Greenman's Occasional Organ

Ecosocialist. Syndicalist. Critical Techno-Progressive.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Interesting New Stuff From The Corner House

The people at Corner House have a lot of interesting and useful new material available on climate change strategies and economics, (no apologies for the cut'n paste!). Much of this is a valuable contribution to the radical critique of the likely "solutions" touted by the big powers, corporations and politicians this week and likely to be continually pushed over the coming months:


The climate crisis and the financial crisis highlight the need to organise for social change -- and also open unprecedented opportunities for doing so. But to prevent a destructive return to business as usual, the roots of both crises need to be understood, together with the nature and limitations of elite responses to them. As a contribution to this discussion, 10 new documents have recently been added to The Corner House's extensive collection of free books and articles on climate
change and finance at


Corner House Briefing Paper No. 40
When Markets are Poison:
Learning about Climate Policy from the Financial Crisis

Around the world, progressive groups have linked the unfolding financial crisis with concurrent crises of climate, food, energy, health care and militarism, and have called for integrated popular movements to assert greater democratic control over financial and economic institutions so that economic recession and global warming can be tackled together.

But governments and business elites also claim to be tackling global warming and economic reversal. Talk of 'Green New Deals' is constantly in the air; investments are being made in agrofuels, geoengineering, carbon sequestration and synthetic biology; and Wall Street is looking forward to seeing global carbon markets expand to a multi-trillion dollar scale following the Copenhagen climate conference in December and promised new US legislation.

This briefing paper critiques one of these elite responses by detailing the close parallels between the financial innovations behind the current financial crisis and the marketing innovations associated with carbon trading -- the dominant official approach to climate change.

Both the new financial markets and the new carbon markets involve the construction of similar abstract commodities. Both heighten systemic dangers, necessitating movements of societal self-protection. Both involve regressive redistribution and the erosion of crucial knowledge. Both are vulnerable to bubbles and crashes. Both erode notions of transparency and conflict of interest. And both call into question the easy assumption that all markets can be successfully regulated, no matter what type.

Drawing on the insights of grassroots communities on the receiving end of the new trade arrangements as well as financial and carbon market practitioners and theorists, the paper urges that failures of both markets need to be investigated and understood before a coherent and effective response can be formulated to the problems that both were supposed to have tackled.

A first section describes the enormous growth in financial derivatives markets since the 1970s -- a process involving the increased commodification of certainty and uncertainty, security and risk, safety and danger, determinacy and indeterminacy -- and the associated huge expansion of credit. It is highly misleading, the paper argues, to describe the new financial practices as 'casino capitalism': they were so hazardous that no casino could have followed them and stayed in business.

A second section analyses the concurrent invention of carbon markets, which involved the increased commodification of the earth's carbon-cycling capacity. Some of the same theorists and practitioners responsible for the new financial markets helped create the carbon markets and, unsurprisingly, carbon markets rely on the same sort of abstractions and faith in quantification that brought down the financial markets. In particular, carbon markets abstract fatally from the question of how industrialised countries can eliminate their dependence on fossil fuels.

With all its acronyms, calculations, credits, monitoring and legal requirements, carbon trading rivals the trade in financial derivatives in its obscurity -- and in its dangers. As one carbon trader has said, 'I guess in many ways it's akin to sub-prime. You keep layering on crap until you say, 'We can't do this anymore'.' This briefing paper attempts to bring into the open the ways in which the complexity of both carbon and uncertainty markets have hidden their hazards, both from many market players and from the general public.

(2) Climate as Investment

Proposals for Green New Deals aimed at tackling both global warming and global recession are streaming forth worldwide. Yet, as this article forthcoming in the journal /Development & Change/ argues, many such proposals are incoherent in that they overlook the need for an immediate start to a programme of phasing out both fossil fuels and purported fossil fuel substitutes such as nuclear power and industrial-scale agrofuels. They also tend to rely on Northern-biased conceptions of
technology transfer and intellectual property that the climate crisis has helped make obsolete. To overcome these problems, future climate movements will have to focus increasingly on the democratization of research, planning and finance.

(3) Neoliberalism and the Calculable World: The Rise of Carbon Trading

Carbon permit prices flashing on electronic screens in Wall Street trading rooms reflect a complex political movement to reorganize and redistribute power and knowledge. The carbon markets associated with the Kyoto Protocol, the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and the US's Waxman-Markey Act constitute perhaps the last great class project of a waning neoliberal regime -- the ill-fated attempt to privatize the climate itself.

