Archive for the 'environment' Category

Yasuni, Commons, Pachamama

Monday, March 8th, 2010


Yasuni

I am in Ecuador at the moment, where I arrived with my family 6 days ago for a three months trip in Latin America. I have just came back from a conference on the Yasuni area of the Amazon, where  in the last 30 years, petroleum enclosures have been threatening the common land of the Waorani and some of the last indigenous peoples still living in isolation in the Amazon. We learn that there is no clean oil exploration, that the amount of toxic by-product — even in the case of no spillage — is enormous and very difficult to handle, with toxic consequences for sources of fresh water and all forms of life depending on it. Around the wells used to search for oil,  the percentage of oil in the land was so high to be 20 or 30 thousands times above the maximum level for safe agricultural production.

The aim of the encuentro was to try to counter the ambiguity of the Ecuador president Correa who in 2007 has offered a plan that Ecuador will not allow extraction of the ITT oil fields in Yasuní, if the “world community” can create a compensation trust to leave the oil permanently in the ground and fund Ecuador’s “sustainable development” into the future. I leave aside here the fact that in the recent versions of the proposal this “compensation trust”  was substituted with a marketisation of the Yasuni in terms of carbon credit bonds, a mechanism highly criticizable not only because carbon credit markets have been found ineffective to meet the need of carbon reduction and because they tie the resources destined for social and ecological ends to speculation, but also because they threaten the autonomy of the indigenous people over their territory, since carbon bonds requires the local indigenous to act in the interest of the “monetary value” of the Yasuni carbon bond in competition to all carbon bonds issued around the world.

However, a part from the carbon market replacing the trust, Correa seems to want to master an incredible juggling exercise. On one hand, declared that no further oil exploration will be undertaken in the Yasuni area, while on the other hand and at the same time, he is signing  permits for further exploration. I asked people around, and the reasons given to me  for this contradiction are various, ranging from the fact that he is a very whimsical man, passing through the effect of the oil lobby, and arriving to the fact that the plan was never his in the first place, but of economist Alberto Acosta, who originally proposed the plan and since then he left the government.  (Acosta was at the encuentro, and a very critical voice, calling for a moratoria of all oil exploration, invoking the new constitution,  claiming the movement project as a life project not only for the indigenous or the Ecuador people, but for the entire planet, since Amazonia is the source of water for the rest of Ecuador and Yasuni has the greatest biodiversity in the world). But maybe this juggling is really the manifestation of the fact that to coopt the commons one needs to leave the options open, so as to navigate the contradictions and jump in the moment when opportunity arises.

“The country is yours, power is yours”

The project of commons-cooptation seems to me quite evident walking around the city of the encuentro — Orellana — and the nearby city of Coca — a dusty oil town, the gateway of the Yasuni park. They are both covered in posters that invite citizens to think of their city, their country and their resources as theirs. Posters like “your resources, we handle them well”, or “the country is yours, you have the power” seem to show that wanting to instil a sense of “common ownership” is clearly important from the state/oil companies propaganda’s side. A different sense of “common ownership” instead came up in the Yasuni encuentro, where I have been hearing several indigenous voices speaking, all demanding for an uncompromising end of oil exploration and an end of oil activities in the Yasuni. One after another these voices gave different illustrations of the reasons for this, but all repeated different versions of the same tune: Pachamama.

Pachamama is the deity of Andean origin and refers to “mother earth”, not just as geological earth or nature but also as a set of relations, a deity of reproduction, a protective rather than creative deity or perhaps better, a deity for which human creation is just a moment of a reproduction cycle. In this sense, the discourse is quite distinct from Western environmentalism, that — a part from the gaya hypothesis — sees earth  as simply the context of human activity. It seems to me that paradoxically, the insistence on Pachamana, as the sacred mother earth from which we depend on, is, quite amazingly, a materialist  approach to nature. The idea that “mother earth” is a precondition of our existence  echoes Marx’s notion that earth is the mother of value, that is the precondition for all human activity, an insight often left out in the compendia of Marxist thought.
The deity of Pachamama is a deity of protection, but as all religions, is a reflection of a human cosmological vision that grounds action. It is man and women who must protect earth, if earth must deliver the means for human survival. Otherwise, “la Pachamama tiene hambre frecuente y si no se la nutre con las ofrendas o si casualmente se la ofende, ella provoca enfermedades.” (wikipedia) The story of climate change seems to fit quite well this narrative.

