MAC: Mines and Communities

Paris "climate terror" could endure for generations

Published by MAC on 2016-01-09
Source: Pambazuka

But another strategy is possible

Outspoken South African professor, Patrick Bond, has taken strong issue with those he dubs "pimps for the Paris Conference of Polluters" - including Avaaz and Greenpeace.

He notes that, in the weeks leading up to last month's COP21 in Paris, there were potential victories in two major struggles in his home country: "[O]pposition to corporate coal mining – led mainly by women peasants, campaigners and lawyers – in rural Zululand, bordering the historic iMfolozi wilderness reserve (where the world’s largest white rhino population is threatened by poachers); and South Durban residents fighting the massive expansion of Africa’s largest port-petrochemical complex", adding:

"[I]t is only when [such] campaigns have conclusively done the work COP negotiators and NGO cheerleaders just shirked – leaving fossil fuels in the ground and pointing the way to a just, post-carbon society – that we can raise our glasses and toast humanity, with integrity."

Agreeing with Bond, Ariel Salleh, Visiting Professor, Philosophy, Culture & Environment at Nelson Mandela University, South Africa says:

"[T]he Paris negotiations as such, should have been declared null and void by social movements at the outset. This would constitute step one in a dual power strategy. Once the master discourse is refused, the global majority - women, indigenes, and peasants - can lead with ecological insights grounded in life affirming regenerative skills"

See also: We have entered a new era of unprecedented peril 

Paris climate terror could endure for generations

Patrick Bond

8 January 2016

Pambazuka News, Issue 756 -
Paris witnessed both explicit terrorism by religious extremists on November 13 and, a month later, implicit terrorism by carbon addicts negotiating a world treaty that guarantees catastrophic climate change. The first incident left more than 130 people dead in just one evening’s mayhem; the second lasted a fortnight but over the next century can be expected to kill hundreds of millions, especially in Africa.

But because the latest version of the annual United Nations climate talks has three kinds of spin-doctors, the extent of damage may not be well understood. The 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) generated reactions ranging from smug denialism to righteous fury. The first reaction is ‘from above’ (the Establishment) and is self-satisfied; the second is from the middle (‘Climate Action’) and is semi-satisfied; the third, from below (‘Climate Justice’), is justifiably outraged.

Guzzling French champagne, the Establishment quickly proclaimed, in essence, “The Paris climate glass is nearly full – so why not get drunk on planet-saving rhetoric?” The New York Times reported with a straight face, “President Obama said the historic agreement is a tribute to American climate change leadership” (and in a criminally-negligent way, this is not untrue).

Since 2009, US State Department chief negotiator Todd Stern successfully drove the negotiations away from four essential principles: ensuring emissions-cut commitments would be sufficient to halt runaway climate change; making the cuts legally binding with accountability mechanisms; distributing the burden of cuts fairly based on responsibility for causing the crisis; and making financial transfers to repair weather-related loss and damage following directly from that historic liability. Washington elites always prefer ‘market mechanisms’ like carbon trading instead of paying their climate debt even though the US national carbon market fatally crashed in 2010.

In part because the Durban COP17 in 2011 provided lubrication and – with South Africa’s blessing – empowered Stern to wreck the idea of Common But Differentiated Responsibility while giving “a Viagra shot to flailing carbon markets” (as a male Bank of America official cheerfully celebrated), Paris witnessed the demise of these essential principles. And again, “South Africa played a key role negotiating on behalf of the developing countries of the world,” according to Pretoria’s environment minister Edna Molewa, who proclaimed from Paris “an ambitious, fair and effective legally-binding outcome.”

Arrogant fibbery. The collective Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – i.e. voluntary cuts – will put the temperature rise at above 3 degrees. From coal-based South Africa, the word ambitious loses meaning given Molewa’s weak INDCs – ranked by ClimateActionTracker as amongst the world’s most “inadequate” – and given that South Africa hosts the world’s two largest coal-fired power stations now under construction, with no objection by Molewa. She regularly approves increased (highly-subsidized) coal burning and exports, vast fracking, offshore-oil drilling, exemptions from pollution regulation, emissions-intensive corporate farming and fast-worsening suburban sprawl.

A second narrative comes from large NGOs that mobilized over the past six months to provide mild-mannered pressure points on negotiators. Their line is, essentially, “The Paris glass is partly full – so sip up and enjoy!”

This line derives not merely from the predictable back-slapping associated with petit-bourgeois vanity, gazing upwards to power for validation, such as one finds at the Worldwide Fund for Nature and Climate Action Network, what with their corporate sponsorships. All of us reading this are often tempted in this direction, aren’t we, because such unnatural twisting of the neck is a permanent occupational hazard in this line of work.

