False Solutions to Climate Change

This section is excerpted from the Green Shock Doctrine

Green Economy + Techno-fix False Solutions = Business as Usual

In the rush to protect corporate profits from the impacts of climate change, a series of techno-fixes are being pushed forward without regard to their potentially devastating impacts. The most extreme of these is geoengineering. According to the ETC Group, “Geoengineering is the intentional, large-scale technological manipulation of the Earth’s systems, often discussed as a techno-fix for combating climate change.” It is a scheme backed by some of the world’s richest men, including Bill Gates. According to Naomi Klein, “The appeal of geoengineering is that it doesn’t threaten our worldview. It leaves us in a dominant position. It says that there is an escape hatch.” Unfortunately, the technologies being considered for this “escape hatch” could have devastating impacts on entire continents, like Africa. One proposal, the spraying of millions of tons of reflective particles of sulphur dioxide thirty miles above earth, for example, could alter rainfall patterns and reduce the ability of crops to grow, increasing food and water crises, leading some activists to declare it genocidal.

Biomass production is another novel technology of the new “bioeconomy”: Fossil fuels are being replaced with biomass derived from forests, cropland, grasslands, and oceans for the manufacture of everything from gasoline to a vast array of commercial products, including plastics and chemicals. These transformations require a range of dangerous technologies including genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and synthetic biology. But the impacts of the bioeconomy go beyond these unproven technologies. In the rush to secure the land to grow this biomass, ecological destruction and violent ‘green land grabbing’ are worsening.

According to the International Land Coalition, biofuels were responsible for around 59% of all land grabs between 2000 and 2010. Additionally, the International Energy Agency warns that although biofuels are expected to contribute a mere five percent of the world’s transportation fuels by 2035, they will increase their use of increasingly scarce fresh water from 38 to 70 billion cubic meters of water annually.

In the US, biomass and biofuels together account for 44% of all “renewable’ energy. In the EU, they account for 55%. The result is a massively increasing demand for wood, vegetable oil, grains and crucially, for land.

In the case of biomass, increased European demand for wood to produce electricity is unleashing what Dogwood Alliance describes as a “green energy bomb” on forests in the southeastern US. Additional biomass production facilities, shipping corridors, and port expansion projects are planned in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

British government incentives for renewable energies are resulting in coal plants converting to biomass. The plans of the UK’s largest coal-fired power plant—Drax–to convert three of its six generators to biomass will result in the burning of an area of forest four times the size of the US state of Rhode Island every year. Since these burners cannot use fast-growing young trees as biomass, the source of the 20 million green tons of wood they will need every year will be mature native forests from the Southeastern US and British Columbia, Canada.

New biomass facilities, however, are being redesigned to accept plantation wood. If industry gets its way, in the future this biomass will include dangerous and unproven fast growing genetically engineered (GE) eucalyptus and poplar trees. Rubicon, one of the joint owners of GE tree company ArborGen, projects that if approved by the US government, ArborGen will sell half a billion genetically engineered freeze tolerant eucalyptus trees annually for bioenergy plantations across seven US states.

Even beyond the ecological impacts of logging forests and converting native ecosystems to plantations for electricity production are the impacts to the climate. Several studies have concluded that burning wood for electricity releases significantly more CO2 into the atmosphere than burning coal, belying the notion that biomass is part of the climate solution.

But even wind and solar are not without problems. Industrial-scale wind farms have numerous social and ecological impacts and are being opposed in many regions. In Oaxaca, the Indigenous community San Dionisio del Mar is fighting the construction of an industrial wind farm being developed by a consortium of Dutch, Japanese, and Australian funders. The wind farm threatens to impede the community’s ability to cultivate their lands, and they have experienced violent repression and death threats due to their activism. The wind farm is intended to power a Heineken factory.

Ozzie Zehner further points out that the solar cell industry “is one of the fastest growing emitters of virulent greenhouse gases such as sulfur hexafluoride, which has a global warming potential 23,000 times higher than CO2, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

And the final nail in the coffin of using industrial-scale “renewable energy” to mitigate climate change is the fact that increasing renewable energy supplies actually encourages greater total energy consumption. As Richard York explained in the journal Nature: “The common assumption that the expansion of production of alternative energy will suppress fossil-fuel energy production in equal proportion is wrong…each unit of electricity generated by non-fossil-fuel sources displaced less than one-tenth of a unit of fossil-fuel-generated electricity.”

Honduras: From Banana Republic to Biofuel Republic

In 2009, Honduras was rocked by a military coup that deposed democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya, whose administration had been ushering in progressive land and social reforms. The wave of shocks that followed were used to take over peasant lands for biofuel production–specifically the development of oil palm plantations for biodiesel.

Strongly supporting the military coup were the country’s wealthy land and business owners, including biofuels magnate Miguel Facussé, described by the US Embassy as the “wealthiest, most powerful businessman in the country.” Facussé controls thousands of acres of oil palm plantations in Honduras’s lower Aguán valley, and he has been implicated in the murders of dozens of campesino farmers who are fighting the expansion of his green deserts of oil palm.

