ConsumerismEconomicsGlobal Warming/Climate Change

Carbon Trading – and What Should Be on the Negotiating Table at Copenhagen
The Story of Cap & Trade
(From the makers of Story of Stuff)

There is a lot of hubbub going on at the moment – with eyes focussed on Copenhagen. Demonstrators and activists are pushing and pulling and urging politicians to ‘do something’ about climate change. Whilst most activists are sincere in their desire to see a future for their children, I think many are failing to see the economic trickery inherent in the ‘solutions’ being negotiated.

The old saying is apt here – be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.

Carbon Trading – a Critical
Conversation on Climate
Change, Privatisation and
Power (6mb PDF)

I must give some credit to denialists here. Although they persist with the same old zombie arguments against the science, many of them can see that carbon trading – monetising pollution – is ethically unsound, and in this sense, if we allow it, ‘believing’ in climate change could easily usher in a new economically oppressive regime that features profits for a few and injustices for the majority, whilst failing to actually do anything about the problem itself. I personally think the skeptic camp attracts the partisans it does because of legitimate concerns over economic and power conspiracies surrounding climate change. Not everyone has the time or knowledge to get their head around climate science, but it doesn’t take rocket science to see the potential for corruption and suffering in the big-money schemes that are being proposed to deal with it. Unfortunately though, rather than use their energies to push for actual solutions instead, too many revert to a do nothing approach that ignores scientific realities and seeks to persevere with the ‘status quo’. As most of our readers will recognise, there can be no status quo, since the world is entering an era of significant resource constraints and declines.

If you want to get a good grasp on the carbon trading topic, I’d highly recommend you read Carbon Trading – a Critical Conversation on Climate Change, Privatisation and Power (see inset). We truly cannot just leave it to our ‘leaders’, and this publication will help you become informed on the issues at stake. (People interested in this topic will find CarbonTradeWatch an excellent resource too.)

We’ve come to think of our oceans and our soils as carbon sinks. So what, then, do we call our sky? At present, it’s clearly a carbon dump, and the arguments between wealthy and developing nations are over their right to dump. But, if we must pollute, how on earth do we divvy up rights to do so? The question is: who owns the sky? It is either everyone’s, or no one’s, right? To follow is an excellent passage from the afore-mentioned publication, one that I think boils the issue down to moral basics we can all get our head around:

What kind of rights should people or governments have to carbon dump space, given the need to maintain climatic stability for current and future generations? Do you divide up the dump space equally among the world’s people? Do you give the world’s worst-off disproportionate shares in the dump? Do you give the biggest shares to those who haven’t yet had a chance to use much of the dump? Do you give the biggest shares to those who can least afford to cut down on their use of the dump? Do you give the most dump space to those who can use it to contribute the most to the global good? Or do you just give the most rights to the dump to those who are using it the most already? – Carbon Trading – a Critical Conversation on Climate Change, Privatisation and Power

The last option is, of course, the one favoured by big industry and the politicians who are in their pockets. Cantankerous Frank astutely observes the irony in this below, as today we see the world’s energy and other industry giants trying to ensure their survival and seeking to become our ‘champions of sustainability’.

Today at Hamlet’s Kronborg Castle, Danish Crown Prince Frederik joins forward-thinking business leaders working to ensure that the answer to the question "To Be or Not to Be? New Leadership for a Sustainable Economy," becomes a resounding yes during final negotiations at the COP15 next week. – Copenhagen Climate Council

Click for full view
Courtesy: Throbgoblins

Are the world’s biggest polluters the ones to lead us into a sustainable economy??

My vote is ‘not to be’. A truly sustainable world, where man has a net neutral or positive impact on the planet, will only come about through the dismantling of most of the industries we see today, and the creation of new relocalised activities everywhere – activities that are not based on competition and consumption. As permaculturists, we must make our voices known on this. The heads of governments need to be recognised for what they are – our representatives, not our rulers – and they need to start discussing moves that will minimise suffering in a carefully orchestrated shift to a low carbon economy.

