Trading loopholes at The Hague
We’ve been here before. On 28 June 1997, the Guardian announced: “EARTH SUMMIT ENDS IN FAILURE”. Six months later, on 12 December, it ran a related story: “KYOTO DEAL LEAVES U.S. FREE TO POLLUTE”. On 16 November this year, after only three days of talks at The Hague, came the headline we well could have anticipated: “CLIMATIC TALKS STALEMATE AS EU REJECTS US FOREST PLAN”.
The current round of talks in are about the reviewing progress since the December 1997 agreement which set targets for industrialised countries for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The problem now is over the issue of loopholes—well anticipated at Kyoto—which allow countries to avoid cutting back on carbon emissions.
Whilst the EU insists that countries should in the first instance cut back on fossil fuels, there is an umbrella group of countries—the US, Japan, Canada, New Zealand and Australia—which believe in alternative methods of “reducing” carbon dioxide emissions. The latter are taking the “flexibility mechanism”, allowed under the Kyoto Protocol, to new extremes. Instead of cutting their fossil fuel (carbon) emissions they buy carbon credits from countries that are not likely to exceed their carbon emission quota as laid down at Kyoto and thus continue to pollute as before.
As the quotas are based on 1990 levels of emissions, countries, for instance of the former USSR which since 1990 have seen a drastic reduction in heavy industry, are selling their unused entitlements to the US. In this respect even ethical Britain is just as guilty of carbon trading as those countries it criticises, with the UK hoping to sell carbon dioxide it would have produced were the coal mines not closed.
George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian (16 November), pertinently observed that in July this year the UK “laid down £30 million to help private companies start bidding for each others’ reduced emissions. A research institute in the US calculates that the weather market will be worth $13 trillion by 2050.”
Whilst the EU insists the US must make at least half of its reduction from genuine energy cutbacks at home, the US is adamant that the loopholes it exploits must remain in place before it is prepared to sign up to any agreement to curb emissions. As well as the carbon trading loophole, there are indeed other loopholes and dodges the US and others are taking advantage of, such as “carbon sinks”. As forests absorb carbon from the atmosphere, the US and other countries, now plant and indeed buy forests, at home and in other countries, and count the carbon this is estimated to save against their own emissions. This is already proving a lucrative business. One Malaysian logging firm is presently replacing the forests it depletes with new plantations and selling pollution permits to the US. Another loophole is to be found with countries paying for a project in a lesser developed country, with the aim of reducing carbon and counting it against their own emissions.
You name the dodge and the profit-greedy have thought of it. This includes feeding cattle, pigs and sheep new diets that help reduce the amount of methane they emit when they pass wind and pumping carbon dioxide into the ocean to be absorbed by the seas and sprinkling iron filings across the surface of the ocean to stimulate plankton growth (then calculate how much plankton dies and sinks to the bottom of the seam, taking the carbon with them, and claim credit for it).
The perennial problem is that countries are reluctant to promote the investment in more environmentally friendly methods of production and transport because their respective governments, being the executive arm of the capitalist class, prefer to bow with suppliant knee to powerful oil, coal, iron and steel lobbies, rather than openly acknowledge that ecologically we risk approaching the point of no return.
When we consider that at Kyoto, it was announced that a global 60 percent reduction in carbon emissions was necessary to maintain a stable climate, with the US asked to reduce their emissions by 7 percent of 1990 levels (which would mean a 34 percent reduction now), and that the US, with 4 percent of the world’s population is currently responsible for 24 percent of global carbon emissions, we get some idea of the pathos of the whole issue.
In spite of all the evidence that suggests that deforestation and present production and transport methods are primary responsible for climatic warming—the disappearing polar icecaps, global flooding, rising sea levels, vegetation dieback, the loss of thousands of species of life, and that the speed and scale of global warming has no precedent—the world’s governments still insist these wasteful, though profit-generating methods must remain. And this in spite of recent evidence from the hundreds of scientists that inform the Intergovernmental Panel on Climatic Change that suggests the atmosphere will warm at twice the rate predicted ten years ago.