And such opportunism was to be expected from Paris, especially after Avaaz and Greenpeace endorsed G7 leadership posturing in June, when at their meeting in Germany the Establishment made a meaningless commitment to a decarbonized economy – in the year 2100, at least fifty years too late.

Perhaps worse than their upward gaze, though, the lead NGOs suffered a hyper-reaction to the 2009 Copenhagen Syndrome. Having hyped the COP15 Establishment negotiators as “Seal the Deal!” planet-saviours, NGOs mourned the devastating Copenhagen Accord signed in secret by leaders from Washington, Brasilia, Beijing, New Delhi and Pretoria. This was soon followed by a collapse of climate consciousness and mobilization. Such alienation is often attributed to activist heart-break: a roller-coaster of raised NGO expectations and plummeting Establishment performance.

Possessing only an incremental theory of social change, NGOs toasting the Paris deal now feel the need to confirm that they did as best they could, and that they have grounds to continue along the same lines in future. To be sure, insider-oriented persuasion tactics pursued by the 42-million member clicktivist group Avaaz are certainly impressive in their breadth and scope. Yet for Avaaz, “most importantly, [the Paris deal] sends a clear message to investors everywhere: sinking money into fossil fuels is a dead bet. Renewables are the profit centre. Technology to bring us to 100% clean energy is the money-maker of the future.”

Once again, Avaaz validates the COP process, the Establishment’s negotiators and the overall incentive structure of capitalism that are the proximate causes of the crisis.

The third narrative is actually the most realistic: “The Paris glass is full of toxic fairy dust – don’t dare even sniff!” The traditional Climate Justice (CJ) stance is to delegitimize the Establishment and return the focus of activism to grassroots sites of struggle, in future radically changing the balance of forces locally, nationally and then globally. But until that change in power is achieved, the UNFCCC COPs are just Conferences of Polluters.

The landless movement Via Campesina was clearest: “There is nothing binding for states, national contributions lead us towards a global warming of over 3°C and multinationals are the main beneficiaries. It was essentially a media circus.”

Asad Rehman coordinates climate advocacy at the world’s leading North-South CJ organization, Friends of the Earth International: “The reviews [of whether INDCs are adhered to and then need strengthening] are too weak and too late. The political number mentioned for finance has no bearing on the scale of need. It’s empty. The iceberg has struck, the ship is going down and the band is still playing to warm applause.”

And not forgetting the voice of climate science, putting it most bluntly, James Hansen called Paris, simply, “bullshit.”

Where does that leave us? If the glass-half-full NGOs get serious – and I hope to be pleasantly surprised in 2016 – then the only way forward is for them to apply their substantial influence on behalf of solidarity with those CJ activists making a real difference, at the base.

Close to my own home, the weeks before COP21 witnessed potential victories in two major struggles: opposition to corporate coal mining – led mainly by women peasants, campaigners and lawyers – in rural Zululand, bordering the historic iMfolozi wilderness reserve (where the world’s largest white rhino population is threatened by poachers); and South Durban residents fighting the massive expansion of Africa’s largest port-petrochemical complex. In both attacks, the climate-defence weapon was part of the activists’ arsenal.

But it is only when these campaigns have conclusively done the work COP negotiators and NGO cheerleaders just shirked – leaving fossil fuels in the ground and pointing the way to a just, post-carbon society – that we can raise our glasses and toast humanity, with integrity. Until then, pimps for the Paris Conference of Polluters should be told to sober up and halt what will soon be understood as their fatal attack on Mother Earth.

* Patrick Bond is professor of political economy at the University of the Witwatersrand and he also directs the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society.

Another climate strategy is possible

Ariel Salleh

8 January 2016

Pambazuka News, Issue 756 - 

Climate politics will go nowhere as long as peoples' movements remain locked into debates over arithmetic. It is time to re-set the start line for climate struggles in a place that transcends the old episteme.

Did world leaders at the 21st Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change agree to the recommended carbon emissions target of 1.5 ppm? No: citizens and activists observing the December 2015 Paris meeting simply encountered business as usual - a polite 'we'll get back to you'. This article argues that climate politics will go nowhere as long as peoples' movements remain locked into debates over arithmetic. It is time to re-set the start line for climate struggles in a place that transcends the old episteme.