In the Encuentro on the Yasuni, Pachamama is evoked endlessly in all different ways, until one realises there is little mysticism in Pachamama, or at least, the rational kernel of mysticism is grounded on solid material reality, the reality of property relations, of clashing idea of “common ownership”. The indignation of the people whose land is threatened with petrol leaks and toxic waste find in Pochamama a value discourse that clashes with the value discourse of the oil companies and the state, but at the same time enable them to compete with this discourse in terms of seeking alliances and building up the scale of the movement.

Standing on Pachamama allows this rebellious indigenous discourse to reveal three elements of conflct:

First, the question of use and access of land, of who has access and who can use it, the question of the community of commoners.  This claim is made in terms of a basic bipolarism between who will promote life in the Yasuni, and who will promote death in the Yasuni: as it is mentioned in the large banner of the encuentro, Yasuni is between life and death, and speech after speech remind us that the coalition of the Yasuni movement is a coalition that has embraced the project of life. The project of life find its political actors, its “commons entrepreneurs” in those who recognise a basic truth, and that is that the precondition for the reproduction of human life, of human creativity, of human existence, is our relation to Earth, because we and everything depend on Earth. As one man said “we cannot live  without Pachamama, we have to eat, we have to dress ourselves, so we need Pachamama.” That is, we need not just “resources” as things to extract, but the processes that reproduce these resources, because we have also to eat and drink and dress tomorrow and for generations to come. From the recognition of the basic dependence, to the identification of the clash, there is a simple step: “those who do not believe in Pachamama, are sucking the blood of Pachamama”, that is oil and water, and thus also threatening the survival of the people. And since the river connects the various communities, and Pachamama is Pachamama for all, Pachamama also represents also the condition for the preservation of all communities. As put it by another intervention:

“we are here for life of Pachamama, for the life of all nationalities.”

This discourse is actually extended, as around the Yasumi there is a discursive recomposition that exceeds the struggle and the preservation of the indigenous communities, and begin to involve “planetary Pachamama”. Yasuni after all is a planetary lung of crucial importance for global climate and biodiversity, as all the rest of the Amazon rain forest.

The claim over the Yasuni is thus in the first instance a claim over use and access: the people who recognise the importance of the Yasuni for their preservation must have use access to the forest.

The second element that emerge as a clash in ownership is the question of control. Who control the destiny of the forest? Those who have secular knowledge on how to preserve it, to maintain its life while reproducing theirs, or the government? One man pointed this out:

“The government cannot negotiate on matters of the Amazons behind our back”

another one said:

“the territories are autonomous and the companeros tiene da administrar el territorio [the comrades must administrate the territory]”

Autonomous control of the territory by the indigenous community is crucial for the maintenance of the use appropriate use.

Finally there is the question of the overall value system that is able to articulate use/access and define the whats and hows of control, the value system that gives a particular form of property and ownership life and sustenance.  This is a clash between Pachamama (and communal man) vs homo economicus (and earth as a mine).  As a Quechi from Peru told us :

“Pachamama: this is what we drink, we eat, we dress.  . .. It is a lie that we need to work, to earn money, in order to raise children. It is by defending the land that we do this.”

The lie is of course a lie to the extend we see it from outside, from a different value system and value practices, in the case of the speaker, from the value system captured in Pachamama. In our daily life within capital’s loops, the lie of having to run the race to acquire money to get by is a very potent reality, one that blur our vision and hide our ultimate dependence to the eco-system. Thus, this third conflictual element is the most difficult to deal with and recognise in a politically effective way, because in the course of the reproduction of daily life as “homo economicus”, our true “dependence to Pachamama” is structured in such a way that we see only our dependence on money and, therefore, on the social mechanisms that reproduce and accumulate money. How we do disentangle from this is one of the most important question we face. And obviously is not only a question of “false consciousness”, because the dependence on money is real ..

