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Nature's final frontiers fall to the corporations

The Rio+20 final document is so shocking and the risks it poses so great that it bears revisiting. "Ecosystem services", and other so-called “green economics” initiatives set out at Rio represent capitalism's final assault on wilderness, untamed habitat and the plants and animals (including humans) who live inter-connectedly in these spaces.

If, as the UK's Stern Report explained, climate change is the biggest-ever market failure, then how can bringing the planet's remaining wild spaces into this failed framework protect them? These areas of forest, ice-cap and permafrost are our last protection against runaway climate change and this fresh attack on them could prove disastrous for humanity.

climate change is the biggest-ever market failure

Two examples of why it cannot work are carbon credits and the REDD treaty on deforestation.

First carbon credits, a new form of currency that came into being with the Kyoto Protocol. Google the phrase and you'll get myriad financial advice sites explaining how to profit from them. It's a market, which has run along the same rails as all capitalist markets – sometimes profitable, sometimes less so. But it has brought absolutely no reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

REDD is the new international treaty on deforestation. It rewards countries that achieve cuts in deforestation with credits from big polluting countries. This creates the perverse incentive to start cutting down forest that has been untouched up until now so you can claim credits for stopping. It's putting a gun to the head of the forest, and saying "pay up or we shoot".

Pablo Solon, Bolivia’s former UN ambassador and now head of Focus on the Global South, has written that it is the transnational corporations that are promoting green economy:

According to them, the mistake of capitalism that led us to this current multiple crises is that the free market had not gone far enough. And so with the ‘green economy’, capitalism is going to fully incorporate nature as part of its capital. They are identifying the specific functions of ecosystems and biodiversity that can be priced and then brought into a global market as ‘Natural Capital’.

Natural capital is defined as the “five pillars of life” – water, oceans, land and ecosystems, energy and raw materials. Think privatisation of electricity, gas, railways and health and the fraudulent claims made for that process, and you get an idea of what they are planning.

Capitalism is a system that renews itself continuously by developing new markets and new commodities. Current commodity production is in crisis, with a contraction of up to 90% of productive capacity needed, and already well underway.

With Rio+20 we are seeing capitalism's last great grab from the planet – the commodification of every part of nature that will run alongside the current shift of capital into the market in land.

The GM and chemical food speculators such as Monsanto and Cargill will move in for rapacious copyrighting of plants and natural processes. And alongside these fat new profits, indeed fuelled by it, the destruction of eco-systems will continue.

The lesson of the Barclay's rate-fixing scandal is that there is no free market, and this new commodity market too will be subject to corruption, lies and profit-grabbing speculators. Why not, after all? If you can profit from it, you must profit from it – that's the essence of capitalism.

In theory every species and every zone can be forced into the framework of profit monomania, but there is a huge price to be paid. Millions are already paying it, most of them are in the global south. But nowhere – not the United States and Europe nor the BRIC “developing economies” – has immunity.

As Solon concludes:

The capitalist system has gone beyond control. Like a virus its going to kill the body that feeds it… it’s going to damage the Earth System in a way that makes it impossible for human life as we know it. We need to overthrow capitalism and develop a system that is based on the Community of the Earth.

Penny Cole
Environment editor
28 June 2012

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