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Nature hits back

Hundreds of people in Haiti and the Caribbean are dead, the whole of Cuba has been battered. Millions in the United States have been forced to flee the coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico, with hundreds of thousands of homes destroyed.

These are the devastating effects of a series of hurricanes and tropical storms from Fay, to Gustav, Hanna and Ike. More and worse weather conditions are to be expected worldwide as the planet warms up. Floods in the Indian state of Bihar and, on a much smaller scale in Britain, are just two more examples of the power of nature disturbed by four decades of the rampant, wasteful and destructive growth of capitalist transnational corporations.

As Hurricane Ike was approaching Cuba, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the consensus of the world’s scientists, which showed in 2007 that global warming was the consequence of industrialisation, was proposing a quick fix to reduce carbon emissions.

In common with other campaigners he is advising us to eat less meat. According to the Worldwatch Institute 'The human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future: deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilisation of communities and the spread of disease.'

But, in an ironic reciprocal action in which nature appears to be biting back at the real source of the problem, the hurricanes have again forced the closure of the Mexican Gulf platforms which produce a quarter of US domestic oil.

It was the rapid credit-induced corporate growth that saw energy consumption soar in the latter part of the 20th century. This same drive for economic growth fostered increased population, an orgy of over-consumption, and, for some, the income which began to transform dietary habits.

So why does Dr Pachauri, like Al Gore, his Nobel Prize co-winner, focus on putting the blame on consumers when we should be tackling the real source of the problem?Could it be anything to do with his previous jobs? Here are just three of them: he was on the Board of Directors of the Indian Oil Corporation (January 1999 to September 2003); Board of Directors of GAIL (India) Ltd (April 2003 to October 2004); National Thermal Power Corporation Ltd (August 2002 to August 2005).

Indian Oil Corporation is a public-sector petroleum company. It is India’s largest commercial enterprise, ranking 116th on the Fortune Global 500 listing (2008).

GAIL (India) Limited, is India's largest natural gas transportation company, integrating all aspects of the natural gas value chain. GAIL is listed by Forbes as one of the world's 2,000 largest public companies in 2007.

National Thermal Power Corporation is the largest power generation company in India. Forbes Global 2000 for 2008 ranked it 411th in the world. It is an Indian public sector company listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange. The Government of India holds 89.5% of its equity. The Company’s name has been changed to "NTPC Limited" with effect from October 28, 2005. The primary reason for this is the company's foray into hydro and nuclear based power generation – and coal mining.

He certainly knows about energy. He may or may not have shares in these companies, but putting Dr Pachauri in charge of the IPCC looks a bit like using a fox to guard the chickens. Gordon Brown has a similar idea – asking the highly profitable energy companies to help the old folk out with a bit of insulation. Crazy, but true.

Gerry Gold
Economics editor
9 September 2008

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