The following is from Steven Miller. Steve is a teacher in Oakland and has been an activist for his entire life.
This was written late last year but reamains of great importance for it brings up the issues of the Lacandon jungle, the Zapatistas and what we can call the “nuevo conquistadores”. Similar problems persist in Ecuador with millions of acres of Amazon jungle now being sold off to national mining companies.
From: Steven Miller
On Wednesday, November 14, California held its first Cap-and-Trade Auction. The state auctioned off 23.1 million “allowances”, each of which allow the holder to release one ton of CO2 into the atmosphere. A ton of carbon sold for $10.09. This sets the floor for destroying the atmosphere at .5 cents a pound. Cheap.
Corporations like Standard Oil, financial institutions like Morgan Stanley and the UC Regents (!!?) registered as “qualified bidders”, though the Air Resources Board is not saying who bought how much (1).
So why are the UC Regents involved? They are not major polluters like refineries or cement companies. If they are investing in Cap-and-Trade, where did they get the money? Is it from student fees, the potential Prop 30 revenues, from money secured by going into debt or all-of-the above? What does this say about the trajectory of the university into the future?
Answers to these questions reveal that every financial entity today, from corporations, cities, universities and pension plans have commodified their finances to feed the giant speculative market that drives every policy and government decision in the US today.
The issue of Cap-and-Trade is also the tip of the iceberg of one of the most bizarre and incredible stories of a system that is working hard to destroy itself. First, the background:
Each day some $13 trillion in financial transactions (the size of the GDP for the US for an entire year!!) passes untaxed through the computer-driven speculative markets in New York and Chicago (2). This represents a massive amount of political power that brings its will to bear on every decision made by government in this country.
The big five oil companies - ConocoPhillips, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, and BP – dump 500,000 tons of carbon pollution into the atmosphere everyday (3). Instead of punishing companies for dumping their waste into the atmosphere, Cap-and-Trade is supposed to “reward them” for conservation by feeding their profits.
Cap-and-Trade is in no way a real solution to Global Warming. It simply allows the speculative financial markets that drive the economy – the same markets that commodify student loans – to speculate, for profit, on the atmosphere. Vedanta Shiva has accurately called Cap-and-Trade “privatizing the atmosphere”.
Cap-and-Trade establishes a metric for measurement. Such a quantitative metric is essential for turning the air into a commodity, which means privatization.
Cap-and-Trade auctions are Wall Street’s answer to Global Warming. The primary goal is to make a profit; saving the atmosphere is entirely secondary. The European Union has run a similar auction for several years. California is the first state to develop a plan – the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act – to meet climate change goals. The plan allows various speculative “financial instruments” to be bought and sold. This is not very different than turning mortgages into “financial weapons of mass destruction”, the scheme that crashed the economy in 2008.
The law requires major carbon polluters in the state to buy “allowances” that permit them to pollute inside of California. Corporations supposedly must sell them at auctions four times a year. They can also re-sell them in a secondary speculative market. Corporations complained how unfair this all was, so the state gave away for free at least 90% of the first allowance issues (4).
The number of allowances will decrease each year. This raises the commodity value of the allowances so polluters and speculators can make more profit. The revenue the state makes from the auctions supposedly will be returned to consumers.
Corporations can also buy “offsets” – credits generated by maintaining forests and other sinks for carbon that remove it from the atmosphere every year. This is authorized in the UN’s policy to “save the atmosphere” called REDD+. The scam gets even more shady.
Writing for the Global Justice Ecology Project, Climate Connections and YES Magazine, Jeff Conant has thoroughly exposed REDD+ as eco-imperialism:
“The GCF was founded in 2009 when 16 states and provinces, from California to Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, and from Cross-River State, Nigeria, to Acre, Brazil, decided to explore ways to implement a program called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD). REDD is a program intended to fight climate change by stopping deforestation. Under REDD, the industrialized North hopes to offset carbon emissions by paying the global South to preserve forests (which store carbon).” (6)
Now the story turns positively bizarre. You couldn’t make this up.
California and Mexico’s Lacandon Jungle
In Schwarzenegger’s last week as governor, he cut a deal with the Governor of Chiapas, Mexico – arguably the most corrupt politician in that country, which is saying a lot. California’s corporations can continue to pollute to their hearts’ content because they are paying for Chiapas to “preserve the Lacandon Jungle”, one of the primeval “lungs of the planet”. For those who don’t remember, Chiapas is the home of the Zapatista Rebellion of the Mayan tribes that live in the forest.
This agreement between subnational governments is unprecedented and is being closely watched by Wall Street and international financiers to see if the model generates sufficient profits. While the details of the language are still being worked out, and are carefully hidden from the public, on the ground in Chiapas, the “offset” plan looks and smells like the traditional land-grab.
Under the treaty, governments are supposed to meet quantitative standards (another metric for privatization) to certify how much carbon is absorbed by the forest. This gives them local power over what can be cut, what can be grown and how the land can be “preserved”. Suddenly they are preparing to “pay” to fill the forest with non-native African oil palms and to stop growing traditional foods.
Of course, local governments accrue ever-more police powers to enforce the treaty. They regularly ignore mandated consultations with indigenous people, who, somehow, are not excited by the REDD policies. This precedent will inevitably lead to the corporate seizure of all the natural wealth in the Lacandon.
