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Posts Tagged ‘Jason Hickel

Clean energy won’t save us –

Only a new economic system can

What would we do with 100% clean energy? Exactly what we’re doing with fossil fuels

Infinite growth is a dangerous illusion

Earlier this year media outlets around the world announced that February had broken global temperature records by a shocking amount.

March broke all the records too.

In June, our screens were covered with surreal images of flooding in Paris, the Seine bursting its banks and flowing into the streets. In London, floods sent water pouring into the tube system right in the heart of Covent Garden. Roads in south-east London became rivers two metres deep.

With such extreme events becoming more commonplace, few deny climate change any longer.

Finally, a consensus is crystallising around one all-important fact: fossil fuels are killing us. We need to switch to clean energy, and fast.

This growing awareness about the dangers of fossil fuels represents a crucial shift in our consciousness. But I can’t help but fear we’ve missed the point.

As important as clean energy might be, the science is clear: it won’t save us from climate change.

Let’s imagine, just for argument’s sake, that we are able to get off fossil fuels and switch to 100% clean energy. There is no question this would be a vital step in the right direction, but even this best-case scenario wouldn’t be enough to avert climate catastrophe.

Why? Because the burning of fossil fuels only accounts for about 70% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

The remaining 30% comes from a number of causes. Deforestation is a big one.

So is industrial agriculture, which degrades the soils to the point where they leach CO2.

Then there’s industrial livestock farming which produces 90m tonnes of methane per year and most of the world’s anthropogenic nitrous oxide. Both of these gases are vastly more potent than CO2 when it comes to global warming.

Livestock farming alone contributes more to global warming than all the cars, trains, planes and ships in the world.

Industrial production of cement, steel, and plastic forms another major source of greenhouse gases, and then there are our landfills, which pump out huge amounts of methane – 16% of the world’s total.

When it comes to climate change, the problem is not just the type of energy we are using, it’s what we’re doing with it. What would we do with 100% clean energy? Exactly what we are doing with fossil fuels: raze more forests, build more meat farms, expand industrial agriculture, produce more cement, and fill more landfill sites, all of which will pump deadly amounts of greenhouse gas into the air.

We will do these things because our economic system demands endless compound growth, and for some reason we have not thought to question this.

Think of it this way. That 30% chunk of greenhouse gases that comes from non-fossil fuel sources isn’t static. It is adding more to the atmosphere each year.

Scientists project that our tropical forests will be completely destroyed by 2050, releasing a 200bn tonne carbon bomb into the air.

The world’s topsoils could be depleted within just 60 years, releasing more still. Emissions from the cement industry are growing at more than 9% per year.

And our landfills are multiplying at an eye-watering pace: by 2100 we will be producing 11m tonnes of solid waste per day, three times more than we do now.

Switching to clean energy will do nothing to slow this down.

The climate movement made an enormous mistake.

We focused all our attention on fossil fuels, when we should have been pointing to something much deeper: the basic logic of our economic operating system. After all, we’re only using fossil fuels in the first place to fuel the broader imperative of GDP growth.

The root problem is the fact that our economic system demands ever-increasing levels of extraction, production and consumption.

Our politicians tell us that we need to keep the global economy growing at more than 3% each year – the minimum necessary for large firms to make aggregate profits. That means every 20 years we need to double the size of the global economy – double the cars, double the fishing, double the mining, double the McFlurries and double the iPads.

And then double them again over the next 20 years from their already doubled state.

Our more optimistic pundits claim that technological innovations will help us to de-couple economic growth from material throughput. But sadly there is no evidence that this is happening.

Global material extraction and consumption has grown by 94% since 1980, and is still going up.

Current projections show that by 2040 we will more than double the world’s shipping miles, air miles, and trucking miles – along with all the material stuff that those vehicles transport – almost exactly in keeping with the rate of GDP growth.

Clean energy, important as it is, won’t save us from this nightmare. But rethinking our economic system might. GDP growth has been sold to us as the only way to create a better world.

But we now have robust evidence that it doesn’t make us any happier, it doesn’t reduce poverty, and its “externalities” produce all sorts of social ills: debt, overwork, inequality, and climate change.

