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Ecological Debt

P1000152Ecological Debt is a huge topic here in Copenhagen. One that may end up derailing the entire process of finding common ground for a comprehensive, global and legally binding agreement. It is a cruel fact that 20% of the world’s population in the industrialized world is responsible for 75% of the pollution, which unfortunately is mostly impacting people from the poorer countries. For instance Africa, with a billion people only puts out 4% of the CO2, but the impact of climate change on the region has been devastating.

The people in the developing countries are making their voices heard here at the UN conference. What is most annoying to them is watching the Western capitalist system trying to make this into another profit making scheme where money can be made from polluting. The concept of Carbon trading is that you grant property rights to polluters for polluting the air. In other words you put making money before saving the planet. This is what is called a market-based solution. The World Bank estimates that it would take approximately 100 billion dollars a year to clean up the problem and 200-600 billion to go beyond maintenance and leapfrog the process. What are the industrialized countries bringing to the table? 10 billion!

Another interesting thing to consider about these so called developing countries is that they are some of the most resource rich parts of the planet with an abundance of oil, diamonds, metals, hard woods and all the things we use in our consumer products. Ever wonder how our stuff got on their land and yet they owe the industrial nations enormous debt, on which most can’t even afford to pay the interest.

They think that it is pretty arrogant of us in the West to tell them what needs to be done to save the planet since we are the people who trashed it in the first place. Their position is that the Global North owes the South for using their resources and damaging their land. This is what they refer to when they talk about ecological debt. It is where climate change becoming a new ideology with its own economy. If you add in years of colonization, slavery, sweat-shops, sex trade and many other forms of oppression you begin to understand how they might come to that conclusion. As Percy Makombe, from the NGO Economic Justice in South Africa said today, “how can you take out people’s eyes and then assault them for their blindness.”

As I have said before these people are not looking for charity, although most of us would be hard pressed to live a day in their shoes. They want reparation for the damage that we have done, they want a fair process that respects localized economies and they want us to share the technology we have developed to help them reduce their own carbon footprint. Is that really too much to ask? The market is not going to solve the new crisis. It is what has been behind the consumption machine that is threatening our very survival. Look at what it did for Wall Street and the US economy.

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