Gwynne Dyer: Another defeat for the environment

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      “The world has failed us,” said Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa. “I have signed the executive decree for the liquidation of the Yasuni-ITT trust fund and with this, ended the initiative.” What might have been a model for a system that helps poor countries avoid the need to ruin their environment in order to make ends meet has failed, because the rich countries would not support it.

      In 2007, oil drillers found a reservoir of an estimated 846 million barrels of heavy crude in Yasuni National Park, in Ecuador’s part of the Amazon. But the park is home to two indigenous tribes that have so far succeeded in living in voluntary isolationand it is listed by UNESCO as a world biosphere reserve. A single hectare of Yasuni contains more species of trees than all of North America.

      Ecuador, which cannot access finance on international markets, desperately needs money, and the oil meant money: an estimated $7.2 billion over the next decade.

      Nevertheless, Ecuadorians were horrified by the pollution, deforestation, and cultural destruction that the drilling would cause: a large majority of them opposed drilling in the park. And then Energy Minister Alberto Acosta had an idea.

      What if Ecuador just left the oil in the ground? In return, Acosta hoped the rest of the world would come up with $3.6 billion (half of the forecast income from oil revenues) over the next decade, to be spent on non-polluting energy generation like hydroelectric and solar power schemes and on social programmes to help Ecuador’s many poor.

      The pay-off for the foreign contributors to this fund would come mainly from the fact that the oil under Yasuni would never be burned, thereby preventing more than 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere. Only a drop in the bucket, perhaps, but if the model worked it could be applied widely elsewhere, offering the poor countries an alternative to selling everything they can dig up or cut down.

      The idea won the support of the United Nations Development Programme, which agreed to administer the Yasuni-ITT trust fund. It was set up in 2009, and the money started to come in. But it didn’t flood in; it just trickled.

      Chile, Colombia, Turkey, and Georgia donated token amounts. Brazil and Indonesia (which would certainly benefit from the same sort of arrangement) promised donations eventually but didn’t actually put any money up. Among the developed countries, Spain, Belgium, and France also promised donations, Italy wrote off $51 million of Ecuadorian debt, and Germany offered $50 million worth of technical assistance to the park.

      And that was it. Not a penny from the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, or Scandinavia. Individuals put in what they could afford (including high-profile donors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore). But four years later, the pledges only amounted to $116 million. Actual cash deposits were only $13 million. So last week, Correa pulled the plug.

      “It was not charity we sought from the international community,” Correa said, “but co-responsibility in the face of climate change.”  Maybe Correa could have waited a bit longer, but the idea was always Acosta’s baby, and Acosta ran for president against Correa last February and lost.

      It was also Acosta who led the successful drive to make Ecuador the first country to include the “rights of nature” in its new constitution. This is a radical break from traditional environmental regulatory systems, which regard nature as property. Ecuadorian law now recognizes the inalienable rights of ecosystems to exist and flourish. It gives people the right to petition on the behalf of ecosystems, and requires the government to take these rights seriously.

      Like the trust fund, this is an idea that may ultimately bear much fruit. For the moment, however, it’s just too great an intellectual and political leap to demote the property rights of actual voters (and campaign contributors) to a status below the right to survive and thrive of mere ecosystems—even though we all depend on these ecosystems to survive ourselves.

      So we continue on our merry way to a global meltdown—and this just in from London! Fracking is now more important than wind power!

      When the Conservatives came into office three years ago they pledged to be the “greenest government ever”, but they have fallen in love with shale gas, CO2 emissions and all. The British government has announced a new tax regime for fracking described by the Chancellor, George Osborne, as “the most generous for shale (gas) in the world.”

      Not only that, but there will be “no standard minimum separation distance” between a fracking rig and people’s houses.  Planners considering drilling applications “should give great weight to the benefits of minerals extraction, including to the economy.” In practice, that means that they can drill wherever they want, including your front garden.

      Whereas local people will now have a veto on the construction of any wind turbines in their neighbourhood. Prime Minister David Cameron’s office explained that “it is very important that local voters are taken into account when it comes to wind farms … if people don't want wind farms in their local areas they will be able to stop them.”

      It’s okay to ruin the planet, but God forbid that you should ruin the view.




      Aug 22, 2013 at 2:22pm

      This news item, more than any other I have read this year, is a depressing synecdoche for the utter moral failures of our species at this point. This one signal circumstance, where so much could have been achieved for so little, was quashed in the name of rapacious commerce. Of course it was.

      We seem almost resigned and numb to our fate as we careen on towards a global nightmare of the sort that the British science fiction author James Ballard wrote about in works like "The Drowned World", and "The Burning World."

      It's not as if most of these corporate and government leaders are not aware of what is coming. Such an appalling contempt for life on this planet, visibly degraded on so many fronts under the relentless onslaught of our unbridled consumption, results from the decision by these feckless "leaders" that short term gain always trumps caring about the planet--that and the cynical calculation that they will be long dead before our species succumbs to vast die-offs anyway.

      James G

      Aug 22, 2013 at 3:09pm

      What's the real story here? For me, it is the manifested fact that those countries, excepting Germany, with the most active and vocal green movements (not a penny from the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, or Scandinavia) couldn't pony up a cent to help.

