Climate Movement, Meet Global Capitalism. Global Capitalism, meet the Climate Movement. On the G20 and the fight for Climate Justice
By Rising Tide
“Oceans turn increasingly acidic, wiping out calcareous plankton and further hitting surviving coral reefs-much of the marine food chain endangered. One summer in every two has heat waves as strong as the 2003 disaster in Europe, when 30,000 died. Drought, fire and searing heat strikes the Mediterranean basin. Greenland tips into irreversible ice melt, accelerating sea-level rise and threatening coastal cities around the world. Hundreds of millions live in peril of the rising seas. Polar bears, walrus and other ice-dependent marine mammals extinct in the Arctic. Glaciers in Peru disappear, threatening the water supplies to Lima. Declining snowfields also threaten water supplies. A third of species worldwide face extinction as the climate changes-the worst mass extinction since the end of the dinosaurs.”
This rather rosy scenario painted by author Mark Lynas is the reality we can expect to inhabit if the planet heats another 3.6 F degrees. Doesn’t’ sound like much fun, does it? Well unfortunately for us, 3.6 F also happens to be the degree to which our benevolent leaders at the G8 decided is ok to allow our world to heat up. Last month with much fanfare and backslapping the world’s 7 richest nations (plus Russia), who not coincidentally are responsible for the lion’s share of global emissions, set the bar for the collateral damage they are willing to accept in order to preserve their economic stranglehold on our planet.
On Sept 24 and 25th the G20, an outgrowth of the G8, will be meeting in Pittsburgh in an attempt to salvage this global economic order. The G20 includes all the G8 countries plus the next twelve largest economies and “emerging economies.” The G20 countries account for 80% of the world’s global gross national product. Many of the G8 leaders remarked at this year’s summit that it is becoming irrelevant, and that the G20 is where the real decisions will be made. Before this year’s G8 summit German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated, “I think the G20 should be the format that, like an overarching roof, makes decisions about the future.” While the G20 summit in Pittsburgh is largely focused on pumping some blood back into global capitalism, we cannot afford to overlook how the abstract world of global finance has very real world affects when it comes to climate and justice.
CLIMATE CHANGE THE BIGGEST LOSER OF G20 SUMMIT. That was what one headline read in the Guardian newspaper after this spring’s G20 summit in London. As part of the G20’s plan to revive the global economy, member nations have pledged over 1 trillion dollars. The question of course is where does this money go to? There’s not much info out there, but we know that car manufacturers, not exactly a low carbon industry, are getting a piece of the pie. In addition a good chunk of the money is earmarked for the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and assorted regional development banks, none of which have a very clean record when it comes to energy policies. From 1994 to 2003 the World Bank spent over $24.8 billion on fossil fuel projects. Meanwhile the IMF is well known for lending money to countries on the condition that they pay off the loans by upping resource extraction, including fossil fuels, and industrial scale logging. While the final communiqué from the London summit made vague references to sustainable development and green economies, there were no concrete commitments that the money was going to anything other than business as usual.
If you liked sub-prime, then you’ll love carbon trading
When it really comes down to it though, the numbers and figures don’t matter as much as the big picture. The G20 stands for free market capitalism and it is clear that any policies they develop will be designed by the “free hand” of the market. When it comes to climate policy this translates to carbon trading.
At the heart of carbon trading is the idea that “the market” is the best and most efficient means by which to solve the climate crisis. To do this, carbon is turned into a commodity to be bought and sold on the international market. Companies are allotted a certain amount of carbon credits which translates into the amount of carbon they can emit into the atmosphere. If they emit more carbon than they are allotted, no problem. Just buy some credits off another company that didn’t use all theirs, or better yet, “offset” the emissions by funding a Clean Development Country in some poor southern country.