Jeff Conant quotes Eufemia Landa Sanchez, who lives in an already deforested region of the Montes Azules Reserve:
“Transnational businesses have had plans for the rural areas of Chiapas for some time now. The natural wealth of biodiversity and water, of mines, of biofuels, and of course of petroleum, have led to the displacement of people, the poisoning of the earth, and have made the peasant farmer into a serf on his own land. And in every case they blame us and criminalize us. Our supposed crime today is that we are responsible for global warming.” (6)
California’s relation to the Lacandon Jungle is still unclear. “Ownership” is a fluid thing in today’s speculative economy. In the 17th Century, when capitalism was not so developed, British capitalists seized public lands and peasant holdings and converted them into private property in land, guaranteed by a legal document giving them title to the land. For the people, this meant that the bailiff with squads of “deputized men”
burned your house, killed your animals, threatened your children and drove you off the land.
“Ownership” ultimately means the right, sanctioned by laws, passed by governments, to dispose of property as you wish. If you are a corporation, this doesn’t have to mean it’s your property you are disposing of. For example, home mortgages in the US are bundled by the thousands into “financial instruments” every day and quantified by metrics that supposedly reveal “risk”. The bundles are sold, then broken apart, re-bundled and re-sold every 24 hours. This applies also to student loans.
Consequently no one knows who owns your mortgage, or your student loan, at a given time. This glitch actually meant that the massive wave of home foreclosures was somewhat abated for about a year, until the government jimmied the laws to make everything OK.
In Lacandon, whether California actually “owns” the jungle or not, this means the police with squads of “deputized men” burn your house, kill your animals, threaten your children and drive you off the land.
There is a direct line, then, from the UC Regents to seizing the land in the Lacandon, all justified by the wonderful idea that we must prevent Global Warming! By buying carbon offsets and allowances, the Regents are speculating with the revenues they force students to pay in order to increase their stock portfolio so they can secure more debt from Wall Street, in the form of loans, to build more buildings and labs for corporate research that they lease to corporations like Montsanto, which is investing in planting African oil palms.
Students and Mayan peasants – in different ways - both are cannon fodder for a speculatively-driven economy that has gone mad. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Forget the human price for a moment, is this really going to solve Global Warming? Is this really the kind of world you want to live in?
Global Warming, Economic Crisis – the Solution is the Same
This sad and disgusting story makes it clear that speculation drives capitalism, and capitalism intends to profit from climate change, even as it produces ever more carbon (which, by the way, nicely creates a market). No other options for reducing Global Warming are even under consideration.
It is impossible to deal with the global economic crisis that is devastating society without dealing with capitalism, which has caused the crisis and profits from it. It is just as impossible to deal with Global Warming without dealing with capitalism, which has caused the crisis and profits form it. The solution to each problem is the same.
A political offensive means that the victims of this destruction must take up the battles for political power. Cap-and-Trade is a perfectly example of how corporations use their political power to increase profits by working in a thousand different directions. The horrific manifestations are secondary to the fact that they implement their political power every day. This is aided and abetted through corporate control of all three branches of the federal government, the UN and every state and local government.
It is natural and important to fight against every manifestation of exploitation, oppression and dispossession. However, somehow we have to pass from always reacting on the defensive to being pro-active and taking the political offensive. This won’t happen simply by responding to each new rampage of a dyeing system. Systems that are on their way out usually continue that trajectory, whether people want it to or not. It’s time for a different discussion.
Cap-and-Trade makes it clear that the corporations will continue to turn human society and the planet into systems of private property and private profit. This will certainly destroy society and the planet into the bargain. OR – humanity can take over the corporations. It is that simple.
It is coming down to this point, just as it did in once before in 1860. At that juncture, slave property controlled all three branches of government and demanded the legal right to devour the individual property of free people. We all know what happened when people in the millions rose up based on the recognition that there is a greater law.
Transformative moments demand transformative discussions. What does a society look like where human persons are nurtured over corporate persons? What do we need to establish so the gifts of technology benefit people instead of destroying them? How do we put political power back into the hands of local communities? How do we work together to make the things we share common property of all? How do we make the new possibilities inherent in the future into realities in this moment of collapse?
We ignore these issues at our own peril.
November 21, 2012
(1) Oakland Tribune, 11-20-12
(2) Michael Hudson. “NeoLiberalism and the Counter-Enlightenment”. May 27, 2010
(3) Thom Hartmann, Sam Sacks. “Give BP the Death Penalty.” 19 November 2012
(4)SF Chronicle, 11-11-12
(5) Note – Since the mid ‘90s, California has also established a speculative market for the privatization of water. Since the state always has a scarcity of water, developers cannot build housing until they demonstrate that they can provide sufficient water when the houses are finished. So investors speculate in the future delivery of “paper water” – certificates that demonstrate that a certain amount of water will be delivered by a certain date in the future. These certificates are traded and re-traded for financial profit, even though there is only half the water in existence to actually deliver the water.
See Steven Miller, Danny Alexander. Water Wars – Coming Soon to Your Town!. Both a pamphlet and a Youtube series — www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXTB_Bnr8d4
(6) Jeff Conant. “Should Chiapas Farmers Suffer for California’s Carbon?”. November 13, 2012.
More Background -
- See also: Jeff Conant. “Turning the Lacandon Jungle Over to the Carbon Market”. July 21, 2011
- See also: “REDD in the Lacandon Jungle: The Political Use of a Program Against Climate Change”. 11-29-2011