At the Rio Summit in 1992, at the Earth Summit in New York in June 1997 and at the Earth II Summit in Kyoto, Japan, six months later—all at which carbon emissions were the core issue—the delegates fought and bickered over deals that would best suit their respective paymasters, their countries reneging on the agreements they signed up to. If the 16 November Guardian headline above is anything to go by, then we can well expect this current round of talks to be another waste of time whilst providing us with further evidence that capitalism has long outlived its usefulness and that it is time to hand over control of the world to those who could best decide its future—a global socialist majority. That companies can get exited about the profits to be made from trading in pollution credits—whilst the planet we inhabit faces environmental catastrophe from pollution—says much about the insanity of the system we live in and very much raises the question: are you with us or against us?
Letter from Zambia
The wind of change is blowing across the African continent. This wind of change depicts a phenomenon of political coups which have swept through many African countries which had embraced the multi-party parliamentary system of government.
There is strife and bitter in-fighting between elected governments and opposition parties. The demise of single party totalitarian régimes has entailed the growth of neo-colonialism through economic liberalism and globalisation. Before the demise of Soviet “Communism”, some African countries were in the forefront of the state-run economies. The economics of laissez-faire capitalism is proving a bitter pill to swallow to populations reared and groomed under the politics of totalitarian régimes and state or command economies. What is alarming is the recourse to communalism and outright tribalism by opposition parties against elected governments.
The defeat of Kenneth Kaunda’s UNIP government by Frederick Chiloba’s MMD party has wrought a permanent change upon Zambia’s political and economic life. The dismantling of a state command economy by the MMD government has let loose social and demographic changes throughout Zambia. Income and job patterns have changed from bad to worse.
Free trade and economic liberalism have appeared as an affront to the nationalistic sentiments of many an African political malcontent. Outright economic dependence on European trade and international commerce is neo-colonialism per se. But can any African country survive without any form of economic aid from the developed capitalist countries? In Zambia the goal of the politics of transparency and free trade has been purchased at a high price. Privatisation of the state economic sector has brought into being unprecedented job losses and industrial dislocation.
Neo-colonialism depicts a situation where the country’s domestic economy is exposed to foreign or overseas multinational companies. Privatisation has created a new class of industrial capitalists whose commercial and employment objectives are at variance with the macroeconomic objectives of governments. Under neo-colonialism a recipient country is held in dire servitude by the donor community which monitors its political and economic performance.
The creation of SADCC (Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference) has led to a relaxation of tariffs and quotas between member countries. In the case of Zambia this has meant that imports from South Africa, where economies of scale abound and production costs are low, have come to over-flood the relatively undeveloped and high-cost domestic industrial sector. As a result most manufacturing industries in Zambia have closed since they cannot compete in quality and price with these imported commodities.
The policy of arresting an imbalance in of payments by clamping down on subsidies and public expenditure has led to unemployment and social misery across the country. It has brought a bout of unprecedented criticism from the opposition back benches. Zambian economic liberalism depends upon massive injections of donor investment and aid to survive.
Persistent political bickering and unsubstantiated criticisms against elected governments are tarnishing the image of African parliamentary democracy as a test case in multi-partism. It portrays and signifies a lack of trust in the concept of democracy and is causing suspicion and anxiety among the Western donor community circles.
Voter apathy and outright arrogance against the ruling parties has become a general feature in every African country under multi-party rule. Ethnic rivals and tribal prejudices are exploited by opposition parties in order to discredit elected governments. It seems that parliamentary democracy under the European political pattern cannot easily survive in Africa and that African countries will have to live exposed to the threat of military coups.
Stop the Newspeak
In the article “Education Serving Capitalism” in the April issue Stan Parker made an enlightening analysis of how schools are used to perpetuate the profit-oriented system. He quoted a prominent World Bank official who admitted that “it is true that schools have ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs’ and that one of their nominal purposes is to take human ‘raw material’ (i.e. children) and convert it into something more valuable (i.e. employable adults)”.
This kind of mis-education and dubious indoctrination obviously costs something and governments spend large sums to provide it. However, there is another more subtle kind of indoctrination which is not only without cost but is also targeted at adults and not just at students.
Under this type of misinformation, words and phrases are manufactured by the World Bank, IMF, UN, etc for use by their operatives. These catchy words and phrases are then extensively used in books, periodicals and newspapers and picked up by politicians, researchers and the like and parroted without giving them a second thought—”duckspeak” as George Orwell might have put it.
