Paul Collier “The Plundered Planet”

Jeremy Williams in his latest blog reviews Collier’a 2010 book which he sums up with the two formulae emboldened below.  Neither Williams nor Collier point to the limits to growth that human exploitation of the earth have already exceeded, but the formulae highlight the consequences of unregulated greed and corruption that deserve the term ‘plunder’ that rob both the earth and the ‘bottom billion’ of a flourishing future:

“Collier is an Oxford professor, a former World Bank economist and a development specialist. He has a knack for articulating a problem in a memorable way, drawing attention to the most salient points. He did that with the concept of the bottom billion, and with his explanation of poverty traps. In this book, he sums up his central message with two formulae:

nature + technology + regulation = prosperity

As far as Collier is concerned, the world’s poorest countries have “one lifeline: nature.” It is their natural resources that will lead them to prosperity, and “the failure to harness natural capital is the single most important missed opportunity in economic development”. The potential income from natural resources far outweighs any contribution from aid, and the economic boost can then be used to invest and drive development. That all depends on using resources well, and ensuring that the benefits are shared. And there’s the rub, because the second formula is this:

nature + technology – regulation = plunder

Too often, a poor country sees its natural resources extracted without any obvious benefit to the economy as a whole. The value of them goes into the pockets of the elite, or into the Swiss bank accounts of corrupt politicians. Wealth is siphoned out of the country through the black market, or through global corporations who have negotiated good deals for themselves. When that happens, those resources have been plundered. It’s an evocative and piratical word, but Collier insists that “plunder is, at its root, an economic concept – the abrogation of property rights.”

In order to avoid plunder, we need to know who has a claim on natural resources, whether that is oil or minerals, or timber or fish. The book discusses the ethics of ownership at length, arguing that a nation’s one-off resource stocks should be held as commonly owned, and their value captured for society. That means exploiting them in a way that benefits everybody, taxing them correctly, and using the proceeds well. Don’t blow the benefits of a one-off resource on day-to-day spending, he cautions. Invest it for the future.

There’s a lot of good advice here for countries that are making resource discoveries. Policy makers in such places could learn a lot from the book, and so could ordinary citizens, keeping their governments accountable and making sure that those resources serve as a stepping stone to further development”.

“Make the planet hot again”

This dynamic graph puts to rest the arguments of climate deniers about the causes of global warming and associated climate changes. AGW = anthropogenic warming that is firmly  the major cause of atmospheric and oceanic heating that again is as high as it was 15 million years ago. It is probably unlikely to have much impact on the new Trump-branded ruling cadre in the US, however, unless there is a major change of ideology from expansionist values – ‘make America great’ – to sustainability values – ‘make the planet safe for future generations’ or ‘realise that we are one species with a common interest in living within the capacities o f Spaceship Earth’s support systems’. I suppose, America could be considered ‘great’ if it espused thes long-term survivalist values. Sadly, ‘Make the planet hot again’ seems to be the unspoken trajectory of current world leaders and those of us trapped by the system we have created that see expansion and growth for more, more, more as the path to  fulfilment.

Trump win encourages climate change deniers

The Heartland Institute is one of the leading think tanks funded by the fossil fuel industry that has been in the forefront of the the climate denial movement. Below is the first celebratory article, post-Trump win, in their newsletter. They claim that his win is great for the US economy and will undermine the global and US efforts to limit carbon emissions that featured during the tenure of President Obama:

The election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States has left reeling the environmental lobbyists and activists and international leaders committed to reducing fossil fuel use to meet the Paris climate agreement. As the Washington Post noted, “Trump comes into office with a plan to toss out most of what President Obama achieved on energy and the environment.”

Trump, who has called the alleged human-caused climate change catastrophe a “hoax,” vowed to “cancel” the United States’ participation in the Paris climate accord. Trump also has committed to scrapping the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s signature effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Trump has said he will review and possibly reverse the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) determination carbon dioxide is a pollutant endangering public and environmental health (the “endangerment finding”). Trump can’t undo the endangerment finding with the stroke of a pen, but he is in a position to get that done over time. Reversing the endangerment finding would end the legal justification for a range of climate regulations. In the process, it also would end radical environmental activists’ ability to use the courts to impose climate policies on an unwilling public whose elected representatives have repeatedly rejected climate policies.

Before the election, Trump said he would reverse Obama administration rules imposing undue burdens on businesses. In particular, Trump said he would cut EPA’s budget dramatically, virtually reducing it to an advisory agency, and review all EPA regulations, eliminating many of them because, “Over-regulation presents one of the greatest barriers to entry into markets and one of the greatest costs to businesses that are trying to stay competitive.”

Trump says he wants to open up more federal lands to oil and gas drilling and eliminate regulations that have contributed to the decline of the coal industry.

