COP15: more links

If you're in London, come down to Trafalgar Square to visit the Climate Camp COP OUT CAMP OUT activists. We'll be there until the end of the COP15 talks! I was down there yesterday and there's tea and biscuits. Extra sleeping bags, food, things to sit on, & so on would be appreciated by the campers. In particular, if anyone has a source of some kind of marquee or market stall that would stand up on its own (can't use pegs on Trafalgar Square...) that would be really, really useful as the kitchen marquee was only hired for the weekend & has gone away now.

COP OUT CAMP OUT protestors blockade the European Climate Exchange yesterday.

Climate Refugee Santas sing climate carols to those catching the last flight to Copenhagen before the talks start. Their photographer was arrested.

Download the Climate Justice Chronicle, being published every other day during the Copenhagen talks.

The article's not in English, but I think the picture says it all. 'Reception centre' for climate activists arrested over the next couple of weeks.

Land grabs in the developing world

An interesting (and infuriating) post on The Angry Black Woman about land grabs. Executive summary: 'investors', initially officials from richer countries apparently concerned about food security, latterly all sorts of other people just interested in the financial value, have been buying up land in the developing world, especially in Africa.

There's lots of useful resources and links from that post, but it doesn't really take a genius to recognise that this is unlikely to end well for the people living in those countries. It's the same as the biofuels issue: the rich buy up the land at the expense of those who live off it.

Even if you think that local people where the land is being bought are actually getting the money (which is, frankly, pretty monumentally unlikely), the economics of the situation (on an assumption of food scarcity, which is after all why the 'investment' is considered valuable) means that it's a bad deal. The money can't make up for the loss of the food -- because the cost of the food is going to be greater than the cost of the land (otherwise no money is made). Not only that, but the food is going to go first to richer countries who can afford to pay more.

Yet another way in which climate change and capitalism are screwing the poor of the world over first. Unfortunately it looks like it's going to be business as usual in Copenhagen; continuing to put financial interests over global wellbeing. If you're in the UK, the Wave march is this Saturday; after that there's the more radically-inclined Climate Camp COP OUT CAMP OUT event. Come along to push the idea that Copenhagen needs to produce radical results.

Link roundup

Various links I've collected over the last couple of weeks:

350 reasons why carbon trading won’t work

Rising Tide have just launched a new campaign: 350 reasons why carbon trading won't work.  Well worth a read.

The theory behind carbon trading is that it encourages innovation and carbon reduction funded by the market.  The argument goes like this.  Imagine that you have a carbon limit of 100 units (for the sake of the argument, it doesn't matter what your units are).  Company A and Company B both currently emit 110 units.  Company A, however, can easily reduce their carbon output; Company B would really struggle a lot to do so.  If all you do is charge for carbon output above 100, then A will reduce to 100, and B will reduce to maybe 105 (because they can't reduce any further that quickly): total 205.

Under carbon trading, the argument goes, A will reduce further, because suddenly a reduction below 100 units will be worth something.  Because they still have some easy wins, they reduce to 90 units, and sell their extra 10 units of permits to Company B.  Company B don't bother reducing at all, because it's cheaper just to buy permits, so they still output 110 units: total 200 units.  Hurrah, that is less than 205 units, carbon trading wins!

What strikes me is that carbon trading assumes that the problem with the first scenario (i.e. why it doesn't maximise the reduction) is to do with the lack of a market mechanism.  My suggestion would be that it is instead to do with where the limit is set.  What happens if we set the limit at 0, and companies have to pay for all carbon output?  Company A will (at least) reduce to that 90 that was their easy win.  Company B will reduce to the 105 that was all they could manage initially.  Total output: 195. 

In fact, under carbon trading, Company A may be discouraged from reducing as far as they can -- because if they reduce too far, then their permits will reduce in value (supply/demand)*.  Under a more draconian limit system, they have the absolute encouragement to reduce as far as possible.

Of course, this means that the operating costs of all non-carbon-neutral companies will rise, possibly by quite a lot.  Which in turn presumably means that the cost of whatever product or service they're providing will rise.  From where I'm standing, that's a further positive outcome.  Currently, carbon output costs: it just doesn't cost the polluters.  It costs everyone (and disproportionately, it costs the poor), just indirectly.  Currently, polluting companies are treated as if they have a right to pollute, which is (very) slowly being curtailed.  Let's turn it around, and make them actually pay for their polluting activities.

Yes, that will have a knock-on economic effect.  Some companies may even go out of business, if it turns out that when customers are asked to pay the true cost of their goods, that those goods aren't worth it.  Again: that doesn't sound to me like a bad thing.  That implies that currently, the rest of the world is subsidising something which the purchasers themselves don't actually value enough to pay for in full.**

Let's start valuing our environment properly.  Carbon trading is just a way of putting that off -- quite probably until it's too late.

* This is basically what has already happened: too many permits were issued at the start of the scheme, so permit costs are through the floor and no one has any encouragement to make any reductions at all.  This might have something to do with the fact that the basis on which numbers of permits were issued was calculated from numbers provided by.... the polluting companies themselves.  Um.
** OK, maybe some of those goods or services will have a social value such that they shouldn't be let go under.  In which case, governments may wish to subsidise them.  But again, let's do that openly and explicitly, and without invisibly handing value from the world as a whole over to private shareholders.

Climate Change – take action this weekend!

At a loose end this weekend?  Based in the UK? 

Come on down to Nottingham and close down a power station for the weekend!  There's something for everyone, whatever your direct action comfort level, from the Footsteps to the Future march to the Bike Bloc Critical Mass and the Take Back The Power bloc's get-to-the-control-room mission. 

And to prove that this sort of direct action does work: we've already stopped Kingsnorth, and BAA have shelved plans for the third runway at Heathrow.  Come and help make a difference!

Staying associated: Kenya, climate change, and action

Last week I read this Guardian article on the effects of climate change in Kenya.  It's upsetting, and angering, and it left me with a feeling of empty helplessness.  As I read the final paragraphs, I felt my ability to engage with the issues sliding away, beaten down by a layer of "well, shit, this is just too bad, too awful, for me to do anything".

"Best not to think about it," my self-protection told me.

I'm sure this wasn't the aim of the writer.  But it is often the risk with this sort of disaster story.  Faced with however-many hundred words of bleak doom, the easiest reaction is dissociation.  Thinking about it is too miserable; there's nothing in it to indicate that there's anything that you as an individual can do; so the self-protective response is disengagement.

Which isn't helpful: to those affected by climate change, to us (so far only minimally affected if at all), to anyone.  To counter that, here's some things that you can do about this, and about other climate change disaster stories.

  • Change your own consumption habits.  There may be a limit to the impact that you all by yourself can have, but it's not just about you all by yourself.  It's about many people - everyone - changing their habits, and that is one of the things that must happen for us to have any hope of minimising the changes in the climate.  Check out 10:10 as a possible starting point.
  • Campaign for other, bigger changes: Climate Camp (the Great Climate Swoop is upcoming in October!), Climate Rush, Plane Stupid...  Direct action really can make a difference, and the more people are involved, the greater the likelihood that we'll have an impact.
  • To help people in Kenya (and other affected areas) more directly: Farm Africa are working in Kenya, promoting projects that empower local communities to manage their own resources and increase their own resistance to water (and other) problems.  
  • The charity Concern are also working in this area. 

It's important not just to throw money at the problem (however good the charity in question is) and forget about it: that's another form of disengagement. To halt climate change (and thus to make real long-term changes for those worst hit by it), we all need to act.  You yourself can make a difference.  We can react to distressing news like this, not with helpless dissociation, but with action. That's the only way we can make the future better.