Under the carbon trading regime companies like Duke Energy could get away with building a carbon intensive plant such as Cliffside by paying for thousands of homes in South Africa to install compact fluorescent light bulbs. Or to use a real world example, a European company was allowed to offset its emissions by funding a wind project in Colombia. The only problem was that an entire indigenous community was evicted from their land, resulting in up to 200 being killed. And to add insult to injury, the electricity from the windmills primarily powers one of the largest coal mines in the world! Somehow the math just doesn’t add up.
Carbon trading regimes have so many loopholes for companies to get around actually reducing their emissions that they have yet to do anything to slow warming. Both the Kyoto Protocol and the EU Emissions Trading Systems have both resulted in an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, while at the same time bringing in record profits for some of the worst climate criminals. Not only does carbon trading create additional social and environmental problems, it simply doesn’t work.
The deregulated, market-obsessed economics that have dominated the political agenda of recent decades are widely seen to have failed, yet governments around the world are still making futile attempts to apply the same failed market logic to the problem of climate change.
Earlier this summer up to 100 indigenous people in Peru were massacred for resisting a free trade agreement with the US. As part of the Peru-US free trade agreement, Peru agreed to repeal several laws including parts of the constitution that had protected indigenous people’s traditional lands in the Amazon from resource exploitation, in particular oil and gas. Basically the US promised favorable trade conditions with Peru in exchange for, among other things, unfettered access to the country’s oil and gas reserves.
In response to this assault on indigenous sovereignty and the Amazon rainforest, indigenous people and supporters staged nationwide strikes, shutting down much of Peru’s critical infrastructure including roads, railways, and oil installations. The Peruvian government, not one to shy away from violence, sent in troops to break up the blockades often times opening fire on the unarmed crowds. Governments will stop at nothing to ensure the smooth flow of capital.
While the US-Peru free trade agreement is not an official policy of the G20, it is a fine example of the types of conflicts that will continue to emerge if the G20 are successful in pushing their free market agenda. A key function of entities such as the G20 is to open new markets to corporate exploitation by breaking down trade barriers and forcing countries to sell off their natural resources in exchange for financial aid. The $1.06 billion that was pledged at the London G-20 summit will not come without its conditions on primarily poor countries to open their doors to corporate exploitation, or as they call it, foreign investment.
Of particular interest for those of us wanting to avert a global climate meltdown is the fact that as fossil fuels become increasingly scarce “economic harmonization” and free trade agreements will become ever more important for rich countries to ensure an uninterrupted, cheap supply of carbon intensive fuels. The G20 is one such mechanism by which corporations and governments ensure the smooth flow of global capital and maintain their control over resources and peoples.
Our climate is not your business
As has been pointed out by others, it is absurd to say that we are fighting climate change. To say we are fighting climate change is to say we are fighting the Earth’s natural processes. Climate change is the natural and long predicted outcome of a society burning fossil fuels and destroying natural ecosystems in order to maintain an economy that’s central tenet is never ending expansion and growth. We are not fighting climate change, we are fighting this economic system that puts profits and production above all else.
On April 1st in London when the G20 last met, tens of thousands of people flooded the financial district to resist the policies of the G20. A Climate Camp was set up in the epicenter of global capital under banners reading, “Nature doesn’t do bail outs” and “Our climate is not your business.” Several banks responsible for waves of evictions and disappearing pensions in Britain were ransacked and one of the world’s largest financial centers was effectively shut down by a coalition of groups fighting for economic and environmental justice.
As we round the corner to the Pittsburg summit a promising coalition of anti-capitalist, indigenous, anti-war, climate justice, economic justice, and anti-authoritarian groups are coming together to let the G20 know that our world is not for sale. In addition to marches and direct actions that are in the works, groups including the Mobilization for Climate Justice are organizing a climate camp in Pittsburgh to coincide with the G20 meetings. The climate camp will be a place to come together, learn, share skills, and plan actions.
“The Earth is not dying, it is being killed and the people killing it have names and addresses.” –Utah Phillips
On September 24 and 25th 20 such people (and more than a few of their lackey’s) will be residing at: David L. Lawrence Convention Center, 1000 Fort Duquesne Boulevard, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. No need to phone ahead, they know we’re coming.
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