The Washington Post reported, “Scott Segal, co-head of government relations at the legal and lobbying firm Bracewell, said in an email a Trump administration would be ‘clearly in favor of enhanced exploration and production of oil and gas as a tenet of energy, economic and national security policy.’”

Environmentalists and some foreign dignitaries fear what Trump’s election means for America’s climate commitments and environmental policies. “We’re feeling angry and sad and contemplative,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, told the Post.

Asked by the Post how “the environmental movement would deal with a President Trump, Bill McKibben, founder of the climate action group 350.org, said in an email ‘[I] don’t really know.’”

The Guardian reports international climate negotiators at the United Nations’ climate talks in Morocco say “it would be a catastrophe if Trump acted on his pledge to withdraw the US from the deal, which took 20 years to negotiate, and to open up public land for coal, oil and gas extraction.”

Speaking to reporters at the Morocco meeting, Ségolène Royale, the French environment minister who helped negotiate the Paris accord, said Trump could not easily withdraw the United States from the treaty. “The Paris agreement prohibits any exit for a period of three years, plus a year-long notice period, so there will be four stable years.”

On this point Royale is whistling past a graveyard. Trump can end the United States’ participation in the Paris climate agreement either directly or indirectly. Directly, he can “unsign” the agreement. Regardless of the text of the agreement, because it has not been ratified by the U.S. Senate as required by the Constitution, it has no force of law in the United States. And because the treaty sets only voluntary goals with no legal enforcement mechanism, other countries have no legal way of enforcing the agreement’s terms on the United States.

Indirectly, Trump can scuttle the country’s participation by reversing Obama’s climate actions and not replacing them with alternative climate policies. If Trump does this, U.S. participation in the Paris climate agreement dies from neglect.

— H. Sterling Burnett

Nicholas Stern 10 years on

“A lot has happened since Nicholas Stern, then a permanent secretary at the Treasury, produced his landmark review of the impact of climate change 10 years ago. His work was quickly recognised as the definitive account of the economic dangers posed to the planet by global warming.

Since then, global temperatures have risen to record levels. Arctic summer sea ice has continued to shrink, as have many major land-based ice sheets. Carbon dioxide is being pumped into the atmosphere in ever-increasing amounts. At the same time, low-lying coastal areas, such as south Florida and parts of Bangladesh, are experiencing more and more flooding as sea levels have risen. Scientists have begun to link extreme weather events to the planet’s changing climate, while animal and plant species are gradualling moving towards the poles. So, a decade on, is Stern plunged in despair over our prospects? Not quite. While the picture is certainly grim, the world’s top climate economist still believes there are grounds for modest optimism.”

Read on

Free downloads for ecoliteracy educators

San Francisco-based Center for Ecoliteracy has provided two free downloads of curriular materials for schools K-12 HERE.

Big Ideas: Linking Water, Power, and Sewer in K-12 highlights learning objectives that are essential to understanding the interconnectedness of San Francisco and the surrounding ecosystem. It offers successful education strategies as well as sample student activities, and is aligned to Next Generation Science Standards, Common Core State Standards, and History-Social Science Standards for California Public Schools. It aims to:

  • maximize student participation by engaging students in collaborative work;
  • increase students’ ability to support their thinking by using evidence;
  • create opportunities to share student thinking through the use of visual representations, data, oral presentations, and use of internet sources;
  • prompt students to synthesize information, make connections, and draw conclusions;
  • encourage students to analyze historical and current events through the lens of environmental justice;
  • develop students’ willingness to speak up and take risks; and
  • apply analytic thinking to content materials.

Three hopeful mega-trends

This note is from blogger Jeremy Leggett on the occasion that the Paris Climate Agreement between 175 nations comes into force:

Colleagues, friends and valued contacts,

Today the Paris Agreement on climate change comes into force, defying doubters the world over. Many said a decarbonisation treaty could never be negotiated. In December last year it was, and every independent nation on the planet adopted it. Many thought it would not be signed in critical mass. In April it was, by 175 nations, more than any other treaty in history. Many then doubted it would be ratified by enough nations to come into force. It was: amazingly, less than a year after its adoption.

The post-Paris climate negotiations should not be viewed as a stand alone process. They take place in a world where three pertinent megatrend meta-narratives all pump wind into the sails of climate diplomacy. No one on its own would be enough to force the global energy transition underway now: it is the power of all three, acting in parallel and synergy across the full breadth of the climate-energy-information nexus, that drives the system change.

First, society is awakening in critical mass to the twin threats of climate change and air pollution, and responding.

Second, an energy insurgency is disrupting traditional energy markets fast.

Third, the energy incumbency is facing an array of serious problems not always related to the other two megatrends.

I summarise the emerging course of these megatrends each month on my website. In among all the positive developments are inevitable setbacks, but the net outcome is that the three megatrends have whipped up a fair wind in every month of 2016. My summary for October and early November follows.

You can read more here.

Best to all

Jeremy

jeremy.leggett@solarcentury.com