Thus,  we have here a clash between two claims of ownership and the politics of “alliances” around these two claims. One, by the state and oil companies as “representative” of the ecuadorians, for which they administrate their oil resources while preserving the forest (sic — an impossibility). On the other by the Waorani as “representative” not only of ecuadorian, but of humanity as a whole, since the Waorani commoning on the Yasuni is the only way to sustain the Yasuni as planetary commons.  To to put in another way  we have the following points: 1) earth provides food, clothing and all we need — it cannot come from anywhere else! Hence to the community of the Yasuni, the preservation of the forest is of crucial importance. 2) therefore the indigenous claim common *ownership* to the part of earth that give them sustenance, the yasuni - to the jungle, the river, the bio-physical relations therein.   3) a claim of common ownership that almost naturally turns into a claim of autonomy in terms of the administration of the territory, since the *preservation* of the Waorani is one with the preservation of the Yasuni, and 4) Pachamama and homo economicus reveal two distinct and clashing valuing and measuring rationalities upon which notion of ownership (use access + control) are built. Yet, Pachamama is not lack of recognition of pay offs. The indigenous commons ownership also translate in pay offs to the Ecuadorian people (preservation of water sources for the entire country) and the world (through preservation of Amazon sink), thus the Yasuni is also a commons to them, at a different scale, and with different modalities of use-access and control, yet a common nevertheless. Hence, the struggle here also provides a basic general framework within which to devise schemes of compensation and reparation through which not only the Yasuni stay without oil and trash, but also without poverty.

Atmospheric commons and social justice

Friday, December 11th, 2009

Literature on commons is abounding, and the term is increasingly seen as referring to practices that are alternative to both states and markets. The case of the “atmospheric commons” shows that states and markets are not alternatives to commons, but modalities of its management. Very problematic modalities to be sure, since the result of state and market access to the “atmospheric commons” in the context of capitalist production create hierarchies of power, reproduce social injustice and is leading us all to environmental catastrophe.

This interview with Angelica Navarro on Democracy Now!, the chief climate negotiator for Bolivia at the Copenhagen climate summit, makes the point very clear when she says:

“developed countries have over-consumed atmospheric—common atmospheric space. Twenty percent of the population have actually emitted more than two-thirds of the emissions, and as a result, they have caused more than 90 percent of the increase in temperatures. As a result, developing countries, we are suffering. Bolivia’s glaciers are melting between 40 to 55 percent. We have extended droughts. We have in the lowlands more flooding. And we are losing between four to 17 percent of our GDP in the worst years. That is climate debt.

And what we are asking is repayment. We are not asking for aid. We are not asking—we are not begging for aid. We want developed countries to comply with their obligation and pay their debt. “

Commons are not a substitute for justice. Injustice, and the struggle for justice, also occurs within commons. In the “atmospheric commons”, as in any commons, justice involves taking responsibility, and this is the basics for a relation of trust. Memories of past injustices can be put aside in moving on to a new terrain of commoning only after they have been truly recognized as injustices.
Instead, the idea that the North owes to the South a “climate debt” has been rejected at the COP-15 meeting by Todd Stern, the U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change. As if he was pleading insanity in a court of law, he defended himself by saying industrial countries did not know that CO2 emissions since the industrial revolution would provoke climate change (but theoretical knowledge of this exists since 1824).

Furthermore, the recently secret draft agreement leaked to The Guardian newspaper known as the “Danish text,” and worked on by a group of individuals known as the “circle of commitment” to include Britain, the United States and Denmark and a handful of countries — shows world leaders next week will be asked to sign an agreement that both in terms of decision making process among “commoners” and in terms of the projected outcome is quite problematic. In terms of process, it hands more power to rich countries and sidelines the UN’s role in all future climate change negotiations. In terms of outcome, is sets unequal limits on per capita carbon emissions for rich and poor countries in 2050, meaning that people in the former would be permitted to emit nearly twice as much as those in the latter countries.

Atmospheric commons is a commons, but the relation among the “commoners” — which at this scale and in the given political configuration is mediated by governments — is one in which equity and justice are foregone principles.

This is well captured by  Angelina Navarro

“What the Danish text seems to do is . . . [to] impose new obligations to developing countries. So we are the ones who are supposed now to be mitigating. And I’m asking, what will a developing country, rural men or women—indigenous women in Bolivia doesn’t even have electricity—will mitigate? And for what? So that developed countries can even have still have two, three cars? Or just like four times change their clothes in a year? What are they asking? Do they want all us to finance the problems they are causing? Why should I pay for them? But on top of that, why should we choose between building a school, a bridge or a hospital, and adapt? So that is what we think.