Such vocabulary à la Orwellian Newspeak has the damaging effect of not only distorting and concealing the reality of capitalist exploitation and the class struggle but it also slowly narrows the range of thought. A few examples will suffice here.
Global Village: The capitalist propaganda machine coined this phrase to describe the great achievements in the sphere of communications. This term eulogies the presence of the Concordes, Boeings, Airbuses, telephones, email, TV, the Internet, and what have you in the Information Technology industry. These make it possible for events in one part of the world to be followed simultaneously by people in other parts while improved air transport has made it possible for people to be anywhere on Earth within hours. The term “global village” makes it sound that the globe is a like a real village where people can get up and walk from one end to the other. But what people are not told is that only the minority owning class can afford to pay for this. How many people within the working class can conveniently travel round the globe in the same way as a person walks round a village? We can appreciate the advances made in the communications industry (thanks to the labour of the working class) but the other hidden fact about “global village” is who reaps all the profits from the costly gadgets and the sky-rocketing air fares? “Global village” will only be true to the extent that everyone is able to surf the Internet, more anywhere, telephone anywhere at no cost.
Third World: Unwittingly contradicting their concept of a single global village, the same propagandists come up with the concept of a “Third World”. This idea depicts the “village” not as one but as three: the First (the West), the Second (USSR and East Europe) and the Third (Africa, Latin America and Asia). But in reality there is only one world and the division that exists in it is that there is the class of owners of property and the class of those who own no property. Today’s only world consists of the capitalist class and the working class, the rich and the poor. The term “Third World” is a deliberate misnomer designed to push into the background the class nature of this one world of haves and have-nots.
Enabling Environment: The World Bank, the IMF and the so-called “donor agencies” in general normally make loans available to poor peripheral countries only on condition that these countries create an “enabling environment” for business. This term may appear to the less inquiring mind to mean putting in place genuine structures for development. But the real meaning of the term is devaluing the monetary unit of poor countries; strengthening the army, police and judiciary to hold down the working class whilst these countries’ wealth is plundered without any resistance; selling state assets to private capital owners, etc. In short, “enabling environment” is a euphemism for enslaving the working class more and more.
Stakeholders: This is another phrase which is constantly used unquestioningly by NGO staff and government officials. These people revel in repeating their master’s voice without actually understanding it. “Stakeholder” is a term coined to deceive the people that projects in poor countries benefit all those involved: the donor agency, the government and the target group (the poor people). The term sends the wrong signal that all three categories are equal. But the truth is that the working people (the target group) who provide the labour component of the project are always disadvantaged. However, the government boosts its image by posing as the middleman while the capitalists reap benefit as they sell their products (all the machinery and other materials used in the project).
Collapse of Communism: The capitalists and their bankrupt media and academia ignorantly refer to socialism/communism as a system in which the means of production are controlled by the state. With such crass stupidity the capitalists thought that the former Soviet Union and the East European states were communist. People were taught to think this as a means of deliberately camouflaging the truth that the USSR and Eastern Europe were actually profit-oriented entities practising state-capitalism. Therefore as soon as perestroika took hold of the USSR and the Berlin Wall collapsed, the Western powers got another hypocritical opportunity to trumpet repeatedly to the whole world that communism/socialism was dead. But what actually happened in the USSR and Eastern Europe was that state capitalism gave way to Western-style capitalism. In other words, state control of the means of producing and distributing wealth was replaced by individual and corporate control.
Asian Tigers: Fortunately, the capitalist propaganda machine can’t stand the test of time. A clear example is the recent joke of the “Asian Tigers”. To conceal the facts surrounding the pillage and plunder of the human and material resources of the “tiger economies”, the world was inundated with the false story of the success of these Asian peripheral countries. But the lies blew up in their face one morning as the world woke up to see that the tigers had not only lost their teeth but their clawed paws had gone numb.
The important question in the face of such dubious misinformation is whether humanity can afford just to wait until the capitalists confess and swallow their own untruths as time exposes them. This would amount to condoning crime. Therefore humanity must act. The first step should be to grasp the socialist (which is humane) understanding of society; people must know the real causes (not the ones based on faith) of poverty, want, disease, illiteracy, the purpose of production of wealth, etc. Armed with the basic principles of socialism one can easily see through the pseudo-philosophies and phrase-mongering tactics of those presently gagging humanity and human progress just in the interests of their super-profits.