 Shortly after the coup, then-US ambassador to Honduras Hugo Llorens, and US Representative Dana Rohrabacher hosted a meeting between the California-based firm SG Biofuels, and prominent Honduran policy-makers and businessmen to discuss investment opportunities. US Ambassador, Lisa Kubiske, who previously worked on US-Brazil biofuels cooperation, presided over the September 2012 signing of the Brazil-Honduras-USA Trilateral Partnership, a core pillar of which is the expansion of the biofuel sector in Honduras.

Facussé’s oil palm operations were certified in 2011 for use as carbon credits under the UN FCCC’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), despite a major outcry against the egregious human rights abuses and ecological impacts connected to the plantations. The CDM Board concluded that human rights concerns are “outside of the parameters of its mandate,” and that it is the responsibility of the government of Honduras to address these concerns—blatantly ignoring the involvement of the Honduran government’s police and military in the assassination and repression of campesino leaders.

Indonesia: Biodiesel, REDD, Forest Destruction and Human Rights Violations

Indonesia ranks among the top greenhouse gas emitting countries, largely due to the burning of forest and peatlands for conversion to oil palm plantations. The country is the largest exporter of palm oil in the world, with exports projected to rise as demand increases for biodiesel. Combined with a ruthless, business-friendly regime, Indonesia is the perfect testing ground for Green Shock Doctrine reforms and projects.

To supposedly address this rampant deforestation, in May 2010 Indonesia penned an agreement with Norway to develop and implement a national REDD strategy, with Norway pledging up to $1bn. At the time, Chris Lang of the Jakarta-based REDD-Monitor stated that the deal would “do little or nothing to address the pressures faced by Indonesia’s forests, indigenous people, and local communities.”

When the first phase of the REDD strategy was unveiled—a two year “moratorium” on the granting of new permits for logging and the conversion of peatlands–it was a huge victory for the palm oil giants, due to major loopholes which let existing permits be extended, exempted land slated for energy extraction, and excluded disturbed or secondary forests. Upon its announcement, Agus Purnomo, Indonesia’s climate change advisor noted that: “We are not banning firms for palm oil expansion. We are just advising them to do so on secondary forests.”

In a presentation to Wall Street investors in September 2012, Indonesia’s President Yudhoyono revealed his true vision for Indonesia: “You can find almost everything in Indonesia: oil and gas, coal, geothermal energy, tin, copper, nickel, aluminum, bauxite, iron, cacao, coffee. When it comes to oil, we have oil underground, under the sea and even above the ground: palm oil.” A few hours later he received the first ever “Valuing Nature Award” from the World Resources Institute, Nature Conservancy, and World Wide Fund for Nature, for his “leadership in recognizing the importance of natural resources and working to conserve them.”

In 2011, Indonesia’s national land authority reported over 3,500 palm oil related land disputes across the country. In December 2012, Survival International declared that “Indonesia treats its indigenous and tribal people…worse than any other country in the world.”

Plan Nord & Canada’s War on Aboriginal Peoples

While Canada is well known for its tar sands gigaproject in Alberta which has devastated Indigenous lands in the region, another massive project is sliding under the radar: Quebec’s Plan Nord is an $80 billion industrial infrastructure project that will “fast-track [the extraction of] iron ore, gold, uranium, diamonds and other natural resources from the territory of Québec, north of the 49th parallel.”

It is part of an emerging global trend to exploit the warming climate by moving industrial development and resource extraction further and further north.

At Rio+20, however, former Quebec premier Jean Charest sold Plan Nord as the “global model” for sustainable development, since it grants twenty percent of the territory protected status (leaving 80% open for development), and invests $47 billion in 3,000 megawatts of new hydroelectricity. Far from sustainable, however, these new hydroelectric dams will destroy some of the largest and most pristine rivers on the planet, flooding vast expanses of Indigenous land and releasing immense quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas twenty times more potent than CO2.

While Charest sold Plan Nord to international investors, a group of Innu people blockaded roads to stop construction of the mega-dams and transmission lines that were moving ahead without their consent. Plan Nord, no matter how it is branded, is a sure death sentence for Quebec’s last intact wild rivers and boreal forests, and the cultures that depend on them. For the original Innu inhabitants, Plan Nord represents the final chapter of a long history of oppression.

Building the Global Movement for Real Solutions

As we pointed out in the beginning of The Green Shock Doctrine, turning land, life, and livelihoods into market commodities for the benefit of global elites is antithetical to buen vivir: life in harmony between humans, communities, and the natural environment, devoid of commodification. With buen vivir, work is not a job to make others wealthier, but a livelihood that is sustaining and fulfilling.

Achieving buen vivir requires an understanding that climate change is at once a social and environmental justice issue, an ecological issue, and an issue of economic and political domination that must be addressed through broad and visionary alliances.

Buen vivir and the many solutions to global warming will come, not from the top down, but from communities working together to identify truly sustainable solutions that are both decentralized and recognize the importance of local control and bioregional distinctions.

Movements will succeed when they make business as usual impossible. As climate chaos escalates, so must our resistance. Any real change is going to have to come from a powerful, diverse, and radicalized grassroots movement that takes important lessons from the successes and failures of previous movements, and which has a clear analysis of the root causes and key actors driving the problem.