If there can exist tax havens for the rich, there may soon exist environmental degradation havens for the rich — replete with oxygen-replenishing trees and sky-high entrance costs, which will be covered by our purchase of products whose manufacturing processes destroy the environment.
The Amazon runs through nine countries. The Waorani from Ecuador won a court battle to prevent oil drilling there. Not much later, another part of the forest was on fire. President Jair Bolsonaro had indicated he’d exploit the Amazon for Brazil’s economic growth. Before pinning blame on him, though, let’s remember that investors don’t pay countries for converting free-flowing carbon emissions into oxygen, though if the businesses that operate by displacing trees had to pay for that service (which they certainly use) their profits would tank.
“Industrial processes can put pollutants in the air that increase public health costs, but the public, not the polluting businesses, pick up the tab,” wrote David Roberts. “In this way, businesses privatise profits and publicise costs.”
Capital won’t help any government deliver on politicians’ campaign promises unless it can receive a return on investment. The lie told there is that a.) capital embraces regulation, which leads to lie b.) it’s the consumer who’s failed to save for retirement or reuse/recycle/reduce to save the environment. There’s a deliberate skew in the narrative about who’s truly at fault.
“Twentieth-century economics assured us that if growth creates inequality, don’t try to redistribute, because more growth will even things up again,” noted Kate Raworth.
“If growth creates pollution, don’t try to regulate, because more growth will clean things up again. Except, it turns out, it doesn’t, and it won’t.” She later said, “We need economies that are regenerative and distributive by design (emphasis mine).”
Bolsonaro is in a Catch-22 where if he doesn’t pimp natural resources out to capitalism, he’ll be judged as a bad president for failing to attract capital investment. Had he offered human resources at cheap labour costs, no one would have noticed. Lie c.) is that GDP growth can be de-coupled from the abuse of resources. His only solution was to start the fires and pretend he wasn’t responsible for them, though there’s reason to believe he’s clearing the ground for cattle ranching — yet another contributor to carbon emissions.
If governments regulated the way they promised instead of receiving kickbacks, many of the clean-up and transformation efforts that capital promises for making economies inclusive and sustainable would be carried out in good faith.
Instead, businesses keep up with the profits their competitors make by externalizing costs. Beware propaganda whereby governments alone are “bad” but “the markets” are invisible and morally neutral — or vice versa. Humans are humans, so help us God.
If we want to stop the destruction of the Amazon rain forest, we need to not purchase products whose manufacturing process is preceded by deforestation. Personally, I’m going vegan (no one is more surprised by this than I am) until a critical mass of meat producers around the world puts pressure on all governments to regulate all industries the way they’ve said they would. Which means I’ll be vegan forever.
Business won’t resist the urge to compete by externalising more costs than society and the environment can absorb. Changing this wouldn’t even be about changing laws, but enacting the laws that exist, in good faith. As long as your money is on the table for industry, as long as votes are on the table for any political party (and please vote!) the number of reasons anyone in the value chain has to genuinely transform it, is precisely zero.
We’re losing the Amazon at a rate of one stadium a minute. The smoke from the fire plunged Sao Paulo into darkness 2,800km away and is visible from outer space. I couldn’t see how “cutting back” on meat consumption would dent this crisis or alleviate the ecological domino effect this will have on human migration patterns and disease outbreak, so I withdrew my money. In the end, only 1% of the whole human population wins.
Please don’t take it for granted that captains of industry see their fate as joined to everyone else’s: if they could have tax havens to shield their finances from the risks all are exposed to as a result of their collusion with governments, then they’ve probably already got environmental havens for their bodies. For money serves the body, and no one protects his money unless he’s also made provision for the body that the money serves. The wealthiest counties are green enough (by design!) to externalise environmental impact costs on Africa and other places where brown-skinned people live.
Heed Greta Thunberg, climate activist: “Adults keep saying we owe it to the young people, to give them hope. But I don’t want your hope.
“I want you to panic.
“I want you to feel the fear I feel every day.
“I want you to act.
“I want you to act as you would in a crisis.
“I want you to act as if the house is on fire.
“Because it is.” DM