We need to abandon GDP growth as our primary measure of progress, and we need to do this immediately – as part and parcel of the climate agreement that will be ratified in Morocco later this year.

It’s time to pour our creative power into imagining a new global economy – one that maximises human wellbeing while actively shrinking our ecological footprint.

This is not an impossible task. A number of countries have already managed to achieve high levels of human development with very low levels of consumption.

In fact Daniel O’Neill, an economist at the University of Leeds, has demonstrated that even material de-growth is not incompatible with high levels of human well-being.

Our focus on fossil fuels has lulled us into thinking we can continue with the status quo so long as we switch to clean energy, but this is a dangerously simplistic assumption. If we want to stave off the coming crisis, we need to confront its underlying cause.

Enough of aid – let’s talk reparations

Should the poor colonized States wait another 100 years to earn $1.25 per day?

Colonialism is one of those things you’re not supposed to discuss in polite company – at least not north of the Mediterranean. Most people feel uncomfortable about it, and would rather pretend it didn’t happen.

Debate around reparations is threatening because it upends the usual narrative of development

Habib Battah shared this link and commented on it

Who built Europe?

“In the mainstream narrative of international development peddled by institutions from the World Bank to the UK’s Department of International Development, the history of colonialism is routinely erased.

According to the official story, developing countries are poor because of their own internal problems, while western countries are rich because they worked hard, and upheld the right values and policies…

The impact of colonialism cannot be ignored
theguardian.com|By Jason Hickel

And because the west happens to be further ahead, its countries generously reach out across the chasm to give “aid” to the rest – just a little something to help them along.

If colonialism is ever acknowledged, it’s to say that it was not a crime, but rather a benefit to the colonised – a leg up the development ladder

But the historical record tells a very different story, and that opens up difficult questions about another topic that Europeans prefer to avoid: reparations.

No matter how much they try, however, this topic resurfaces over and over again. Recently, after a debate at the Oxford Union, Indian MP Shashi Tharoor’s powerful case for reparations went viral, attracting more than 3 million views on YouTube.

Clearly the issue is hitting a nerve.

The reparations debate is threatening because it completely upends the usual narrative of development. It suggests that poverty in the global south is not a natural phenomenon, but has been actively created.

And it casts western countries in the role not of benefactors, but of plunderers.

When it comes to the colonial legacy, some of the facts are almost too shocking to comprehend.

When Europeans arrived in what is now Latin America in 1492, the region may have been inhabited by between 50 million and 100 million indigenous people.

By the mid 1600s, their population was slashed to about 3.5 million.

The vast majority succumbed to foreign disease and many were slaughtered, died of slavery or starved to death after being kicked off their land. It was like the holocaust seven times over.

What were the Europeans after? Silver was a big part of it.

Between 1503 and 1660, 16m kilograms of silver were shipped to Europe, amounting to three times the total European reserves of the metal.

By the early 1800s, a total of 100m kg of silver had been drained from the veins of Latin America and pumped into the European economy, providing much of the capital for the industrial revolution.

To get a sense for the scale of this wealth, consider this thought experiment: if 100m kg of silver was invested in 1800 at 5% interest – the historical average – it would amount to £110trn ($165trn) today. An unimaginable sum.

Europeans slaked their need for labour in the colonies – in the mines and on the plantations – not only by enslaving indigenous Americans but also by shipping slaves across the Atlantic from Africa.

Up to 15 million of them. In the North American colonies alone, Europeans extracted an estimated 222,505,049 hours of forced labour from African slaves between 1619 and 1865. Valued at the US minimum wage, with a modest rate of interest, that’s worth $97trn – more than the entire global GDP.

Right now, 14 Caribbean nations are in the process of suing Britain for slavery reparations.

They point out that when Britain abolished slavery in 1834 it compensated not the slaves but rather the owners of slaves, to the tune of £20m, the equivalent of £200bn today.