Carbon trading resembles other neoliberal movements of recent decades that have invented new possibilities of accumulation through the creation of fresh objects of calculation and intensified commodification. Such movements include the hugely expanded derivatives markets responsible for the financial crisis, global intellectual property rights regimes, and attempts to transform health, health care
and even biological species into measurable, tradeable commodities.
Generating both profits and crisis, the ambitious abstraction and commensuration that are vital to such schemes can never be completed. This draft chapter for a forthcoming book on the rise and fall of neoliberalism outlines the contradictions inherent in the attempt to form a viable climate commodity.

(4) Unregulatability in Financial and Carbon Markets

Can the financial derivatives markets be regulated? Can the carbon markets be regulated? The questions are parallel, according to this article from the June 2009 issue of /Carbon & Climate Law Review/. Both markets have involved new attempts at commodification: in the case of the financial markets, commodification of an unprecedented range of uncertainties, and in the case of the carbon markets, commodification of climate benefits or the earth's carbon-cycling capacity. Regulatory responses inspired by neoclassical economics, which assume that any problems can be handled by 'internalizing externalities', are unlikely to succeed. A more pragmatic approach looks to decommodification in both markets. Both approaches, interestingly, have attracted supporters from wide ranges of the political spectrum.

(5) Regulation as Corruption in the Carbon Offset Markets: Cowboys and
Choirboys United

The civics-class formula 'no matter what the market, it will always be possible to regulate it' is not a useful principle for constructive social action in the real world. In markets that cannot distinguish between fraud and non-fraud, that undermine the rule of law, and that are based on conflict of interest, attempts at regulation can be worse than useless. 'Governance' itself becomes part of corruption.

The carbon offset market is one such market; the market for certain complex credit derivatives is another. Both these markets, argues this draft chapter for a forthcoming book on carbon trading in Africa, should teach us the need for new, more nuanced and practical approaches to issues of corruption and regulation.

(6) /Mausam/: Issues 2-5 of the Indian Climate Change Magazine

This is the long-awaited latest issue of a magazine aimed at returning the dialogue about climate change and its solutions to the 'public space.' Featured are pathbreaking articles uncovering the reality of UN-sanctioned 'carbon saving' projects in the metals, hydroelectric, wind power, chemicals, waste management and electricity generating sectors, as well as analyses of the political economy of the scientific controversies over the monsoon and over Asia's so-called 'brown cloud'
of pollution.

(7) Uncertainty Markets and Carbon Markets: Variations on Polanyian Themes

New markets in uncertainty and in carbon are advertised as making both finance and climate action more cost-effective. Both fail to do so, argues this article forthcoming in the journal /New Political Economy/. Creating the commodity framework necessary to make sense of the notion of 'cost-effectiveness' causes both markets to lose touch with what was supposedly being costed. One consequence is systemic crisis.

The new financial markets expanded credit and multiplied leverage by isolating, quantifying, slicing, dicing and circulating diverse types of uncertainty; an unchecked pursuit of liquidity led to a catastrophic drying up of liquidity. The carbon markets, meanwhile, by identifying global warming solutions with reductions in an abstract pool of tradable emission rights and commensurating them with 'offsets' manufactured by 'quants', ended up blocking prospective historical pathways toward less fossil fuel dependence and thus exacerbated the climate problem. Unsurprisingly, both markets have provoked strong, if diverse and confused, movements of societal self-defence. This pattern of action and reaction is similar to the one seen in movements to commodify land and labour.

(8) Imagining Climate Solutions

These days, being a climate activist can easily get you arrested -- or worse. But the bigger danger -- especially for activists in industrialised countries -- may be that of being seduced into expending your imagination on 'solutions' that turn out to be bogus.

(9) The Trouble with Carbon Trading: A Short Debate

In this brief exchange from ClimateChangeCorp's website, The Corner House rebuts claims from a Wall Street carbon trader that: (a) the climate problem is a problem of quantity of emissions; (b) carbon trading lowers costs; (c) putting a price on carbon in Europe helps Southern countries reduce emissions; and (d) carbon markets can work in concert with other policies and measures.

