And the idea is that if you value the environment, you should put a price tag on it so that its destruction is not just a [free] activity—so say the proponents. But critics say this is equivalent to neoliberalizing nature or privatizing the air in the case of climate and carbon trading.
And what became even trickier was in Doha the idea called loss and damage, which is another way of saying that the North owes the South a climate debt for the huge destructive force. I mean, Barack Obama just asked for some $60 billion from Congress to clean up after Sandy. And so this is the sort of huge scale of loss and damage, and even more so in the Third World, the main victims of climate change here in Africa, maybe 200 million deaths anticipated this century.
And the big question we’ll all be asking in the coming months: can you put a price on it? And if you do so, in order for the North to pay up, does that mean that you endorse markets for the environment? And that’s a tricky situation for many environmentalists not wanting to go too far towards neoliberal nature, but on the other hand, demanding a climate and an ecological debt be paid.
And one of the finest theorists, Larry Lohmann at Corner House group, explained it to me in Rio very simply, and I think we all should learn from Larry Lohmann. He said the difference between a fine on a big corporation, for example, Texaco—Texaco, now Chevron, polluted about $8 billion worth in the Ecuadoran Amazon, and a court found them guilty. Of course, they’re refusing to pay. They’re a big U.S. corporation. And the idea is they should be fined and then banned from doing that again. And that is an acceptable strategy for progressive environmentalists.
The problem is if you allow that activity to be mandated through a fee, a fee for an ecosystem service. And it’s in that very nuanced distinction between putting a price on something because you value it and making someone who destroys it pay for the damage on the one hand, which I think is reasonable—on the other hand, the danger would be if you try to create markets. And this is what’s really running rampant.
Here in southern Africa, natural capital will soon be actually calculated as a way to correct gross domestic product, something that’s way overdue, because GDP, what economists like to do to measure growth, ignores environmental destruction, not to mention women’s unpaid labor or community activism or crime or family breakdown. All of these important things are not measured. And the attempt to correct it, natural capital, if it’s used properly, would give us a whole new dimension on whether we should be extracting at the rate, for example, here in our platinum mines we do which led to the Marikana Massacre in August.
And that’s the sort of question that I think environmentalists and community activists and labor movements, women’s groups, will be asking more and more. Is it really worth it? And should we not be calculating into a cost-benefit analysis the destructive capacity of capital when it meets nature, and then trying to prevent that process from becoming something like a carbon market or offsets for biodiversity? And a green economy strategy of the World Bank of many big agencies leans towards markets. And this is going to be the struggle of 2013, I predict.
(emphasis italics are mine)