Perhaps they will demand reparations equivalent to this figure, but it is conservative: it reflects only the price of the slaves, and tells us nothing of the total value they produced during their lifetimes, nor of the trauma they endured, nor of the hundreds of thousands of slaves who worked and died during the centuries before 1834.

These numbers tell only a small part of the story, but they do help us imagine the scale of the value that flowed from the Americas and Africa into European coffers after 1492.

Then there is India.

When the British seized control of India, they completely reorganised the agricultural system, destroying traditional subsistence practices to make way for cash crops for export to Europe.

As a result of British interventions, up to 29 million Indians died of famine during the last few decades of the 19th century in what historian Mike Davis calls the “late Victorian holocaust”.

Laid head to foot, their corpses would stretch the length of England 85 times over. And this happened while India was exporting an unprecedented amount of food, up to 10m tonnes per year.

British colonisers also set out to transform India into a captive market for British goods.

To do that, they had to destroy India’s impressive indigenous industries. Before the British arrived, India commanded 27% of the world economy, according to economist Angus Maddison.

By the time they left, India’s share had been cut to just 3%.

The same thing happened to China.

After the Opium Wars, when Britain invaded China and forced open its borders to British goods on unequal terms, China’s share of the world economy dwindled from 35% to an all-time low of 7%.

Meanwhile, Europeans increased their share of global GDP from 20% to 60% during the colonial period. Europe didn’t develop the colonies. The colonies developed Europe.

And we haven’t even begun to touch the scramble for Africa.

In the Congo, to cite just one brief example, as historian Adam Hochschild recounts in his haunting book King Leopold’s Ghost, Belgium’s lust for ivory and rubber killed some 10 million Congolese – roughly half the country’s population.

The wealth gleaned from that plunder was siphoned back to Belgium to fund beautiful stately architecture and impressive public works, including arches and parks and railway stations – all the markers of development that adorn Brussels today, the bejewelled headquarters of the European Union.

We could go on. It is tempting to see this as just a list of crimes, but it is much more than that. These snippets hint at the contours of a world economic system that was designed over hundreds of years to enrich a small portion of humanity at the expense of the vast majority.

This history makes the narrative of international development seem a bit absurd, and even outright false.

Frankie Boyle got it right: “Even our charity is essentially patronising. Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day. Give him a fishing rod and he can feed himself. Alternatively, don’t poison the fishing waters, abduct his great-grandparents into slavery, then turn up 400 years later on your gap year talking a lot of shite about fish.”

We can’t put a price on the suffering wrought by colonialism.

And there is not enough money in the world to compensate for the damage it inflicted. We can, however, stop talking about charity, and instead acknowledge the debt that the west owes to the rest of the world.

Even more importantly, we can work to quash the colonial instinct whenever it rears its ugly head, as it is doing right now in the form of land grabs, illicit financial extraction, and unfair trade deals.

Shashi Tharoor argued for a reparations payment of only £1 – a token acknowledgement of historical fact. That might not do much to assuage the continued suffering of those whose countries have been ravaged by the colonial encounter. But at least it would set the story straight, and put us on a path towards rebalancing the global economy.

 

4 Things You Probably Know About Poverty That Bill and Melinda Gates Don’t.

Only four factors or realities?

To fix global poverty, you first need to acknowledge where it comes from.

Bill and  

Melinda Gates just released their annual letter, “Our Big Bet for the Future,” with their thoughts on the current state of global poverty and the suite of projects they are funding to tackle it.

While their hopeful tone and a good deal of what they are proposing is excellent, the story they tell about poverty obscures far more than it reveals. These are not “big bets,” but rather small technical fixes that can’t solve the real, underlying problems.

This matters, because the Gates have an incredible amount of power to go with their wealth. What they say carries tremendous weight with policymakers and affects what millions of people think. If their story is accepted, we all get tricked into accepting relatively small actions as solutions to big problems.

SamDCruz via Shutterstock

Their basic story goes like this: we can break the cycle of poverty—the big bet—by introducing new elements into the mix, like mobile banking, more vaccines, and different agricultural technologies.

They say that by taking actions like this, extreme poverty can actually be eradicated by 2030. But they leave out anything to do with why it exists in the first place, and who and what causes it, and so end up ignoring the things that matter most to actually breaking the cycle of poverty.

