The Climate Change Summit : Business As Usual

Merrick, 10th November 2000ce

Whenever they were challenged about carbon emissions and global warming, our politicians used to tell us that nothing had been proven, and so imply that there was, therefore, nothing for anyone to worry about. As with all other issues, the job of the professional politician is to say nothing is changing until all the tricks of denial have been used up. Now that climate change is so demonstrable that even politicians can’t deny it, they point to their agreements at Rio and Kyoto and now Den Haag (The Hague).

These agreements are the governments of the world deciding that carbon emissions must be cut and figuring ways to do it, so surely they’re a good thing, right? Actually no. They’re a way of ensuring that the rich countries can keep polluting at the same levels, whilst making even more money out of it, and simultaneously fobbing off people who mildly ask for change in environmental policy.

UN scientists (hardly a hardline bunch) say we need immediate emission cuts of around 60 percent.

The European Union decided that its emissions needed to be cut by 15 percent. The USA balked at this and said they’d never do anything of the kind. The EU then decided it only actually needed to cut by 8 percent.

What had this become by the time it came to the UN's mighty fanfared Kyoto Agreement? It says that emissions need to go down to an average of 5.2 percent of 1990 levels by the year 2010. By 2010! Can anyone seriously believe that if we continue at 95 percent of 1990 levels it’ll all be OK? This is what the delegates going to these summits are saying. Either they haven’t read the most basic data on the subject, in which case they should stay at home and get the people who know what they’re talking about to make the agreements, or else they don’t actually want real change and are using the summits as cover for a continuation of the status quo; again, in which case they should stay at home and be letting those who know what they’re doing get on with it.

But this is just the start of the corruption. The international agreements will give each country a target to reach. This is calculated on the basis of 1990 emission levels, thus those who polluted the most in 1990 will be allowed to pollute the most in future. Those most responsible for the problem are the ones with the most rights.

Countries will be given ‘carbon credits’ for doing new projects that are non-polluting. The nuclear energy industry has seen this as a lifeline, as nukes are carbon-neutral, and so they are pushing for nuclear plants to be counted as green energy. Their narrow definition ignores the huge carbon emission – and other colossal environmental damage – the nuclear industry causes in mining uranium, refining the fuel and disposing of the waste, and all the transportation it all entails. All this not only means more nuclear plants in the rich countries, it means more all around the world. And guess which countries supply all the nuclear technology? Another money-spinner for the rich nations.

Countries will also be able to buy, for hard cash, other countries’ carbon credits. So the countries with the cash to spare (ie the rich and polluting countries) can buy the poor countries’ pollution allowances off them. The hard-up governments of the poor nations will be likely to take the cash (especially if they need to buy expensive stuff like a nuclear power plant), and have to cut down on what little fossil fuels they use. This is not only unjust in the immediately apparent way, ie the poor countries are poor cos the rich countries made them poor and keep them poor. It is also unjust because a far greater proportion of poor countries’ fuel use is in essential industries like, say, farming or trains, whereas the rich countries’ industries are dominated by production of things that are disposable and/or luxury items. We will maintain our present level of lipstick and disposable nappies at the expense of their food production.

And carbon trading works the other way too. Australia, with vast tracts of open land – thanks to generations of human deforestation – can plant a shitload of trees. This will not only be used as credit to let them continue at the present level of emissions but will let them actually increase their emissions! They can sell their tree-planting as credit to other countries in order that they too can continue as they are!

Ah, but at least they’ll be planting trees though, and that’s got to be good, right? Again, we are deceived on this. The way to absorb the most carbon from the atmosphere is to plant fast-growing trees, and plant them as close together as possible. This will be conifer plantations so dense that no other plants or wildlife can live among them, which in terms of biodiversity is a desert. Young fast-growing trees absorb a lot of carbon and retain it in their wood. Mature trees do not absorb much. So in terms of carbon credits, a mature forest is pretty useless; the best thing to do is to chop it all down and plant dense conifers.

It sounds mad. But it’s already happening. A company called Future Forests is one of many who promote schemes along the lines of ‘send us some money or read the ads on our website and we’ll plant X many trees in order to counter the pollution of your car’. They want us to beleive that we can burn our present levels of fossil fuels and yet somehow become carbon-neutral by having somebody plant some trees. No surprise that the Motor Show and Mazda cars have been quick to use Future Forests for their PR greenwash.

The planting of such forests is done on the cheapest land available, so the existing forests are usually first for the chop; it will actually accelerate tropical deforestation, clear-cutting mature tropical rainforest and replacing it with dense-planting of fast growing saplings. These new ‘forests’ will support little or no other plant or animal life, and will accelerate loss of habitat and extinction of species.

And then once the new plantation trees are mature, they will be chopped down to make way for a new generation of saplings. All this will ruin the nutrient and pH balance of the soil, making any future re-introduction of real forests much harder. And then there’s the question of what happens to the chopped trees? Most will be burned off – some in schemes that see wood as an eco-friendly biomass fuel- and so release their stored carbon into the atmosphere. So the grower will get the credit for generation after generation of carbon absorption even though each load of chopped down trees will be putting the carbon back in the atmosphere. That’s not absorption, that’s merely delay.

The level of this kind of mad project will absolutely skyrocket when the climate change agreements are enforced. And guess who’ll be making all the money from organising it? It may not surprise you to learn that Future Forests, busy killing Mexican tropical rainforests, are not a Mexican company. The wealthy nations are already limbering up to trade in carbon credits – a commodity that doesn’t exist yet, a commodity that is the measurement of our pollution. The brokers of this trading will become very rich indeed. So the brokers are keen to see it happen, and it can only happen if countries are determined to trade; ie determined not to cut their emissions by any sizeable amount, and determined to do it by exploiting the weaker position of poorer nations.

And if any nation should pollute to a level less that its target, the carbon-brokers will be queueing up to sell that allowance to the highest bidder. Thus the maximum pollution that is allowed will be produced, and certainly no less.

Obviously the capitalist system has got to go if we’re to start valuing things in terms other than their dollar value, but I do realise that the changes we need on carbon emissions are too urgent to wait until capitalism collapses or is overthrown. Immediate changes on the scale we need can only be brought about by government regulation. Which is why action should be taken by politicians on the basis of what is needed, rather than who can afford to pressurise them the most.

The climate change conferences at Kyoto and Den Haag host as many corporate lobbyists as delegates; the polluting industries (using the money they’ve made from pollution) are heavily leaning on the governments of the world to not enact anything that might make any big changes. Oil producing nations are calling for compensation for the impact of reduced oil consumption on their economies; the summit must decide whether to pay a load of compensation compensate or allow the pollution to carry on. Genetic polluters are like Monsanto are also well represented (touting theoretical GM fast-grow trees and the like).You and I can’t afford to go, and even if we could we’d have no right to. It is rather like having a police conference to deal with burglary and inviting as many burglars as police. (The burglars can afford to go on the proceeds of their thefts, the victims have nothing left and anyway aren’t invited).

For all the politicians trumpeting it as evidence of a concerned and active government, the climate change summits are nothing more than the wealthy and the polluting devising a way to carry on as we are, but with them making even more money off it.