(10) Hold the Applause: A Critical Look at Recent EU Climate Claims

The European Union has recently congratulated itself for being 'on track' to meet its Kyoto Protocol emissions targets. But is it? And, more importantly, is the EU 'on track' in the effort to wean itself off fossil fuels -- which is the point of the Kyoto Protocol and other climate change mitigation efforts? The answer to both questions is no. Misleading accounting has produced an illusion of effective action; the reality, as a careful examination of the figures shows, is more complicated and disturbing.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Green Billboards To Confront Labour in Brighton

Greens launch billboard campaign to run during Labour conference

The campaign for the Greens to win Brighton Pavilion stepped up a gear this week, with 14 billboards going up around Brighton and Hove, timed to coincide with the Labour Party conference in Brighton.

The billboard campaign has been devised by the Green Party's retained ad agency, glue London.

In the ads the Green Party's slogan for the Pavilion campaign - "Labour is old news in Brighton" - accompanies an image of a tired-looking Gordon Brown made out of newsprint. Other versions of the ad show Jack Straw and Peter Mandelson.

The advert observes that twice as many people in Brighton (31%) voted Green in the recent European elections as voted Labour (15%) - and that the Conservatives also finished far behind the Greens, on 22%.

The Greens' campaign director for Brighton Pavilion, Paul Steedman, said:

"We're going all out to win in Brighton Pavilion. Caroline Lucas is an exceptional candidate. We have hundreds of volunteers committed to helping the campaign. On the doorsteps, where it really counts, people are telling us that they're sick of Labour, that they don't trust Cameron, that they want the positive change we're offering."

"Rigorous Green policies for more jobs"

Caroline Lucas, candidate for Brighton Pavilion, said:

"I will be putting forward rigorous policies for more jobs, and better pay for nurses, cleaners and shopworkers, not just City slickers; for an NHS that doesn't leave people in Brighton - or anywhere else - without healthcare because they can't afford prescription charges or dental fees; for a rail network that works - and that people can actually afford to use. I will stand up for all of Brighton's communities, and we're going to show that politics can be about a fair deal for everyone."

Paul Steedman added:

"In Brighton Pavilion, it's a straight fight between the Greens and the Conservatives. Every election in the city since the last general election has demonstrated this. The Conservatives are desperate to stop a Lucas victory. They don't want the only female leader of a political party in parliament, breaking up their old boys club. The Conservatives say they'll hold a splashy 'primary' contest to grab headlines, but it will leave our broken political system unchanged.

"I'm confident Brighton voters will see through this charade to the slash-and-burn Conservative policy of service cuts that will apply, whoever they select."

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Jeremy Clarkson and a pile of ****

No, I said Jeremy Clarkson and a pile of **** :)

From the BBC -

Climate change protesters have dumped a pile of horse manure at the home of Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson in a protest about vehicle emissions.

Six women stood by the dung in the drive of his home in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, with a sign that read: "This is what you're landing us in."

The protesters from direct action group Climate Rush said they were being as "blasé as him" about emissions.

Clarkson made no comment and Thames Valley Police said no-one was arrested.

More here and here.

Meanwhile a slightly less smelly climate protest is being organised by Avaaz and tck tck tck on a truly international scale - more here.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

Charity Watchdog Investigates Prince Charles' Charity

Press Release From Republic

The Charity Commission is investigating the relationship between Prince Charles and his charity, the Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment, following a complaint made by Republic.

Three weeks ago Republic lodged a complaint questioning the independence of the charity and whether it was acting for the public good or pursuing Charles's own personal agenda.

The Charity Commission has responded by ordering the foundation to explain its trustee decision-making, the activities it undertakes to further its charitable purposes for the public benefit, and its relationship with Prince Charles.

Republic spokesperson Graham Smith said:

"We welcome this response. The Charity Commission's reply to our complaint indicates there are serious questions to be answered about the relationship with Prince Charles and the charities he has set up and whether they are pursuing a public good, or working for Charles's benefit."

"Charles is renowned for attempting to influence public policy and lobbying ministers. We believe the relationship between him and the charities he has set up must be made clear, to ensure they're not being used as his own private lobby firms."

"Charities are legally obliged to remain independent and to take decisions in the interests of the objects of the charity. They are required to work for the public good, not personal interest. We simply want to ensure this is the case with the Foundation."