Here are four of those things that you probably know, that it seems Bill and Melinda Gates don’t.

Poverty Fact #1: Poverty is made by people. It is not just part of nature

Greece provides a clear and present example of this. Under EU-imposed austerity put in place in hopes of stabilizing the economy—which, among other things, slashed spending on social services, laid off tens of thousands of government workers, raised taxes across the board and and cut the minimum wage—unemployment shot up from 8% in 2008 to 28% in 2014, while wages plummeted.

A humanitarian catastrophe followed, with hospital closures, lack of medicines, and widespread homelessness.

Now 44% of Greeks live below the poverty line, up from 20% in 2008. Even middle class citizens have been forced to resort to soup kitchens.

Similar stories can be told about Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, England, and even the United States. No one is under the illusion that any of this is a natural phenomenon, which is why people are starting to vote for dramatic change.

Sam DCruz via Shutterstock

The Greek experience isn’t uncommon; it’s just that it has until recently been uncommon in the West. People across the global South have been on the receiving end of such policies for decades. In the past it was called “structural adjustment” and was spearheaded by the IMF and World Bank, with devastating consequences.

Bill and Melinda argued that, through aggressively pro-business measures like privatizing essential services and structuring economies so that debtors are paid off before the population is taken care of, they could kick start economies. Today, we call that agenda “austerity.” The effects are the same.

Richard Cavalleri via Shutterstock

Poverty doesn’t just exist; it is created. So when the Gates treat it like a naturally occurring problem—by leaving out any mention of what’s causing the problems in the first place and instead focusing exclusively on new technical interventions and big bets for the future—they’re telling a story without any of the main characters present.

It would be like a football coach saying that understanding what helped the team win or lose last week, or the ongoing fitness of the players doesn’t matter; we just need better technology and a bigger crowd of supporters this week. In other words, it helps makes small technical interventions sound adequate when they are not.

Poverty Fact #2: History matters

In order to understand the causes of poverty we have to understand history. Before the 1500s, there was no discernible difference between the West and the rest of the world in terms of human development. (Not true. In the Orient and China, the poorer classes enjoyed far better educational systems and health institutions)

The impoverishment of the global South began first with the plunder of Latin America, followed by the Atlantic slave trade, then the British colonization of Asia and the European scramble for Africa. This architecture of wealth extraction was essential to Western development.

Later, neoliberal policies—like the deregulation of capital markets, privatization of essential services, elimination of social and environmental protections, and a constant downward pressure on both corporate taxation and workers wages—were imposed across the global South, mostly by way of western-supported dictators and the structural adjustment we mentioned above.

This turned into the biggest single cause of poverty in the 20th century, because it created both the incentives and the systems required—like tax havens—for wealth and power to be centralized in the hands of the elite.

Today, the process of wealth extraction continues in the form of tax evasion, land grabs, debt service, and trade agreements rigged in the interests of the rich, a reverse flow of wealth that vastly outstrips the aid (the epitome of a small, technical fix) that trickles in the other direction.

Gil.K via Shutterstock

It is no surprise, then, that the fortunes of rich countries and poor countries continue to diverge. Or that the richest 1% have managed to accumulate more wealth than the rest of the world’s population combined.

By leaving this history out of their grand story of poverty, Mr. and Mrs. Gates are either saying it isn’t true, or it doesn’t matter.

Poverty Fact #3: The “good news” story is premised on false accounting

The “good news” narrative that the Gates rely on asserts that humanity is making remarkable progress against global poverty. People who hold this view insist that aggregate wealth is a legitimate proxy for well-being. Thus, because global GDP has grown an astonishing 635% since 1980, we have never been better off overall.

Close on the heels of this come claims that the number of people in extreme poverty is declining so dramatically that we should all believe that it will soon—i.e. by 2030—be eradicated.

The World Bank, the governments of wealthy countries, and the UN Millennium Campaign all agree on this narrative. Relax, they tell us. The world is getting better, thanks to the spread of free market capitalism and western aid.

