China, for example, produces the gadgets, clothes and other stuff that we, in the western world, consume. It also doesn't really matter if China is the top carbon polluter in the world. They still have a low per capita levels of pollution compared to USA. USA's per capita levels are around five to six times higher than China. The UN insists "that rich countries with high per capita levels of pollution must cut emissions first, and help poorer countries to invest in clean technology." And just like Dr Auffhammer said, China and the other development countries are just doing it the same way we did when we become developed countries. It is of course sad and extremely bad that China is now polluting the most. But emissions in USA, Europe and elsewhere are still growing. Not a single developed country today is doing enough, so why should the poorer countries be held responsible?