From Savannah to South Africa, Opposition to Massive Port Expansions

Patrick Bond: Proponents argue larger ships will save carbon intensive bunker fuel, critics say by making the system more efficient, it will increase the amount of transport and thus more carbon


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Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

Joining us today is Patrick Bond, is the director of the Centre for Civil Society and professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. Bond is the author and editor of recently released books Politics of Climate Justice and Durban’s Climate Gamble.

Thank you for joining us, Patrick.

So we normally speak to you from Durban. Today you’re in Savannah, Georgia. Talk to us about the connection between what’s happening in Durban and Savannah and why you’re in Savannah today.

PATRICK BOND, DIRECTOR, CENTRE FOR CIVIL SOCIETY: Well, this is a very important port city, Jaisal, and I think the second-largest export port in the United States, the fourth-largest overall, just undergoing a huge dredging expansion. And that’s because of the Panama Canal’s expansion. Post panamax ships, the ships that are too big for the Panama Canal, are actually going to increase in size. The current limit’s 5,000 containers going through the canal, and it’ll go up to 13,000. So those huge container ships that you see coming from East Asia to the United States now will be able to go straight through the canal.

And that’s raised a lot of issues about whether bunker fuels, the dirty, very carbon-intensive fuel for ships, can be controlled and whether there’ll be more efficiencies with these large ships, or whether because of the efficiencies there’s going to be a lot more activity on the seas and a lot faster climate change. The CO2’s about 5 percent of the total coming from these ships. And there have been some very interesting debates, including whether you can simply price the carbon so much that you can control emissions.

NOOR: Patrick, can you talk about controlling carbon price as a strategy to fight climate change?

BOND: Well, in theory, if a price hike is high enough it’ll change behavior. And that’s what the economists call the price elasticity. But so far the price increases have been so marginal that we haven’t really seen any changes at all as a result of prices. And the big example: the peer pricing of the carbon markets of Europe and the earlier one in Chicago that closed down. This is a real example of failure of the price mechanism. And so it’s shifted into carbon taxation.

However, the huge changes we’re going to need in our transport and energy and agriculture and production and disposal systems will probably need to be done through command and control, through regulation directly, not sort of price mechanisms, since it isn’t enough to make the big changes needed. These are small changes at the margins.

And that’s why I think the carbon pricing, including a new tax proposed in South Africa, isn’t going to be strong enough. And that’s why the idea that maybe bunker fuel limits and particularly the expansion of these huge ports, and in the case of Savannah dredging ten feet deeper than currently exists, which is a subject of a lot of local controversy here, and in South Durban a $30 billion port expansion, with petrochemical expansion associated with it, that’s also extremely controversial.

The proponents argue in environmental impact assessment that this might save bunker fuel use because it’s a more efficient system. Critics say, by making the system of transport more efficient, that will actually increase the amount of transport, and we really need to be moving to more localized economic systems. That’s the current nature of the debate.

NOOR: Now, Patrick, you’re in Savannah right now. Talk about the resistance to these proposals you’re seeing in Savannah and also what that resistance looks like in Durban.

BOND: In Savannah, where environmental justice has been at a low ebb, the conservationists have mainly been critics, and they’ve been, especially in the South Carolina side of the Savannah River, concerned that the natural resources and park here will be adversely affected by this extraordinary dredging that’s going to dig up all manner of toxics and sludge. And that’ll affect the course of this river going back many miles from the seacoast, and it may even affect proposals for a new port by basically taking the traffic from what would be a more rational site for a port expansion.

In Durban, the resistance is much wider because it will also include a great many people, tens of thousands, whose lives will be adversely affected by that large a port expansion. And those are mainly people of color, the Indian and African and colored people of South Durban, particularly in the neighborhoods of Merebank and Clairwood. And in the meetings I’ve been at over the past year, extraordinary unanimity in fighting back, particularly because this is one of the BRICS projects, in which the Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa link, where a major summit was held in March in Durban. It will include a large loan from the Chinese, about $5 billion, that will help the state transport company dig out a port, starting in a couple of years. The resistance has mobilized, with residents demanding instead for this large South Durban port, the largest in sub-Saharan Africa, instead of its expansion, a detox and a much more clean system of economic activity, and especially infrastructure for society, not for the big corporations and shipping industries.

We’ll see how these fights go. We’ll keep you updated, Jaisal.

NOOR: Thank you for joining us, Patrick.

BOND: Thank you.

NOOR: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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