Yavuz Sariyildiz via Shutterstock

It is a comforting story but unfortunately it is just not true. For a start, it all rests on The World Bank’s $1.25-a-day poverty line, which is insultingly low. The UN body UNCTAD has pointed out that anyone living on less than $5 a day is unable to achieve “a standard of living adequate for health and wellbeing”: the inalienable right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. If you use that figure, a soul-scorching 5.1 billion people, or 80% of humanity, are living in those conditions today.

Poverty Fact #4: Power matters

All of this is about politics and power. It’s a well-established truth that those with the money make the rules, usually in ways that serve their own interests. This is why 93 cents of every $1 made since the 2008 crash has gone to the 1%.

The Gates want us to believe that it’s possible to solve poverty without challenging the forms of power that caused it in the first place. It sounds nice, especially for rich people, but it’s a fairy tale. Solving poverty will require a fundamental reorganization of power away from the oligarchy and toward real, meaningful democracy. Any plan to end poverty that doesn’t put this front and center isn’t really a plan at all.

By relying on cherry-picked evidence, the Gates promote a rosy picture of recent progress in order to make the case for more of the same into the future.

In other words, they want us to accept that more unregulated neoliberal capitalism is the answer. No need for better, more representative politics, more sustainable economic models, or constraints on corporate control of national and international governance.

There are plenty of alternatives. A movement is underway to create genuinely new economic thinking—one that is based in the rigorous sciences of human social systems and complexity research. It has been quietly taking form for decades in various academic departments. Groups like the Santa Fe Institute and Institute for New Economic Thinking have vigilantly explored the need to incorporate real human nature with a grounding in systems thinking to create effective social policies.

We might have had to settle for small technical fixes 30 years ago. In 2015, we certainly don’t. So much more is now known about the structural causes of poverty that it is possible to get at the real roots of the problem.

Doing so will require that a lot more people know the facts about poverty creation, something we hope Bill and Melinda Gates also learn as they continue to grapple with this thorny problem along with the rest of us.

[Top photo: Don Mammoser via Shutterstock]

‘Free Trade’ and the death of democracy

 
 

A new free trade deal might expose governments to the will of corporations.

Dr Jason Hickel posted on Al Jazeera this Dec. 19,  2013
 

“Free trade”. The term itself is a trap – a brilliant framing device that neatly neutralizes opposition.

If you take a stand against free trade you appear to be taking a stand against freedom itself, which is clearly not a tenable position.

In fact, in recent decades the term “free trade” has become very closely associated with “democracy”, owing in no small part to the efforts of right-wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, the Business Roundtable, and the Cato Institute, which have built up a powerful PR campaign to establish this spurious connection in the minds of the public.

What does freedom really mean in this context?

It turns out that it has very little to do with meaningful human freedom, and rather a lot to do with corporate freedom – the freedom of corporations to extract and exploit without hindrance.

“Free trade” is an obvious propaganda term, a form of Orwellian doublethink that means exactly the opposite of what it claims.

If we take a look at existing free trade agreements, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), we see that they focus primarily on battering down import barriers, curbing labour unions, reducing restrictions on pollution, legalizing capital flight, cutting corporate taxes, eliminating state subsidies for local industries, privatising public assets, and extending foreign patent protections.

None of these measures have to do with enhancing human freedom. Rather, they are designed in the interests of multinational corporations, who through them gain access to new export markets and investment opportunities, and cheaper labour and raw materials.

The disturbing thing about the rhetorical strategy of “free trade” is that the very things that do promote real human freedoms – such as the right of workers to organise, equal access to decent public services, and safeguards for a healthy environment – are cast as somehow anti-democratic, or even totalitarian.

These freedoms are reframed as “red tape”, as “market interventions”, or as “barriers to investment”, even when, as is almost always the case, they have been won by popular grassroots movements exercising democratic franchise.

A new global order

In this paradigm, democracy itself begins to appear as anti-democratic, inasmuch as it grants voters control over the economic policies that affect their lives. As this absurd logic moves steadily toward its ultimate conclusion, democracy becomes an obstacle that needs to be circumvented in the interests of “free” trade and investment.

