Selling Nature to Save Nature and Ourselves?

Humanity faces unprecedented challenge of climate change combined with food, water and energy shortages

“Markets are preconditioned on inequality and will only make matters worse”

By Stephen Leahy

THE HAGUE, Jul 5, 2011 (IPS)

Avoiding the coming catastrophic nexus of climate change, food, water and energy shortages, along with worsening poverty, requires a global technological overhaul involving investments of 1.9 trillion dollars each year for the next 40 years, said experts from the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) in Geneva Tuesday.

“The need for a technological revolution is both a development and existential imperative for civilisation,” said Rob Vos, lead author of a new report, “The Great Green Technological Transformation”.

Absent in the U.N. report is a call for the other necessary transformation: what to do with the market-driven economic system that has put humanity on this catastrophic collision course? Attempts to “green” capitalism are failing and will fail, according to many of the more than 200 social science researchers at a groundbreaking international conference in The Hague titled NATURE INC? QUESTIONING THE MARKET PANACEA IN ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY AND CONSERVATION Jun. 30 to Jul. 2.

“We must start tackling and questioning some core capitalist dictums, such as consumerism, hyper-competition, the notion that ‘private’ is always better, and especially economic growth,” says Bram Büscher, the conference co-organiser and researcher at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) at Erasmus University in The Hague, Netherlands.

Equally important is to stop looking at nature as a collection of economic objects and services that “must only benefit some specific idea of human economic progress”, Büscher told IPS.

Governments, the World Bank, the United Nations and development agencies, international conservation organisations and others have all come to see markets as the only way to mobilise enough money to end deforestation, increase the use of alternative energy, boost food production, alleviate poverty, reduce pollution and solve a host of other serious and longstanding problems.

Started as a small gathering of academics, Nature Inc? became a major event as hundreds of experts from around the world wished to participate. Büscher believes the main reason for this is that many are actively doing research on environmental and conservation issues and are increasingly running into new market schemes like carbon credit trading, payments for ecosystem services, biodiversity derivatives and new conservation finance mechanisms, and so on.

“Payments for ecosystem services are the newest tropical ‘miracle’ crop,” said Kathleen McAfee of San Francisco State University.

The market is putting new values on tropical forests as carbon sinks, reservoirs of biodiversity or ecotourism destinations, McAfee said during the conference. Continue reading

Hundreds of Millions May Soon Be Fleeing the Floodwaters

More than 5 million affected by flooding in Pakistan Sept 2011 - a repeat of 2010.

Climate disruption shrinking areas where people can live.

Mexico faces $10 billion in storm/flood damage to roads, schools, clinics, etc every year

By Stephen Leahy

OSLO, Jun 9, 2011 (IPS)

Mass migration will inevitably be part of human adaptation to climate change, experts agree, since parts of the world will become uninhabitable in the coming decades.

Last year, 38 million people were displaced by climate-related disasters such as the flooding in Pakistan and China.

“Human displacement due to climate change is happening now. There is no need to debate it,” Jonas Gahr Støre, Norway’s minister of foreign affairs, told over 200 delegates attending the Nansen Conference on Climate Change and Displacement in the 21st Century in Oslo Jun. 6-7.

Governments and the humanitarian community need to understand this fact – and that it will get much worse in the coming decades, Støre said.

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Without major emissions reductions, climate change could get far worse than anyone is prepared to think about.

“It may be more realistic to consider four degrees C of warming rather than two degrees C,” suggested Harald Dovland, former head of the Norwegian Delegation to the United Nations climate change negotiations.

The world has already warmed 0.8C and will rise to least 1.6 C even if all emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases ended today, James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told the conference.

A four-degree C warmer world is a very different planet and risks runaway climate change. Even two degrees C is not safe, Hansen said. 

“The last time the planet was two degrees C warmer was during the Pliocene (five to 2.4 million years ago) and sea levels were 25 metres higher,” he said. “If we burn all the fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) we’re creating conditions that future generations will be unable to cope with.”

Even though a four-degree C warmer world “is choosing the suicidal path”, experts must avoid fuelling xenophobia with predictions of mass migrations and conflicts, says Francois Gemenne, research fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations in Paris.

“This also feeds into a security agenda of panic and paranoia,” Gemenne said.

At least 20 percent of humanity will be at high risk of severe flooding due to sea level rise and extreme rainfall events in the coming decades.

“Too many people live in low-lying deltas and other parts of the world that are becoming too dangerous to live in,” said Gemenne. They will be forced to move and often this movement will be permanent.

Rather than building walls and barriers, countries and the international community need to encourage people to move to safer ground. “Lift the barriers so that people can use migration to adapt to climate change,” he urged delegates.  Continue reading

In Corrupt Global Food System, Farmland Is the New Gold and Africans the New Share-croppers

$ Billions Made Speculating on Food

“Africans have become share-croppers, exporting coffee, cotton, flowers and now food while going hungry”

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 13, 2011 (IPS)

Famine-hollowed farmers watch trucks loaded with grain grown on their ancestral lands heading for the nearest port, destined to fill richer bellies in foreign lands. This scene has become all too common since the 2008 food crisis.

[This is the first of a multi-part series investigating what is driving food prices higher]

Food prices are even higher now in many countries, sparking another cycle of hunger riots in the Middle East and South Asia last weekend. While bad weather gets the blame for rising prices, the instant price hikes of recent times are largely due to market speculation in a corrupt global food system.

The 2008 food crisis awoke much of the world’s investment community to the profitable reality that hungry people will do almost anything, even sell their own children, in order to eat. And with the global financial crisis, food and farmland became the “new gold” for some of the biggest investors, experts agree.

In 2010, wheat futures rose 47 percent, U.S. corn was up more than 50 percent, and soybeans rose 34 percent.

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On Wednesday, U.S.-based Cargill, the world’s largest agricultural commodities trader, announced a tripling of profits. The firm generated 1.49 billion dollars in three months between September and November 2010.

Meanwhile, U.S. Treasury Bills pay a return of less than one percent. Continue reading

Amazon Drought Accelerating Climate Change

World’s Forests Losing Their Green. Billions of tonnes of CO2 Released

By Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 3, 2011 (IPS)

Last year’s severe drought in the Amazon will pump billions of tonnes of additional carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, a new report has found.

Researchers calculate that millions of trees died in 2010, which means the Amazon is soaking up much less CO2 from the atmosphere, and those dead trees will now release all the carbon they’ve accumulated over 300 or more years.

The widespread 2010 drought follows a similar drought in 2005 which itself will put an additional five billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, Simon Lewis of University of Leeds in the UK and colleagues calculate in a study published Thursday in Science. The United States emitted 5.4 billion tonnes of CO2 from fossil fuel use in 2009.

The two droughts will end up adding an estimated 13 billion tonnes of additional CO2 – equivalent to combined emissions in 2009 from China and the U.S. – and likely accelerating global warming.

“New growth in the region will not offset those releases,” Lewis told IPS.

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After the 2005 drought, Lewis and Brazilian scientist Paulo Brando from the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) led teams of researchers on the ground to assess the impacts. They determined that only a few trees died per hectare, and so while the forest canopy cover looked relatively unchanged, there had been a significant change in the forest’s carbon balance. Continue reading

Runaway Global Economy Decimating Nature — World Bank Offers A Solution

By Stephen Leahy

NAGOYA, Japan, Oct 28, 2010 (IPS)

One-fifth of all birds, fish and animals are threatened with extinction – as many as six million unique and irreplaceable forms of life – an authoritative new assessment warned Wednesday.

Deforestation, agricultural expansion, overfishing, invasive alien species and climate change are the specific causes, but the main engine of destruction is an economic system that is blind to the reality that there is no economy or human well-being without nature, experts here say.

“Without global conservation efforts the situation would be massively worse,” noted Simon Stuart, chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission, which launched the study at the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan.

Published in the peer-reviewed journal Science, it is the most comprehensive assessment ever done of the world’s vertebrates – mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fishes – Stuart said.

Every year, 52 species of mammals, birds and amphibians move one step down a three-step path to extinction, according to the study, which utilised data for 25,000 species from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Southeast Asia has experienced the most dramatic recent losses, largely driven by the planting of export crops like oil palm, commercial hardwood timber operations, agricultural conversion to rice paddies and unsustainable hunting, the study found. Parts of Central America, the tropical Andes of South America, and even Australia have also all experienced marked losses, in particular due to the impact of the deadly chytrid fungus on amphibians.

“The backbone of biodiversity is being eroded,” said the eminent U.S. ecologist and writer Edward O. Wilson of Harvard University.

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Food Prices Soar (again) – Governments Starved Ag Research of Funding for Last 20 Years

By Stephen Leahy

[New Article]

MONTPELLIER, France, Apr 14, 2010 (IPS)

How’s this for short-sighted:

A billion people go hungry every day, food prices have climbed 30 to 40 percent, climate change is reducing agricultural production – and for the past two decades, the world has slashed investments in publicly-funded agriculture until it is a pittance in most countries.

“Moral outrage is needed. We must abolish this… It can be done. It must be done,”Ismail Serageldin Website, Egypt and a former World Bank economist, told nearly 700 World Food Prize laureates, ministers, scientists and a few representatives from development and farmer organisations at the first Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD) last month here in southern France.

“This is the launching pad to transform hunger in our time,” Serageldin concluded.

The “rocket” on the launching pad is a major transformation of the 500 million dollars of public funds for international agricultural research carried out by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), an alliance comprising some 8,000 researchers in 100 countries.

For the past year, a global consultation process involving over 2,000 stakeholders from 200 countries has produced a draft plan for reform that promises to meet the needs of the world’s 500 million poor small farmers who feed the two billion poorest people.

Called ambitious and far-reaching by proponents, the “Montpellier Road Map” sets the priorities for “linking science and innovation to the needs of farmers and the rural poor”.

Critics say it resembles little more than a passionate shuffling of the status quo. As the French say like to say: “Plus ça change; plus c’est la même chose” (the more things change, the more they stay the same).
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The REAL Amazon-gate: On the Brink of Collapse Reveals Million $ Study


By Stephen Leahy

PARIS, Feb 2, 2010 (Tierramérica)

The Amazon jungle “is very close to a tipping point,” and if destruction continues, it could shrink to one third of its original size in just 65 years, warns Thomas Lovejoy, world-renowned tropical biologist.

[UPDATE Sept 6’10: The Amazon River is at its lowest level in 40 years — in 2005 devastating dry spell damaged vast swaths of South American rainforest Amazon May Be Headed For Another Bad Drought]]

Climate change, deforestation and fire are the drivers of this potential Amazonian apocalypse, according to Lovejoy, biodiversity chair at the Washington DC-based Heinz Centre for Science, Economics and the Environment, and chief biodiversity adviser to the president of the World Bank.

Amazonian rainforest, upper Amazon basin, Lore...
Image via Wikipedia

Lovejoy laid out the scenario for participants at the Biodiversity Science Policy Conference in Paris last week, sponsored by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), and marking the beginning of the U.N.’s International Year of Biodiversity.

“The World Bank released a study that finally put the impacts of climate change, deforestation and fires together. The tipping point for the Amazon is 20 percent deforestation,” and that is “a scary result,” Lovejoy told Tierramérica in an interview.

The study, “Assessment of the Risk of Amazon Dieback,” released Jan. 22, drew on the expertise of several international research institutions, including Japan’s Meteorological Research Institute, Britain’s Exeter University, Brazil’s Centre for Weather Forecasting and Climate Change (CPET/INPE), Germany’s Potsdam Institute and Earth3000.

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The results and analysis were reviewed by an international blue-ribbon panel of scientists. Continue reading