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Blog Posts: Financialization of Nature

July 11th, 2014

Six Books Our Staff are Reading This Summer

By Elizabeth Walek

Nothing beats lounging by the pool with a really great book! Summer is a perfect time to get caught up on reading that you’ve been putting off for weeks. Plus, books are a great way to learn more about the issues Food & Water Watch handles every day. I asked around our offices to find out which socially, politically and environmentally conscious books our staff love lately. Check out our top picks, and share your own summer reading recommendations in the comments!

Read the full article…

April 15th, 2014

You Get What You Pay For

By Mitch Jones

I’m glad to see that the leaders of three powerful and influential global organizations have decided to highlight the importance of fighting climate change. Last week International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim used a meeting of finance ministers from governments around the world to push for a movement to stop climate change. Unfortunately, the method they chose to endorse will do little to help.

All three leaders are pusing carbon pricing as the means for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We frequently hear that pricing carbon is the only way we are going to solve the problem of emissions and avoid catastrophic climate change, but policies that seek to rely on pricing to control pollution have a terrible track record.

Large corporations across the economy are planning for carbon prices, whether in the form of a cap-and-trade program or a tax. The reason for this could be that, of the main options for fighting greenhouse gas emissions pricing, carbon pricing is the easiest way for a company to pass on costs to consumers. Major investments in renewable fuels would undercut the business of some of these corporations, while regulations against carbon pollution will be harder to foist off on clients, customers and consumers.

In the absence of any serious and enforceable cap on pollution – that is, a regulation – pricing schemes are just a means of allowing major polluters to pay-to-pollute. Carbon pricing avoids strict enforcement to stop polluting without exceptions; it relies on market signals to magically fix our environmental crises. Pricing carbon, in any of its forms, is just a pay-to-pollute policy that does nothing to truly alter the behavior of financial and corporate interests. Instead, it lets them pay for the “right” to continue their environmental degradation and exploitation.

So, while it’s good that the heads of three important institutions recognize the importance of fighting climate change and are willing to speak out on the issue, they needs to change their tune. Instead of false solutions designed to let polluters keep on polluting, we need to vigorously move beyond reliance on the fossil fuel industry, invest in truly sustainable renewable energy, and place real enforceable limits on pollution. 

March 28th, 2014

Species Extinction on the Installment Plan

By Mitch Jones

Yesterday, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) announced its decision to list the lesser prairie chicken as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act. The decision was in recognition of the increasing threat to the species from the ongoing drought in the Southwestern United States—and the main threat of habit loss and fragmentation—much from oil and gas development. In 2013, the lesser prairie chicken population fell more than 50 percent from 2012, leaving fewer than 18,000 of the birds living in its historic range.

While it is certainly good news—long overdue good news—that the FWS has listed the lesser prairie chicken, there’s a big caveat. Included in the listing is a loophole allowing oil and gas industry to “avoid further regulation” of their activities, so long as they enroll in the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’ (WAFWA’s) range-wide conservation plan. In other words, the oil and gas industry has an out from regulation if they make a financial contribution to “offset” the damage down to the lesser prairie chicken’s habitat.

Such plans are growing increasingly popular and are part of the broader push to financialize nature. Known as Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES), the idea seems simple enough. Supporters argue that paying a landowner to preserve a particular natural feature—in this instance rangeland, but it could be forest or wet land—offsets damage done by industry in other areas. Through PES, a gas company wanting to drill can continue to do so and will be allowed to kill—or “take”—lesser prairie chickens so long as it pays into the plan. It’s species extinction on the installment plan.

Such plans really just undercut strong protections for endangered and threatened species. But even with this giant loophole, it could have been worse. A consortium of industry and nonprofit groups, lead by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), has been pushing a “habitat credit exchange.” While somewhat similar to the plan adopted by the FWS, the habitat exchanges would go much further in pushing the financialization of nature. Instead of merely establishing a means for landowners to be paid to offset industrial destruction and disruption of lesser prairie chicken habitat, the exchange would allow for trading of conservation credits, and for the eventual price fluctuation that comes with commodity exchanges, as well as the temptation to hedge and speculate on those changes in price.

Instead of allowing oil and gas companies to pay-to-endanger threatened species, the Fish & Wildlife Service should enforce strict rules to preserve habitat and protect those species.




December 23rd, 2013

A Year of Victories


Earlier this month, the entire Food & Water Watch staff gathered to map out our work for 2014. We planned to briefly celebrate our victories from 2013, too… but from local fracking bans to protecting our food from arsenic, it took us over an hour just to list them all! 

These victories are all thanks to you, and we made this infographic to show you all you’ve done in 2013.

 Read the full article…

December 13th, 2013

It was a Bad Idea in 1489…

By Eve Mitchell

Some things get better with age — fine wine, farmhouse cheese. Some just don’t.

It’s all the fashion these days to talk about a “new” way to ensure that companies involved in food production are held accountable for the environmental damage they do. Often called natural capital accounting or offsetting, the theory is that if we attach a notional price to, say, healthy soil and clean water, then companies can use that information to account for any damage they do, or be somehow rewarded for avoiding this damage.

Among the several difficulties with this approach are that (a) it isn’t new and (b) it doesn’t work.

To the folks promoting this stuff: please convince me that this isn’t an extension of the Enclosures and Clearances on a global scale, because it sure feels like it. Read the full article…

November 21st, 2013

No Accounting for Taste: Natural Capital Accounting and the Financialization of Nature

Putting a price on nature will not save it.

By Elizabeth Nussbaumer

If you lie awake at night wondering what can be done to better manage the environment, the latest and greatest economic solution for doing so — natural capital accounting — might give you nightmares.