      It's as I have always maintained -- the Greens in Germany are a unique and welcome phenomenon but the sad-assed attempts to copy the German Greens elsewhere are composed of phonies, busybodies and whiners. Wannabe activst kids of well connected families who play activist until it threatens their own inheritance or standard of living. The lives of the poor or working class are theirs to command -- to demand they recycle, compost and pick up litter, to take lower wages, to circumvent child labour laws, minimum wages or any other working class gain in the name of environmental awareness.

      Meanwhile for them, it's drive industry to Asia where it it's out of sight but also beyond regulation, protect any and every environmental area regardless of widespread unemployment, watch the workers suffer and pop a cork off another bottle of Cristal champagne while complaining to each other about some poor slobs' beer fridge.

      Jeremy Giels

      Aug 22, 2013 at 7:34pm

      Well, the Republicans here in the United States will love this because their mantra is "Drill, Baby, Drill".
      My own feeling is the rest of the world did not really trust this country in the long run to leave the oil untouched in the ground and not exploit it. Probably what would happen is they would collect the 3.6 Billion and afterwards the recognized government would fail or be displaced my a new authority that would hold the agreement invalid because "we need the money".
      I've read Mr. Dyer's book on Climate wars and listened to him speak on video. I agree with his assessment and what we really need is a escalating fee or charge on carbon worldwide. That would spur innovation and get us off carbon based fuels.

      Stan Greene

      Aug 22, 2013 at 8:57pm

      Only $13 million came in donations. none from the United you I know who will come in to exploit those reserves now!

      Jinho Choi

      Aug 23, 2013 at 4:15am

      In Australia, the Baby Bonus scheme, comprising of a $5000 cash benefit for the birth of a child, has since its introduction in 2002 resulted in a bigger baby boom than the one experienced post-1945. In the last 27 years, the Great Barrier Reef lost 50% of coral cover. Mining and dredging on parts of the reef for the extraction of coal have led to UNESCO downgrading the health of the world heritage listed reef to "poor".
      Our species deserves extinction. The shame is that we will take the biosphere along with us.


      Aug 23, 2013 at 7:16am

      Why the cold shoulder from the supposedly Green President Obama and PM Harper and others? Because Ecuador has a progressive government. It's not in the U.S. orbit. Naughty Ecuador! Now, if Peru, Colombia or Mexico had come up with that idea, it would win high praise and big dollars. The idea is a good one, one Canada's Green Party should latch onto. Viva Ecuador!


      Aug 23, 2013 at 7:52am

      How far left do you have to be before the concept of not paying someone billions of dollars for not doing something is seen as a "defeat" for the environment?

      Let me know if any other opportunities come up that would allow me to get paid billions of dollars for not doing something and I'm all over it.


      Aug 23, 2013 at 9:06am

      Paying to preserve nature is a noble gesture but was always a forelong hope. Governments are owned by corporations and corporations are driven by profits. The Oil lobby trumps the wind lobby in London and a Green government would be an improvement possibly breaking a vicious drive to ruination. God favour the Ecuadorians.

      Steller's Jay

      Aug 23, 2013 at 9:41am

      Yeah, if 1 Green MP in Canada can't accomplish in 3 years what 30+ Green MP's in Germany have accomplished over 3 decades, it's clearly because Greens in Canada are composed of "phonies, busybodies, and whiners". Bullshit. Everything in your post is incorrect and a lie, JamesG.


      Aug 23, 2013 at 11:29am

      check it out, heres some the reality....

      'The answer conceived by the Big Bank Five: eliminate controls on banks in every nation on the planet -- in one single move. It was as brilliant as it was insanely dangerous.

      How could they pull off this mad caper? The bankers' and Summers' game was to use the Financial Services Agreement (or FSA), an abstruse and benign addendum to the international trade agreements policed by the World Trade Organisation.

      Until the bankers began their play, the WTO agreements dealt simply with trade in goods – that is, my cars for your bananas. The new rules devised by Summers and the banks would force all nations to accept trade in "bads" – toxic assets like financial derivatives.

      Until the bankers’ re-draft of the FSA, each nation controlled and chartered the banks within their own borders. The new rules of the game would force every nation to open their markets to Citibank, JP Morgan and their derivatives “products”.

      And all 156 nations in the WTO would have to smash down their own Glass-Steagall divisions between commercial savings banks and the investment banks that gamble with derivatives.

      The job of turning the FSA into the bankers’ battering ram was given to Geithner, who was named Ambassador to the World Trade Organisation.

      Bankers Go Bananas

      Why in the world would any nation agree to let its banking system be boarded and seized by financial pirates like JP Morgan?

      The answer, in the case of Ecuador, was bananas. Ecuador was truly a banana republic. The yellow fruit was that nation’s life-and-death source of hard currency. If it refused to sign the new FSA, Ecuador could feed its bananas to the monkeys and go back into bankruptcy. Ecuador signed.

      And so on – with every single nation bullied into signing.

      Every nation but one, I should say. Brazil’s new President, Inacio Lula da Silva, refused. In retaliation, Brazil was threatened with a virtual embargo of its products by the European Union's Trade Commissioner, one Peter Mandelson, according to another confidential memo I got my hands on. But Lula’s refusenik stance paid off for Brazil which, alone among Western nations, survived and thrived during the 2007-9 bank crisis.'