Robin Broad and John Cavanagh

As the Obama administration negotiates new trade agreements with European and Pacific nations, a battle has emerged over the agreements’ egregious rules that grant giant corporations unreasonable powers to subvert democracy. These rules, dubbed “investor rights” by the corporations, allow firms to sue governments over actions—including public interest regulations—that reduce the value of their investments.

Oxfam, the Institute for Policy Studies, and four other non-profits are releasing a new study that explains why these rules are so dangerous to democracy and the environment. We are among the co-authors of this study, titled “Debunking Eight Falsehoods by Pacific Rim Mining/OceanaGold in El Salvador.” The report offers a powerful case study of everything that is wrong with this corporate assault on democracy.

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Sunita Narain

Previously published by Centre for Science and Environment.

Madhav Gadgil and K Kasturirangan are both scientists of great repute. But both are caught up in a controversy on how the Western Ghats—the vast biological treasure trove spread over the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu—should be protected. First the Ministry of Environment and Forests asked Gadgil to submit a plan for protection of the Ghats. When this was done in mid-2011, the ministry sat on the document for months, refusing to release it even for public discussion. Finally, court directed the government to take action on the recommendations. The Kasturirangan committee was then set up to advise on the next steps.

In April 2013, the Kasturirangan committee (I was a member of it) submitted its report, evoking angry reactions. Ecologists say it is a dilution of the Gadgil report and, therefore, unacceptable. Political leaders and mining companies have joined hands to fight against the report. A virulent political agitation, led by the church and communist party leaders, was launched in Kerala.

The debate on the two reports has been personal, messy and uninformed. Instead, we need to understand the differences and deliberate what has been done and why. As I see it, there are three key differences between the Gadgil and the Kasturirangan report. First is on the extent of the area that should be awarded protection as an eco-sensitive zone (ESZ). The Gadgil panel identified the entire Ghats as ESZ. But it created three categories of protection regimes and listed activities that would be allowed in each based on the level of ecological richness and land use.

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Edward B. Barbier

Over a year ago, in March 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its 2011 Green Goods and Services (GGS) Survey. Its purpose was to describe employment and development trends in five key categories of the burgeoning U.S. green economy: energy from renewable sources (aka “clean energy”), energy efficiency, pollution abatement and materials recycling, natural resources conservation and environmental compliance, education, training and public awareness.

Some good news emerged from the GGS Survey: In 2011, there were 3.4 million green goods and services jobs, accounting for 2.6 percent of U.S. employment.

However, there was also bad news to report. In March 2013, the BLS announced that, as part of the cross-the-board spending cuts authorized through the federal budget “sequestration,” it would no longer be producing any more GGS Surveys after the 2011 report.

In short, the U.S. green economy and employment may or may not be growing, but since 2011 we have had no national survey reporting on these trends.

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Jayati Ghosh

Originally published in Frontline (India).

A week in Beijing in mid-February confirmed what many people have been saying for a while now: if you can somehow avoid it, it is better not to breathe the air outside. With one exception, every day was grey and hazy, the sky not so much overcast as simply limp, heavy and fatigued. The grand buildings and enormous skyscrapers that line the streets of the city loomed as hazy shadows, barely visible in the all-encompassing smog. The generalised greyness made it hard to distinguish between dawn, midday and dusk. The days were shrouded in dullness, while the nights made stargazing seem like a thing of the past.

The exception was one unexpectedly delightful day when the sky suddenly cleared to reveal a sun that actually shone brightly down on the cold city, on buildings and streets that seemed to sparkle in sheer exuberance in the sudden brightness. This was a gift, residents said, of dry winds that had temporarily swept away the smog. But it was a short-lived, ephemeral present, serving as an almost painful reminder of how much was being missed all the rest of the time.

It is true that this particular week may have been exceptionally bad even by Beijing standards. The city’s authorities raised the four-tier air pollution alert system to the second highest level (orange, just below red) for the first time in the year, as atmospheric pollution readings measuring six major pollutants at monitoring stations in the downtown area suggested an Air Quality Index of more than 300, more than 10 times the level considered “safe” by the World Health Organisation.

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Sunita Narain

Cross-posted from Center for Science and Environment.

It was way back in 1986 that Rajiv Gandhi had launched the Ganga Action Plan. But years later, after much water (sewage) and money has flowed down the river, it is as bad as it could get. Why are we failing and what needs to be done differently to clean this and many other rivers?

Pollution in the Ganga remains a tough challenge. According to recent estimates of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), faecal coliform levels in the mainstream of the river—some 2,500 km from Gangotri to Diamond Harbour—remain above the acceptable level in all stretches, other than its upper reaches. Even in the highly oxygenated upper stretches, faecal coliform levels, though within acceptable levels, are increasing in places like Rudraprayag and Devprayag, suggesting inadequate flow for dilution.