This week in Edinburgh, Scotland, corporate and financial interests will meet for the World Forum on Natural Capital to discuss this latest green washing initiative. Featured participants include representatives from the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), Nestle, The Coca-Cola Company, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Standard & Poor’s, Veolia Water, the World Bank Group and several other major international corporations and organizations.

The claim behind natural capital accounting goes something like this: nature is destroyed because it does not have a monetary value, and companies, countries and financial actors do not know its worth and cannot account for it in their activities. By assigning a price to nature, these actors can better see its value and then account for what gets destroyed via inputs to production or other economic processes. Thus, nature and its use can be accounted for as inputs and outputs to a country’s GDP or a company’s bottom line, and ultimately be sustainably managed. In other words, nature will be better managed by giving control of it to the very actors destroying it. Read the full article…

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September 25th, 2013

Will Ecuador’s President Correa Shoot the Trees in Yasuni National Park?

By Ron Zucker

Photo provided by Sageo at Wikipedia Commons.

Ecuador hosts the Parqué Nacional Yasuni, a 3,800 square mile park of singular beauty and biodiversity and home to many indigenous people. Remote and situated at the intersection of the Andes, the Amazon region and the equator, this rain forest is one of the world’s wildest places. Unfortunately, it also sits on top of a bed of oil that, in 2007, was valued at $7 billion. That made it potentially worth more to Ecuador devastated and drilled than it was as a park. So President Rafael Correa came up with an idea.

There is a lot of talk, particularly at the World Bank and other world economic leaders, of “Payments for Ecosystem Services.” Under this theoretical framework, we’ll turn our natural resources into a bank and actually pay Ecuador for not drilling. You heard that right. To protect a national park, citizens would need to pay-off those those who seek to destroy it for profit. Read the full article…

California’s Shell Game Begins

By Elizabeth Nussbaumer

pollution tradingOn September 17, 2013, the California Air Resources Board announced they would begin issuing offset credits as part of their cap-and-trade market, which launched in January 2013.

Under California’s cap-and-trade market companies can meet their pollution targets by directly reducing emissions at the source, updating technology to be more efficient, or by purchasing excess emissions credits from a company with a surplus of credits.

Each company participating in the market is allowed to emit a certain amount of pollution and allocated an equivalent amount of credits to do so. However, if they want to emit more than what they are allowed, the company must purchase “unused” emissions credits from other polluters. But, these companies can also purchase offset credits.

What is an offset and what does it have to do with emissions reductions? An offset credit allows a company in California to pay for an emissions reduction that can happen elsewhere in the United States, instead of reducing emissions at the source in California.

A polluter in California could pay a landowner in Oregon to preserve the forest on their land. This is considered an offset because trees take carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere. When trees are cut down they release CO2 so, according to the general rules of carbon offsets, not cutting them down counts as a prevented emission, which allows the company in California to qualify for an emission reduction. Read the full article…

April 5th, 2013

Ecuador Auctions Off Amazon to Chinese Oil Firms

Common ResourcesBy Mitch Jones

Sometimes the news reads like an edition of The Onion. Last week, The Guardian reported that Ecuador is looking to auction of as much as 3 million hectares of Amazon rainforest to Chinese oil companies. That’s 37 percent of the total rainforest in the country! And, indigenous leaders whose land is being sold out from under them have not been consulted in the process, despite a constitutional requirement that the government do so.

This is another example of outrageous land grabs taking place around the globe in which locals are being shoved aside for the interests of large corporations. Something similar is happening here in the U.S. with the development of shale oil and gas.

Developing this land for resource extraction will devastate the local environment; cut down forest for well pads, roads, and pipelines; and potentially lead to pollution of local waterways. At the same time it will undermine the indigenous groups’ way of life.

This latest attempt to exploit Amazonian forest for oil exploration comes only two years after a court ruled that Chevron had to pay indigenous farmers $8.6 billion in reparations for polluting the Amazon forest.

With such a history of environmental disaster, why would Ecuador be actively courting Chinese oil companies to drill for oil? It’s possible Ecuador’s $7 billion debt to China plays some role, as well as China National Petroleum Corp’s negotiations to buy a 30 percent stake in Ecuador’s Refineria del Pacifico oil refinery, which is expected to export up to 60 percent of the oil refined at it.

March 15th, 2013

Q: What’s Fracking Got to Do with Free Trade? A: Japan

Mitch HorizontalBy Mitch Jones

Back in September I wrote a blog post on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a new “free trade” agreement being negotiated by the U.S. and 10 other Pacific Rim countries. The TPP started under George W. Bush, but it is being pushed hard by President Obama. As I said then, the TPP is a permanent power grab by corporations and financial companies that will make it impossible for the citizens of countries joining the TPP to choose what laws and rules they want to live under. The TPP would permanently enshrine the very economic system that has lead to greater imbalances in income and wealth and increasing economic crises. And, it will be enforced by new international tribunals akin to the WTO.

I also mentioned then that domestic laws designed to protect us from dangerous activities like fracking for shale gas could be undermined by the TPP. But now a new fracking threat is linked to the deal.

Yesterday Japan announced it would be joining the talks on finalizing the TPP. This came about despite strong protests against doing so and heated arguments between politicians. So what does this have to do with fracking in the U.S.?

Japan is the world’s largest importer of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). In 2011 Japan imported 78.8 MT of LNG, more than twice the amount of the second largest importer, South Korea. Now, we know that the oil and gas industry is working hard to export LNG. They are trying to convert LNG import facilities into export facilities, and are working to build the pipelines needed to ship the gas to those facilities. Congress has been looking into these attempts and some legislation has been introduced that would help to curb the potential for these exports, but with Japan joining the TPP we may be in for even a bigger push to export LNG and a bigger push to drill and frack in communities across the country. Read the full article…

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