If these deals come into effect, multinational corporations will be empowered to regulate democratic states, rather than the other way around.

This may sound extreme, but it is exactly what is happening today.

We can see it very clearly in two new “free trade” deals that are about to come into effect: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which will govern trade between the US and the European Union, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which will govern trade between the US and a number of Pacific nations.

We hear very little about these deals because they are shrouded in secrecy, and because six of the corporations leading the negotiations happen to control 90 percent of our media. Yet, we need to pay attention, because these deals are set to form the blueprint for a new global order.

The TTIP and the TPP go far beyond earlier trade deals like NAFTA, which seem almost quaint by comparison.

In addition to battering down import tariffs and privatising public services, they grant corporations the power to strike down the laws of sovereign nations. You read that right.

If these deals come into effect, multinational corporations will be empowered to regulate democratic states, rather than the other way around. This is the most far-reaching assault on the ideas of sovereignty and democracy that has ever been attempted in history. And it is being conducted under the banner of “freedom”.

We only know about this because of a few intrepid whistleblowers who have leaked draft chapters of the TPP to the public.

The leaked chapters show that corporations will seize the power to sue governments for implementing policies that threaten to reduce their potential profits. The mechanism that facilitates this is known as “investor-state dispute settlement“, which sets up private tribunals to adjudicate between corporations and states. The hearings of these tribunals will be held in secret, the judges will be corporate lawyers, and there will be no right of appeal.

An assault on democracy

In other words, elected politicians around the world will find themselves stripped of power to defend the interests of their people and the planet against disasters such as economic crisis and climate change.

Let’s imagine that Malaysian voters elect politicians who promise to roll out new worker safety standards for garment sweatshops, or new limits on the toxic chemical dyes that sweatshops dump into local rivers.

Let’s imagine that these new rules are ratified by the national parliament with unanimous support. If the multinational corporations that run those sweatshops – say, Nike or Primark – believe that their profits will be negatively affected, they will have the power to sue the government to stop the implementation of the new rules, subverting the will of the people and overriding the power of their elected representatives.

Investor-state dispute settlement tribunals are already in use, so we know how they work.

In El Salvador, citizens recently voted to ban a gold mine planned by Pacific Rim, a Canadian corporation, because it threatened to destroy part of the national river system. Pacific Rim is now suing El Salvador for $315m worth of lost potential profits.

In Canada, Dow Agrosciences, a US corporation, is suing the government for banning the use of its pesticides on the basis that they may cause cancer in humans.

In Britain, presuming the TTIP goes ahead, US healthcare corporations are set to sue the government if it tries to prevent them from buying up the NHS, something British voters are overwhelmingly against.

In addition to allowing corporations to sue states, these new trade deals will pre-emptively prevent states from making certain laws.

For example, they will make it illegal for governments to stop commercial banks from engaging in securities trading, which was one of the main causes of the global financial crisis.

The deals will also prevent governments from limiting the size of too-big-to-fail banks, and will prohibit the proposed Robin Hood Tax on financial transactions. And, perhaps most worryingly of all, they will restrict governments from limiting the extraction and consumption of fossil fuels.

In other words, elected politicians around the world will find themselves stripped of power to defend the interests of their people and the planet against disasters such as economic crisis and climate change.

This unprecedented corporate power-grab amounts to something like an international coup d’etat.

It dispenses with the idea of national sovereignty, and pours scorn on the notion of elected government. The ideology of “free trade” has now overplayed its hand; it has exposed itself as a farce.

With democracy about to be sacrificed on the altar of free trade, it has become abundantly clear that free trade was never meant to be about freedom in the first place.

Note 1: Dr Jason Hickel lectures at the London School of Economics and serves as an adviser to /The Rules. He has contributed political critique and analysis to various magazines. He is currently working on a new book titled The Development Delusion: Why Aid Misses the Point about Poverty. 

Note 2:  Of bats and capitalism https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2013/12/25/any-equivalence-between-wealth-and-value-of-bats-and-capitalism-part-1/

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The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.


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