In Paris, serious efforts to reduce emissions were postponed to 2020, with net-zero targets to be realised sometime after 2050. The democratic principle of common but differentiated responsibilities for rich and poor nations was replaced by ad hoc, voluntary INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions). The urgent need to control emissions from mining, animal agriculture, deforestation, aviation and shipping was sidelined. Renewables were advocated, but on par with ineffectual market solutions like offsets and carbon trading, and risky solutions like fracking, nuclear power, and geoengineering. Financial support for community adaptation and economic transitioning amounted to a mere 1000 billion US$ per annum - compare with the 5000 billion annually for fossil fuel subsidies.

The profiteering commodity based lifestyle advanced by international elites North and South, means that 10% of the global population puts out 60% of greenhouse gases. Yet a United Nations, beholden to the corporate sector since the early 1990s, is incapable of making affluent industrial nations accept historical responsibility for the crisis. A polluter pays principle covering liability for reparations where livelihoods and jobs are lost through climate impacts seems reasonable. But legally binding references to human and indigenous rights, intergenerational equity, and food sovereignty were weakened at COP21 by being moved from the Agreement text to preamble. In fact, environmental de-regulation was promoted by default, in the enthusiastic anticipation of free trade agreements like TTIP and TPP.

Scholar and social justice activist Patrick Bond, points out that the indifference of major powers was already signalled in a June 2015 G7 announcement of no decarbonisation before 2100. Bond offers a powerful immanent critique of the incoherent neoliberal market responses to climate favoured by the US, EU, and sub-imperial BRICS coalition (Brazil, India, China, and South Africa). The same mainstream policy is even more open to transcendent critique, in that the epistemology and logic of commodity economics does not correspond to the logic of living processes.

The need for a deep epistemological shift in how knowledge of the environment is constructed is implicit when Marxist theorist David Harvey writes:
“... the spatio-temporality required to represent energy flows through ecological systems accurately, for example, may not be compatible with that of financial flows through global markets. Understanding the spatio-temporal rhythms of capital accumulation requires a quite different framework to that required to understand global climate change.”

Economist Herman Daly made a similar claim in reference to environmental regeneration. Earlier still, ecological feminists pointed to ready-made nature responsive epistemologies among those who labour in subsistence farming, parental care-giving, and indigenous gathering.

Climate politics, as we have known it, is tied into the conventional eurocentric dualisms that support capitalist patriarchal reasoning from religion to law to commerce and beyond. Thus,

- economy over ecology
- capital over labour
- masculine over feminine
- North over South
- land over water.

Entering into a political contestation based on these hierarchical assumptions is to invite defeat. Such anthropocentric framing is by definition antagonistic to the goal of protecting life-itself. On the other hand, an ecocentric strategy can dampen these traditional antagonisms, helping build political unity.

Protecting life on earth is not about economic exchange value, but about enhancing a metabolic value that is neither unitary nor computable, but qualitative and observable as natural cycles interact. So far, climate politics has enabled massive gains in extractivism, accumulation, and centralising control by the transnational ruling class. First, the mysteries of carbon reductionism distracted environmentalists from nuclear irradiation, species loss, gene technology, and toxic chemicals. Second, the discourse of economics by its lack of correspondence with ecology led to public confusion, stalling clear initiatives for change. Third, quantifying devices like pricing and aid funding put activists on the back foot by having to make their case in an alien language.

Meanwhile, given the perennial crisis-fallout from free wheeling globalisation, capitalist lawyers are now at work on schemes for overarching institutional governance. Any notion of governing earth systems is not only extreme anthropocentrism, it relies on an imperialist version of science with the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) averaging out climate phenomena on a global scale. In the name of objectivity, this ideological practice leaves existing sustainable provisioning models invisible. For example, in the global South, wherever development has not destroyed livelihood resources, local economies attuned to geographic and cultural conditions show climate politics to be yet another neocolonial imposition.

A COP21 side event, the International Tribunal on Rights of Mother Nature, did address the logic of ecology. But the Paris negotiations as such, should have been declared null and void by social movements at the outset. This would constitute step one in a dual power strategy. Once the master discourse is refused, the global majority - women, indigenes, and peasants - can lead with ecological insights grounded in life affirming regenerative skills. The era of technocrat environmentalism bypassed this meta-industrial labour class. But care for new generations, for water, and for forests, is prerequisite to food, energy, and other kinds of sovereignty. Even in the global North, conspicuous consumption is now transitioning into degrowth, and joyful commoning for eco-sufficiency. This approach to climate crisis was articulated at the 2007 COP13 in Bali and in the 2010 Cochabamba Summit vision of bien vivir - and we the peoples must hold to it.