Pollution hot spots, the mega and fast-growing cities along the river, present a grimmer picture. According to CPCB monitoring data, BOD levels are high downstream of Haridwar, Kannauj and Kanpur, and peak at Varanasi. But what is worrying is that in all the stretches pollution is getting worse. This is not surprising given that all along this heavily populated stretch fresh water intake from the river is increasing. Water is drawn for agriculture, industry and cities but only waste is returned to the river.

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Sunita Narain

Cross-posted from Center for Science and Environment.

When I look back at 2013, I hear a cacophony. There was huge dissent about the way we are mismanaging coal reserves; the Supreme Court shut down iron ore mining in Goa; there was outcry about rampant sand mining and the havoc it is wreaking on rivers. There were equally loud calls for the need for green clearance to all projects, from hydropower projects in the Himalayas to mines in dense forests of central India. One side wanted to shut everything; another wanted to open up everything.

The polarisation was absolute. This has not benefited the environment’s cause; it has certainly not changed the way we will manage our natural resources for sustainable and inclusive growth. This impasse does not work.

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Edward Barbier

Typhoon Haiyun has killed more than 4,400 people in the Philippines and displaced at least 900,000. Around 12 million Filipinos have been affected by the consequences of the storm, which is one of the deadliest coastal disasters on record.

Given the scale and frequency of recent coastal disasters—Typhoon Haiyun, Hurricanes Sandy, Katrina, and Rita, the Fukushima and Indian Ocean Tsunamis—it is time to develop a global strategy for protecting coastal populations. There should be two elements to this strategy: a short-run emergency response and investments in long-term global adaptation.

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Gar W. Lipow, Guest Blogger

For U.S. climate activists to succeed, they must demand serious government spending on energy efficiency and renewables—spending comparable to the current war budget. Calling for hundreds of billions in annual green public investment has potential for the popular appeal needed to build a powerful grassroots climate movement. That investment would be the best policy as well. Massive clean energy spending would not only provide jobs and economic growth on a grand scale. It is the most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

It is widely, though not universally, acknowledged that solving the climate crisis will require public investment and subsidies, efficiency regulations and clean energy requirements, plus a price on greenhouse gas emissions. (The idea behind a carbon price: polluters pay per unit of greenhouse gas pollution released.) But, in practice, policy advocates tend to fetishize the carbon price and drop other requirements. For example, James Hansen, perhaps the world’s leading climate scientists says “If we would put this price on carbon it would favor renewables, and it would favor energy efficiency, and it would favor nuclear power—it would favor anything that is carbon-free… ”[i] Charles Komanoff and James Handley of the Carbon Tax center describe a carbon tax as the “sine qua non of effective climate policy”.[ii] Mainstream environmentalism tends to favor cap-and-trade over carbon fees, which indirectly results in a price on carbon. Between carbon tax and cap-and-trade advocates, most climate change opponents prioritize carbon pricing. Few join Komanoff in referring to such pricing as the “sine qua non” of carbon policy. In policy discussions, however, most environmental economists start with cap-and-trade or a carbon fee, and many never discuss anything else.

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Editors’ note:  This is the third part (of four) of “The Emerging Left in the ‘Emerging’ World,” by Triple Crisis founding contributor Jayati Ghosh, originally delivered in 2012 as part of the Ralph Miliband Lecture Series at the London School of Economics. We posted the introduction two weeks ago (here), and the second part last week (here). In this week’s post, Ghosh discusses five more “common threads” of the emerging left: private property, “rights,” class and identity, gender, and the environment. We will post the conclusion to the lecture next week.

On Private Property

Earlier models of socialism, such as Soviet style “state socialism”, did away with private property in the means of production, only recognizing private rights over personal belongings. The new leftist thinking is more ambivalent about private property—disliking it when it is seen as monopolizing or highly concentrated (for example in the form of multinational corporations) but otherwise not just accepting of it, but even (as in the case of small producers) actively encouraging it. Increasingly, left movements and governments have recognized the value of other kinds of property rights as well, particularly communal property associated with traditional indigenous communities. Again, this runs strongly counter to earlier centralizing and “modernizing” models of socialism, which derided these communities and their communal property forms as premodern relics that had to be done away with.
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Kevin Gallagher

China is redefining the global development agenda. While the West preaches trade liberalization and financial deregulation, China orchestrates massive infrastructure and industrial policies under regulated trade and financial markets. China transformed its economy and brought more than 600 million people out of poverty. Western policies led to financial crises, slow growth and relatively less poverty alleviation across the globe.

China is now exporting its model across the world. The China Development Bank (CDB) and the Export-Import Bank of China (EIBC) now provide more financing to developing countries than the World Bank does. What is more, China’s finance doesn’t come with the harsh conditions—such as trade liberalization and fiscal austerity—that western-backed finance has. China’s development banks are not only doing good across the world, they are helping China’s bottom line as they make a strong profit and often provide opportunities for Chinese firms.

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