Friday, November 17, 2006

Carbon Trading, A Shell Game

Carbon trading schemes use neo-liberal logic and coporate self-interest to pervert the aim of reducing carbon emisssions according to Kevin Smith, a researcher with Carbon Trade Watch, a project of the Transnational Institute.

Carbon trading schemes rely on a cost-benefit analysis which reduces the complex issue of climate change down to a discussion about numbers and graphs, ignoring unquantifiable variables such as human lives lost, species extinction and widespread social upheaval.

Cost-benefit analysis can be a useful tool for making choices in relatively simple situations. But as Tom Burke, visiting professor at Imperial College London, has observed: "The reality is that applying cost-benefit analysis to questions such as [climate change] is junk economics... It is a vanity of economists to believe that all choices can be boiled down to calculations of monetary value."

In the current neo-liberal economic environment, trading rules inevitably succumb to the pressures of corporate lobbying and deregulation in order to ensure that governments do not "interfere" with the smooth running of the market. We have already seen this corrosive influence in the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), when under corporate pressure, governments massively over-allocated emissions permits to the heaviest polluting industries in the initial round.

Market analyst Franck Schuttellar estimated that in the scheme's first year, the UK's most polluting industries earned collectively £940m ($1,792m) in windfall profits from generous ETS allocations. Given all we know about the link between pollution and climate change, such a massive public concession to dirty industries borders on the obscene.

There is a groundswell of opinion that the "invisible hand" of the market is not the most effective way of facing the climate challenge. The Durban Declaration of Climate Justice, signed by civil society organisations from all over the world, asserts that making carbon a commodity represents a large-scale privatisation of the Earth's carbon cycling capacity, with the atmospheric pie having been carved-up and handed over to the biggest polluters.

There is, unfortunately, no "win-win solution" when it comes to tackling climate change and maintaining an economic growth based on the ever increasing extraction and consumption of fossil fuels. Market-based mechanisms such as carbon trading are an elaborate shell-game of global creative accountancy that distracts us from the fact that there is no viable "business as usual" scenario.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Deserts Advancing at an Increasing Pace

A report by the U.S. Embassy in China entitled "Desert Mergers and Acquisitions" describes satellite images showing the two deserts in Mongolia and Gansu provinces China expanding and merging to form a single, larger desert. To the west in Xinjiang Province, two even larger deserts, the Taklimakan and Kumtag, are also expanding toward each other. To the east, the Gobi Desert is now withing 150 miles of Bejing.

The deserts are expanding at an increasing rate; up from 600 square miles a year between 1950 and 1975 to nearly 1,400 square miles by 2000.

Over the last half-century some 24,000 Chinese villages have been abandoned or depopulated by advancing deserts.

In Afghanistan, a U.N Environment Program team has been tracking the advance of the Registan Desert. Up to 100 villages have been submerged by sand and roads have been blocked by 60 foot sand dunes.

In Iran, sand storms have buried 124 villages in the province of Sistan-Baluchistan, and covered grazing areas.

Nigeria is losing 1,355 square miles of rangeland and cropland. In Mexico, the degredation of cropland forces 700,000 Mexicans off the land each year, many coming to the U.S. searching for jobs. Even tropical Brazil is experiencing advancing deserts.

With 70 million more people in the world each year, the growth of human and livestock populations continue to degrade the land and hasten desertification.