Neoliberalizing Nature and Privatizing the Air
Patrick Bond: In 2013 bankers will increase their efforts to make money out of the climate crisis and put a dollar value on everything
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore. And welcome to what is going to become a series of reports on environmental and climate change issues with Patrick Bond, who now joins us from South Africa.
Patrick is the director of the Centre for Civil Society and a professor at the university of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. He’s written many books. One of his latest is The Politics of Climate Justice and Durban’s Climate Gamble.
Thanks for joining us, Patrick.
PATRICK BOND, GLOBAL ECON. PROJECT DIRECTOR, INST. FOR POLICY STUDIES: Great to be with you again, Paul.
JAY: So, looking forward to 2013, what do you think are going to be the big issues in terms of environmental and climate change questions?
BOND: A lot of ground was broken in 2012 at the Rio Earth Summitâ€”that was Rio+20â€”in June. And the phrases that your listeners, your audience would have heard are “green economy”, “payment for ecosystem services”, “natural capital”. And these were theorized, well, for many years.
And the idea is that if you value the environment, you should put a price tag on it so that its destruction is not just a [free] activityâ€”so say the proponents. But critics say this is equivalent to neoliberalizing nature or privatizing the air in the case of climate and carbon trading.
And what became even trickier was in Doha the idea called loss and damage, which is another way of saying that the North owes the South a climate debt for the huge destructive force. I mean, Barack Obama just asked for some $60 billion from Congress to clean up after Sandy. And so this is the sort of huge scale of loss and damage, and even more so in the Third World, the main victims of climate change here in Africa, maybe 200 million deaths anticipated this century.
And the big question we’ll all be asking in the coming months: can you put a price on it? And if you do so, in order for the North to pay up, does that mean that you endorse markets for the environment? And that’s a tricky situation for many environmentalists not wanting to go too far towards neoliberal nature, but on the other hand, demanding a climate and an ecological debt be paid.
JAY: Well, you’ve got toâ€”I guess if you need something paid, you’ve got to put a price on it. But that is a separate question, then, isn’t it, from whether it’s going to be a privatized solution or not. They’re two separate issues, aren’t they?
BOND: That’s right. And one of the finest theorists, Larry Lohmann at Corner House group, explained it to me in Rio very simply, and I think we all should learn from Larry Lohmann. He said the difference between a fine on a big corporation, for example, Texacoâ€”Texaco, now Chevron, polluted about $8 billion worth in the Ecuadoran Amazon, and a court found them guilty. Of course, they’re refusing to pay. They’re a big U.S. corporation. And the idea is they should be fined and then banned from doing that again. And that is an acceptable strategy for progressive environmentalists.
The problem is if you allow that activity to be mandated through a fee, a fee for an ecosystem service. And it’s in that very nuanced distinction between putting a price on something because you value it and making someone who destroys it pay for the damage on the one hand, which I think is reasonableâ€”on the other hand, the danger would be if you try to create markets. And this is what’s really running rampant.
Here in southern Africa, natural capital will soon be actually calculated as a way to correct gross domestic product, something that’s way overdue, because GDP, what economists like to do to measure growth, ignores environmental destruction, not to mention women’s unpaid labor or community activism or crime or family breakdown. All of these important things are not measured. And the attempt to correct it, natural capital, if it’s used properly, would give us a whole new dimension on whether we should be extracting at the rate, for example, here in our platinum mines we do which led to the Marikana Massacre in August.
And that’s the sort of question that I think environmentalists and community activists and labor movements, women’s groups, will be asking more and more. Is it really worth it? And should we not be calculating into a cost-benefit analysis the destructive capacity of capital when it meets nature, and then trying to prevent that process from becoming something like a carbon market or offsets for biodiversity? And a green economy strategy of the World Bank of many big agencies leans towards markets. And this is going to be the struggle of 2013, I predict.
JAY: Well, the argument I guess you would hear from Wall Street or others that support what I’m about to say, which is that without the financialization of these issues, you can’t attract the kind of capital that’s required to either have mitigation programs or various things to reduce carbon emission, and that you need to harness the power of international finance, and the only way to do that is make it attractive for themâ€”.
BOND: Well, [indeed, that] for 15 years was the underlying assumption behind emissions trading. And to tell you how well that works, simply go to Chicago, where in 2010 they had to close the market. That was the one that former vice president Al Gore was involved in. And the European Union’s emissions trading scheme, which is the largestâ€”over $100 billion a year worth of tradingâ€”it’s really crashing and hasn’t done well since here in Durban about a year ago we had the COP17, the climate summit. And as it was said by Bank of America, that summit, like the Doha, gave a little bit of confidence for traders that their system would still be in place. They said it was like a Viagra shotâ€”but that doesn’t last very long, as many men know.
I think the point is the carbon markets have demonstratively shown they cannot finance renewable energy. You really need about a $50 per ton price on carbon dioxide, and these markets are running at around $7 or $8, and so they just are unable to deliver the goods. And therefore there are NGOs out there who are calling for the European Union’s emissions trading scheme to be shut down, and instead, a replacement system, a regulatory system, a cap system that would then ban, eventually, the fossil fuels that threaten to destroy our planet.
And I think that’s the way to go. Since markets have failed, we really have to turn to a regulatory approach. And the problem is, of course, there are still a lot of people, even in environmental groups, who still believe that the bankers can solve a problem this big, even after all the evidence of the last five years of destruction by bankers. I don’t understand them, but they still believe that.
JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us, Patrick. And we’re going to dig more into these issues withâ€”I think we’re going to do this every week or every other week with Patrick. So thanks again, Patrick.
BOND: Great to be with you, Paul. Thanks.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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