Why should a “commoner” pay for the abuses of another, especially when this other has far more means than the victims of these abuses?
Discourses on commons are often discourses that highlight the important questions of “responsibility”, “stewardship”, “trust” and “community”, but with a little or no preoccupation with the underlying power relations and hierarchies that construct these questions in the real world. I would go as far as to say that without making the questions of power relations and hierarchies as central to the issue of commons constitution in terms of both process and outcome, we risk to make of commons what previous generations have ended up making of democracy: ineffective in terms of outcomes and corrupted by money and power in terms of means.  And the catastrophic indication is already there. To put it again with Angelina Navarro:

“the level of ambition that was what is proposed in the Danish leaked text is definitely not enough. It will not solve the problem. It will not solve the climate change.”

Climate migration: Bangladesh

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009


“Climate migration has already begun in Bangladesh. In the first of two films, two families struggle to cope with their new environmental reality - one abandoning the village, the other struggling on against the tides”

Here on The Guardian

Carbon trading, enclosures and the “green police”

Monday, November 9th, 2009

“With the Copenhagen climate summit just a month away, a new investigative series looks at how rural Brazilians are being displaced so their forest can be turned into carbon offsets for some of the world’s biggest polluters, including General Motors and Chevron. With deforestation amounting to a fifth of the world’s emissions, planting and preserving trees are seen as key elements to offset pollution.” Democracy Now speaks to Mark Schapiro of the Center for Investigative Reporting. “After traveling to Brazil, Schapiro writes, ‘People with some of the smallest carbon footprints on earth are being displaced by companies with some of the biggest.’”

Carbon Trading receive a new boost from UN-REDD program.

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Below is the “agenda-setter” video on REDD, which was sponsored by the UN-REDD Program, produced by the London based Television Trust for the Environment (www.tve.org/) and shown as a curtain raiser at the United Nations Secretary-Generals High Level Event on REDD held on September 23rd at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Read also these two short pieces (from CNN and intercontinentalcry) reporting some of the problems with these programmes. In particular what is interesting here is that the REDD programme is a case of distorted commons, i.e. one in which the “sharing” is functional to capitalist growth and therefore it is a locus of frontline contradictions (such as preventing indigenous to self-manage their forest in the name of climate change). Interestingly, if existing (and not only newly planted trees) forests are given monetary value, and these in turn are turned into tradable credits that can be purchased on the market, a carbon credit glut seems inevitable with a consequent fall in price, making the entire carbon credit scheme even more of a farce.


news from green capitalism: recession is bad for recycling

Monday, November 17th, 2008

Here is one example of how green capitalism will not save the planet: recession is bad for recycling. Why?because demand for recycling products drops in a recession, hence much of what we diligently pile up in different boxes may end up in a land incinerator . . .read on from the sector’s paper food production daily NOW is the time to campaign for recycling! When it cost them money!

Waste reduction urged as demand for recyclables drops
By Jane Byrne , 17-Nov-2008

Related topics: Supply Chain, End-of-Line Packaging, Packaging Materials, Primary Packaging

A push for waste minimisation and the production of high quality marketable recyclables is being promoted by stakeholders as demand and prices for recycled materials the UK drop significantly.
The drop in prices has been attributed to reduced demand from China in particular for recycled materials, with manufacturers reducing their output due to current economic restraints.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP), the National Industrial Symbiosis Programme (NISP) and the Local Government Association (LGA), said they want to ensure that the recent slump does not undermine public confidence in the value of recycling, nor lead to unacceptable environmental consequences.

“Recycling remains a better, and cheaper, option than sending material to landfill so people should continue recycling,” claims the joint sector statement.

Consumer confidence

However, a spokesperson for the body representing the UK food and drink manufacturing sector, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), told FoodProductionDaily.com that consumers want to be confident that their efforts to recycle bear fruit by saving valuable resources and the planet.

And the Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI) warns that as a result of the fall in demand, some material collected for recycling could, in the worst case scenario, go to incineration or landfill.