What I think should be on the negotiating table at Copenhagen is:

  • How to build a participatory democracy network (see here, here, here and here) that ensures full bottom-up representation and information-sharing and which encourages participation. (The information-sharing aspect involves shifting, carefully, from a competition mindset – everyone working in their own self-interest, which is the basis of capitalism – to everyone working cooperatively for the good of all.)
  • How to conserve remaining oil supplies and to best use what’s left to speed a transition to a post-fossil fuel society, and to commit to leaving newly discovered oil in the ground
  • How to invest in re-educating the masses worldwide in sustainable farming practices appropriate for their own climate and soil type
  • How to invest in re-educating the masses in all the other activities crucial for our existence (like localised clothing manufacturing, passive solar buildings, etc.)
  • How to shape policies to incentivise a resurgence in small scale polycultures (and how to accommodate the above through a staged and bloodless land redistribution) rather than the ‘get big or get out’ agricultural policies we’ve had over the last several decades
  • How to shift funds from the present subsidising of large profit based corporations into financing small research centres in different microclimates to study and improve agricultural and other life-critical systems, for the public good
  • How to carefully stage the above steps so our present vulnerable, globalised system doesn’t experience wholesale collapse during the transition, with its associated famine, disease, war and a return to violence based feudalism, etc. The emphasis here needs to be on broad spectrum education
  • How to keep nations working cooperatively to achieve all the above
  • … etc. etc.

Given the direction we’ve been travelling for the last few centuries of industrialisation, and the momentum we’ve built up, the points above will seem absurdly difficult, or even just plain absurd, to many. Indeed, it will be unimaginably hard and will take a level of social awakening and cooperation never seen before in human history, but this shift has to happen, whether people acknowledge the science or not. Oil, soil, water, deforestation, phosphorus, chemical pollution, etc. – we are running up against barriers to status-quo-growth in every area. As I’ve said before, permaculture is not an ‘alternative lifestyle’. We really don’t have an alternative. And, the bigger the delay in transitioning, the harder the fall. Looking back at the WWII mobilisation, however, I can’t help but think we could do it if only people could see the broad picture, and determine to step up to the challenge and work together to build a society we’re proud to participate in.

Perhaps we’ll never awake from this nightmare of human stupidity, but I dare to dream of a day where global and corporate leaders are finally and humbly acknowledging the logical need to transition. One way or another, such acknowledgments will come – I just hope it won’t be too late.

Hindsight is not always such a beautiful thing.


  1. Hi Craig
    Good to see you are again promoting solutions rather than problems. You can argue the science of climate change for the rest of your life but it won’t make any difference unless you can give or promote solutions that are practical and achievable.

    Permaculture helps explain how ecological systems work and simple methods of creating balance back to those systems. The attraction of practical ways of conserving and building resources is in stark contrast to western culture’s instilled views about consumption and growth. You do a great job promoting it, keep up the good work.

    2500 people turned up on parliament house yesterday to protest something to do with climate change. They would have been better off using their energy in a garden growing some food.

  2. The carbon trading book linked to the article was an informative piece of writing. Its such a complex issue, I feel that future generations will look back and wish we had dealt with it in a better way. (just as as we have done many times to past generations)

  3. The conference is missing permaculture (experts, that emphasise permaculture in the discussions and negotiations), especially when it is about agriculture and forestry. Make sure You are in the next time! There are so many important people here, that need to know about the striking benefits of permaculture.
    best regards and greetings from Copenhagen,

  4. Thomas, you are right there about the conference needing permaculture experts. I read somwhere recently that the only thing more ruthless and cynical than the business of big politics is the politics of big business. A lot of dodgy politicking in regard to climate change has resulted in a very misinformed and confused public. Educating the ‘masses’ is the key, but how do you go about doing this unless honest, informed, and proactive people are in positions of power?

  5. Hi Thomas – if it’s any encouragement to you, there are people trying to make permaculture visible at Copenhagen. One of them has been working at the highest levels and wrote the following: “both the Head of the IPCC and the secretary general for the EU on the environment are both now fully aware of permaculture and they were not before”.

    Next year’s meeting is on the theme of Biodiversity, which is of course an ideal place to see permaculture come to the fore. Hopefully over the next year we can continue to raise the profile of permaculture systems worldwide so that that meeting lands with people already having some concept of what we’re about.

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