Yes, Another Climate Strategy is Possible by displacing the top down abstractions of international climate politics with practical action. To consider one model the new water paradigm: Slovak hydrologist and anti-dam activist Michal Kravcik argues that local water management is the key to global climate stabilisation. This is not carbon denialism but relies on an holistic science beyond the central dogma of land versus water. The repressive mission of eurocentric hydrology separated the two, then either controlled water by expelling it in concrete channels to the sea or harnessing it behind dam walls.

Based on this classic land versus water dualism, 'modernising development' - meaning deforestation for industrial scale agriculture, grazing, or mining - ultimately dries out and desertifies land. Rain on cleared earth without vegetation to break its fall or organic humus to absorb it, denudes slopes and washes fertile soil into streams. In cities, impervious surfaces result in flooded streets and damaged homes. Urban areas with no capacity for natural evapotranspiration through trees, result in dysfunctional heat silos in the air above them. The local small water cycle that brings rain is now disturbed and random atmospheric heating sets up the chaotic weather patterns known as global warming.

Kravcik's numeracy is compelling, even for those who have reservations about relying on metrics:

“... the annual loss of 50,000 square miles of forest and the additional soil sealing of 20,000 square miles per year have reduced the water that is able to circulate in small rainwater cycles. He estimates that, throughout the last century, around 8900 cubic miles of water for these climatically crucial cycles was lost. This equals three times the water volume of Lake Superior. If you calculate the effect this has on the oceans, you end up with a sea level rise of around four inches ... Rainwater and humidity are vital parts in the cooling system of the atmosphere. During evaporation, a gallon of water spends 2.5-kilowatt hours of solar energy. The loss of significant amounts of water and the desiccation of soil and of air therefore produce potential heat, which amounts to, as Kravcik calculated, the gigantic figure of 25 million-terawatt hours. This is 1600 times more heat produced annually than all of the planets’ powerhouses combined.”

The secret of the new water paradigm is working closely with biodiversity and soils to rehydrate land and subterranean aquifers. The model is inexpensive, with hands-on water restoration technologies using local stone, wood, and plants, designed and carried out by neighbourhoods and communities. Its methodology is synergistic: that is to say, it simultaneously restores livelihood, provides jobs and education; it grows solidarity, cultural autonomy, empowerment, and spiritual renewal.

This analysis not only provides an integrative reading of climate change, but reclaims it as an ecological not economic problem. The new water paradigm indicates that climate solutions through repair of the small water cycle are readily available to people whether they live in rural or urban spaces. Autonomous versions of this paradigm are corroborated in Australia, China, India, Canada, the US and Europe. Leading water activist Maude Barlow commends it and it validates Via Campesina's claim that small scale provisioning is 'cooling down the earth'. Rather than pricing hypothetical units of carbon and relying on neocolonial elites to give their money away, activists can revive environmentalism with an integrative water-soil-biodiversity coalition for climate. It's time for a globally democratic political strategy that brings climate politics down to earth by celebrating people's sovereign intelligence.

* Ariel Salleh is Visiting Professor, Philosophy, Culture & Environment, Nelson Mandela University and Research Associate, Political Economy, University of Sydney.

End Notes

Danny Chivers and Jess Worth, 'Paris Deal: Epic Fail on a Planetary Scale', New Internationalist, 12 December 2015. For the People’s Climate Test:
Patrick Bond, 'Can Climate Activists' "Movement Below" Transcend Negotiators' "Paralysis Above"?', Journal of World-System Research, 2015, Vol. 21, No. 2, 250-270.
David Harvey, Spaces of Global Capitalism. New York: Routledge, 2006, p.96.
Herman Daly, Jon Erickson, and Joshua Farley, Ecological Economics: A Workbook for Problem Based Learning. Washington: Island Press, 2005.
Ariel Salleh, Ecofeminism as Politics: nature, Marx, and the postmodern. London: Zed Books, 1997.
Ariel Salleh, 'Neoliberalism, Scientism, and Earth System Governance' in Raymond Bryant (ed.), International Handbook of Political Ecology. Cheltenham: Elgar, 2015.
Michal Kravcik et al, New Water Paradigm: Water for the Recovery of the Climate. Municipalia, 2007:
Martin Winiecki and Leila Dregger, 'Water: The Missing Link for Solving Climate Change', Terra Nova Voice, 28 November 2015, p.2.
Ariel Salleh, Editorial: 'Water and the Complexities of Climate', International Journal of Water, 2010, Vol. 5, No. 4 (special issue on the New Water Paradigm).
Via Campesina, Small Scale Sustainable Farmers are Cooling Down the Earth. Jakarta: Via Campesina Views, 2009.

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