"We are greatly concerned that Charles is using his privileged and secretive access to government ministers to lobby in favour of his own pet projects on health, the environment and architecture. We will continue to seek to hold him to account and demand more transparency over his attempts at political interference."

It is high time that the Prince was challenged on his views - particularly by those in the green movement, where he and his aristocratic acolytes need to be marginalised if the public is to be convinced that we can have sustainability that is both progressive and scientific. Charles views on health, the environment and architecture give the neo-liberal right and stalinoid elements of the left a convenient brush with which to paint Greens and the ecological left as fellow travellers to (if not actual advocates of) anti-scientific panderers to quackery, reactionary traditionalists and advocates of semi-feudalist social structure.

The ecological left should fully back the continuing attempts of Republic to expose the Prince's manipulation of public disquiet at the neo-liberal trajectory to his own reactionary ends. We must seek to go beyond capitalism to self managed sustainability and progress, not back to some fictional feudalist idyll.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Defend Jim Board - Fight The Reactionary Attacks In Doncaster!

The battle against the right-wing reactionary mayor of Doncaster and his supporters continues as they launch a pre-emptive strike on union organisation. This from the Facebook Group set up to oppose Mayor Davies of the English Democrats:

On the 7th September 2009 Doncaster UNISON branch secretary Jim Board was suspended after giving an interview to Channel 4 news in defence of children's services in Doncaster.

With massive attacks planned by the Mayor the public sector services and the equality agenda in Doncaster, Jim Board and UNISON would be at the forefront of fighting for jobs and the services of the most vunerable sections of our community; making this attack no more than an effort by the mayor and senior council management to remove opposition to their plans, and to clearly attack the trade union movement.

This is not acceptable.

As a response a demonstration in support of Jim Board and against the Mayor's divisive attempts to undermine trade unions has been called. This is part of the Mayor's overall assault on public services and the equalities agenda in Doncaster - and we must show him this is unacceptable.

Please invite as many people as you can and lets make this as loud and defiant as possible as we say NO to the Mayor's attack on trade unions, public services, and tolerance and diversity in our town.

Assemble 11.00am Saturday 12th September outside Mansion House, Doncaster Town Centre

The story as reported in the Sheffield Star newspaper is that Davies is trying to launch a reactionary "yellow" nationalist union linked to his own Party on the base of his freak electoral victory in Doncaster.

This is all further proof that reactionary attacks on minorities morph very quickly into attacks on organized workers in general and shows how organized workers should support minorities under attack, not only because it is the correct thing to do, but out of self interest as well.....

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

10:10 - Pros and Cons

The latest big campaign, along the lines of Jubilee 2000 and Make Poverty History is 10:10 - a campaign to get pledges from people in Britain to cut their CO2 emissions by 10% in 2010. This is being promoted in the main "liberal" broadsheet in Britain (The Guardian) and its' associated webpages. The idea behind this is that it will provide a public focus to mobilise people around pressurising the politicians and policymakers who are to gather at the Copenhagen climate summit in December as well as making a modest contribution towards lessening Britain's overall carbon footprint.

There are many arguments both for and against this strategy, but on balance I think that it is worth pursuing. Yes the overall effect of the individual cuts will be very small, and no it is not likely on its own to sway many politicians or industrialists to do any more than exhibit their own displays of tokenism, but a campaign where people can actively engage and feel that they are involved in their everyday lives is better than sitting back hoping for a technical fix, or advocating fantastical revolution, or waiting for the ruling class to save us, or adopting gloomy defeatism.

Whilst admitting the dangers of letting government and business off the hook by "individualisng" the problem of climate change and the risk that over-zealous, largely middle class hair-shirtery might alienate some who should be in alliance with greens on this issue, the hope should be that "mainstream" public engagement will lead to serious questioning of our leaders on what they are doing. Yes the Tories and Liberals can sign up quite easily to pledge their cuts - but it is the job of socialist Greens and Ecosocialists to bring out the social justice and democratic issues inherent in the needed transition to a lower carbon economy and use these to argue for the kinds of organisation and action that can make a real difference. It is not as though people are starry eyed or naive about politicians these days! People are ready to question the status quo productively (rather than just cynically) if united in activity and given a lead.

Green Party leader Caroline Lucas' opinion of 10:10 is here.

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