Thursday, December 07, 2006

Property rights and climate chaos

Friends of the Earth and other environmental groups are disappointed that the measures announced by Chancellor Gordon Brown in his pre-budget statement fail totally to address the eco-crisis in any serious way. Economists have predicted that even proposed tax increases on flying and driving will fail to influence consumer behaviour. An angry Tony Juniper, FoE director, said that Brown "continues to tinker at the margins" and added: "The Stern review set out that urgent action is needed ... But the chancellor's response has been feeble." So once again, the environmental movement’s campaigns for urgent action fail to find a place on the New Labour agenda. No surprise there. But wait – there’s always the prospect that the government is planning to boost the carbon trading market, which is the preferred solution of the Stern report anyway. Yet, according to a new independent study by Larry Lohmann, for the Corner House research group, carbon trading is a disaster already happening. His major report says that "as in so many areas of contemporary social life, a vague ideology of market effectiveness and market inevitability is concealing a regressive, confused, contested and environmentally dangerous political and technical project". His report shows how that in order to function, greenhouse gas trading creates a special system of property rights in the earth’s carbon-cycling capacity. Lohmann adds "pollution trading is a poor mechanism for stimulating the social and technical changes needed to address global warming" and that the "attempt to build new carbon-cycling capacity is interfering with genuine climate action". And, of course, it avoids the discussion about the need to move away from fossil fuels.

Lohmann’s report exposes how in current trading schemes, including US pollution trading programmes, the Kyoto Protocol and the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, wealthy countries and corporations get emission rights for free. The US acid rain programme, for instance, handed out sulphur dioxide emissions rights free of charge to several hundred large industrial polluters. The Kyoto Protocol dispensed greenhouse gas emissions rights to 38 industrialised countries who were polluting the most already. The first phase of the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme, "donated" carbon dioxide emissions rights to 11,428 industrial installations. " In other words, like rights to many other things that have become valuable – oil fields, mining concessions, the broadcast spectrum – rights to the earth’s carbon-cycling capacity are gravitating into the hands of those who have the most power to appropriate them and the most financial interest in doing so," concludes Lohmann. He hits the nail on the head. Property rights – the right to private ownership of both the means of production and pollution – lie at the heart of climate chaos. Global capitalism has not only created the eco-crisis with its wanton destruction of resources in the name of profit, it also blocks any solutions that pose a threat to its rights to private ownership and profit. These rights are, of course, not natural. They were seized by early capitalism and reinforced in legal terms by the bourgeois state that emerged in the 19th century. These property rights, as well as the political system that maintains them, are an absolute barrier to ending climate chaos. They should be traded in for a new model based on co-operative ownership and an economy producing for use and not profit.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

No comments: