In May 2013, the international press has become alive to the fact that
there is a lot of unburnable fossil fuels. “Unburnable” carbon has
become a buzz word in The Economist and in The New York Times. If the
oil, gas and coal reserves are burnt at present speed, there is no
chance whatever of limiting carbon dioxide concentration below 500 ppm.
A large part of such reserves must remain in the ground. The Grantham
Institute of the London School of Economics has produced a report that
proves that the policies advanced since 1997 by Oilwatch to leave oil in
the soil were right, and announces that the money value of fossil fuels
reserves will necessarily come down if something is effectively done
against climate change. The Economist (4 May 2013, “Unburnable Fuels”)
dismisses “technological fixes” such as carbon sequestration and
When Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish chemist and Nobel laureate, published
the first articles on climate change in 1896, the carbon dioxide
concentration in the atmosphere was 300 parts per million (ppm). It is
now reaching 400 ppm and rising 2 ppm per year. Arrhenius announced that
by burning coal found underground, industrialised countries were
releasing more and more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and that this
would increase temperatures. He could not know that in the twentieth
century coal burning worldwide would increase seven-fold or that in
addition to coal burning would be added much more oil and natural gas;
in addition to the effects of deforestation.
An important contribution of natural resource economics has been to treat the environment as a form of capital asset, or natural capital. But we should not restrict this concept just to those natural resources, such as minerals, fossil fuels, forests, agricultural land and fisheries, that supply the raw material and energy inputs to our economies. Nor should we consider the capacity of the natural environment to assimilate waste and pollution the only valuable “service” that it performs.
Instead, natural capital is much broader, encompassing the whole range of goods and services that the environment provides. Many have long been considered beneficial to humans, such as nature-based recreation, eco-tourism, fishing and hunting, wildlife viewing, and enjoyment of nature’s beauty. Natural capital should also comprise those ecosystems that through their natural functioning and habitats provide important goods and services to the economy. Such ecological capital is a unique and important component of the entire natural endowment that supports, protects and is used by economic systems
However, there are several crucial features of ecosystems that distinguish them from other economic assets.
There is one thing that my new book is about: corporate control of every aspect of our food system, from how it is labeled to the pesticides we are exposed to. The main thesis of Foodopoly is simple — We, the people, must reclaim our democracy. We must reestablish strong anti-trust laws as part of the progressive agenda if we have any hope of fixing our broken, corporate-controlled food system. And to do that, we need to organize and force our elected officials to create laws that result in a food system that works for consumers and farmers—not big agricultural, food processing, retail and chemical conglomerates.
How has consolidation enabled Monsanto, Tyson, Nestle, Kraft, Cargill, McDonalds and other food/ag/chemical companies to write our food policy, and why is about to get worse? The disastrous decision in the landmark Citizens United case now allows corporations to spend unlimited sums of money to buy the political system. This decision comes at the expense of citizens and democracy itself.
Building green is definitely important. But equally important is to know how green is a green building. Take the glitzy, glass-enveloped buildings popping up across the country. It does not matter if you are in the mild but wet and windy climate of Bengaluru or in the extreme hot and dry climate of Gurgaon, glass is the in-thing. I have always wondered how buildings extensively using glass could work in such varied climatic zones, where one needs ventilation. Then, I started reading that glass was green. Buildings liberally using glass were being certified green. How come?
Here the story becomes interesting. The Energy Conservation Building Code (ECBC) has specified prescriptive parameters for constructing an energy-efficient building envelope—the exterior façade of a building. The façade, based on the insulation abilities of the material used for roof and wall construction, will reduce heat loss. It will also reduce energy use if it allows daylight in. It is, therefore, important for any green building to have the right material for its exterior.
In this video on the Real News Network, PERI Economist James Boyce discusses how industrialized agriculture in the United States endangers the wealth of genetic corn variation, and why hard-pressed small farmers in South America offer a potential counterweight.
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A secondary objective of the Copenhagen deal – aside from avoiding emissions cuts the world so desperately requires – was to maintain a modicum of confidence in carbon markets. Especially after the 2008 financial meltdown and rapid decline of European Union Emissions Trading Scheme, BASIC leaders felt renewed desperation to prop up the ‘Clean Development Mechanism’ (CDM), the Third World’s version of carbon trading. Questioning the West’s banker-centric climate strategy – which critics term ‘the privatisation of the air’ – was not an option for BRICS elites, given their likeminded neoliberal orientation.
By the end of 2012, the BRICS no longer qualified to receive direct CDM funds, so efforts shifted towards subsidies for new internal carbon markets, especially in Brazil and China. In February 2013, South African finance minister Pravin Gordhan also announced that as part of a carbon tax, Pretoria would also allow corporations to offset 40 percent of their emissions cuts via carbon markets.
As they meet in Durban on March 26-27, leaders of the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – must own up: they have been emitting prolific levels of greenhouse gases, far higher than the US or the EU in absolute terms and as a ratio of GDP (though less per person). How they address this crisis could make the difference between life and death for hundreds of millions of people this century.
South Africa’s example is not encouraging. First, the Pretoria national government and its Eskom parastatal electricity generator have recently increased South Africa’s already extremely high emissions levels, on behalf of the country’s ‘Minerals-Energy Complex’. This problem is well known in part because of the failed civil society campaigns against the world’s third and fourth largest coal-fired power plants (Eskom’s Medupi and Kusile), whose financing in 2010 included the largest-ever World Bank project loan and whose subcontractor includes the ruling party’s investment arm in a blatant multi-billion rand conflict of interest.
President Rafael Correa of Ecuador asks when and where Marx criticizes mega-mining. In various interviews, Correa, the mouthpiece of mega-mining and the expansion of oil exploitation, has asked, “Let’s see, señores marxistas, where was Marx opposed to the exploitation of non-renewable resources?” The response is easy. Marx and Engels criticized predatory capitalism, even if (in my opinion) their proto-ecologist critique was not a fundamental pillar of their work, which was more focused in an analysis of the exploitation of salaried workers and its consequences for the dynamics of capitalism.
But what would Marx have said of mega-mining and the ideas of President Correa? I don’t know enough German to guess, but I imagine it would be something like Pfui Teufel! In this respect, the pertinent concepts of Marxism that Correa doesn’t know or has forgotten are at least two: 1) Primitive or Original Accumulation of Capital (a concept revised by David Harvey in 2003 under the name Accumulation by Dispossession, very appropriate to the realities of President Correa’s oil and mineral extractive projects in Ecuador’s Amazon and other regions); 2) The interpretation of economics as Social Metabolism (for which Marx was inspired by Moleschott and Liebig). Read the rest of this entry »
Our health is not on anybody’s agenda. Or, we just don’t seem to make the connections between the growing burden of disease and the deteriorating condition of our environment. We don’t really believe the science, which tells us each passing day how toxins affect our bodies, leading to high rates of both morbidity and mortality. It is true that it is difficult to establish cause and effect, but we know more than enough to say that air pollution is today a leading cause of both disease and death in India and other parts of South Asia.
The Global Burden of Disease is an initiative involving WHO that tracks the causes of disability-adjusted life years lost—the number of productive years lost to diseases—and human death. In other words, it assesses a large number of risk factors responsible for the global burden of disease. Why are we ill? The initiative’s decadal 2010 assessment should make us angry.
In South Asia the top cause of disease and death is particulate pollution—inside homes because of the poor quality cook stoves and biomass fuel burnt by poor households, and outside homes because of growing numbers of vehicles and use of dirty diesel fuel. What is more worrying is that ambient and household-level air pollution has a correlation with ischemic heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and lower respiratory infections. According to this assessment, some 627,000 deaths in 2010 are attributable to ambient air pollution alone in India, of which heart disease caused almost 50 per cent deaths and stroke and hypertension another 25 per cent. In all, over 1.6 million deaths happened in India because of indoor and outdoor air pollution in 2010, finds the global assessment. It is not mocking numbers.
In my book, Scarcity and Frontiers: How Economies Have Developed Through Natural Resource Exploitation, I chronicle how, since the Agricultural Transition 10,000 years ago, a critical driving force behind global economic development has been the discovery and exploitation of “new frontiers” of natural resources. Natural resource scarcity both drives this process – as costs rise with scarcity we develop the technologies to exploit new resource frontiers – and it is a consequence – once frontiers are settled, developed and exploited, scarcity ensues again.
Today, we are embarking on rapid exploitation of a vast new frontier, the Deep Sea of the world’s oceans.
The Deep Sea begins at around 200 meters (m) depth, which is the limit at which sufficient sunlight penetrates the sea for photosynthesis to occur, and extends to nearly 11,000 m. The area comprising the Deep Sea is vast, covering around 90% of the ocean floor. This region consists of many diverse and interconnecting ecosystems, including abyssal plains, continental slopes, deep-sea canyons, manganese nodule fields, seamounts, cold water coral reefs and gardens, cold seeps and hydrothermal vents. The structure, functioning and dynamics of Deep Sea ecosystems are complex and shaped by many factors, including the depth of the water column above them. In addition, it is still poorly understood how these Deep Sea ecosystems interact with the rest of the ocean on which humankind depends for food, climate and ocean regulation, recreation and other ecosystem goods and services.