Steve Creed, Director of Business Growth at WRAP, said that the agency believes the current very low prices for recovered materials will be temporary but that there may be increased storage of some materials including plastics, paper, and metal products in the short term until the markets pick up again.

Quality

According to Creed, what has become clear is the importance of the quality of recovered materials, with high quality materials still in demand in the UK and overseas. “Dialogue between waste producers (including local authorities) collectors and waste processors is crucial, to ensure the right quality of material.”

He said that local authorities and their contactors need to ensure that they have a home for materials that are being stored in the short term, that the storage will not compromise the environment and does not lead to deterioration in the quality of the materials that will further reduce their recyclability or value.

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Recycling developments

Creed argues that, in terms of recycling levels, the UK has come a long way in the last seven years, before which, he added, there was a limited domestic market for the reprocessing of recovered materials.

He said that much of the increase in the UK’s recycling capacity is as a result of WRAP’s involvement and support, including a partnership with Shotton Paper Mill, providing funding for it to convert to using 100 per cent recycled fibre that has resulted in all newsprint produced in the UK now being made with 100 per cent recovered fibre.

“WRAP also helped fund Closed Loop London – which makes plastic milk bottles back into plastic milk bottles,” he added.

Waste reduction

Meanwhile, WRAP launched an initiative last month aiming at inviting proposals for projects to design, develop and trial innovative processes and approaches to reduce waste in the food supply chain.

The agency said that food companies can help reduce waste through such measures as the use of:

Divisible or flexible packaging to aid portioning of food/ingredients by customers such as side-by-side packs, or ‘eat me, freeze me’ packs
Resealable packaging to protect and maximise shelf-life and quality of food
Shelf-life extending packaging technologies such as breathable films, oxygen and ethylene scavengers
Customised, modified atmosphere packs or vacuum-sealed packs where appropriate
Smart labels that clearly communicate food conditions to customers and improve inventory control such as time and temperature indicators and radio frequency RFID technologies, and
Storage information
According to WRAP, an example of innovation in food manufacturing could be an increase in production efficiency and reduction in waste raw materials or products, reductions in product damage or enhanced freezability of the products.

The closing date for proposals is Thursday 20 November, with shortlisted projects announced on 2 December.

Value struggle on the river front

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

video_button_white_dred.gifHere is a Al Jazeera report on the impacts of the Belo Monte Dam in Altamira, Brazil and on the Xingu Encounter 2008. For more on the latter, see the site of International Rivers


. . . food riots . . .energy. . .climate change. . .

Wednesday, April 9th, 2008

The extract below says it all . . .the video at the Democracy Now! site explains it: among other things, the countries that have liberalised most are those in which global food price hikes are hurting most . . .

AMY GOODMAN: For our last segment, we look at the dramatic rise in global food prices, adding a new level of danger to the crisis of world hunger. In Africa, food riots have swept across the continent, with recent protests in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Senegal. In most of West Africa, the price of food has risen by 50 percent—in Sierra Leone, 300 percent. Last week, African finance ministers warned the rise in international food prices “poses significant threats to Africa’s growth, peace and security.” Other protests have been held this past week in countries like Cambodia, Indonesia, Egypt. In Haiti, at least five people have died in riots over 50 percent price hikes for rice, beans and fruit since last year. The demonstrations continued Monday outside the national palace in Port-au-Prince.

HAITIAN DEMONSTRATOR: We are protesting voluntarily. It is not for money. The parliament is responsible for all of this. All we ask for is for the government to cut down on prices of food.

Some of the C0₂ emissions of global production chains

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008


An article today on The Guardian reveals the hypocrysy of it all. The world’s shipping fleet without which the burgeoning production chains of global capital would be paralised, emits 1.21bn tonnes of CO2 a year. Aviation, 600million tonnes. Yet shipping has been completely absent from public debate and government targets. (more…)

The capitalist use of a hurricane and the struggles against enclosure of public housing

Sunday, January 20th, 2008

video_button_white_dred.gifThis short film surveys the tactics used by the city administration of New Orleans, to try to get “affordable” housing tenants out of their houses, so as to “regenerate” them for money making. It also shows some of the struggles of the tenants to stay in. They have other types of “regeneration” in mind. A clear case of value struggles.