On the eve of Rio+20, there is need to denounce liberal capitalism’s new offensive: the mercantilising of nature. A carbon market already exists, established by the Kyoto Protocol (1997). It determines that developed countries, the main polluters, must reduce hothouse gas emissions by 5.2%.
Reducing the volume of poison vomited by those countries into the atmosphere implies in a reduction in profits. Hence credit carbon was invented. A ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) is equal to a carbon credit. A rich country or its businesses which surpass the permitted limit of pollution may buy credit from a poor country or its businesses which have not yet attained their respective limits of CO2 emissions and, therefore, are authorised to emit hothouse gases. The value of this permission must not exceed the fine that the rich country would pay if it were to surpass its CO2 emission limit.
Frei Betto beim Website-Interview im Dominikaner-Konvent von Sao Paulo.
A new proposal has now appeared: the sale of environmental services, i.e. the appropriation and mercantilising of tropical forests, planted forests (by human hands) and ecosystems. Due to the financial crisis which affects developed countries, capital seeks new sources of profit. Now natural capital (appropriation of nature) also known as green economy is added to industrial capital (production) and to financial capital (speculation.
The difference with environmental services is that they are not offered by a person or business but are offered, free of charge, by nature: water, food, medicinal plants, carbon (its absorption and storage), minerals, timber, etc. The proposal is to put an end to this gratuitousness. In capitalist logic, the value of barter of a good is above its user value. Therefore, these natural goods must be given monetary value.
Consumers of nature’s goods would have to pay not only for the administration of the product’s “manufacture” ( just as we pay for the water which comes out of our taps at home), but for the good itself. It so happens that nature does not have a bank account in order to receive the money paid by the services it lends. Those who defend this proposal affirm that, therefore, someone or some institution should receive the payment – the owner of the forest or of the ecosystem.
The proposal does not take into account the communities who live in the forests. A woman from the Katobo community, a forest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, says:
In the forest, we collect wood, we grow foodstuffs and we eat. The forest provides everything, vegetables and all sorts of animals, allowing us to live well. This is why we are very happy in our forest, because it allows us to have all that which we need. When we hear that the forest could be in danger, it worries us, because we could never live away from it. If we were told to leave the forest, we would become very angry, because we could not imagine a life away from it, or even near it. When we plant foodstuffs, we have food and agriculture as well as hunting and the women collect crabs and fish in the rivers. We have different kinds of vegetables as well as edible plants in the forest, and fruits and all sorts of things we eat which give us strength and energy, proteins, and everything we need”.
Commercialisation of environmental services ignores this vision of forest people. This is a new mechanism of the market, in which nature is quantified in units to be commercialised.
This idea, which sounds absurd, came from industrialised countries in the Northern hemisphere in 1970 during the environmental crisis. Europe and USA became aware that natural resources are limited. The Earth is not able to be extended. It is sick, contaminated and degraded.
To deal with this, capitalism’s ideologues proposed placing a value on natural resources in order to save them. They calculated the value of environmental services to be between US$16 and 54 trillion (the world’s GDP, adding goods and services, today is US$62 trillion). “It is time we recognise that nature is the greatest business in the world, working to benefit 100% of humanity – and it does this free of charge”, affirmed Jean-Christophe Vié, director of the IUCN Species Programme, the principal global network for the conservation of nature, financed by governments, multilateral agencies and multinational companies.
>In 1969 Garret Hardin published an article “The tragedy of the commoners”, to justify the need to fence nature in, privatise it, and thus guarantee its preservation. According to the author, local and free use of nature, as practised by an indigenous tribe, results in destruction (which is not true). The only way to preserve it for the common good is to make it capable of administration by those who are competent i.e. large business corporations. This is the thesis of green economy.
Now, we know how they see nature: as a mere producer of “commodities”. Thus, foreign companies buy more and more lands in Brazil which means mercantile misappropriation of our territory.*Frei Betto is a writer, author of “O amor fecunda o Universo – ecologia e espiritualidade” (Love fertilises the Universe – ecology and spirituality) (Agir) in partnership with Marcelo Barros. www.freibetto.org <http://www.freibetto.org/> twitter: @freibetto.
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